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Week 18 Fantasy Hitting Planner

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer
  •  

The Fantasy Baseball Hitting Planner is your guide to setting your lineup for the upcoming scoring period. Every week, we'll give you the latest on injuries, lineup changes, streaks and matchups, highlighting the players at each position who might surprise or disappoint as a result.

Any players not listed here fall into the "status quo" category, meaning you should take your usual approach with them.

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All statistics are updated through Saturday, July 30.

Catcher

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has chosen to elevate Dioner Navarro to the starting catcher position because of his defense, sending Rod Barajas to a backup role. Navarro has started seven of the last 10 games, but he is batting just .197 on the season and should not be owned outside of NL-only leagues ... Angels manager Mike Scioscia said it's time for Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson to up the ante offensively with Hank Conger back in the minors. Neither player is worth the time of day outside of AL-only Fantasy formats.

Must-Start Options: Victor Martinez, Carlos Santana, Joe Mauer, Miguel Montero, Alex Avila, Matt Wieters

Heating up
Yadier Molina: .452 (14 for 31), 3 2Bs, 3 HRs, 8 RBI, 1.290 OPS during eight-game hit streak
Victor Martinez: .322 (19 for 59), 3 2Bs, 11 RBI, .757 OPS in 15 games
Jarrod Saltalamacchia: .364 (12 for 33), 3 HRs, 10 RBI, .697 SLG, 1.079 OPS during eight-game hit streak

Cooling off
Humberto Quintero: .238 (5 for 21), no extra-base hits, 1 RBI, 4 Ks in seven games
Jorge Posada: .217 (13 for 60), 2 2Bs, 3 RBI, 10 Ks, .534 OPS in 21 July games
Matt Wieters: .094 (3 for 32), no extra-base hits, 1 BB, 7 Ks, .215 OPS in eight games

Worth a second look
Jarrod Saltalamacchia (34 percent started): The Red Sox are home for seven games in Week 18. Saltalamacchia is batting .289 with an .811 OPS at Fenway Park in 2011. The Red Sox also face five right-handed starters. Saltalamacchia is batting .275 with an .844 OPS against righties, as opposed to .232 and .671 against lefties. Look to activate Saltalamacchia in deeper mixed leagues due to the favorable splits.
Ramon Hernandez (24 percent): The Reds face just one left-handed starter this week. Hernandez is batting .298 with a .518 slugging percentage and .875 OPS against righties this season. The Reds also make trips to hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park and Wrigley Field, where he is a career .325 and .317 hitter, respectively. Hernandez is a sleeper start in deeper formats.

Approach with caution
Geovany Soto (60 percent started): The Cubs are set to face one left-handed starter in Week 18, which doesn't bode well for Soto, who is batting just .222 with a .363 slugging percentage against righties in 2011. He hasn't hit the surprising Pirates or Reds well either, batting .105 against each opponent. If you have a better alternative, then it might be worth starting them over Soto for the upcoming scoring period.
Miguel Olivo (31 percent): Olivo has two homers and six RBI in his last eight games, but he might find it tough to keep the offense going next week. The pitching matchups are very tough for Seattle, which includes a road trip to Los Angeles to face Dan Haren, Jered Weaver and Ervin Santana. Olivo is batting .136 against Oakland and .154 against Los Angeles this season. Olivo shouldn't be starting in most mixed leagues Week 18.

Injury concerns
The big news of the week is Braves backstop and top scoring Fantasy catcher, Brian McCann, landing on the disabled list with an oblique injury. David Ross has decent pop for a catcher, but he is merely a stopgap Fantasy option in larger formats until McCann returns ... Yorvit Torrealba is day to day with back stiffness. He seems like a low-risk start for AL-only Fantasy formats.

First base

The Pirates acquired Derrek Lee from the Orioles, which spells bad news for the slumping Lyle Overbay, who is expected to become a bench option for Pittsburgh. The Orioles will fill Lee's void with Chris Davis, who they acquired in a separate trade with Texas. Davis has a ton of power potential, but he doesn't hit consistently and strikes out a lot. He is still a low-end Fantasy flier until he hits like he did in the minors ... The Diamondbacks traded Brandon Allen on Sunday to the Athletics. Conor Jackson has taken over as the A's everyday first baseman and has performed well offensively, so Allen is headed to the minors for the time being. He is not worth holding onto in Fantasy, however. The more interesting storyline is power prospect Paul Goldschmidt coming to the majors for his debut. Arizona still might ease him into an everyday role by starting Xavier Nady against left-handed starters, but Goldschmidt is worth the flier in deeper Fantasy formats because of his power potential ... The Astros' patience with Brett Wallace is running thin. Manager Brad Mills said he is going to rest Wallace at times in an effort to get him going offensively. Carlos Lee will start most times at first base when Wallace is on the bench ... David Wright's return bumped Daniel Murphy from third base, but he just shifted across the diamond for New York. Murphy has started nine straight games at first base for the Mets and should remain there with Ike Davis looking iffy to return in 2011.

Must-Start Options: Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez, Joey Votto, Prince Fielder, Mark Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis, Ryan Howard, Paul Konerko, Adam Lind, Gaby Sanchez, Lance Berkman

Heating up
Albert Pujols: .333 (15 for 45), 4 HRs, 10 RBI, .733 SLG, 1.095 OPS in 10 games
Eric Hosmer: .426 (20 for 47), 5 2Bs, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 2 SBs, 1.077 OPS during 11-game hit streak
Mike Carp: .359 (14 for 41), 2 2Bs, 2 HRs, 9 RBI, 1.006 OPS in 10 games

Cooling off
Brett Wallace: .103 (3 for 29), no extra-base hits, no RBI, 9 Ks, .265 OPS in 10 games
Matt LaPorta: .182 (6 for 33), 2 HRs, 5 RBI, 11 Ks, .222 OBP in 11 games
Lyle Overbay: .111 (4 for 36), 1 2Bs, no RBI, 8 Ks, .139 SLG in 12 games

Worth a second look
Eric Hosmer (75 percent started): Hosmer has been on a tear lately and his Week 18 matchups are favorable enough for him to keep producing. The Royals face no lefty starters. That's significant because Hosmer is batting .311 with a .538 slugging percentage and .897 OPS against righties. All six games are also at home, where Hosmer is batting .315 with a .813 OPS. Make sure to activate Hosmer for the upcoming scoring period.
Mitch Moreland (32 percent): Adrian Beltre going on the DL means more PT for Moreland at first since Michael Young can play third base. Moreland is still sitting against lefties in favor of Mike Napoli, but the Rangers face no lefties in Week 18. Moreland is batting .294 with an .852 OPS against right-handed pitchers. He is also batting .316 against the Tigers and .438 against the Indians, so Moreland is an intriguing sleeper start for Week 18.

Approach with caution
Justin Smoak (23 percent started): Smoak has seen his starting percentage plummet in recent weeks and it's not time for it to go back up in Week 18. Smoak is batting .113 with 31 strikeouts in his last 30 games. Smoak is batting just .094 in nine games against the Angels this season and he gets to face the team's three best pitchers -- Haren, Weaver and Santana.
Aubrey Huff (32 percent): The Giants do have a seven-game homestand in Week 18, but the stars aren't aligning for Huff. He is batting .216 against righties as opposed to .303 against lefties. However, the two lefties he faces this week are two of the best in the NL -- Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. Huff, who is hitting just .228 in his last 16 games, is also batting just .229 with one homer and 15 RBI in 46 home games, so now is not the time to get him back into Fantasy lineups.

Injury concerns
Gaby Sanchez returned to the lineup over the weekend after missing a few games with a hamstring injury. He appears a safe start for Week 18 ... White Sox 1B Paul Konerko is day to day with a bruised left calf. He still might be worth starting in most Fantasy leagues since Chicago has a seven-game week.

Second base

Skip Schumaker was already seeing a reduction in playing time before St. Louis acquired shortstop Rafael Furcal, but now the playing time crunch is going to get even worse as Ryan Theriot is now in the mix for starts at second base.

Must-Start Options: Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, Chase Utley, Brandon Phillips, Michael Young, Ben Zobrist, Michael Cuddyer

Heating up
Ben Zobrist: .368 (28 for 76), 5 HRs, 6 2Bs, 18 RBI, 1.155 OPS in 20 games
Michael Young: .416 (37 for 89), 9 2Bs, 2 HRs, 18 RBI, .607 SLG, 1.065 OPS in 23 games
Dustin Pedroia: .393 (46 for 117), 9 HRs, 9 2Bs, 21 RBI, .718 SLG, 1.161 OPS in 27 games
Dan Uggla: .338 (27 for 80), 5 2Bs, 8 HRs, 18 RBI, 20 Ks, .700 SLG, 1.118 ops during 21-game hit streak

Cooling off
Adam Kennedy: .172 (5 for 29), 2 2Bs, no HRs, 1 RBI, 9 Ks, .200 OBP in eight games
Danny Espinosa: .123 (8 for 65), 1 HR, 3 RBI, 24 Ks, .200 SLG in 17 games
Gordon Beckham: .150 (3 for 20), 1 HR, 1 RBI, 5 Ks, .300 SLG in seven games

Worth a second look
Daniel Murphy (81 percent started): The Mets do have some difficult pitching matchups in Week 18, but I'm going against the grain with Murphy, who has become a reliable Fantasy start thanks to a .379 average, 17 doubles and 26 RBI in his last 34 games. The Mets face just one lefty in Week 18, which is good for Murphy, who is batting .324 with an .831 OPS against righties.
Mark Ellis (10 percent): Ellis has been a decent offensive player since arriving in Colorado. However, a large part of his success has been aided by the thin air in Denver. Ellis is batting .375 with two homers, seven doubles and 10 RBI in 11 games at Coors Field. Well, the Rockies are home for seven games in Week 18, so Ellis is a sleeper start in deeper formats.

Approach with caution
Gordon Beckham (32 percent started): Beckham is once again going cold at the plate after coming off a season-best 10-game hit streak. Beckham has always been a better second-half player than first-half option. But he might find it tough to snap his hitting slump in Week 18. He has four home games -- batting just .219 at home this season -- against the Yankees and shouldn't be started outside of the deepest Fantasy formats until he heats up again.
Kelly Johnson (55 percent): Johnson has dealt with a lingering calf injury in July, but when he has been in the lineup he has been productive. Johnson has four homers and 12 RBI in 21 July games. He is starting to become a reliable Fantasy start again, but Week 18 is no easy feat. The Diamondbacks are going up against Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong and Clayton Kershaw. Johnson is batting .194 against San Fran and .156 against Los Angeles. He has no homers or RBI in a combined 16 games against the two NL West foes.

Injury concerns
Rickie Weeks went down with a severe ankle injury on Wednesday and is expected to miss 3-6 weeks. This is a devastating blow for Fantasy owners since second base is such a weak position and Weeks is one of the best options available. The Brewers acquired Felipe Lopez and Jerry Hairston, and both players could vie for playing time at second base. But neither player is worth adding outside of NL-only leagues ... Alexi Casilla went on the DL with a hamstring pull, which will open at-bats for Matt Tolbert and Trevor Plouffe, who don't have Fantasy value outside of AL-only leagues.

Third base

The White Sox trading Mark Teahen means Omar Vizquel and Brent Morel will compete for playing time at third base in the Windy City. Neither player is worth more than an AL-only Fantasy flier.

Must-Start Options: Albert Pujols, Jose Bautista, Evan Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman, Kevin Youkilis, David Wright, Michael Young, Pablo Sandoval, Aramis Ramirez

Heating up
Emilio Bonifacio: .380 (41 for 108), 5 2Bs, 5 RBI, 17 BBs, 19 SBs, .890 OPS in 28 games
David Wright: .475 (19 for 40), 2 HRs, 3 2Bs, 12 RBI, 1.176 OPS during nine-game hitting streak
Danny Valencia: .314 (16 for 51), 2 2Bs, 2 HRs, 8 RBI, .822 OPS in 13 games

Cooling off
Ian Stewart: .129 (4 for 31), 1 2B, 3 RBI, 9 Ks, 2 SBs, .390 OPS in 11 games
Scott Sizemore: .164 (11 for 67), 2 HRs, 13 RBI, 27 Ks, .296 OBP in 21 games
Chris Johnson: .192 (5 for 26), no extra-base hits, 1 RBI, 9 Ks, .434 OPS in 7 games

Worth a second look
Eduardo Nunez (36 percent started): The return of Eric Chavez could cut into Nunez's playing time, but Nunez's offensive prowess should keep him in the lineup with Alex Rodriguez still weeks away from returning. The good news for Nunez is that the Yankees are on the road for seven games and face two lefties next week. Nunez is batting .277 with an .801 OPS against lefties and .282 with 16 RBI in 30 road games. Nunez might be worth activating in larger Fantasy formats as a sleeper corner-infield option.
Chase Headley (39 percent): Headley has been feasting on left-handed pitchers in 2011, batting .366 against them. The Padres face three lefty starters in Week 18. Headley is also batting .296 against the Dodgers and .571 against the Pirates. He doesn't have the home run power to compete with the elite Fantasy third basemen, but his .341 average in his last 35 games might be enough to activate him as a low-end option in larger formats for the upcoming scoring period.

Approach with caution
Maicer Izturis (35 percent started): Izturis continues to bounce around the infield for Los Angeles. Izturis totaled 21 Fantasy points in the last seven days, but it might not be time to activate him in Fantasy. The Angels are home for six games in Week 18. Izturis is batting .223 with one homer and nine RBI in 39 home games, as opposed to a .317 average and .846 OPS in 47 road games.
Chris Johnson (13 percent): Johnson is working his way back into the good graces of the coaching staff. He has started 12 of the last 13 games at the hot corner. But Johnson has not hit well against his Week 18 opponents -- the Reds and Brewers. Johnson is batting just .176 in nine games against Cincinnati and is 0 for 23 in six games against Milwaukee, who will also throw Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke against Houston. One last tidbit as you consider keeping Johnson benched for the next scoring period. The Astros are home for six games and Johnson is batting just .234 in 46 home games.

Injury concerns
Placido Polanco came off the DL on Saturday and that means Michael Martinez's time as a stopgap Fantasy option is over ... As soon as Chipper Jones came back from one injury -- knee surgery -- he immediately is back on the shelf with another injury -- quadriceps. It doesn't appear Jones will need another trip to the DL, but again you never know with the fragile veteran. For now, he is on the day-to-day watch and an injury-risk start this week ... Juan Uribe landed on the DL with an abdomen injury, but Casey Blake came off the DL after recovering from a hip injury and will likely start most nights at third base for the Dodgers. Blake has been too banged up this season to trust outside of NL-only formats initially.

Shortstop

Rafael Furcal was traded to St. Louis over the weekend. Manager Tony La Russa is a mad scientist with his lineups, but St. Louis is likely to start Furcal on a regular basis. There is always the risk of injury with Furcal, but he has been heating up lately and now being thrust into a pennant race makes him an intriguing add in Fantasy again ... Furcal's departure has opened up regular playing time in Los Angeles for Dee Gordon, whose speed on the base paths certainly makes him a viable Fantasy option in Rotisserie formats ... The Giants bolstered their middle infield with the acquisition of Orlando Cabrera, who is expected to start regularly at shortstop with Miguel Tejada on the DL. Cabrera is a shade of the player he once was, but he is certainly worth a look in NL-only Fantasy formats while he is getting a chance to play regularly ... With Reid Brignac in the minors, the Rays have replaced his presence at shortstop with Sean Rodriguez. The team will still sneak Elliot Johnson into the lineup against left-handed hurlers. Rodriguez is still more of an AL-only Fantasy flier.

Must-Start Options: Jose Reyes, Troy Tulowitzki, Asdrubal Cabrera, Hanley Ramirez, Jimmy Rollins, Starlin Castro, Elvis Andrus

Heating up
Cliff Pennington: .444 (20 for 45), 2 HRs, 4 2Bs, 8 RBI, 1.176 OPS during 12-game hit streak
Brendan Ryan: .289 (22 for 76), 2 HRs, 5 2Bs, 9 RBI, 21 Ks, .763 OPS in 18 games
Willie Bloomquist: .324 (24 for 74), 2 2Bs, 5 RBI, 12 Ks, .781 OPS in 19 games

Cooling off
Tsuyoshi Nishioka: .175 (10 for 57), no extra-base hits, 6 RBI, 11 Ks, .379 OPS in 17 games
Alcides Escobar: .162 (6 for 37), 2 2Bs, 3 RBI, .396 OPS in 10 games
Ian Desmond: .222 (6 for 27), 1 2B, 1 3B, 2 RBI, 5 Ks in 11 games

Worth a second look
Marco Scutaro (16 percent started): The Red Sox have a pretty favorable seven-game homestand in Week 18. Scutaro is batting .333 against Cleveland and .300 against New York this season. He also has a .278 average and .792 OPS at Fenway, as opposed to .254 and .637 on the road. If desperate for a one-week Fantasy sleeper, then Scutaro might fit the bill in deeper formats.
J.J. Hardy (75 percent): Hardy has four homers in his last six games and he could continue his power surge in Week 18. The Orioles are going up against the Royals and Blue Jays. Hardy is batting .400 against the Royals and .385 with five doubles, six homers and 11 RBI against Toronto.

Approach with caution
Brendan Ryan (6 percent started): Someone or something has lit a fire under Ryan, who has been exceeding expectations the last few weeks. But he might finally cool off in Week 18. Ryan has not hit well against his two upcoming AL West foes, batting .156 in nine games against Oakland and .222 in seven games against the Angels.
Willie Bloomquist (10 percent): Bloomquist has taken over at shortstop with Stephen Drew out for the season. He is putting up decent offensive numbers, but as we have alluded to already, the Diamondbacks face four All-Star starters during a six-game week. Perhaps consider other alternatives before settling on Bloomquist.

Injury concerns
Derek Jeter left Sunday's game after getting hit on the hand. X-rays came back negative and he was diagnosed with a bruised middle finger. He is day to day. The Yankees have a seven-game week, so Jeter could be worth the gamble in Fantasy since he has been hitting well since coming off the DL in early July ... Elvis Andrus was sidelined this weekend with a sore right knee. It doesn't sound as though he will land on the DL, and with an off day on Monday, Andrus could easily return on Tuesday, so he is a low-risk start for Week 18 ... Jed Lowrie (shoulder) will begin a rehab assignment on Monday. It's not time to activate him for Week 18, but Lowrie might be back in the mix for Week 19 (Aug. 8-14).

Outfield

Most Added Hitters
* as of July 31
Player % increase
1. Jon Jay, OF, Cardinals 17
2. Desmond Jennings, OF, Rays 16
3. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, Red Sox 15
4. Hideki Matsui, DH, Athletics 15
5. Josh Reddick, OF, Red Sox 12
6. Yadier Molina, C, Cardinals 10
7. Jason Bourgeois, OF, Astros 10
8. Lucas Duda, OF, Mets 9
9. Daniel Murphy, 1B, Mets 8
10. Collin Cowgill, OF, Diamondbacks 8

Michael Bourn being traded to Atlanta doesn't really affect his Fantasy value. The Braves are going to ask him to do the same things he did atop the Astros lineup. The bigger Fantasy impact is what happens in Houston now that Hunter Pence is with the Phillies and Bourn is in Atlanta. Jason Bourgeois benefits as he can play all three outfield positions, and he might start regularly in center field until Jordan Schafer, who was added in the Bourn trade, is ready to come off the DL. The Astros brought up prospect J.D. Martinez, who could play either corner outfield spot when called upon. Bourgeois and Martinez are both intriguing Fantasy options in larger formats, particularly NL-only ... As for Pence's arrival in Philadelphia, Domonic Brown is now back in the minors. If an injury doesn't force his recall, then Brown will likely stay in the minors until rosters expand in September. He still has more value in long-term Fantasy keeper formats ... Ryan Ludwick joins the Pirates outfield after being acquired in a deadline deal from San Diego. Moving to a contender and leaving pitcher-friendly PETCO Park could make Ludwick a reliable Fantasy option. We still need to see how he adjusts in Pittsburgh before running out and adding him in mixed leagues ... Kyle Blanks is the likely benefactor in left field for San Diego now that Ludwick is with Pittsburgh. But it wouldn't surprise us if manager Bud Black mix-and-matches his corner outfielders, so Blanks is still more of a wait-and-see Fantasy option ... The Mariners picked up two very good outfield prospects in Trayvon Robinson and Chih-Hsien Chiang as part of the Erik Bedard deal. Robinson could very well be with the Mariners shortly, so he is worth adding in AL-only Fantasy leagues. Chiang is at Double-A, so he is more of a long-term Fantasy keeper ... Yonder Alonso is back in the majors thanks to the trade of Jonny Gomes to Washington. However, Reds manager Dusty Baker isn't totally confident in Alonso's defensive skills in left field, so Chris Heisey is going to get most of the starts as Alonso is eased into the mix. Alonso is worth stashing in deeper Fantasy formats, but now is not the time to activate him ... The White Sox are frustrated with struggling outfielder Alex Rios. The team promoted Alejando De Aza from Triple-A to steal starts in center, and general manager Ken Williams told manager Ozzie Guillen to not worry about payroll numbers when setting his lineup. Chicago might be just waiting for Dayan Viciedo to get healthy in the minors before overhauling its outfield. Rios is clearly a bad Fantasy option.

Must-Start Options: Jose Bautista, Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp, Matt Holliday, Josh Hamilton, Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson, Andrew McCutchen, Shane Victorino, Justin Upton, Carlos Beltran, Nelson Cruz, Melky Cabrera, Michael Bourn, Jay Bruce, Ben Zobrist, Carlos Quentin, Carl Crawford, Lance Berkman

Heating up
Justin Upton: .500 (21 for 42), 7 2Bs, 6 HRs, 19 RBI, 1.143 SLG, 1.685 OPS during 11-game hit streak
Nelson Cruz: .457 (16 for 35), 2 HR, 6 2Bs, 13 RBI, .800 SLG, 1.286 OPS in nine games
Jacoby Ellsbury: .391 (43 for 110), 7 2Bs, 8 HRs, 23 RBI, .709 SLG, 1.147 OPS in 25 games
Ryan Braun: .359 (14 for 39), 4 2Bs, 5 HRs, 9 RBI, .846 SLG, 1.221 OPS in 10 games
Desmond Jennings: .379 (11 for 29), 3 2Bs, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 4 SBs, 1.115 OPS in eight games
Carlos Lee: .309 (17 for 55), 3 HRs, 3 2Bs, 12 RBI, .894 OPS in 14 games
Matt Kemp: .429 (12 for 28), 2 HRs, 3 2Bs, 10 RBI, 1.202 OPS during seven-game hit streak
Josh Willingham: .357 (10 for 28), 3 2Bs, 3 HRs, 10 RBI, 7 BBs, 1.272 OPS in eight games
Nick Swisher: .438 (14 for 32), 2 2Bs, 4 HRs, 12 RBI, 6 BBs, 1.401 OPS in nine games

Cooling off
Chris Young: .170 (9 for 53), 2 2Bs, 2 RBI, 16 Ks, 3 SBs, .486 OPS in 15 games
Carlos Beltran: .156 (5 for 32), no extra-base hits, 6 RBI, 9 Ks, 9 BBs, .482 OPS in nine games
Hunter Pence: .175 (7 for 40), 1 3B, 2 2Bs, 2 RBI, .558 OPS in 12 games
Seth Smith: .200 (7 for 35), 1 2B, 1 3B, 2 RBI, .286 SLG in 10 games
Endy Chavez: .207 (6 for 29), no extra-base hits, 3 RBI, .233 OBP, .440 OPS in eight games
Ryan Ludwick: .172 (15 for 87), 1 HR, 5 2Bs, 13 RBI, 26 Ks, .485 OPS in 23 July games
Travis Snider: .161 (5 for 31), 1 2B, 1 RBI, 13 Ks, .355 OPS in eight games
Nate Schierholtz: .194 (6 for 31), 4 2Bs, 4 RBI, 6 Ks, .541 OPS in nine games
Alex Rios: .144 (13 for 90), 3 2Bs, 3 RBI, 13 Ks, .350 OPS in 24 games

Worth a second look
Vernon Wells (60 percent started): Wells might not be lighting the world on fire offensively, but he has six homers and 15 RBI in his last 23 games, which is an improvement. It works in his favor that the Angels face three left-handed starters during a six-game homestand in Week 18. Wells is batting .286 with an .843 OPS against lefties. Consider him a low-end Fantasy start in mixed leagues.
Eric Thames (21 percent): Thames is batting .306 with a .556 slugging percentage and .890 OPS in his last 31 games, which is why he is now a regular in the Jays lineup. Toronto faces two lefties in Week 18, which works in Thames' advantage since he is a .315 hitter against right-handed pitchers as opposed to .259 against left-handed hurlers. The Jays also have favorable pitching matchups, so it might be time for Thames' starting percentage to start rising.
Marlon Byrd (19 percent): Byrd is getting his timing back at the plate after spending several weeks on the DL after he was hit by a pitch in the face in late May. Byrd is batting .337 in his last 22 games and gets a seven-game schedule in Week 18. The Cubs face six right-handed starters next week, and Byrd is batting .335 against righties, as opposed to .230 against lefties. Byrd could be a nice sleeper option in deeper formats next week.
Seth Smith (36 percent): The Rockies have a seven-game homestand in Week 18, which bodes well for Smith, who is batting .309 with a .539 slugging percentage and .885 OPS at home. The Rockies do face three left-handed starters, but Smith still might do enough damage to be worth the gamble in Fantasy.
Hideki Matsui (20 percent): A's manager Bob Melvin has turned around Matsui's season by playing him on a regular basis since taking over for the fired Bob Geren. Matsui is batting .473 (26 for 55) with three homers and 17 RBI in 14 games since the All-Star break. Matsui's career splits in average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS are all higher in the second half, so now might be the time to start trusting him again in Fantasy.

Approach with caution
Michael Brantley (59 percent started): Brantley is batting .338 in his last 18 games and has started to become a regular in many Fantasy lineups. But his bubble might burst in Week 18. The Indians will face three left-handed starters, and Brantley is batting just .248 against lefties in 2011. The Indians will go up against the likes of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and C.J. Wilson, so you might consider benching Brantley for the upcoming scoring period.
Chris Young (84 percent): Normally considered a must-start option, Fantasy owners are starting to get annoyed with Young's slow start in the second half. His starting percentage is down to 84 and Week 18 might not be the time Young breaks out of his slump. Again, Arizona is facing four All-Star starters, and Young is also batting .194 in eight games against the Dodgers this season.
Angel Pagan (46 percent): After going on a prolonged hot streak to raise his average to .258, Pagan has hit .188 in his last 17 games to drop his average back down to .242. He might not get much of a chance to get on a roll in Week 18. The Mets are home for six games, where Pagan is batting just .207 with a .551 OPS. At the end of the week, Pagan goes up against Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens, which is a tall order for any hitter.
Johnny Damon (51 percent): Damon is another player that has hit better on the road than at home in 2011. He is batting just .246 with a .645 OPS at the Trop, as opposed to .294 with an .805 OPS on the road. The Rays are home for six games next week and also face two left-handed starters. Damon is batting .267 against lefties, so it might be time to consider better matchups in Fantasy.
Torii Hunter (49 percent): Hunter has been one of the more frustrating Fantasy options in 2011 as it has been tough for owners to rely on him. Week 18 might be a scoring period where you look to other options. The Angels have a six-game homestand and face three left-handed starters. Hunter is batting just .250 at home and is batting .221 with three homers against lefties.

Injury concerns
Denard Span came off the DL on Sunday and will rejoin the lineup Tuesday against the Angels. Manager Ron Gardenhire has said Span will continue to start in center field despite the emergence of Ben Revere, who will now be shifted around the outfield. Span can be activated in larger Fantasy formats ... Lance Berkman rejoined the lineup on Sunday after missing four games with a shoulder injury. It doesn't appear he is headed for the DL, so keep Berkman active for Week 18 ... Nelson Cruz sat out most of the weekend with a quadriceps injury, but he is expected back in the lineup on Tuesday, so keep him active in all Fantasy formats.

Best 5 Hitting Schedules for Week 18
Team 8/1 8/2 8/3 8/4 8/5 8/6 8/7
Rockies PHI PHI PHI WAS WAS WAS WAS
vs. Hamels vs. Kendrick vs. Halladay vs. Detwiler vs. Zimmermann vs. Hernandez vs. Lannan
The Rockies are hitting .279 as a team at Coors Field, which is the fourth highest average at home in the majors.
Red Sox CLE CLE CLE CLE NYY NYY NYY
vs. Tomlin vs. Huff vs. Carrasco vs. Masterson vs. Colon vs. Garcia vs. Sabathia
Boston is even better at home than the Rockies, hitting a league-best .308 as a team at Fenway Park.
Orioles -- @KC @KC @KC TOR TOR TOR
-- vs. Chen vs. Hochevar vs. Francis vs. Mills vs. Morrow vs. Romero
The Orioles face enough low-end arms early in the week that they could put up decent Fantasy points.
Braves @WAS @WAS @WAS -- @NYM @NYM @NYM
vs. Hernandez vs. Lannan vs. Wang -- vs. Dickey vs. Niese vs. Pelfrey
The playoff-hungry Braves face no frontline starters, which could make for a very good Week 18.
Pirates CHC CHC CHC CHC SD SD SD
vs. Zambrano vs. Wells vs. Garza vs. Lopez vs. Harang vs. LeBlanc vs. Luebke
Like Atlanta, the contending Pirates could be in for a good week with no Cy Young candidates on the docket.
Worst 5 Hitting Schedules for Week 18
Team 8/1 8/2 8/3 8/4 8/5 8/6 8/7
Diamondbacks @SF @SF @SF -- LAD LAD LAD
vs. Cain vs. Lincecum vs. Vogelsong -- vs. Billingsley vs. De La Rosa vs. Kershaw
We don't evny the Diamondbacks, as they face four All-Stars in Cain, Lincecum, Vogelsong and Kershaw.
Seattle OAK OAK OAK -- @LAA @LAA @LAA
vs. Cahill vs. Harden vs. Gonzalez -- vs. Haren vs. Weaver vs. Santana
Even before Seattle faces L.A.'s three top arms, it has to contend with Cahill and Gonzalez.
Giants ARI ARI ARI PHI PHI PHI PHI
vs. Kennedy vs. Hudson vs. Marquis vs. Lee vs. Worley vs. Hamels vs. Kendrick
The Giants appear headed for a lot of pitcher's duels this week. Not helping is a .238 team average at home.
Indians @BOS @BOS @BOS @BOS @TEX @TEX @TEX
vs. Lackey vs. Beckett vs. Wakefield vs. Lester vs. Holland vs. Wilson vs. Lewis
The Indians hit just .245 as a team on the road, and it won't help that they have to face Beckett, Lester and Wilson.
Mets FLA FLA FLA -- ATL ATL ATL
vs. Vazquez vs. Hand vs. Hensley -- vs. Hudson vs. Hanson vs. Jurrjens
The Mets could have an ugly end to their week when they go against the Braves' three top arms.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyBB . You can also e-mail us your questions to DMFantasyBaseball@cbs.com . Be sure to put Hitting Planner in the subject field.

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Player News
Buster Posey smacks walkoff home run Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:23 am ET) Giants catcher Buster Posey went 3 for 5 with three RBI and hit a walkoff, two-run home run in his team's 4-2 win over the Rockies Wednesday.

Posey gave his team a 2-1 lead with an RBI single in the seventh inning, but the Rockies managed to even the game in the top of the ninth. The catcher came up with one on and two outs in the bottom of the ninth and came through with a game-ending homer. Posey has hit .292/.348/.465 with 18 home runs and 68 RBI in 449 at-bats.


Juan Nicasio takes loss vs. Giants Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:21 am ET) Rockies pitcher Juan Nicasio was stuck with a loss Wednesday, allowing a walkoff two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth in his team's 4-2 defeat against the Giants.

Nicasio (5-6) wrapped two strikeouts around a single before Buster Posey deposited a pitch over the left-field wall to end the game. He's surrendered six earned runs in 10 innings since rejoining the team in early August. Nicasio owns a 5.86 ERA and 55:28 K:BB ratio in 83 innings.


Santiago Casilla blows save, picks up win Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:18 am ET) Giants closer Santiago Casilla blews a save opportunity Wednesday, giving up one earned run on one hit and one walk in one inning, but he still managed to pick up a win in his team's 4-2 victory over the Rockies.

Casilla (2-3) threw just five of his 15 pitches for strikes Wednesday, and a Justin Morneau double brought home a run and cost the closer a save. He owns a 1.71 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 39:14 K:BB ratio in 47 1/3 innings.


Albert Pujols dealing with calf tightness
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:16 am ET) Angels first baseman Albert Pujols was removed from Wednesday's game due to minor calf tightness, MLB.com reports.

The injury isn't expected to cost Pujols time, as manager Mike Scioscia expects to have him in the lineup Thursday. The first baseman went 0 for 3 with a walk and an RBI before coming out of Wednesday's game.


Mike Trout smashes 30th home run in win vs. Marlins
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:14 am ET) Angels outfielder Mike Trout went 2 for 3 with two walks, a home run and two RBI in his team's 6-1 win over the Marlins Wednesday.

Trout tied the game at 1-1 with an RBI single in the third inning and piled on with his seventh-inning solo home run. He has four multi-hit performances in his last six games, with three including a home run. Trout has hit .291/.378/.565 with 30 home runs and 94 RBI in 501 at-bats.


Tim Hudson strikes out eight vs. Rockies
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:11 am ET) Giants pitcher Tim Hudson didn't factor into the decision Wednesday, giving up one earned run on four hits and one walk in eight innings while striking out eight in his team's 4-2 win over the Rockies.

Hudson hadn't completed eight innings in a start since the end of June, and he needed just 87 pitches to pull off the feat Wednesday. His only damage came on a fifth-inning home run. Hudson owns a 2.90 ERA and 106:29 K:BB ratio in 167 2/3 innings. He's scheduled to face the Rockies again Monday, this time in Colorado.


Franklin Morales allows one run in no-decision vs. Giants
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:10 am ET) Rockies pitcher Franklin Morales didn't factor into the decision Wednesday, allowing one earned run on seven hits and one walk in six innings while striking out six in his team's 4-2 loss to the Giants.

Morales hadn't completed six innings while holding the opposition to one run or fewer since April before doing so Wednesday, when his only run came on a bunt single in the fourth inning. He owns a 5.14 ERA and 86:55 K:BB ratio in 124 1/3 innings. Morales is scheduled to face the Giants again Monday.


Zach Duke takes first loss Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:10 am ET) Brewers pitcher Zach Duke was stuck with his first loss Wednesday, giving up one earned run on two hits and one walk while recording two outs in his team's 3-2, 10th-inning defeat against the Padres.

Duke (4-1) put the first two batters of the bottom of the 10th inning on base but looked like he may escape with the game still tied after retiring the next two batters. It didn't happen, as a single brought home the game-ending run. Duke, who has put together a rocky August, owns a 2.47 ERA and 63:15 K:BB ratio in 51 innings.


Henderson Alvarez gives up five runs in loss vs. Angels
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:01 am ET) Marlins pitcher Henderson Alvarez took a loss Wednesday, surrendering five earned runs on eight hits and one walk in 6 1/3 innings while striking out three in his team's 6-1 defeat against the Angels.

Alvarez (10-6) watched a four-start winning streak end Wednesday, allowing three runs in the third inning before serving up solo home runs in the fourth and seventh innings. He's now given up four home runs in his last two starts combined. Alvarez owns a 2.75 ERA and 97:29 K:BB ratio in 157 innings. He's scheduled to face the Mets Monday.


Hector Santiago strikes out six in win vs. Marlins
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:01 am ET) Angels pitcher Hector Santiago earned a win Wednesday, allowing one earned run on three hits and two walks in 5 2/3 innings while striking out six in his team's 6-1 victory over the Marlins.

Santiago (4-7) fell behind 1-0 after surrendering a home run in the third inning, but he was able to buckle down and hold the Marlins at bay over the rest of the start. He owns a 3.28 ERA and 94:41 K:BB ratio in 107 innings. Santiago is set to face the Astros Tuesday.


 
 
 
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