by Howard Bender
Just as I've said all season long, and just as any successful fantasy baseball GM will tell you, the game is won by the player who best utilizes those late round draft choices and plays it smart on the waiver wire. It's those pick-ups that prove to be the difference-maker every year. Now I'm not saying that your team can do it without the help of a Hanley Ramirez or an Albert Pujols, but a high quality supporting cast is always of the utmost importance.
But in a lot of cases, the supporting cast is constantly changing. Baseball is notorious for streaks, and you've always got to strike while the iron is hot and always know when your late round selection has been maxed out. If you can still make waiver pick-ups, then you need to stay on top of who's coming up, who's getting the playing time, and who you need to replace on your squad. If you can still make trades, then you need to also anticipate what each team/manager is going to do based on where his team is sitting in the standings. Are they fighting for a playoff spot thus keeping all of their regulars intact or are they falling out of contention and trying out new and younger players?
All of this sounds like a lot of work to most people and they usually just let their team ride as is at this point of the year. But with roughly a month and a half still to go in the season, and with possible playoffs coming up for you head to head leaguers, there's still plenty of time to find more parts for your fantasy machine.
I've taken a look at the composite stats for the 2009 season to date and have narrowed the totals down to see who's been hot this past month and have pulled out a few names you might be interested in. I've tried to sift out some of the names of guys I won't be trusting down the stretch run and a few who I don't even think would be available to you anymore. What I've got here now are 5 hitters and 5 pitchers that are likely still available whether it's by waiver pick-up or to be had for relatively cheap in a trade and should all be valuable assets through the end of the season. Hopefully, there are a few names you'll be able to grab.
Nyjer Morgan, OF WAS -- As if starting off in Pittsburgh wasn't enough to keep him off people's radar, imagine what being a Washington National does for your profile. Morgan had a solid first half (well, almost half) this year on a bad Pirates team and hit .277 with 18 steals. Then he goes to Washington and blows up to the tune of hitting .370 with another 20 swipes, 14 of which have come in the last month where he's hit .398 with a .451 OBP. You won't get much power out of him, but if you need steals, runs and batting average help, look no further.
Kendry Morales, 1B LAA -- It's not so much that Morales had a bad, or even mediocre, first half this season, but when expectations ran high in the spring and Morales seemed average at best for a first baseman, he kind of fell off people's radar. Well, look at him now. He might be a little tougher to pull away from another owner, but with a .367 average, 10 HR and 27 RBI over the last month, he's definitely someone to look into. The Angels are starting to recover from their array of injuries and that lineup is only going to get better as they battle the Ramgers for the AL West.
Rajai Davis, OF OAK -- For those that remember last season, you'll know that Davis is a great little speed guy to have down the stretch. Just like 2008, Davis has earned himself a starting job in a dismal Oakland outfield and could be a huge help to you in the steals department. Best of all, is that since he's with the A's, he's getting no exposure and is likely sitting on the scrap heap still. He's hitting .341 with 11 SB in his last 74 AB and should continue to produce throughout the remainder of the season.
Chris Coghlan, OF FLA -- The interesting thing here about Coghlan is his potential position eligibility. In leagues that use previous year games played to determine eligibility, well, Coghlan suddenly qualifies as a second baseman. He's been playing the outfield all year this year, but if there's a loophole in your rules, then you might have a great find. Either way, wherever he qualifies in your league, a .375 average with 4 HR, 13 RBI and 2 SB is undoubtedly helpful. He's been another one of those Marlins sleepers and shoul dprovide some punch down the road.
Miguel Montero, C ARI -- To me, it was only a matter of time before Montero became a little more well known. He'd been buried in the depth charts for a couple of years now, but has finally been given his chance to shine. Over the last month, in 87 AB, Montero has hit .345 with 6 HR and 20 RBI and only looks to be getting better. I've been waiting on this since early 2007 and I'll tell you this...for a stretch run and a first place finish this year, he's definitely been worth the wait.
Ubaldo Jimenez, SP COL -- So it's likely that Jimenez is sitting on someone else's roster right now, but the fact that he starts for the Rockies is still enough of a stigma to allow you to acquire him for a relatively low price. His first half totals (6-9; 3.81) were nothing special, but since then, he's taken off. Over the past month, he's had 6 starts (posting a QS in each of them) and is 4-0 with a 2.53 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP; not to mention 39 Ks in just under 43 innings of work. He and the rest of the Rockies are surging, so it might be a good idea to inquire about his availability.
Clayton Richard, SP SD -- What a difference a change in scenery can do for a young pitcher, especially when it means moving from the best hitter's park to the best pitcher's park. Richard looks rejuvenated in San Diego and looks to be a solid play down the stretch. The Padres won't give him the best run support and wins might be tough to come by, but his ratios and Ks should be valuable. Over the last month he's 3-0 with a 2.70 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP along with 23 Ks in 33 innings. No pressure in San Diego, so look for him to develop even further.
Tommy Hunter, SP TEX -- Always tough to go with a rookie pitcher, let alone a rookie Texas pitcher, but Hunter has been rock solid since his call-up. He's only hit one little stumbling block this past month and even that (5 IP, 4 ER) wasn't all that terrible. On the positive, he's 4-1 over his last 5 starts with a 2.20 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP. The Rangers will give him the run support and with the recent demotion of Vicente Padilla, it looks like Hunter is sticking around.
Mat Latos, SP SD -- OK, so this one might be a little bit of a strecth, especially since I recently heard that the Padres may limit his innings down the stretch. But for right now, there's no timetable for that, so if you can use him, then I suggest the pick-up. Over the last month, he's 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA, a 0.94 WHIP and 23 Ks in just under 30 innings pitched. This is definitely a case of striking while the iron's hot, so if you need help in the back end of your rotation, then use him while you can.
J.P. Howell, RP TB -- The official unofficial closer of the Rays here and still I see him on waiver wires all over. Howell has been pretty solid since "taking over" the job although Joe Maddon hasn't actually said that he's the guy. But over the last month, Howell is 1-1 with 6 saves, a 2.25 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP. And the only reason his ERA is that high is a 2 run shot he gave up the other day, his first blown save since June 7th. His ERA has hovered around 1.90 for the month prior to this one. No, he's not a top tier closer, but he's still providing top notch relief help.
Looking for a few more late season additions? Come check out what's going on over at RotoBuzz.com and let me help you edge out the competition in your league.
Howard Bender is a freelance fantasy sports writer and champion in both rotisserie and head to head leagues. For questions, thoughts, or comments, you can email him at Howard.Rotobuzz@yahoo.com.