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Strategies to survive the final weeks

9/13/2010

Give fantasy owners some credit for making New York Mets left-hander Johan Santana, Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Brandon Morrow and San Francisco Giants outfielder Andres Torres the most dropped players in ESPN standard leagues.

Santana is done for the season with a shoulder problem that could certainly affect his 2011 draft status. Morrow won't pitch again because the Blue Jays capped his innings, while Torres had an emergency appendectomy over the weekend and is unlikely to play for a few weeks. If you want to win a fantasy title, you can't carry dead weight on your roster in September, whether it's a former Cy Young winner, a guy responsible for the season's best-pitched game or an outfielder who hit .297 with 11 home runs, 38 RBIs and nine stolen bases in July/August.

I'm in the playoffs in a few head-to-head leagues, and also contending in roto leagues -- no, it's not all about fantasy football at this point -- and here are some strategy thoughts with three weeks left in the regular season.

Watch the categories: Every point matters in roto formats, so if you're winning saves by 15 but engrossed in a tough race for wins and strikeouts, don't be afraid to cut Bobby Jenks or even bench one of your safe, reliable closers. You get the same number of points for winning saves by two as you do winning by 20. I assume your league doesn't allow trading anymore -- it shouldn't -- but check free agency for help where you really need it. There are always spot starters available, as well as Wilson Betemit types for power sitting on free agency. Eric Young Jr. of the Colorado Rockies is stealing bases with the top players, and is unowned in 80 percent of leagues. Similarly, you might find it's hopeless to move up in stolen bases, so don't bother rostering a player like Young who doesn't help elsewhere.

Cut ... whomever: If a player isn't helping your team, act on alternatives. That doesn't mean you should have punted Cliff Lee when he was awful in August, but look at Phil Hughes of the New York Yankees; he's 16-7 for baseball's top team, but not pitching well lately, and not guaranteed more than a few more starts. Adam LaRoche, the one who normally rocks in the second half, has a .419 OPS this month. Do you know what Tim Hudson will do next time out? He's winless with a 6.38 ERA in September. Look past names for production, whether they were your top picks back in March or you paid a king's ransom for Justin Upton in July. Upton isn't even playing.

Kids are dangerous: I laughed when I saw Atlanta Braves rookie Mike Minor active for one of my opponents this past week. It's unlikely I would ever rely on an unproven pitcher in September if I could avoid it. Minor helped me out with a less-than-stellar outing. Houston Astros corner infielders Brett Wallace and Chris Johnson are slumping as well. Get safer veterans, even with less upside, like Jonny Gomes and 23-homer guy Jim Thome, then make guys like Minor your sleeper picks next season.

Check the schedule: Colleague Tristan Cockcroft discusses this week's easiest and most difficult matchups in the Fantasy Forecaster, but don't stop at this week. In Week 24 the Texas Rangers, overly reliant on their home stadium for offensive numbers, won't play a home game. Check out what Michael Young, for example, has done on the road, and you're not going to like it. I'm not saying to cut Young, because you don't want someone else to add him and beat you with him, but have a bench option with a strong schedule available. In Week 25, the Philadelphia Phillies aren't scheduled for a home game, which is the same deal. Then again, will many key Rangers or Phillies be playing that week? Playoff spots could be clinched by then. All of this factors into how a fantasy owner makes decisions.

Good to the last drop: Look at the National League playoff races, notably the NL West with the San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants and Colorado Rockies. I could certainly see the need for an extra game (or two) after the regular season ends on Oct. 3. Check your league rules to be sure, but most leagues will count extra games, since they are part of the regular season. If I covet stolen bases and can't decide between Will Venable and Ryan Theriot, for example, knowing Venable could have an extra game is a fitting tiebreaker for ownership. By early in the final week, you should have an idea which starting pitchers could add that extra start, and you should pounce.