Eric Mack
Friday August 5th, 2011

Thinking fantasy baseball right now with football ramping up is like laughing at a funeral: It is awkward for everyone, but it is probably exactly what you need.

If you don't think baseball this time of year, it could be your funeral -- fantasy-metaphorically speaking, of course.

With fantasy football draft season before us and preseason games about to kick off, it is harder and harder to focus on your baseball team. It is precisely the time to knuckle down, though.

August and early September is fantasy crunch time. What has taken you months to build can be lost in a matter of weeks or days.

Here are a few suggestions on how to approach these crucial miles of the six-month marathon:

1. Go with the veterans

Most of the past few months have been spent anticipating the arrivals of prospects. We love those little fantasy devils we don't know. But now is the time to focus on the ones we do.

Brett Lawrie and Paul Goldschmidt are among those getting the call to the major leagues -- and they might even prove to be solid sleepers -- but we have to stress it is the veterans who are the safer picks when the stakes are highest. It isn't time to experiment.

Pick up streaky players off the waiver wire to fill in as needed, but lean on the ones with the longer track record first.

September call-ups has been a catch phase among baseball for years, too. But you know what those September players are?

Bench warmers. It gets nippy in September and that pine can be cold on their bottoms.

And long anticipated call-ups are guys their teams felt were unfit for the major leagues for five full months of the season -- for good reasons.

With all this said, Lawrie stands to be pretty good.

2. Dance with the one that brought you

It is very easy to forsake a struggling star when every game and week means so much to you this time of year. It is precisely the time to stick with them.

Losing because Albert Pujols went 2-for-25 is one thing. You throw your hands up and say, it just wasn't my time.

Losing because you sat Pujols for a previously streaking Daniel Murphy is just plain dumb. Now, that's an extreme example that no one would seriously consider, but the point was positioned this way to make this statement:

Let your players decide your fate, not your overly clever lineup management.

3. Beware the non-contenders

Former Pirates malcontent Derek Bell once coined it: "Operation shut down."

It happens every August, teams out of the race suddenly decide their banged-up superstar playing through aches and pains can just pack it in for the winter. Players playing for something this time of year make for better picks.

Not only are these players in better situations with the talent and production around them -- after all, there is a reason their teams are contenders -- but they are far less likely to take days, weeks or the remainder of the season off to rest.

Also, rebuilding clubs just like to use the final weeks of the season as an extension of Spring Training. It is a chance to get to see young players against big-league competition with the bright lights on and the stakes amped up -- especially when opponents are in contention and playing must-win games every night.

4. Hitting the wall

Like No. 3 above, there is the point of no return for young pitchers on innings limits. You don't have to be a veteran on a bad club to make your way to the golf course and offseason training regime early.

It won't just be arms like All-Star Michael Pineda, who has a 6.88 ERA after the All-Star break, suddenly making his last start of the season. It can be young pitchers on contenders that just don't have enough meat left on the chicken wing. Young arms not conditioned to go 200-plus innings every year don't respond well late.

Now, you're begging to hear who are our top pitchers to avoid down the stretch? We will save that discussion for a future story.

For now, you have a couple more weeks of full-go around baseball. Enjoy it while it lasts and just prepare for the time of the year those teams and players prepare for 2012.

Don't blame them for getting a jump on things; you're doing the same thing with that fantasy football magazine you're reading on the porcelain throne.

(Speaking of football magazines: Sports Illustrated presents Fantasy Football Guide 2011. It has everything you need to know about the upcoming NFL season and promises to be the most up-to-date fantasy resource on the market. Order one now. SI knows magazines.)

Sometimes things just start to click in your mid-20s. Maybe you were the nerd in high school or college and just never were popular or adept enough at finding someone who liked you as someone more than a friend. But things can change when you hit your mid-20s. Women start chasing you, just because you're available for a romp in the hay. There is still time for a 25-year old like you, and Billy Butler. The solid but unspectacular fantasy first baseman has finally found power, hitting five homers and driving in 12 to lead all batters in standard scoring leagues. And it hasn't stopped as he has homered and maintained his hitting streak through the past few more games. He might not be ready to join the top 10 sluggers at the position just yet, but there are at least signs he is going to be a great sleeper for draft day 2012 and a potential star at age 27 in '13.

Past players of the week: 16. OF Cameron Maybin, SD; 15. OF Nick Markakis, BAL; 14. OF Jose Bautista, TOR; 13. 3B Aramis Ramirez, CHC; 12. SP Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers; 11. SP Justin Verlander, Tigers; 10. 1B Prince Fielder, Brewers; 9. 1B Albert Pujols, Cardinals; 8. SP Yovani Gallardo, Brewers; 7. SP Michael Pineda, Mariners; 6. OF Jose Bautista, Blue Jays; 5. SP Francisco Liriano, Twins; 4. 2B Ben Zobrist, Rays; 3. SP James Shields, Rays; 2. SP Dan Haren, Angels; 1. SP Jered Weaver, Angels.

Now, on to next week's two-start pitchers and the weekly fantasy baseball roster trends ...

It is not a great week for middlin' options, but Doug Fister, Homer Bailey, Mike Pelfrey and even the resurgent Brett Cecil look like decent one-week sleepers in mixed leagues for recent performances and their matchups.

The most-added players:

1. 1B Paul Goldschmidt, ARI 2. SP Doug Fister, DET 3. OF Jason Bourgeois, HOU 4. DH Hideki Matsui, OAK 5. SP Jeff Niemann, TB

Niemann came through as we projected he would in this space a week ago. His role makes him a must-start in all leagues, but his ownership is still low at just 69 percent. Goldschmidt, Fister and Bourgeois were buoyed by the movement at the trade deadline and are sleepers as stopgaps in mixed formats. Matsui has enjoyed a revival despite low power numbers, but this hot streak makes him a solid start in any format again.

The most-dropped players:

1. SP Clay Buchholz, BOS 2. OF Domonic Brown, PHI 3. OF Travis Snider, TOR 4. SP Carlos Carrasco, CLE 5. SP Rubby De La Rosa, LAD

The Buchholz loss is more devastating than you probably think. He was going to be a fantasy monster in crunch time. Brown, Snider and Carrasco are young players still trying to find consistency as big-league regulars, although the deadline deal for Hunter Pence has Brown riding the pine down the stretch -- unless something significant happens to Raul Ibanez.

The most-scouted players:

1. 3B Brett Lawrie, TOR 2. 2B Johnny Giavotella, KC 3. SP Ivan Nova, NYY 4. SS J.J. Hardy, BAL 5. OF Travon Robinson, SEA 6. 2B Omar Infante, FLA 7. SP Luke Hochevar, KC 8. SP Brett Cecil, TOR 9. 1B Mark Trumbo, LAA 10. 1B Goldschmidt, ARI

Lawrie is the last real monster prospect call-up and can be an instant hit in any fantasy formats. He Giavotella, Robinson and Goldschmidt are sleepers for deeper leagues as call-ups. Trumbo has already proven he belongs and this recent stretch might even make him a must-have in mixed formats for '12. Speaking of belonging, Nova is doing the same in the Yankees rotation -- a situation that makes him a must-add, perhaps even a must-start in all leagues. Hardy and Infante are dealing with injuries, although only Infante's is going to lead to a DL stint. We already said Cecil in a nice two-start sleeper above, while Hochevar is at least looking like something better than a complete waste of talent.

Eric Mack will round up the fantasy baseball movers and shakers every Friday the rest of the season at You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice on Twitter @EricMackFantasy.

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