This is it. From here on out, you're playing for keeps. For the whole enchilada. For all the marbles. You're going big or going home.

So what on earth is causing owners to throw in their lot with the likes of Jordy Mercer, Adam Lind, Alejandro De Aza and David Freese, all of whom have been ignored by the majority of Fantasy owners for most of the season? Naturally, hot streaks are a big reason, but so are the limited options available on waivers in most leagues. Mercer, Lind, De Aza and Freese can turn cold as quickly as they turned hot, but if your choice is to go with one of them as opposed to the proven mediocrities that populate the free agent pool, the hot hand has some merit when you only have one week left to win a title.

Even in crunch time, not every player on a hot streak is worth picking up in every format. Some of the players featured in this final edition of this column have enough going for them, besides their most recent string of games, to be worth a start in Fantasy Week 26 (Sept. 22-28). Others should only get penciled in to your deep league lineups.

Separating the lineup and rotation contenders from the pretenders is what we do every week in this space, so for one last time in 2014, it's time to start the sorting process.

Note: All current season stats are for games played through Monday, Sept. 15.

Steve Pearce, 1B/OF, Orioles

Ownership in leagues: 55 percent (up 10 percent)
Frankly, most of the players in this week's column and on the most-added list for leagues are ones who have been overlooked for most of the season, and owners are crossing their fingers and hoping they can squeeze out just one more week in a late-season hot streak. Pearce is one of the few available hitters who, based on his season-to-date numbers, inspires real confidence for a strong finish. I had reservations about Pearce earlier in the year, because he had yet to put up good power numbers in the majors over parts of seven previous seasons. This deep into the season, it's hard not to trust his average flyball distance (285 feet, according to, strong pull-hitting tendencies and homer-friendly schedule. Pearce has hit nine of his 17 home runs at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, three at other good home run parks and two others at stadiums that have been above-average for home runs. With a different schedule, there could be reason to be skeptical of Pearce's prospects in Week 26, but with series at the Yankees and Blue Jays, he could be a huge power source. He has probably overperformed a bit on batting average, but hitting in the midst of such a potent lineup, Pearce should produce enough to be worth starting in any 12-team mixed league format.
Leagues worth owning him: 12-team mixed leagues

Jordy Mercer, 2B/SS, Pirates

Ownership in leagues: 51 percent (up 13 percent)
Owners hadn't shown much interest in Mercer until he started to get hot right around the All-Star break, but it's wasn't until his latest streak that his ownership rate crept over the 50 percent mark. With a productive weekend series against the Cubs, Mercer's latest hitting binge is entering its third week, as he has batted .333 with four homers over his last 14 games. Mercer does have a little power, as he has 19 home runs over 241 games going back to last season, but with a career .269 batting average, Mercer needs to have even more power to stand out as a reliable option in standard mixed leagues. There's nothing fluky about Mercer's recent high average, as he has struck out only five times in 54 at-bats. Still, it's too small of a sample to trust with your title hopes on the line, unless you are in a deeper league.
Leagues worth owning him: 14-team mixed leagues

A.J. Pollock, OF, Diamondbacks

Ownership in leagues: 37 percent (up 6 percent)
If owners had any questions about how well Pollock would hit after missing half the season with a broken hand, he has answered them since his Sept. 2 return. In 11 games, Pollock has gone 11 for 38 (.289) with a home run. He's also given owners a flurry of steals, producing four in five attempts. Though this is the first season in which Pollock has hit for average, he has enough speed to maintain his current .312 mark in addition to his stolen base pace, but where has the power come from? Pollock has never been a home run hitter, and before his injury, he had a shot at a 20-homer season. If you need power, you should probably count on another hitter, because if Pollock's 24 percent flyball rate doesn't make his homer total look fluky, having four of his seven homers fall into the ESPN Hit Tracker's "Just Enough" category does.
Leagues worth owning him: 12-team mixed Rotisserie leagues, 14-team mixed Head-to-Head leagues

Drew Storen, RP, Nationals

Ownership in leagues: 35 percent (up 21 percent)
Storen is one of a handful of newly-minted closers who has gained popularity with his promotion, but he is a cut above Edward Mujica and Kevin Quackenbush. On the surface, Mujica would appear to have more job security, as the Nationals are giving ousted closer Rafael Soriano a chance to win his job back, but a poor outing in Atlanta on Monday shows that he has a ways to go. Storen's not a great strikeout pitcher, but not a terrible one, either, and as Ernesto Frieri has shown, Ks in and of themselves aren't all they're cracked up to be. If you've been relying on a struggling Jake McGee or Francisco Rodriguez, think about joining the growing crowd and switching over to Storen.
Leagues worth owning him: 12-team mixed leagues

Adam Lind, 1B, Blue Jays

Ownership in leagues: 34 percent (up 8 percent)
Lind has been hitting for average all season long, but a recent power spike has suddenly got owners interested. Aside from a 35-homer campaign five years ago, Lind hasn't been a major power source, but he's been well off-course from his usual 20-plus homer pace. Lind has dealt with two injuries this season -- one to his back in April and another to his foot in July. Perhaps we are finally seeing a fully healthy Lind for the first time all season. He's not striking out much and getting on base frequently (.391 OBP), and now that he's playing close to every day and typically hitting behind Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, Lind could get a nice bundle of RBI in his final week. Any power you get from him will just be gravy.
Leagues worth owning him: 14-team mixed leagues

Alejandro De Aza, OF, Orioles

Ownership in leagues: 32 percent (up 13 percent)
Early-season interest in De Aza fizzled as he came out of the gate with a .173 batting average through the end of May. There was some evidence of the power/speed combination that endeared De Aza to owners in the first place, but he wasn't getting on base nearly enough to matter in Fantasy. Over the next three months, De Aza rebuilt his value, batting .301 with nine stolen bases, but owners remained unimpressed. Initially it looked like De Aza's value would take another hit after his trade to the Orioles, as his playing time was initially spotty, but he's hit his way back into regular play. He has at least one hit in 10 of his 11 games with Baltimore, batting .333, and has blasted a pair of homers and stolen a couple of bases. De Aza is back to being a must-start in standard mixed Roto leagues, though he doesn't offer quite enough extra-base power or stolen base efficiency (17 steals in 26 attempts) to be worth using outside of deeper points leagues.
Leagues worth owning him: 12-team mixed Rotisserie leagues, 14-team mixed Head-to-Head leagues

Charlie Morton, SP, Pirates

Ownership in leagues: 32 percent (up 4 percent)
Morton's gain in popularity was no doubt fueled by his status as a two-start pitcher for Week 25, and he clearly won't have the same appeal as a one-start pitcher in Week 26. In fact, he may not even have that much value this week. Whether he makes a start this weekend depends on how he feels coming off Tuesday's start against the Red Sox -- his first since getting activated from the DL. If he is good to go to stay in the Pirates' rotation, it would be worth your while to start Morton again next week in deeper leagues. He is scheduled to face the Reds at Great American Ball Park. The team has not been much of a threat offensively, and "Ground Chuck" doesn't have to worry much about the park's cozy dimensions.
Leagues worth owning him: 15-team mixed leagues

David Freese, 3B, Angels

Ownership in leagues: 27 percent (up 8 percent)
Freese's career has seemingly been in free fall for the better part of two seasons, but he's experienced a brief revival over the last couple of weeks. Last year, Freese's power evaporated, and while it hadn't returned this year, he has also started to see his plate discipline erode. As a ground ball hitter, Freese didn't have a lot of room for error as a power hitter (also see Eric Hosmer), and he's failed to stay among the leaders in average flyball distance like he was in 2012. Freese owes his recent uptick in production -- a .372 batting average with three home runs and four strikeouts over 12 games -- to hitting for contact and power, but his extended track record suggests it won't last.
Leagues worth owning him: 16-team mixed Rotisserie leagues, AL-only Head-to-Head leagues

Chris Young, OF, Yankees

Ownership in leagues: 18 percent (up 11 percent)
The Mets may have been banking on Young recapturing his 2010 form, when he batted. 257 with 27 home runs and 28 steals for the Diamondbacks. Instead, he was not quite on a 20-20 pace, and his .205 batting average didn't warrant the playing time to needed reach that threshold. Young has coming alive, though, since moving crosstown to the Yankees. In 10 games, seven of which he has started, Young has clubbed three homers and four doubles, and he also stole a base in his only attempt. Because he hits flyballs in bulk, Young can hit home runs in bunches like this, but he can also pop out in bunches, too. Unless you are desperate for home runs in a Roto league and don't mind taking a hit in batting average, it's best to avoid Young. Especially now with both Brett Gardner and Carlos Beltran back in the Yankees' lineup, it's not even guaranteed that Young will see much playing time going forward.
Leagues worth owning him: 16-team mixed Rotisserie leagues, AL-only Head-to-Head leagues

T.J. House, SP, Indians

Ownership in leagues: 17 percent (up 8 percent)
There are a couple of factors that are probably driving up House's ownership rate. He's pitched seven innings in each of his last three starts, allowing a combined two runs over those appearances. Also, owners who were looking ahead to Week 26 may have anticipated a two-start week for House, but that got ruined when his Week 25 start got pushed back. If you're thinking of getting House for the final week, as of now, he will have a single start against the Rays. House has actually been on a roll for a month and a half, posting a 2.14 ERA and an 8.8 K/9 ratio over seven starts. Having emerged as one of the most prolific ground ball inducers in the game and facing a middle-of-the-pack offense in the Rays, House is worth starting in deeper leagues, even without the second start.
Leagues worth owning him: 15-team mixed leagues

American League options

Cory Rasmus, RP, Angels

Ownership in leagues: 4 percent (up 3 percent)
Rasmus has some two-start appeal for this week...well, sort of. He is indeed scheduled to start against the Rangers in addition to Tuesday's start against the Mariners, but in each of his four turns in the Angels' rotation, Rasmus has not made it beyond either 50 pitches or four innings. Rasmus isn't stretched out enough to give owners two full-length starts, and in any event, he won't make more than one start next week. He has been effective, both as a starter and a reliever, but for the small number of innings you're likely to get from Rasmus next week, you would be better off picking up a middle reliever with good ratios, like Dan Otero. He would be more likely to vulture a win in relief than Rasmus is to get one in his start.
Leagues worth owning him: AL-only

National League options

Matt Clark, 1B/3B, Brewers

Ownership in leagues: 1 percent (up 1 percent)
It took just over two months for Clark to make the journey from obscurity in Double-A to his major league debut on Sept. 2, but it took two days for Clark to start registering on the radar of NL-only owners. That's because Clark hit home runs in back-to-back games for the Brewers last week, and then he padded his resume with a homer in his next game three days later. Clark had to opt out of his minor league contract with the Mets back in June in order to get an opportunity in the Brewers' system, and now he has probably earned even more playing time with the big club. Though he had never been considered to be a prospect, Clark had a consistent record of hitting for power in the minors. He may not hit for average or be a huge on-base threat, but with the possibility for at-bats and power production over the season's waning days, Clark is worth a shot in NL-only leagues.
Leagues worth owning him: NL-only

Player you might reconsider dropping

Mike Minor, SP, Braves

Ownership in leagues: 83 percent (down 4 percent)
Prior to his most recent start, Minor had completed a string of six straight quality starts that produced a 2.59 ERA. After Sunday's shelling at the hands of the Rangers, apparently Minor was the odd man out for a lot of owners who needed to create space for new pitchers for the final two weeks. That's a shame, because Minor had become a reliable option once again after rebounding from a midseason slump. Control issues plagued Minor in his start against the Rangers, but that's the exception for him rather than the norm. While Minor is just shy of being a must-start option, given that he is scheduled to make only one start (against the Pirates), he could still help standard mixed league owners in their final push for a championship.
Leagues worth owning him: 12-team mixed leagues


The final week is so uncertain for starting pitching. If you're chasing W's and K's, how to decide least likely P's to be bumped?-- @mrlbem

AM: It's far from a perfect science, but in weekly leagues, I try to avoid starting pitchers slated to pitch on the final two days of the regular season who are on contending teams, unless I'm willing to use them as one-start pitchers. As it stands, Lance Lynn, Yordano Ventura and Gerrit Cole are pitchers I'd look to avoid next week, so I'd be willing to cut them to make room for, say, a two-start Derek Holland. Of course, if there are pitchers who develop a health issue or are potentially affected by an innings limit, I would avoid them as well.