Playoff races are officially in full swing as we move into the final month of the 2020 season. For Major League Baseball, we can take a close look at the current playoff seeds and the Magic Numbers for each team to clinch the postseason. For fantasy owners in head-to-head leagues, we are likely in the final week of the regular season.
We have been lining up for this moment since the sprint of a 2020 season started roughly six weeks ago. Now, with the trade deadline already passed, it’s time to put our best team on the virtual field.
Los Angeles Dodgers at Diamondbacks (3), vs. Astros (2)
The introduction closed with the mention of our “best team.” Major League Baseball’s best team is looking to put an exclamation point on this unique season by outpacing the field dramatically. The Los Angeles Dodgers were the first team to win 25 games and are closing in on being the first to win 30. As of this writing, they are the only team with a winning percentage above .700. Since 1900, only 10 teams have finished a season above that benchmark. Granted, it would obviously carry the caveat of the 60-game season, but we should recognize how well Los Angeles is playing.
On the downside, the Dodgers are only in action five times in Week 7.
Cleveland Indians vs. Royals (4), at Twins (3)
There was no way that the Cleveland Indians would go unmentioned in this column, but it was only a matter of “where” they would fit. The answer appears to be “almost immediately,” as they are the second team to be highlighted for Week 7.
Like the Dodgers, Cleveland is leading its division, albeit by a small margin. The noteworthy element is that the Indians traded away starting pitcher Mike Clevinger despite their first-place standing. The Indians likely made the move because they were already winning games without Clevinger — he had been suspended for violating the team’s health and safety policy — but it’s still an interesting twist to the Trade Deadline when a team gives the appearance of selling despite being in a position to buy.
With seven games in seven days — including three against the Twins — we should see exactly how big of an impact the trade makes.
San Diego Padres vs. Rockies (3), vs. Giants (4)
No surprise here. If the Mike Clevinger trade was mentioned on the “sell” side, then there’s no way that we could forget about the “buy” side. This pushes the San Diego Padres squarely into the spotlight.
In fairness, the Padres were so active at the Trade Deadline that they were always destined to be in the spotlight. That and the team’s winning record. It’s a good recipe for extra attention.
We will certainly be watching the Padres closely in Week 7, as they have a full schedule in which to unleash their new acquisitions.
Miami Marlins at Braves (3), vs. Phillies (6) and Philadelphia Phillies at Mets (1), vs. Red Sox (2), at Marlins (6)
I actually laughed when I saw the schedule for the Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies. Look at it. It’s probably the craziest we have seen in years.
Miami and Philadelphia will both play nine games in seven days, but they will close out Week 7 with a six-game series against each other. The Phillies surprisingly play two different teams in the first three matchups of their nine-game week, but the head-to-head between the National League East combatants is the most interesting.
Both teams currently hold playoff spots, as the Marlins refuse to sink, and the Phillies have surged since their slow start.
Oakland Athletics vs. Astros (1), at Astros (1), vs. Astros (3), at Rangers (4)
As you can see in the heading of this writeup, another team has nine games scheduled for Week 7, and it has its own unorthodox series at the beginning. The Oakland Athletics — who lead their division and have the second-highest winning percentage in the American League — will play five consecutive games against the Astros. One of the five — the first in a doubleheader — will be a “road game” for Oakland.
The Athletics are currently only threatened by the Astros within the division — the closest American League West team after Houston is seven games under .500! That puts a high priority on the opening of their nine-game week.
Mike Yastrzemski (OF – SF)
It’s become somewhat of a weekly tradition to highlight the hitter who is currently leading the league in Offensive WAR. While Mike Yastrzemski is currently second in the category, behind Fernando Tatis Jr., he deserves to be mentioned for his frequent appearance in the top five. In each of the past few weeks, Yastrzemski has been in the mix for this honor, but he was repeatedly overlooked because of another player’s performance. Let’s give Yastrzemski his due. The young outfielder is quietly putting together one of the most consistent and solid seasons in recent history.
Ian Happ (2B/3B/OF – CHC)
While Yastrzemski has been a mainstay near the top of the Offensive WAR rankings, Ian Happ is a newcomer. New additions to this race usually deserve our attention.
Happ slides into the top five thanks to an excellent balance of power and plate discipline. He now has ten home runs on the season — of all qualified hitters, only 21 have reached double-digits home runs — and he ranks 15th in walk rate. If we are comparing him to the other 13 hitters with an Offensive WAR of at least 12.0 — an arbitrary cutoff, but one chosen to highlight hitters who are not only contributing in one category — Happ has the best walk rate of the group.
Nelson Cruz (UTIL – MIN)
Nelson Cruz continues to defy the odds set by Father Time. Granted, Cruz isn’t to the point where he shouldn’t be able to function, and he also doesn’t play the field, but he is now tied for the league lead in home runs at age 40. It’s not like power is his only asset, either. Cruz has a higher batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage than Fernando Tatis, Jr. and Mike Trout — two-of-the-three with whom Cruz shares the lead. He trails Luke Voit, the fourth player tied with 13 home runs, in only slugging percentage.
Ke’Bryan Hayes (3B – PIT) and Jazz Chisholm (SS – MIA)
I always try to highlight the interesting prospects who have been called up to their respective Major League clubs — and even some rumored for the near future — but it carries extra importance with the trade deadline now behind us. If someone needs to fortify their roster, it will have to happen through free agency.
Ke’Bryan Hayes and Jazz Chisholm are not necessarily the high-impact fantasy players we would want at this stage of the season, but they are certainly fun to project.
Hayes is a potential elite fielder with speed, but he may not hit for power. That’s the story, anyway. The reality is that he has two hits through two games: a double and a home run.
Chisolm is more of a boom-or-bust fantasy player, where he could easily give you some power to go along with his speed. The reports consistently cite a high strikeout rate, but this usually doesn’t negatively impact a fantasy team — unless, of course, the league settings account for it.
Neither player should carry a team to a fantasy championship, but both are worth a look as we head down the home stretch of the season.
Yu Darvish (SP – CHC)
As I do with hitters, I prefer to highlight pitchers who are new to the top of the leaderboard instead of those who continue to reign (looking at you, Shane Bieber). Yu Darvish has now moved into a tie with Max Fried for second place in the league as ranked by WAR among qualified starting pitchers.
Darvish’s numbers are incredible, as he now touts a 1.47 ERA and 10.88 strikeout-rate-per-nine-innings. His walk rate of 1.67 is lower than both Bieber’s and Fried’s, while his BABIP is higher. In fact, if we use BABIP as a loose metric for gauging “luck” — I know, it’s a dangerous endeavor that shouldn’t be taken too seriously — Darvish is tied with Pablo Lopez for the highest BABIP of the top-15 pitchers, sorted by WAR. This could actually lead to better days ahead for Darvish.
Jacob deGrom (SP – NYM)
Since I usually start the “Pitchers Notes” section by finding those with the best WAR, it’s always interesting to see which players should fit the mold but don’t. Enter Jacob deGrom. He is fourth in the league behind the aforementioned three pitchers in WAR, but he is second to only Bieber in FIP. Put another way, deGrom leads the National League in FIP and is building a strong case to win another Cy Young Award.
Mike Clevinger (SP – SD)
Clearly, it wasn’t enough to name Mike Clevinger in his former team’s writeup and then again in his new team’s blurb. No, he also needs his own set of notes in this section. Such is the case when a big-name pitcher is moved at the trade deadline to a playoff contender from a… playoff contender.
Therein lies the most interesting part of the Clevinger saga. While it is not completely surprising — I did mention the possibility, albeit how unlikely it was, that Clevinger is moved in last week’s column — it is still noteworthy because of how high-profile the trade is. Most importantly, it reaffirms that the San Diego Padres are opening their window of contention right now. Clevinger is also under team control for another two years, so the Padres received much more than a “rental” at this year’s trade deadline.
Triston McKenzie (SP – CLE)
It can’t be viewed as a direct correlation, but one of the reasons the Cleveland Indians were a little more comfortable dealing away Clevinger was the emergence of Triston McKenzie.
As I wrote in last week’s column, McKenzie is off to an unbelievable start. What’s most amazing is that, for as high of a prospect pedigree as he had, McKenzie is easily outperforming all expectations. That he rebounded after a mediocre second start with six shutout innings in his third game is a sign that he can continue to deliver at the highest level. He is the perfect example of why we should be aggressive in adding prospects, even if we end up releasing them shortly thereafter.
Week 7 Hitter Matchup Ratings
If you want to dive deeper into fantasy baseball, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Baseball Tools as you navigate your season. From our Lineup Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup, based on accurate consensus projections – to our Waiver Wire Assistant – that allows you to quickly see which available players will improve your team, and by how much – we’ve got you covered this fantasy baseball season.