by Ray Kuhn
There was a busy Sunday of action around the league, and we got an early taste of pennant race baseball as the Astros managed to hold off the A’s. At least temporarily that is, as Houston avoided a sweep to take control of the AL West once again; by just one game though. The same thing is likely happening in your fantasy standings, and the stress, well really enjoyment (if you win) will continue through the end of September. There were also some milestones on Sunday as Justin Verlander picked up his 200th victory of his career while Clayton Kershaw won his 150th game. Let’s take a look at some of the performances that stood out from yesterday’s action:
1) One Grand Swing
Greg Bird is finally healthy, but that is apparently half the battle for him. Despite his struggles though, it is a good sign for Bird that the Yankees continue to include him in the middle of their lineup each day at first base. Yesterday, it was just one swing from Bird that made an impact, but it is why fantasy owners continue to follow the big first baseman. Bird came through with a grand slam yesterday, his 11th home run of the season, and while he is hitting just .211, he does have 35 RBI in 237 at bats. With a .242 BABIP, you would think that Bird’s batting average has to eventually improve, but he hasn’t shown signs of that yet. While there is nothing to suggest that one swing from Bird is going to get him on track, if you need power, he is worth keeping an eye on to see if it does.
2) Clevinger Cruises to Victory
With an ERA of just 3.24 in 25 starts, you would expect Mike Clevinger to have more than nine victories, but that is just sometimes how that category works. The outcome was never in doubt on Sunday as the right-hander scattered seven hits against Baltimore in six innings of work while not allowing a run and walking just one batter. Clevinger struck out seven, and so far in 157.2 innings, he has 155 strikeouts on the season. We would like to see the WHIP be lower than 1.24, but so far this year, it hasn’t really impacted his performance. With a 4.02 xFIP though, there is some cause for concern, but the 27-year old does have the tools to potentially take the next step.
3) Another Strong Showing from Peraza
Entering the season, it was unclear whether or not Jose Peraza would hit enough to be a regular in the lineup all season, but so far that has certainly proved to be the case. In fact, Peraza has had the majority of his success batting either first, .296 average in 42 games, or second (.307 in 38 games). Yesterday, Peraza was back in the second spot, and he went 3 for 5 on the afternoon. The shortstop hit his eighth home run of the season, a two run shot, which brought his RBI total to 42. While he didn’t steal a base yesterday, Peraza does have 18 stolen bases so far in 2018. That and his 67 runs scored, to go along with a .292 batting average, is what will continue to give him regular playing time and fantasy value.
4) Marquez Has Another Strong Road Start
Once again, German Marquez showed why he should be on your radar when he takes the mound away from Coors Field. At home, Marquez’s ERA is an unsightly 6.92, but when he pitches on the road, we get a much better indication as to what kind of pitcher he is. In those games, the right-hander’s ERA is just 2.92 which would make him an All-Star. Yesterday, Marquez picked up his 11th victory of the season to lower his composite ERA to 4.42 with seven strong innings of work in Atlanta. The right-hander limited the Braves to just two runs on five hits and one walk while striking out five. With 9.53 strikeouts per nine innings, Marquez can be a legitimate asset, and his road ERA wasn’t enough for you, his 3.62 xFIP should also give you a better indication as to what kind of pitcher he is.
5) Urena Returns Victoriously
Now, we shouldn’t be giving Jose Urena any credit or attention for what he did to Ronald Acuna, but he was likely just carrying out orders from above. And a six game suspension, which really amounted to just one missed start, truly was minimal. Yesterday, Urena certainly didn’t miss a beat as he cruised to victory in Washington. It was just the fourth victory of the season for Urena who went the distance while only allowing one run on two hits and two walks. Striking out just four batters, Urena lowered his ERA to 4.50 on the season, and despite the lack of success in the win column, he has actually been a stream able option. While you would like to see Urena strike out more than 7.04 strikeouts per nine innings, he does limit the walks (2.54) while sporting a FIP of 4.10.
6) The Victory Machine
Well this has certainly been unexpected, but there is no reason not to enjoy the ride with Jhoulys Chacin. On Sunday, the right-hander picked up his 13th victory of the season (against just four losses) as he continues to roll through 2018. Chacin limited the Cardinals to just four hits while not allowing a run to lower his ERA to 3.58 on the season. With just three strikeouts, he doesn’t exactly overpower opposing hitters (7.27 per nine innings), but Chacin is getting the job done. While he is certainly benefiting from a .253 BABIP, at this point in the season, do we really expect anything to change? At the same time though, we have be aware of Chacin’s 4.06 FIP and 4.48 xFIP, and that will help to limit his value. But we also can’t ignore those 13 victories.
7) Another Odor Home Run
At this point, Roughned Odor’s struggles to start the season are ancient history. Does it even matter anymore? Well, if you gave up on Odor during those struggles, then yes, it certainly does. Yesterday, Odor hit his 15th home run of the season which was his ninth over his last 30 games. Over that stretch, the second baseman is hitting .356 with 30 RBI. For the season, after that three run homer on Sunday, Odor is now batting .279 with 54 RBI, and it is clear that we should not give up on the second baseman.
8) Some Unexpected Power
The Astros acquired Martin Maldonado for his defensive acumen, but perhaps we shouldn’t ignore his bat either. While he is never going to be an asset on the offensive side of the ball, he will be receiving semi-regular playing time batting at the bottom of a strong lineup. Yesterday, he doubled, tripled, and homered in consecutive at bats to begin the game as the Astros got going offensively. It was just the seventh home run and 38th RBI on the season for the catcher, who is hitting just .222, but in his last seven games, he is hitting .294.
9) Turner Has a Big Day
Los Angeles broke out for 12 runs on Sunday, and Justin Turner was a big part of that. It hasn’t been the smoothest of seasons for the third baseman thanks to two stints on the disabled list, but everything looks good for him as he looks to close out the season strong. Turner hit his ninth home run of the year yesterday, a three run shot, as part of a five RBI day. In 223 at bats so far this season, Turner has 30 RBI to go along with a .305 batting average. With a .363 average in his last 30 games (103 at bats), and three home runs in his last seven games, there is no reason not to expect Turner to stay hot over the next month.
10) Vargas Picks up a Victory
Granted Jason Vargas did come close to allowing a three run homer to Rhys Hoskins last night, but the southpaw did pick up his third victory of the season. However, as much as you want to believe in Vargas and his track record, you also can’t ignore the risk. Yesterday, it did work out as Vargas picked up his third victory of the season while allowing two runs on six hits in 5.1 innings to go along with three strikeouts. It’s that 7.67 ERA though, that is just too much to handle, and while his 4.99 xFIP does offer plenty of optimism, it’s still a lot of risk to take on. That is especially true considering Vargas only strikes out 7.21 batters per nine innings.