I understood, when this season began, why fellow fantasy enthusiasts were scoffing at the concept of believing that Andrew McCutchen could ever return to stardom. He was coming off career lows in average and steals, and he also had fewer runs per game played and his lowest RBI total since 2010. It was like he magically got worse at everything all at once, while dealing with a not-that-bad .297 BABIP. McCutchen’s infield flies, soft contact, and strikeout rate all soared while his OBP, ISO, and speed on the base path tanked. And through May, it really looked like we might be in store for more of those same relatively underwhelming numbers. McCutchen himself admitted in a really great July Fangraphs article by Eno Sarris that he had been mired in a funk he was able to break free from in a game against Dan Straily, and that it was like night and day once he got that groove back. My belief early on was that McCutchen couldn’t possibly be spiraling down into fantasy irrelevance this quickly, such that I never dropped him from my Top 150 hitters rankings. I thought that something just needed to get corrected in both his psyche and his mechanics at the dish, and that it was simply a matter of when—and not if—he would. He’s gone on to have a much better year than the regressionists would have ever predicted back when he was floundering in May, and Tuesday was a cathartic culmination of what he’s been able to do to positively correct his season. Going 4-4, 4 R, 2 HR, 8 RBI against Baltimore yesterday saw Cutch come within a triple shy of the cycle while enjoying his first career grand slam. His season-long OPS of .849 ranks 41st in MLB, and it’s worth being aware that he’s got three multi-hit games in the last 10 days while outpacing his season BA and SLG (.278, .487) slightly in September with marks of .284 and .511. He’s worth your time as championship week nears its midpoint; the Pirates finish their season against Washington, and McCutchen’s gone .333 with three runs and two RBI against the the Nationals this year.
Now, for a scan of what the rest of the league’s hitters were up to:
Eddie Rosario (OF, MIN) – 4-5, R, HR, 3 RBI, K. Rosario was very efficient against Cleveland last night, and it just builds on what has been a dynamite conclusion to the summer for the Twins OF and recent everyday cleanup hitter. He’s hit 16 homers since the beginning of August, and his AVG has loitered in the high .280s or low .290s for all of September. Rosario also has 19 RBI this month, tying the current totals of A.J. Pollock, Jose Ramirez, and Josh Donaldson, so he’s in pretty solid company there. He’s also reached base safely in five straight contests. Try his hot bat out in your lineups as the Twins continue to battle the Indians and then host Detroit at Target Field this weekend.
Josh Donaldson (3B, TOR) – 3-5, 2 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI, K. Speaking of Donaldson, he’s batting .325 and slugging .725 this month. In an underperforming year for the former AL MVP, he’s now got three homers in his last two games and 10 since the turn of the month, so it’s probably safe to say he’s gunning to finish on a high note. He can have a direct impact on the AL East race and resulting Wild Card situation if he manages to mash well against the Red Sox and the Yankees in the four remaining Jays games.
J.D. Martinez (OF, ARI) – 3-4, R, HR, 6 RBI, K. Martinez’s 35 RBI in September lead the league, and 15 homers in the same span are pretty mind-boggling. He’s hit safely in five consecutive and in 14 of his last 16. He’s making a case to be a certifiable first-round draft pick in all formats next year with this kind of surge to finish an already exceptional regular season. Do not bench him or you will deserve the wrath of the fantasy gods and never know joy again.
Jose Abreu (1B, CHW) – 3-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI. If a .307 BA, 33 homers, and 102 RBI are not enough to convince you Abreu needs deployed at all times, then perhaps his September slash line of .345/.280/.714 will do the trick. He’s also doubled four times in the last six games, as a heads up to those playing in points leagues that award extra value to XBH. Abreu has also not struck out in his past three contests, so that’s a bright spot for someone who has accrued 113 K throughout the season.
Cameron Maybin (OF, HOU) – 2-4, 3 R, HR, 3 RBI, BB, K, SB. This was a masterful night of baseball from the struggling Maybin. In the 14-3 win over Texas, Maybin notched just his seventh and eighth hits as an Astro since getting claimed off waivers from the Angels on August 31. He does have two steals in the last three games, so his .160 average in a Houston uniform could have some compensatory value if he can swipe another and tally a couple more hits to finish out the regular season schedule, but that’s expecting a lot. The recency bias will probably have people swap him into lineups, but since he had one run and zero RBI from September 8 to September 25, Maybin is probably too risky to start during this final matchup of the fantasy season.
Jedd Gyorko (1B/2B/3B/SS, STL) – 2-4, 2 R, HR, RBI, BB, K. In the two weeks Gyorko’s been back from the 10-day DL with a hamstring issue, he’s hit .318 with two homers and three RBI. Reading through the lines here, he basically didn’t do jack until these last two games against Chicago: five of his seven September hits and both homers have transpired on Monday and Tuesday. That’s either awesome or terrifying as a fantasy play: the inconsistency across his previous seven games this month is troubling, but he’s also heating up right when the Cardinals are trying to clamber for a Wild Card spot. That could be useful during this final H2H matchup for you. I’d call Gyorko a medium-risk, high-reward UTIL play this week. Don’t get too cute subbing out known studs just because of these two games, but stream him if you need to.
Starlin Castro (2B, NYY) – 3-3, R, HR, RBI, BB. Castro went eight straight games from September 8-16 without netting a single RBI, which led me to panic a bit. He’s still hitting .279 this month, but the production has dwindled in a way that makes it difficult to be as excited as I want to be about Castro at the plate. He’s only played in 107 games this year, but Castro has admittedly improved with regard to scoring runs himself by already outpacing last year’s mark of 63 with 150 fewer at-bats. He’s an above-average start at 2B to close out your season, but the volume of counting stats may not be there to bail you out like it might have been earlier in the year.
Teoscar Hernandez (OF, TOR) – 2-5, 2 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 3 K. Mentioned him Monday. A 7-day OPS that’s in the neighborhood of 1.000 is not something to be taken lightly in the five days you have left to clinch a championship.