Fantasy Forward: Manny Machado is back

After cratering in the first half of the season, Manny Machado seemed primed to bounce back in the second half. Baseball is a marathon, and while many focus on parts of the season, targeting Machado in trade talks with a frustrated owner made sense. Time has expired with Machado thriving from positive migration to the mean of late, culminating in a 4-for-5 performance on Sunday scoring two runs, a double, a home run and five RBI.

Machado reached at least 20 home runs for the third straight season, and in the second half he is slashing .352/.398/.505 over 23 games with 15 runs, two home runs, 14 RBI, and two stolen bases. His isolated power of .154 seems too low for a player of his ability and home run potential. But like his BABIP, up 127 points after the break compared to the first half, Machado’s small sample size of isolated power in August (.308) hints the last stage of his season reclamation could be en route.

All of the numbers seem to be recovered, and the last piece, power, could take place over the last eight weeks of the season.

  • Aaron Nola’s rolling

Although Aaron Nola did not record the win in Coors Field yesterday, his seven inning outing allowing six hits, two earned runs, and two walks with seven strikeouts kept his team in the game. Over his last nine starts, Nola has recorded a quality start in each one of them, winning five games against two losses and giving up two earned runs or fewer in all of them. He has pitched 61.1 innings within this streak, striking out 70 with a 1.76 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. Nola’s pitched at least seven innings seven times and finished eight innings once as well in that nine-game stretch.

Injuries and lack of velocity seem to mask the skill set Nola possesses, but this streak along with a strong finish could remove his sleeper status in 2018 drafts.

  • Double “L” with two more home runs

Making a repeat appearance in this column featuring seven players proves to be impressive. Willson Contreras keeps on producing with his 10th home run in only 78 at-bats since the All-Star break. He’s homered five times already in August with 13 RBI and settling in as the Cubs clean-up hitter. Since transitioning to hitting fourth, in 28 games, he has scored 20 runs with 13 home runs, 35 RBI, two stolen bases, and a .330/.398/.745 slash line.

More impressive is his 37.9 hard contact rate at clean-up with a 43.3 home run to fly ball rate. His last 28 games can be a season for many catchers. Again, he’s the first catcher drafted next year.

  • Steven Souza’s walk-off homer

For the first time since 2014, a Tampa Bay player hit a walk-off home run. Steven Souza Jr. provided the fireworks and kept the Rays playoff hopes alive, salvaging the last game of a three-game series with the Brewers. With some health and plenty of production, the Souza fantasy owners hoped for in years past seems to have come to fruition, but somehow under the radar.

Souza has played 105 games this year with 62 runs, 24 home runs, 69 RBI and eight stolen bases with a .269/.371/.517 slash line. He’s pacing towards 34 home runs, 99 RBI and 11 stolen bases. In 2016, only five players hit at least 30 home runs and stole double digit bases: Brian Dozier, Todd Frazier, Rougned Odor, Mookie Betts and Ryan Braun. Pretty sure they were not on the waiver wire to start this season. Souza has never been a perfect fantasy target, but this year he’s finally living up to the status he arrived in Tampa Bay with.

  • Whit’s a hit in Kansas City

Homering in both games of the doubleheader yesterday, Whit Merrifield is breaking out in under the radar fashion. In his two games on Sunday, Merrifield went 4-for-10 with four runs, two home runs (12,13), drove in three, and stole his 18th base of the season.

Merrifield’s hitting .294/.333/.488 through 93 games this year with 50 runs, 13 home runs, 49 RBI and the 18 steals. He’s raised his level in the second half with 18 runs, six home runs, 16 RBI and four stolen bases in only 100 at-bats hitting a robust .330/.370/.590. It remains to be seen if Merrifield is in the midst of a hot streak or reaching another level, but he’s pacing towards 19 home runs and 27 stolen bases in only 137 games this year. As a position, second base has been a dearth of production for the Royals, so if Merrifield continues to rake, it’s a potential game changer for a team chasing a post-season berth.

  • Ryu’s on point for the Dodgers

With much of the focus on the Dodgers bats during their incredible run of late, perhaps giving the pitchers filling in for Clayton Kershaw merits attention as well. Hyun-Jin Ryu turned in his second straight seven inning shutout performance striking out eight Mets in New York on Sunday night. Ryu’s last two starts span 14 innings giving up six hits and one walk with 15 strikeouts. They did happen against the Giants at home and the Mets on the road, but he does not control the match-ups. Over his last six starts, Ryu’s 2.08 ERA should provide enough upside to be more owned in fantasy.

As for the staff, in 12 starts since Kershaw landing on the disabled list, the team is 11 – 1 with the starters working 69.1 innings, a 61:17 K:BB, 1.82 ERA and 1.00 WHIP.

  • Closer news

Perhaps the Pirates will realize they cannot run Felipe Rivero into the ground. He’s been terrific this year, but may be showing signs of fatigue. Rivero’s allowed two earned runs in two of his three appearances in August culminating in his first blown save of the year yesterday. He’s made 53 appearances this year, and Sunday would have been his 13th multiple inning one. It did mark the most pitches he’s thrown this year in any outing, and the team needs to manage his save chances better over the last two months. Rivero’s 67 strikeouts in 56.2 innings still stands out along with his 1.27 ERA and 2.42 FIP, but they need him in the role next year as well.

Matt Belisle recorded the sixth save of his career and first since 2012 on Sunday. Belisle worked a clean inning with a strikeout. He’s been terrific of late and enters the Twins “committee” as the right-handed arm to rely on. However, after the game, manager Paul Molitor immediately announced the Twins would play match-ups going forward. This means Taylor Rogers, who faced Rougned Odor and Joey Gallo in the eighth, would have pitched the ninth if they were the batters. Tread lightly if fishing for saves here.

Last, the Kintzler to Madson to Doolittle tandem seems to be working for the Nationals. Through 18 innings they’ve combined for a 2.00 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 20 strikeouts, and six walks going five-for-five in save chances with zero blown leads. Perhaps quantity does trump quality?

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Greg Jewett

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I am a father, PE teacher & fantasy baseball writer. Using saber metrics & information to evaluate players & trends is exciting to me."Passion is the oxygen of the soul." Bill Butler