The following countdown details seven prominent hitters who are excellent candidates for sizable fantasy numbers during Week 5 (April 22-28):
1. SS Starlin Castro, Cubs
On Monday, the Cubs begin a four-team, 10-game homestand that will likely feature contests played in good weather — something the North Siders hardly enjoyed during the season’s opening month. And with the warmer temperatures … come better stats for Castro, a top-five shortstop who averaged 12 homers, 72 RBI, 85 runs, 195 hits, 10 triples and a .300 batting average for 2011-12.
For this seven-game week against the Padres and Reds, the toughest pitcher on the docket may be Cincy closer Aroldis Chapman; and if the Cubs are playing well (or getting blown out), Chapman’s dominant services may not be required.
At Wrigley Field, Castro has stellar career tallies in batting average (.308) and on-base percentage (.355); and for the month of May, Castro boasts a .300 average, as well.
2. OF Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have been a woeful 5-11 since shortstop Jose Reyes went down with a serious ankle injury on April 12; and with Edwin Encarnacion (.227 batting) and Brett Lawrie (.213) struggling at the plate, it’s fair to wonder where and when the spark will come for the American League East’s preseason favorites?
Enter Bautista, whose wretched marks with batting (.192), OBP (.280) and BB/K ratio (9/20) suggest last year’s extended slump may be the new normal. But there are a few slivers of hope here:
**For 2010-12, Bautista had an amazing walk-to-strikeout rate of 291/290. That kind of elite-level plate discipline just doesn’t wash away after one bad month.
**The streaky Bautista has cracked three homers in his last five games.
**The Blue Jays have six straight home games for the week, three against the Red Sox and Mariners.
3. 1B Ryan Howard, Phillies
Granted, it’s only a seven-day sample, but Howard had one of the most confounding runs of quirkiness from April 22-28, accounting for two homers, 10 RBI and .308 batting average on the plus size … and a 0/7 BB-K rate and .296 OBP on the negative end.
How does one rack up a .296 on-base percentage with a robust batting average in the .300s (for that time window)? Frankly, I have no clue; but it looks creepy when nestled between a .308 average and .654 slugging mark.
That aside, Howard couldn’t have asked for a better weekly slate, drawing a pair of games at Cleveland and then four juicy home matchups with the Marlins, who have a collective ERA of 4.44 in Innings 1-6 this season.
And Miami’s Ricky Nolasco (2-0, 3.75 ERA, 1.08 WHIP), despite the lifetime marks of 6-1 and 2.98 ERA at Philly’s Citizens Bank Park, is always an outing away from the next implosion.
Which might explain why Nolasco fantasy owners tend to walk on eggshells, or act with restrained jubilation, when viewing his strong start to the season.
4. OF Brett Gardner, Yankees
The over-achieving Yankees (how weird does that sound?) haven’t needed Gardner’s A-game contributions this season, but that could change soon.
Gardner, who draws six home dates with the Astros (three) and Athletics (three) this week, has tallied lifetime averages above .300 during May and June; and from April 7-21, he notched at least one hit in 10 of 11 games — with four multiple-hit outings during that span.
From a steals perspective, Gardner curiously has only one theft for the year. But in 2011, he averaged nine steals per month for May, June, July, August and September.
5. 2B Omar Infante, Tigers
My Detroit-based father (and rabid Tigers fan) will undoubtedly loathe this pick, given Infante’s erratic play on defense. But who among us can find fault with Infante’s plate production in the last six games — one steal, two homers, four RBI, seven runs and a .480 batting average?
For the week, Infante can look forward to seven ace-free games against the Twins (three at home) and Astros (four on the road) — with good weather slated for each outing.
6. OF Mark Trumbo, Angels
Just like Infante, Trumbo (and the other Angels stars) likely won’t encounter a dominant pitcher over seven games against the Athletics (three on the road) and Orioles (four at home).
However, Oakland’s Dan Straily draws tonight’s emergency start for Brett Anderson. On April 5, Straily fleeced the Astros for 11 strikeouts and the victory over 6 2/3 stellar innings … only to be sent back to the minors immediately after the game. So, perhaps he’s ready to use this extended audition as a means of securing a permanent spot in the A’s rotation.
Either way, Trumbo seems like a no-brainer “UTIL” pick with head-to-head leagues this week. From April 16-23, spanning six games and 25 at-bats, Trumbo accounted for one homer, one steal, three RBI, four runs and four multiple-hit outings. And for the coup de grace, check out the masher’s career marks during May:
Through 55 games … 13 homers, 33 RBI, six steals, 23 runs, .323 batting average, .377 OBP and .974 OPS.
7. 2B Jedd Gyorko, Padres
It was only a matter of time before Gyorko — arguably San Diego’s best non-pitching prospect of the last 10 years (ahead of Chase Headley?) — strung together the first substantial run of his time with the parent club.
After a few modest streaks of three and four games in early and mid-April, the 24-year-old finally has something of substance: Six consecutive outings of at least one hit (against the Brewers and Giants).
Of course, Gyorko (six RBI) has yet to notch a homer in the majors … but that bit of infamy will soon fall by the wayside, as the infielder crushed 55 total home runs at three different levels of the minors from 2011-12. Here’s another coming change: Gyorko will likely add second-base fantasy eligibility within the next two weeks.
Gyorko’s weekly slate (seven games against the Cubs and Diamondbacks) includes encounters with Jeff Samardzija, Ian Kennedy and Wade Miley. But this is still a good time to roll the dice on a kid who’s primed for a breakout.