Playoff Push: Fine-Tuning your Roster and Rotation

The MLB Playoffs are still two months away, but for many of us the regular season ends in just a couple short weeks. My league’s playoffs begin on September 4th, and I’m gearing up for a playoff push. Hopefully at this point in the season your roster is mostly set-and-forget, but if you still have some holes on your team I’ve got you covered.

Today I’ll be examining one player from each skill position, an SP, and an RP who are potential answers to your lineup problems and can help get you to the finish line. As always, I’ll review a craft beer for your enjoyment.

Catcher – Francisco Cervelli (PIT)

cervelli.jpg

Ah, Francisco Cervelli, the Italian Stallion (yes, Bryan, I stole that from you). Owned in just 10.2% of leagues, Cervelli is not the sexiest pickup in the world (despite that hair) due to his uninspiring .260/.350/.388 slashline and painfully pedestrian 29 R, 5 HR, 21 RBI. However, he’s missed nearly a month’s worth of games between minor injuries and regular off-days, so take those low counting stats with a grain of salt.

Catcher is a notorious wasteland, and with the playoffs on the line it’s an area of weakness for many owners who don’t have names like Posey, Sanchez, and Realmuto on their rosters. So what makes Cervelli stand out from the rest?

The Italian Stallion is a career .277 hitter, but his 1st half/2nd half splits are telling: in the first half of the season, Cervelli hits at a .265 clip. In the 2nd half? He hits a robust .294, with September being his best month at .296 and more R scored than any other month of his career. This is no small sample size either: Cervelli is a 31-year-old veteran entering his 10th professional season, and it’s safe to say that he’s not changing much.

If you’re considering a change at the backstop position, take a hard look at Fransisco Cervelli, as he’s due to heat up sooner rather than later.

First Base – Lucas Duda (TB)

The dude has been on a tear since being traded from the Amazin’s to Tampa, crushing baseballs at a 46.2% Hard Hit Percentage clip, and the good news gets better when we look at his career splits. Duda hits slightly better in the 2nd half than the first, posting a .255 AVG compared to a .242 AVG in the first half. That’s not eye-popping in and of itself, but what is encouraging is this: in the first half of the season, Duda hits HR at a .045 per at-bat clip (70 career 1st half HR divided by 1535 AB’s), and in the second half he crushes dingers at a .059 per at-bat clip.

That’s a whopping 14% increase, and with Tampa having 49 games left to play, and figuring 4 AB’s per game (good for 196 ABs for Duda ROS), if his career splits hold true, that’s 12 HR that Duda is set to collect between now and October. That’s pretty darn good for a waiver-wire pickup, and there’s no reason to expect anything but hits, especially with his renewed vigor after being traded.

If you need power at 1B or even as a UTIL or bench bat, Duda could be a great addition to anyone making a playoff push.

Second Base – Cesar Hernandez (PHI)

Were you listening last week when I recommended grabbing him? If so, you’ve been rewarded as Cesar has seen hit hitting streak grow to 11 games, collecting 5 SB and 8 R over that span. The downside is his power: he has none. He also hit zero HR and collected exactly zero RBI during his current hot streak, so you’re going to want to use him for what he is: a speedy hit-machine who will score runs, swipe bags, and pile up multi-hit games with little else. He does have 6 HR on the year, so he’s not entirely without power, but anything you get from him in that category is a bonus.

If you’re looking for power at the keystone, you could also consider Logan Forsythe (LAD). Logan has been without a HR for a while now, but he’s due, with August being his best career month for HR (16) and traditionally hitting more bombs in the second half than the first. Beware though, he is not guaranteed regular playing time down the stretch with a stacked Dodger lineup and veteran Chase Utley available to spell him whenever he needs a breather.

Shortstop – Tim Beckham (BAL)

beckham.jpg

Lighten up, Tim, you’ve been playing great!   (Photo Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports)

Like Duda before him, Beckham seems determined to make the team that traded him look foolish, as Tim has busted out in a big way since being shipped to Baltimore. Already in the midst of  a solid season, Beckham hasn’t failed to reach base once since arriving in Charm City, and has built himself a modest 7 game hit streak, including 5 consecutive multi-hit performances and three straight days with three straight HR.

While he won’t end up on anyone’s list of power-sluggers, Beckham provides solid cross-category upside and consistent playing time on a strong offense (when they feel like playing well, anyway). He should not be on anyone’s waiver-wire in 12-team or higher, but he’s owned in less than 40% of leagues, and is probably an upgrade over many guys currently rostered in 10-team and smaller. If you’re looking for SS help, try and bend it like….no, I won’t do that. Sorry for even trying. But grab Beckham!

Bonus add: Amed Rosario has struggled to the tune of a .182 AVG since his callup last week, but when he makes contact he sparkles, including a memorable triple that he legged out in his second career MLB game and a SB in his 4th start. He’s not tipping the fantasy scales yet, but he’s a high-upside player that could really help in the SB and R categories if he plays anywhere near his potential. Don’t let his slow start scare you off just yet, and consider grabbing him if you need some speed.

Third Base – Chase Headley, not Utley (NYY)

mac-chase-utley-letter

Pictured: what my girlfriend and I think about every time someone mentions Chase Headley/Utley

Here’s another guy I suggested grabbing last week, and he’s collected a round-tripper and a multi-hit game since then, which is about what you should expect from him going forward. I went over most of his breakout qualities in that article, but the short version is this: Headley has 30 HR upside (though he’s obviously not touching that number this year) and could provide some serious power down the stretch, especially hitting in a stacked Yankee offense.

Beyond that, Headley has an excellent 2nd half track record, batting more than 20 points above his 1st half numbers (.255 to .276) and an even more impressive power split, hitting a HR every .030 at-bats compared to .022 per at-bat in the 1st half. With 50 games and another 200-odd ABs left for Headley, we can easily expect another 5-7 HR from him while continuing to rack up R and RBI opportunities in the Big Apple.

Bonus add: Rafael Devers should not be on anyone’s waiver wire at this point. He’s the shiny new toy and, unlike Moncada, Rosario, and Albies, Devers appears to have come with batteries included. He’s hitting .349 with 3 HR in an admittedly tiny sample size, but there’s no reason to think the young Red Sox third baseman will slow down any time soon. For what it’s worth, I’d rather have him over Headley, but I started with Chase because Devers is owned in far more leagues.

Double bonus: You should really be watching It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia if you don’t already. It’ll really help you understand some of the references on here. Also it’s amazing.

Starting Pitcher – Taillon, Price, Anderson, and McHugh

Pitchers can be a bit more tricky, which is why I lied about suggesting one guy to pick up, I’m actually going to suggest 4. And no, they don’t form up like Voltron, you’re better off just grabbing one (or two). I’ll list them in order of value ROS along with why I think they’ll be helpful to your playoff push.

Jameson Taillon (PIT)

Taillon had two well-publicized stinkers, so let’s get that out of the way early. Last week, against the putrid San Francisco Giants and the “meh” Reds offense, Taillon failed to get out of the 3rd inning and surrendered a combined 17 runs, and it hurt real bad for those who owned the studly cancer survivor. He rebounded nicely in San Diego over the weekend, tossing 6.1 innings of 2 ER, 8 K ball for a no-decision.

Taillon has had a rollercoaster season in just about every sense of the word. He’s beaten cancer, collected 6 wins and 6 QS, all while striking out nearly one batter per inning. His still-serviceable 4.60 ERA is inflated by the fact that he’s only started 16 games, and three blowups have hurt him badly. One 6-run outing just before he was diagnosed with testicular cancer can be written off, and his aforementioned bed-shitting last week against SF and CIN shouldn’t be more than blips on the radar. All he’s done besides that is provide a rock solid backbone for a pathetic Pirates team, allowing two runs or fewer in 10 of his 16 starts. That’s pretty damn good if you ask me.

Hopefully an impatient owner rage-dropped him in your league after he laid a pair of eggs, and if they did, it’s time to get cookin. Taillon figures to finish out strong, and there’s no reason for him to be on anyone’s wire, anywhere.

Collin McHugh (HOU)

Those three letters next to his name should be enough to convince you to roster McHugh if you’re in a Wins league, but even if you play in a QS format, there’s still a lot to love. In an admittedly small sample, McHugh has pitched brilliantly, with a 3.24 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP topped off by 17 K’s in 16+ innings pitched since his return from the DL. McHugh is the latest product of a fantastic Astros farm system, and his nasty slider is leaving hitters whiffing. At this point in the season, he’s as close to a surprise waiver-wire gem as you can hope for in the SP department, so don’t miss out on him while he’s available.

Chase Anderson (MIL) *injured

The 29-year-old Brewer was in the midst of his best season before being sidelined last month with an oblique injury, and you shouldn’t forget about him. Anderson figures to return to action by the end of August if all goes well: he’s had no setbacks in his rehab and is slated to begin 2-3 rehab games before rejoining the big league rotation. Keep an eye on his rehab starts, but barring a series of blowups, he’ll be available just in time for the fantasy playoffs with a sparkling 2.89 ERA and 1.11 WHIP to go with 85 K’s in 90.1 innings pitched.

David Price (BOS) *injured

Price is the biggest question mark on this list, and after experiencing a setback (soreness) during his rehab last week, it’s starting to look possible that he doesn’t rejoin the BoSox before the fantasy season ends. Price was also in the midst of a frustratingly mediocre year despite his Cy Young caliber credentials.

The upside, however, is still there. Despite having an “off” year, Price boasts a 3.82 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP and 63 K’s in 66 IP. He might not be 2012-Cy-Young-David-Price anymore, but he’s far from useless, especially in Wins formats. Look for Price to return sometime within the next month, and remember that when he’s pitching well he’s lights out. Even when he’s pitching poorly, he still posts a sub-4.00 ERA, and that’s nothing to sneeze at when every start counts.

Reliever/Closer – Sean Doolittle (WAS), Shane Green (DET)

Everyone has been waiting for Sean Doolittle to lose the closer job in DC, which is the only reason I can imagine that this man is still unrostered in over 50% of leagues. Go get him now. He’s converted 6 of 7 save opportunities with the Nats, including 4 straight. He hasn’t allowed a run in his last 5 IP, which also stretches back to his last 5 appearances. Doolittle is locked in, and appears to have locked the job down. Did I mention that he closes for the Nationals? He’ll continue to pile on SVs for that fact alone, and his performance since the trade has removed all doubt in my mind.

Shane Greene is far from a flashy pick, but he is a good one if you need closer help. Greene has added to his stellar season (2.54 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, more than 1K per inning) since being promoted to the closer role, converting three consecutive save opps to celebrate his new job. While the Tigers aren’t guaranteed to give him a bundle of save opps, Greene has shown us that he can be trusted to convert those chances when he gets them with a high-strikeout upside and a sparkling ERA and WHIP. Don’t let him sit on the wire if you need help in SVs and bullpen ratios.

The Beer

Today’s beer is from Firestone Walker Brewing’s Leo v. Ursus Double IPA series: Adversus Double IPA.

leo versus

If I had one problem with the first release in the Leo v. Ursus series (Fortem was the name), it was that Fortem was a bit too sweet and resiny for me, almost sickly sweet/syrupy.

The Adversus fixes this problem handily: it pours a light-amber/gold with a frothy head of foam and a clear, strong body that belies the fact that it’s an unfiltered IPA. I get notes of piney citrus, floral hops, and peppery malt to go with a sweet, fruity smell. This double clocks in at 8.2% ABV, and hides it like a squirrel’s nut in winter: you can barely taste the alcohol at all, making it dangerously drinkable.

The aforementioned overly-strong sweetness of the Fortem is remedied in Adventus by the use of pilsner malts: Adventus is lighter, crisper, and softer on the tongue, feeling like much more of a traditional IPA, though still less bitter than you’d expect. The taste follows the nose with a healthy lipful of grapefruit, citrus, and something that tastes almost like an apple/pear type of stonefruit on the back end. It’s pleasantly creamy on the tongue but the dryness of the pilsner malt evaporates that quickly, and it finishes dry.

I enjoyed it, and I’d gladly get it again, but it’s not a pull-the-car-over-we-have-to-buy-this-beer-right-now kind of brew, so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t find it.

As an additional note, Baseball and Brews is happy to announce that we will be doing an AMA on reddit today at 1:30 pm EST. We’ll be on hand to answer all of your fantasy (and beer!) questions, so don’t miss it! (reddit.com/r/fantasybaseball)

Cheers!

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