20 Things To Watch For In Week 26 (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
Well, we made it. Was it easy? Not always. Did I still enjoy every minute of it? Undoubtedly.
This was my first season as a “MLB Expert” for FantasyPros, and I loved it. The most fun part was interacting with FantasyPros readers/listeners on Twitter, in Discord, and while hosting Leading Off. In order to get this article out in time, I’m not able to write the full intro + reflection that I want, but I’ll save it for an offseason piece.
For now, all I’ll say is please reach out to let me know how you did in your leagues this year. I truly enjoy hearing the stories. Let’s win some championships!
Remember to reach out on Twitter with questions anytime @toomuchtuma.
1. Shane Baz‘s final start
As I write this, the rookie right-hander is set to make his second big league start on Sunday against the Marlins. Baz was mighty impressive in his debut, holding a powerful Toronto lineup to two runs on two hits in just five innings pitched. Baz threw just 65 pitches and generated 15 whiffs, which is astonishing. He struck out five and didn’t walk anyone. His workload will likely be limited in each of his final two starts, as the Rays clearly hope to use him in the postseason, but Baz should remain locked into fantasy lineups. He draws the Yankees in Week 26.
— Brendan Tuma (@toomuchtuma) September 20, 2021
2. Joe Ryan‘s scheduled start(s)
The 25-year-old rookie was originally lined up for two starts in Week 26, but he was recently placed on the bereavement list to attend to a personal matter. It’s now unclear if he’ll make both starts, but I’d imagine he still makes at least one. Check the recent news on him before finalizing your Week 26 roster, but Ryan should have at least one start against the Tigers or Royals. He has a superb 25:3 K:BB through four big league outings this season.
3. Alex Cobb‘s streamability
The Halos’ righty was able to pitch 5 2/3 innings in just his second start off the injured list this week. He was impressive, too, against a mighty Astros offense – limiting them to one run on four hits. Cobb has been underrated for most of the 2021 season, and he’ll carry a 3.46 ERA into a matchup with the Rangers this week. Add and start him if you need a spot starter.
4. Luis Severino‘s return
It was easy to miss the news that Severino is back with the Yankees, operating in a multi-inning relief role as the team chases the second Wild Card spot in the American League. Entering Sunday, Severino has thrown four scoreless innings with a 6:1 K:BB ratio. He looks good, and he might be worth using in leagues that reward “RP ratios.”
5. Shane Bieber‘s return
Speaking of former aces returning from injury, Bieber toed the rubber for the first time since mid-June on Friday night. The 2020 Cy Young award winner struck out three over three scoreless frames against the White Sox. His final start of the year will likely come against the Royals in Week 26, but it might be tough to start someone who isn’t expected to pitch too deep into the game. Note that Bieber’s velocity and spin rates were down in his return to action.
6. Teams playing six games
Most of the league will play six games in the final week of the season – 24, to be exact. The only teams who don’t play six, play seven. They’re listed below.
7. Teams playing seven games
The Indians, Tigers, Royals, Marlins, Mets, and Pirates all play seven games in Week 26. Their hitters/relievers get the slightest bump in weekly rankings, but keep in mind the difference will be just one game.
8. Juan Soto‘s miraculous second half
This isn’t normal. Then again, nothing about the start to Soto’s career has been normal. He reached the majors when he was just 19 and was arguably the best player on a World Series winning roster when he was just 20. At 22, he’s putting together his finest season, though it might be too little too late when it comes to the MVP race. Still, since the All-Star break, covering 290 plate appearances, Soto is batting .377/.548/.700, which is preposterous. A .548 OBP!!! Let’s see how the final week goes, but Soto has a strong case to be the No. 1 pick in early 2022 drafts.
9. Kyle Tucker‘s dominant second half
Not to be overshadowed by Soto, the 24-year-old Tucker is also registering an eye-popping performance down the stretch. Tucker’s expected stats via Baseball Savant were strong throughout the first half, and they suggested that a breakout could be in store following the All-Star break. That’s exactly what has happened. Tucker is batting .328/.402/.635 with 13 homers and seven stolen bases since mid-July. I think he’s going to be a strong second round pick in 2022.
Kyle Tucker first-half:
.271 BA vs .314 xBA
.503 SLG vs .580 xSLG
.352 wOBA vs .404 xwOBA
He has been really good since his slow start, and it's seemingly within his range of outcomes that he finishes on an absolute tear#ForTheH
— Brendan Tuma (@toomuchtuma) July 15, 2021
10. Luis Robert‘s improvement
One more young hitter standout to discuss, because similar to Tucker, I think Robert is going to be an excellent early-round target in ’22 drafts. In addition to hitting .349/.387/.560 with 10 homers and five steals (62 games) entering Sunday, Robert’s underlying trends are what have me most excited going forward. The 24-year-old is a former elite prospect with loud tools who is already improving his flaws at a young age. The below trend line shows his falling K% since debuting in 2020.
11. The Cardinals’ win streak
Entering Sunday, St. Louis has won 15 consecutive games. Incredibly, the Redbirds now hold a five game lead over the Phillies for the second Wild Card spot in the National League. Remember, this isn’t a super team by any means. The Cards are getting production from the likes of Jon Lester, J.A. Happ, Edmundo Sosa, Harrison Bader, and others. There isn’t a fantasy spin to this, but it’s a reminder to enjoy the playoff chases this week.
12. The Orioles’ schedule
We still want to target hitters against Baltimore’s woeful pitching staff. In Week 26 the Orioles face the Red Sox three times and the Blue Jays three times. Their bats are a priority for championship matchups.
13. Coors Field
Similarly, we want to get Rockies and Nationals hitters in our lineups since the two teams have a three-game set in Coors to open the week. More on some potential streaming options below.
14 – 16. Hitters to stream
Brendan Rodgers (2B/SS – COL)
The 25-year-old has been a popular streaming candidate all season long. This speaks to the improvements that Rodgers has made throughout the year, but it also means that he has yet to fully “outgrow” streaming status. We’ll have plenty of time to discuss his breakout potential over the offseason, but for now he’s a worthwhile middle infield option for Week 26. The Rockies play three games at home against the Nationals before visiting the lowly Diamondbacks to close out their season. Note that Rodgers has hit 12 of his 15 homers on the road this year. Interesting!
Keibert Ruiz (C – WAS)
The rookie backstop will likely be hyped as a low-end starting catcher in fantasy entering 2022. He’s heating up at the right time, registering multi-hit performances in five of his last eight starts, including seven games with at least one hit. Ruiz has also homered twice this weekend, which is fantastic as the power was the final missing piece for his prospect development. Ruiz has always had a strong hit tool, and by all reports he transformed his batting stance to be more upright at the alternate training site last summer. It’s paying off. The Nationals have three games in Coors Field this week before finishing their season with three against the Red Sox.
Lane Thomas (OF – WAS)
The 26-year-old outfielder continues to produce for the Nationals. Since joining the club on August 15th he’s batting .291/.384/.534 with seven homers and four stolen bases. Similar to Rodgers, there will be time throughout the offseason to determine how “legit” this run has been. For now, just use him for Week 26.
17. Closers who paid off
Mark Melancon enters Sunday with a league-leading 38 saves this season. By no means was he one of the first relievers drafted this past spring, but he’s a perfect example of “not paying for saves.” However, one of the themes of the ’21 fantasy baseball season has been the top tier closers who did pay off. Liam Hendriks, Josh Hader, Kenley Jansen, and Raisel Iglesias have all been phenomenal for fantasy managers. Hendriks, Hader, and Iglesias will likely be the top three in my early offseason rankings for next year.
18. The 2021 home run title
Entering Sunday, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Salvador Perez are tied for the MLB lead with 46 homers. shoehi ohtani has 45. Marcus Semien has 43. It has been a fun storyline to monitor all summer, but my money is on Vlad coming out on top. Note the Jays face the Orioles three times to end the season.
19. Leading Off!
Dan Harris and I will be hosting “Leading Off” on the FantasyPros MLB YouTube account this week. You can listen to the podcast anywhere audio content can be found. If you’ve been enjoying things down the stretch, please consider subscribing to our YouTube channel and leaving ratings/reviews for the podcast. It goes a long way!
20. Remembering Tags
I’ve been blown away by the response the fantasy community has shown Mike Tagliere and his family. In less than 24 hours the community has raised almost $300,000 for them. Tags was one of the most genuine people on this planet. He simply loved football and his family. If you’re able to, please consider donating here.
The outpouring of support for @MikeTagliereNFL has been truly inspiring & a testament to how well-respected & loved he was by the community. We're grateful to everyone who has donated to Tags' family. Thank you again as we try to smash this goal for Tags.https://t.co/fgp2nptXQl
— FantasyPros (@FantasyPros) September 25, 2021
Whether you’re new to fantasy baseball or a seasoned pro, our Fantasy Baseball 101: Strategy Tips & Advice page is for you. You can get started with our Sabermetrics Glossary or head to a more advanced strategy – like How to Make Custom Fantasy Baseball Rankings with Microsoft Excel – to learn more.