Winners of a major league-leading seven in a row, the St. Louis Cardinals have created some space between themselves and the rest of the National League Central, their lead extending to a season-high five games after Saturday's win.
Fattening up against lighter competition -- the Cardinals are 15-5 against sub-.500 teams since the beginning of July -- has played a part, but that is not meant to take anything away from the team's recent run, especially considering the Cardinals' schedule is chock full of similarly light competition going forward. In fact, 18 of the team's next 21 games come against teams that are at least 16 games under .500.
As mentioned in the Week 19 Forecaster, Cardinals players are outstanding pickups for the week ahead, but it is especially true for one of their lesser-known stars, a player who has been grabbing a good share of leadoff starts as well as everyday at-bats of late. He leads this week's list of recommended pickups:
Lars Nootbaar, OF, Cardinals (93.4% available in ESPN leagues): He got a well-deserved mention in said Forecaster, but fantasy managers might not recognize just how much he has improved his stock in recent weeks. Nootbaar has started each of the team's past 24 games, as well as 26-of-27, and has batted .310/.458/.563 with three home runs, 13 RBIs, two stolen bases and 19 runs scored during the former time span. That has earned him a leadoff-against-righties, No. 9 hitter-against-lefties, everyday role, and bear in mind that 72% of the Cardinals opponents' rotations over their next six series are right-handed. Nootbaar's contact-quality has spiked during that 24-game recent span, as he has 50% hard-contact and 15% Statcast Barrel rates in that time, both top-25 qualified numbers during that time span. Plus, with Juan Yepez's demotion to Triple-A Memphis following his recovery from a forearm injury, right field is fully Nootbaar's for so long as he continues to hit.
Eduardo Rodriguez, SP, Detroit Tigers (33.8% available): August has been a generally good month for pitchers rejoining their respective big-league rotations -- Jacob deGrom, Lance McCullers Jr., Jesus Luzardo and Dustin May representing four other such examples -- but Rodriguez's return is one of the most actionable for fantasy. His roster percentage in ESPN leagues had dipped beneath 60% as recently as a week ago, and he's one of the most likely of the bunch to absorb an every-fifth-day, full-time starter's workload the rest of the year. Since returning from the restricted list due to personal reasons, Rodriguez dominated during his most recent minor league rehabilitation stint, posting a 1.29 ERA and 34.4% strikeout rate in three starts, while pushing his pitch count to 72 in the most recent outing. He then made quick work of the Los Angeles Angels in his return to the Tigers' rotation on Sunday, delivering five shutout innings and 18 fantasy points on 78 pitches. Little has changed in Rodriguez's skill set since the preseason, a time when he had shown year-over-year improvement in K-to-walk ratio with solid 2021 advanced metrics, and there is every reason to believe he could contend for top-30 starter status from this point forward. After all, this might well be his remaining schedule: at Texas, home against Seattle, at the Angels, at Kansas City, home against the White Sox, at Baltimore, home against Kansas City and Minnesota..
Jake Fraley, OF, Cincinnati Reds (92.7%): Don't sleep on the Reds simply because they traded away most of their big-name players and have already long since turned the page to 2023 (and arguably beyond that). Fraley has benefited in a big way from the trades of Tyler Naquin and Tommy Pham and the season-ending injury to Joey Votto (team-wide first base/DH shuffling), starting eight games in a row while batting .355/.460/.807 with four home runs and 12 runs scored. Fraley has batted .237/.352/.456 against righties and .231/.350/.408 in the Reds' hitting-friendly home ballpark this season, the optimal games in which to use him. He has taken over as the team's leadoff man against righties and No. 2 hitter against lefties, a Nootbaar-like expanded role, and Fraley's Reds play 5-of-7 games against righties during Week 19, with games against the weak pitching staffs of the Washington Nationals, Colorado Rockies, Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates in their next seven series.
Additional Week 19 notes:
May's return to the Los Angeles Dodgers rotation was more impressive than Rodriguez's, but the right-hander's workload is much more likely of the two to be monitored over the remainder of the year, considering he's younger, with less of a history of handling hefty workloads and is coming off Tommy John surgery. Still, May's nine strikeouts and 13 swings and misses, each the second-most in his 20-start career (the swings and misses tied for second), bode extremely well for his rest-of-season outlook, and he gets the Miami Marlins again in their pitching-friendly venue in his second start back.
The Philadelphia Phillies placed Seranthony Dominguez (triceps) on the 15-day injured list on Sunday, again thrusting their closer role somewhat into question. David Robertson, who notched a team-best 14 saves for the Cubs before being traded, handled the ninth inning in each of the Phillies' Saturday and Sunday games, successfully converting the former but blowing the latter. His appearance was a bit puzzling on Sunday, considering he had thrown 36 pitches the day before, and perhaps the Phillies will react accordingly and continue to roll him out there as their full-time closer for now. Considering how favorable the team's Week 19 schedule, Robertson should be universally started.