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'The Nine' for Week 22
The playoffs have arrived in ESPN standard head-to-head leagues! Round 1 of your postseason begins with the games of Monday, Sept. 3, and extend two weeks through the games of Sunday, Sept. 16, with the regular season's Nos. 1 and 4 seeds facing off in one matchup and Nos. 2 and 3 facing off in the other. Prepare accordingly, and if you're in a custom league, be sure to check your playoff rules to determine matchup length as well as maximums/minimums in any categories. Remember, rosters have expanded to 40 eligible players from 25, so teams are more apt to shuffle rotations at this stage of the season.
Luis Urias' promotion to the San Diego Padres was one of the past week's biggest stories, and in Week 22 he and his team could again capture big headlines on the hitting side. The team makes visits to Arizona's Chase Field (two games) and Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park (four games), each of which provides the offense a ballpark boost. In addition, the Padres have their offense about the healthiest it has been all season and, as a result of shifting Wil Myers to third base, have loaded it with about as much power as it could considering available personnel. Excluding Myers and Eric Hosmer, both of whom are rostered in more than 70 percent of ESPN leagues, the other six Padres regulars -- and all are currently being used as effective regulars -- all warrant a look: catcher Austin Hedges (available in roughly 85 percent), Urias (more than 90 percent), shortstop Freddy Galvis (nearly 95 percent), left fielder Hunter Renfroe (roughly 75 percent), center fielder Manuel Margot (more than 85 percent) and right fielder Franmil Reyes (more than 98 percent). Renfroe, the team's current No. 5 hitter behind Urias-Myers-Hosmer and the team's hottest hitter, is the first one to add and activate in all your leagues.
The Boston Red Sox, who as recently as Aug. 14 were on pace for a 115-win season, have looked human since, winning just seven of 14 games since then (through the games of Aug. 30). Their offense, however, hasn't completely tanked, averaging a fourth-best-in-baseball 5.43 runs per game during that span, placing much of the blame on a pitching staff that has dealt with some untimely injuries. David Price's wrist issue -- the result of being struck by a batted ball on Aug. 29 -- casts some doubt upon his Week 22 value, as he's currently not scheduled to start until at least the team's week-ending series (if not early in Week 23). Chris Sale (DL: shoulder) is also questionable to return during Week 22, though the Red Sox are considering using him for a couple of innings during one of their weekend games, limiting his fantasy appeal. Plus, with both pitchers on track to possibly return, Nathan Eovaldi, who might've gotten two starts this week otherwise, might now have his second start pushed back into Week 23. Worse yet: the team faces a pair of top-10 offenses. On offense, the Red Sox must tangle with, again, a pair of top-10 opponents, and they'll do so without the advantage of the designated hitter for three week-opening games at Atlanta's SunTrust Park. Usual DH J.D. Martinez can and probably will move to right field for at least two -- if not three -- of those games, but that means Jackie Bradley Jr. probably begins on the bench, if the team doesn't simply rotate its four outfielders through that series. Martinez, Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi and Xander Bogaerts should all be mainstays in your lineup, but lesser names like Bradley, Ian Kinsler and Mitch Moreland are shakier weekly mixed-league plays facing this schedule.
The other interleague series involves the National League wild card (and Central Division title)-contending St. Louis Cardinals visiting Detroit's Comerica Park at week's end, which comes at a good time considering Marcell Ozuna (DL: shoulder) is due back in advance of Week 22. The team can then DH the defensively challenged Jose Martinez, keeping Ozuna and Tyler O'Neill in the lineup, affording the team the opportunity to fatten up against the Detroit Tigers' bottom-10 pitching staff. O'Neill (available in more than 85 percent of ESPN leagues) is well worth the pickup and start, and Ozuna is worth immediately activating in all formats.
The Milwaukee Brewers, who have faced a lot of right-handed pitching of late, now get a week chock full of left-handed starting pitching. They're scheduled to face potentially five lefty starters -- otherwise four and inexperienced Chicago Cubs right-hander Alec Mills -- which could swing the advantage to their lefty-mashing right-handed-hitting bats: Jesus Aguilar has batted .260/.375/.530 against lefties this season, Ryan Braun .245/.322/.510 and Lorenzo Cain .391/.468/.591. Christian Yelich, incidentally, is a scorching .338/.382/.554 hitter against lefties, so there's no worry about him either. Hernan Perez (available in more than 98 percent of ESPN leagues) is also worth an NL-only look thanks to his .281/.307/.531 rates against lefties.
The top four hitters in the Cleveland Indians' lineup are names that you know, which is why they're only here rather than at column's top despite one of Week 22's best team hitting ratings. Still, the team's bottom five are better fantasy options than you might think, especially facing a schedule this favorable: Yonder Alonso (available in more than 50 percent of ESPN leagues) has hit nine home runs since the All-Star break, Melky Cabrera (available in roughly two-thirds) is a .291/.371/.519 hitter in August, Jason Kipnis (more than 85 percent) is a .262/.367/.440 hitter in August, Yan Gomes (roughly 65 percent) is a .350/.375/.467 hitter in August and Greg Allen (more than 70 percent), the No. 9 hitter, is a .275 hitter with seven stolen bases in August.
The Toronto Blue Jays are one of only six teams to play a full seven-game Week 22, and they're one of two of those -- the Washington Nationals being the other -- who play all seven games at home. Toronto's Rogers Centre remains one of the better home-run environments in the game, and the team lucks out in avoiding Blake Snell during the week-opening series versus the Tampa Bay Rays and Corey Kluber in the week-ending series versus the Indians. That makes red-hot Kendrys Morales (available in more than 40 percent of ESPN leagues) a stronger play this week than last -- though not quite as good as he was two weeks ago -- and it also makes Billy McKinney (available in roughly 85 percent) a worthwhile pickup, as the Blue Jays should face at least six right-handed starters.
The Rays don't shape up that badly themselves, thanks in part to the three-game series at the much more hitter-friendly Rogers Centre coupled with a weekend three-game series back home against the Baltimore Orioles' second-worst-in-baseball (5.12 ERA) pitching staff. Better yet: The Rays have a full lineup of widely available players in ESPN leagues: Willy Adames is a .329/.396/.541 hitter with five homers and five steals in August, C.J. Cron is a .270/.324/.492 in August and Joey Wendle is a .333/.378/.506 hitter in the month. All three are available in roughly 75 percent of leagues and are worth adding and starting for Week 22.
Among Week 22's hitters with significant lefty/righty weekly advantages: Jim Adduci (available in more than 99 percent of ESPN leagues) is a .306/.340/.449 hitter against right-handed pitchers this season, and his Detroit Tigers are scheduled to face five righty starters in their six games; Derek Dietrich (available in roughly 75 percent) is a .279/.346/.431 hitter against right-handed pitchers this season, and his Miami Marlins are scheduled to face nothing but righty starters in their six games; Alex Gordon and Ryan O'Hearn (both available in more than 97 percent) are .271/.350/.426 and .318/.423/.727 hitters against right-handed pitchers this season, and their Kansas City Royals are scheduled to face five righty starters in their six games; Tyler White (available in roughly 70 percent) is a career .277/.348/.574 hitter against left-handed pitchers, and his Houston Astros are scheduled to face at least two lefty starters in six games; Ryan Zimmerman (available in roughly 45 percent) is a .407/.486/.746 hitter against left-handed pitchers this season, and his Washington Nationals are scheduled to face three lefty starters in seven games.