April was slow going, and May wasn’t much better. Cleveland’s landmark offseason slugger signing took a while to start making waves offensively, but 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion has caught fire with the onset of summer. He’s done so in a way Tribe faithful and his fantasy owners had hoped would happen, with a heavy recent helping of efficiency and power. He went buck-wild at the Padres’ expense Thursday to the tune of 4-5, 4 R, HR, 2 RBI with a double to help ice an easy 11-2 win. The BB/K ratio of 17:16 Encarnacion posted in June is also encouraging, as we all know some DHs can be guilty of ill-advisedly swinging for broke. His homer and RBI counts for each month that passes have increased successively, and the entrenched Indian cleanup man has perhaps surprisingly scored more runs himself than he has plated runs (54 runs to 47 RBI). Eighteen homers might just be good and not great right now, but he has plenty of room to make for lost early opportunities to dump balls into bleachers especially when you realize his hard contact is registering at a career-high 38.4%.
Let’s take a look at some other remarkable hitting performances across the league:
Jose Ramirez (2B/3B/OF, CLE) – 3-5, R, HR, 3 RBI. I mean, the guy isn’t starting at 3B in the All-Star Game for no reason. J-Ram has been on an absolute tear lately, and his fantasy relevance has arguably never been greater. He’s in the midst of an eight-game hitting streak and has managed to absolutely victimize pitchers during the last two series, even mustering two XBH in losing efforts against San Diego. Ramirez’s slugging percentage is the highest it’s been since April 29, and the mixture of a .330 BA, 45 RBI, 16 homers and nine steals looks pretty ironclad at this point. Throw in 60 runs scored—a total which trails only six guys league-wide—and you have a legitimate stud. He thrives higher in the lineup too, so if Cleveland elects to bump him up from the 5-spot to cleanup or No. 3, the fantasy spoils will be even more fruitful.
Jake Lamb (3B, ARI) – 2-3, 2 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI, BB (IBB). Lamb has been extremely consistent over the course of the season and has been a .280s hitter with very little fluctuation for what’s going on approximately seven weeks now. His 67 RBI are tied for the MLB-best total with Marcell Ozuna, and 54 runs alongside 20 homers before the break are looking extremely tasty. He’s also in the top 20 in OPS among qualified hitters with a .941. The strikeout rate is a little high at 25.6% but a 13.2% walk rate kind of softens that blow.
Domingo Santana (OF, MIL) – 4-5, 3 R, 2 RBI, BB, K, SB. Santana is somehow pulling off a pretty great fantasy campaign in relatively sneaky fashion. He’s already posted four multi-hit games in July. With 14 homers, 47 RBI, 52 runs, nine swipes and a .288 average, I don’t know what people think the catch is. Santana is only owned in a mere 62% of Yahoo leagues and an even more shockingly low 46.9% of ESPN leagues. His BABIP is a bit high at .368, but I’m less concerned than that would normally lead me to be because he dealt with a high BABIP through 77 games last year and posted serviceable stats that he’s outdoing handily now. I guess be wary of second-half regression but until it happens, he is a must-own.
Gregory Polanco (OF, PIT) – 4-4, 2 R, HR, 2 RBI, SB. The eighth steal of the year for Polanco came Thursday, which is decent, but the fact that he doesn’t excel at any one category bothers me. He hasn’t hit 30 in either runs or RBI through 252 at-bats, and seven homers are also nothing to write home about. The truth is he came into yesterday’s game against Philly with a .246 BA so the .258 he has now is a little deceiving. Consider the horrendous inefficiency of batting .183 in June, and I know I’m staying away; despite the asterisked accomplishment of beating up on two of baseball’s worst teams in the Phillies and the Giants to go .458 through six games in July, I would generally advise against owning Polanco unless you are out of options due to injury.
Kurt Suzuki (C, ATL) – 2-5, 2 R, HR, RBI. Suzuki occasionally has formidable showings like this, but the truth is that he just doesn’t offer enough production or a high enough average to make it worth rostering him in fantasy. A .244 BA, seven homers, 16 runs and 22 RBI through 123 at-bats doesn’t really inspire much other than indifference. Plus, we’ve been over this before: Tyler Flowers is the catcher to own in Atlanta anyway, with 30 runs and a .319 average that don’t entirely waste your time.
Alex Bregman (3B, HOU) – 3-3, 2 R, BB, SB. Talked about Bregman having a nice game on July 4th a few days ago but also how he’s not a worthy everyday starting fantasy 3B. In an effort to shake that stigmat, he’s gone and followed Tuesday’s effort up with this average-inflating night in Toronto. I still don’t believe the .260 average he now owns keeps up and the RBI absolutely need to come more frequently. However, it can’t be denied that Bregman has started July on the right note. By the way, the steal was his seventh (for context, his fifth and sixth came on June 20 and June 25, respectively). He’s on pace to end up just shy of 70 runs.
Eugenio Suarez (3B, CIN) – 3-5, R, RBI. Suarez had a relatively awful month of June in every way possible after a red-hot start to the season. He’s only homered twice in the last five weeks despite having 12 overall, so that’s definitely concerning. But a .260 average still remaining intact after such a rough stretch means there’s hope for the second half, particularly with a .312 BABIP that isn’t anomalously high. Grounders and soft contact are up a bit, however, so maintaining a decent BA and creating runs will be arguably key to sustained fantasy viability. He has 47 runs and 44 RBI in 2017.
Freddie Freeman (1B, ATL) – 2-5, R, 2 RBI, 2 K. Both hits went for doubles and Freeman crossed the plate for the first time since returning from his lengthy DL stint necessitated by a wrist fracture. He hasn’t missed a beat, as going 5-13 with two XBH after such a protracted layoff would indicate. Braves fans and fantasy owners alike will look forward to him padding his season total of 14 HRs, obviously. He’s batting third in the lineup, so that bodes well for plenty of chances at run production.
Mitch Haniger (OF, SEA) – 2-4, R, HR, RBI. Haniger had both a double and his first homer since June 21 to break a brutal 0-14 stretch over the last four games. The season average is at .273, largely helped by his scorching .342 April before being out six weeks with an injury. He’s scored 34 times through 165 at-bats, but just 23 RBI is a little rough even with the DL time. I’d advise patience, but that may have to come in the form of watchlisting Haniger until he catches fire once again. The 26-year-old has now homered seven times and has 3 SBs to his credit.