Congratulations to those fantasy managers who made it to the finals in their head-to-head leagues. Keep in mind that not only are there just two games next Monday, but players often miss time during the final week of the season -- and sometimes with little or no warning. As such, you'll want to maximize opportunities this week, beginning with a relatively busy Monday slate.
Buoyed by a doubleheader, there are a dozen games, starting with the opener between the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland in Progressive Field at 5:10 PM ET. The slate concludes with a pair of AL West clubs that are in the wild-card hunt as the Oakland Athletics entertain the Seattle Mariners.
This is where we typically note that all the players featured below are available in at least 50% of ESPN leagues, but today one pitcher sits just below that threshold. However, with so much on the line this week, a little bending of the rules is warranted. With all that in mind, here are Monday's picks.
Ranger Suarez (L), rostered in 58% of ESPN leagues, Philadelphia Phillies vs. Baltimore Orioles: There's no need to keep you in suspense. Suarez's conversion to the rotation has been duly recognized, which is why his roster percentage now sits a bit beyond our normal cutoff. However, this matchup is so enticing that it's worth checking on his availability in your league. In his last five starts, Suarez has spun a sparkling 1.55 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. Admittedly, his ERA is due for correction, but with 33 strikeouts and just seven walks allowed in these 29 frames, Suarez hasn't just been lucky. He's been both lucky and good. The Orioles offense is below-average away from home, and will be without the DH in this interleague affair.
Nestor Cortes Jr. (L), 45%, New York Yankees vs. Texas Rangers: Cortes may only have two wins over his last nine starts, but the Yankees have actually won six of those games. Over that span, Cortes has posted a 2.94 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP, with 53 punch outs in 52 frames while issuing only 13 free passes. The southpaw is in a great spot to keep the roll going, facing a Rangers offense toting the second-lowest road wOBA versus lefties.
Erick Fedde (R), 6%, Washington Nationals at Miami Marlins: Fedde may seem like a risk considering he's posted a 5.26 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP over his last five starts. However, he's pitched into some bad luck as evidenced by a .357 BABIP and 21% HR/FB rate over that stretch. His 33 strikeouts and only three walks over those 25 2/3 innings indicate he's been snakebit. Start him with confidence against a Marlins offense checking in with the third-lowest wOBA against right-handers, as well as the third-highest strikeout rate in those situations.
Shane Baz (R), 4%, Tampa Bay Rays vs. Toronto Blue Jays: Starting a pitcher who is making his MLB against the Blue Jays is obviously a risk, but Baz is no ordinary rookie. Acquired by the Rays from the Pirates in the Chris Archer deal, Baz was the fourth-highest starting pitcher (No. 19 overall) on Kiley McDaniel's midseason list of top-50 MLB prospects. Baz was pitching well at Triple-A Durham, registering a 1.13 ERA and an 0.75 WHIP over his last three starts, whiffing 22 with only three walks in 16 innings.
Bullpen: Hopefully, you followed the advice in Sunday's notes and beat the rush to Royals closer Scott Barlow or Cleveland setup man Nick Wittgren, both in play for a save during the twin bill. In lieu of that, Nationals closer Kyle Finnegan has had a couple of rough outings, dropping his roster percentage to 19%. Prior to his yielding six runs over 2 1/3 innings in his last two appearances, Finnegan had only allowed one run in 12 previous outings (spanning 13 1/3 innings), collecting six saves in that span.
For the latest team-by-team closer situations, please consult our Closer Chart.
Catcher -- Daulton Varsho (L), 17%, Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Atlanta Braves (RHP Huascar Ynoa): Be it behind the plate or in the outfield, Varsho's .297/.362/.593 second-half numbers should put him in the running for regular playing time next season. If that happens, Varsho will likely be a top-10 catcher.
First Base -- Lewin Diaz (L), 1%, Miami Marlins vs. Washington Nationals (RHP Erick Fedde): Heading into Sunday's action, Diaz had compiled a .300/.323/.633 line over his previous nine games. The thing is, according to Statcast data, it could have been even better as 48% of his contact was over 95 mph, with seven batted balls eclipsing triple-digits.
Second Base -- Chad Pinder (R), 1%, Oakland Athletics vs. Seattle Mariners (LHP Tyler Anderson): Pinder is a sneaky play in points leagues as he's been getting on base at a 37% clip this month. He does most of his damage with the platoon advantage, which he'll enjoy on Monday.
Third Base -- Jace Peterson (L), 3%, Milwaukee Brewers vs. St. Louis Cardinals (RHP Jake Woodford): Positions could have been shuffled to allow Kolten Wong to be the 2B option, but doing so would have resulted in a collective, "Not again." As such, Peterson is another means to get a piece of the potent Brewers lineup.
Shortstop -- Kyle Farmer (R), 19%, Cincinnati Reds vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (LHP Dillon Peters): Farmer continues to hit just well enough to be the Reds shortstop, at least through the end of this season. Whether they give Jose Barrero a chance in 2022 or bring someone else in remains to be seen. For now, Farmer continues to rake, carrying a seven-game hitting streak into Sunday's contest (.346/.370/.538).
Corner Infield -- Gavin Sheets (L), 2%, Chicago White Sox at Detroit Tigers (RHP Matt Manning): After giving up a whopping 11 HR in just 32 1/3 innings at Triple-A Toledo, Manning has since surrendered a more reasonable (but still high) 9 HR in 72 frames since being promoted. This is relevant because all nine of Sheets' longballs have come with a right-hander on the hill.
Middle Infield -- Freddy Galvis (S), 8%, Philadelphia Phillies vs. Baltimore Orioles (LHP John Means): The hot corner has been rather cold for the Phillies all season. Ronald Torreyes took over for Alec Bohm, but once Ronald Torreyes began slumping, Galvis took over. The veteran switch-hitter has a .412/.522/.706 line over the past week and has historically fared better against left-handers.
Outfield -- Lane Thomas (R), 29%, Washington Nationals at Miami Marlins (LHP Jesus Luzardo): Thomas joins a growing list of outfielders curiously playing better once they leave St. Louis. He was acquired from the Cardinals at the trade deadline in the Jon Lester trade. Since becoming a regular in mid-August, Thomas has stroked .308/.397/.538.
Outfield -- Jose Siri (R), 4%, Houston Astros at Los Angeles Angels (RHP Jaime Barria): Each year, someone emerges as a late season source of steals. Siri is 2021's "someone" with three steals in four tries since joining the Astros when rosters expanded. On Monday, Siri and the Astros rate an 8 (out of a possible 10) in steals on the Hitter Matchup Ratings.
Outfield -- Ben Gamel (L), 1%, Pittsburgh Pirates at Cincinnati Reds (RHP Vladimir Gutierrez): Despite facing more right-handed batters, 11 of Gutierrez's 18 homers allowed have come off a left-handed bat. Since 2019, 15 out of Gamel's 17 dingers have come with a right-hander on the mound.