Among the many standout pitching performances from the weekend, Reynaldo Lopez's was one of the most noteworthy:
It was what we had long hoped to see him do, this 24-year-old most regarded for his 99-mph fastball, and it continued the trend of him missing more bats with more success. In fact, he has now allowed a total of four earned runs over his past four starts, striking out 29 in 25 2/3 innings.
You may remember he began the year with a 2.93 ERA in 10 starts, and you may remember so many of us said it wouldn't last. Yeah, he had only 6.2 strikeouts per nine innings back then. So clearly, this recent stretch is something different, and it's reflected in his changeup usage, which has been especially high in his past three starts. If it's indeed the key to his success, seeing him commit to it as his primary offspeed pitch bodes for the future.
But not so much the present.
True, if you're willing to run him out there for one start this week, it'll come against Baltimore, which is obviously a dream matchup. Seeing what Lopez just did to the Angels on Sunday and to the Yankees two turns ago inspires confidence, no doubt. But it would just be one start for a pitcher who you would have completely passed over less than a month ago. If you're still actively playing at this point, you've advanced pretty far and probably have some strong one-start options already. Would you really want to make room for him?
That's especially true given that it'd be one-and-done scenario. Lopez is lined up to face the Cubs and Indians in his final two regular-season starts, which are premier offensive clubs. As encouraging as his past four starts have been, I can't imagine taking that leap of faith on him, not when the stakes are so high.
And hey, there are other sleeper pitchers out there.
Jake Junis is another one showing signs of a turnaround, and unlike Lopez, he's reverting to a previous standard that, at the time, we thought was sustainable. His slider flattened out during the middle portion of the season, resulting in an eight-game stretch in which he served up 14 home runs, but he has allowed just one in eight start since. The slider is breaking like it should again, the control is characteristically top-notch, and the matchups against the White Sox and Twins this week are most favorable.
Among hitters, Tyler White has come closest to reaching the point German Marquez did a couple weeks ago where there's nothing more he can do to win the affection of Fantasy owners. It's just a matter of them paying attention. So let me slap you across the face with some numbers: What he's doing now he's doing with a perfectly sustainable low-.300s BABIP and after putting together a similar 1.013 OPS in the minors. It has lasted much longer than his 2016 fakeout, which was limited to a two-week stretch in April, and it has made him the No. 3 first baseman in Fantasy since he became a regular part of the lineup Aug. 4.
It stands to reason that a contender like the Brewers wouldn't want to make a reckless and erratic player like Jonathan Villar a regular part of its lineup, but on one with nothing to lose like the Orioles, he can be the stats hog he was in 2016 and basically has been since joining the club at the deadline. Really, it's the stolen bases that make him most useful to Fantasy owners. He already has the same number with the Orioles that he had in twice as many at-bats with the Brewers.
Unlike Villar, Adalberto Mondesi doesn't have a track record to point to, but he's a moderately hyped 23-year-old whose minor-league production took a big leap forward last year. So it's reasonable to think his recent major-league performance is legit, most notably his ability and willingness to steal bases. He doesn't walk enough but no longer strikes out a prohibitive rate. His pace over his past 42 games comes out to a .293-20-66-93-66 line.
More than Lopez, Lucas Giolito is the White Sox pitcher to add, if for no other reason than because he not only gets the Orioles matchup but also a terrific Royals matchup this week. Like Lopez, his newfound faith in his changeup has helped him get more out of his fastball, leading to bigger strikeout totals in his past four starts. Trusting in him is kind of risky after his most recent start against the Tigers was such a disaster, but the rewards are potentially huge.
Jeff McNeil really doesn't get enough credit — not even from the Mets themselves, who've taken to sitting him every third or fourth game. Clearly, he's hot right now, going 3 for 4 Sunday, but for a guy currently boasting a .340 batting average, his BABIP is only in the .360 range, which means it's not so far-fetched. He makes such frequent contact that he looks like a surefire .300 hitter with probably more power than we've seen so far given that he had 19 homers in 88 minor-league games this year.