Addison Russell (SS, CHC) - The Cubs activated Russell from the DL and he hit a pinch-hit home run in his only plate appearance of the game. He hadn't played since August 2nd due to plantar fasciitis in his foot, and even though he's back now it's a little too late for most fantasy owners go get much mileage out of him. The Cubs have said they are going to give him plenty of rest days in the coming weeks as they work him back into regular action, and the way Javier Baez had filled in for him that comes as no surprise. It's going to go down as a bust of a year for Russell, who many had pegged for a breakout this year despite being just 23 years old. Over 349 plate appearances this season Russell has 11 HR and 2 SB to go along with a .244/.307/.428 slash line. He'll probably come cheap in drafts next season with numbers like that, and while you should expect a better 2018, you do have to wonder how much Baez is going to eat into his playing time as he continues to improve as well.
Sal Romano (SP, CIN) - Romano fired eight shutout innings against the Pirates, scattering five hits and walking none while recording six strikeouts. He managed to chisel his ERA down to 4.07, and he has now allowed only three earned runs over his last three starts (18.2 IP). Romano's impressive line today was thanks to an enormous amount of breaking balls; he threw 50 offspeed pitches and 49 fastballs. He credits his recent run of success to more confidence in his changeup, but he threw just 9% changeups, which is consistent with what he's done since August. If he continues to throw his breaking ball at a near 1:1 ratio with his fastball, you could actually see some decent strikeout numbers from him moving forward. That's not necessarily going to help his 3.61 BB/9 improve, but in my eyes he has gone from an easy avoid to a somewhat interesting back-end fantasy option. I'm going to keep my eye on him, and if he keeps up this pitch mix the rest of the season I'll be looking at him as an endgame dart throw in 2018 drafts.
Kyle Hendricks (SP, CHC) - Hendricks went 7.2 innings against the Cardinals, giving up one run on six hits and a walk with five strikeouts. He has been dominant since his return from the DL, with a 2.42 ERA over 11 starts. He has really ramped up the use of his changeup since his return, going from around 22% usage to 35%, although he was back to 23% in this start and was still very effective thanks to his sinker mowing through Cardinals. He's going to wind up beating his FIP in a big way for a second consecutive year; last season his ERA was 1.07 runs lower than his FIP thanks to a .250 BABIP, and this year he is 0.91 points below his FIP thanks to a .270 BABIP. Even with a 50% ground ball rate and a good defense behind him, that's going to be hard to keep up. When he's on he looks great, but a 7.55 K/9 isn't helpful, so if he faces some worse BABIP luck next year you're looking at a waiver wire pitcher in standard mixed leagues.
Ivan Nova (SP, PIT) - Nova bounced back from three straight awful starts to throw six innings of two-run ball with one walk and six strikeouts. He was outdueled by the mighty Sal Romano however, and took the loss. Nova could have pitched deeper into the game (he left with 79 pitches), but he had to exit with right calf tightness. He is expected to make his next start, however. He has disappointed in a big way over the second half, coming into this game with a 6.62 second half ERA over 53 innings. That looks fluky given his .373 BABIP, but a 42% hard contact rate lets us know that it wasn't just bad luck that has led to the bad results. He got back to throwing his curveball more in this one, like in previous years, way up to 35%. It's also worth noting that Brooks Baseball has him at 94 MPH on the fastball, which would be a huge uptick since his average fastball in September had been 92.5 MPH. It could be a calibration error, but I'll be keeping my eye on him just in case he has made a mechanical change.
Charlie Blackmon (OF, COL) - Blackmon went 2-4 with his 35th home run and 33rd double, driving in four RBI. He set the NL record for most RBI by a leadoff hitter with 89 (93 total), and that's with two weeks still left in the season. If you took a shot on the NL MVP candidate this year, you are loving it. He has hit .333/.398/.612 over 668 plate appearances, which weighs huge in the BA/OBP category with so many PA's. His 131 runs lead baseball by a wide margin, so the only thing you could possibly complain about is the 13 steals. He used to be a base stealing machine, but he has turned into such a power hitter that his opportunities have greatly diminished. He also is only 13 for 21 in stolen base attempts, a terrible success rate, so perhaps steals just aren't a big part of his game moving forward. It can be detrimental to draft a leadoff hitter in the first round since they typically hurt you in the RBI category, but Blackmon is the exception and will be a first rounder in most drafts next year.
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