The A's find themselves in the thick of two separate playoff races. Through Sunday, they trailed the Rangers by half a game in the AL West but held a three-game lead over the Orioles for the second Wild-Card spot. Unlike many contenders, notably division-rival Texas, Oakland made no big moves at the trade deadline. However, one August addition to the rotation could make a huge difference down the stretch. He's also ready to help fantasy owners chasing a championship.
Sonny Gray (available in 77 percent of Yahoo leagues, 60 percent of CBSSports.com leagues and 78 percent of ESPN leagues) made two relief appearances in July before manager Bob Melvin inserted him into the rotation. The 5'11" righthander made his first start on August 10, allowing two earned runs on four hits and three walks in six innings against the Blue Jays. He followed that up with eight shutout innings against the Astros, fanning nine batters while allowing just four hits. In 18 innings in the majors this season, he has surrendered just the two runs to Toronto and has 20 strikeouts against five walks.
This is nothing new for the 23-year-old Gray. He went 10-7 with a 3.42 ERA, 2.74 FIP and 118 strikeouts in 118.1 innings with Triple-A Sacramento this year. He features the standard four offerings (fastball, slider, curveball, changeup) and his fastball sits in the mid-90s. He can be a real weapon for the rest of the season.
• 1B Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants (44, 20, 22): Belt has been on a tear in August, hitting .415/.500/.849 with five homers in 62 plate appearances. Manager Bruce Bochy has him slotted into the three-hole, which seems to be agreeing with Belt. The fantasy community has been waiting for him to develop into a star ever since he became a major league regular, and while it would be premature to call this the breakout everyone has expected, he certainly can provide a big lift while he's swinging a hot bat.
• 2B/3B Jedd Gyorko, San Diego Padres (68, 27, 47): It has been an up-and-down year for Gyorko, but he's been nearly as hot as Belt, racking up a .967 OPS in 50 plate appearances. He has five homers and four doubles in the month. You know the story with Gyorko: Dual eligibility at shallow positions, plenty useful when he's going well, etc. If you need help at second or third, look no further.
• OF Will Venable, San Diego Padres (70, 51, 23): Not to be outdone by his teammate, Venable has had a monster August, hitting .375/.407/.732 in 59 plate appearances. He has been an extra-base machine, hitting five homers (including a walkoff on Sunday night), four doubles and two triples. Not only that, he has also stolen five bases in the month, upping his season total to 14. Venable has had a few streaks this season, so we'd be foolish to expect this to last for the final six weeks of the year. That said, he can be a real asset for now, especially if he stays at the top of the order, giving him more of an opportunity to use his legs.
• RP Chia-Jen Lo (92, 93, 85) and RP Josh Fields (98, 94, 97), Houston Astros: Manager Bo Porter said Lo and Fields would split closer duties for the remainder of the season. Whoever gets the ball in the ninth will depend on workload and matchups, but either is worth grabbing if you're hard up for saves. If both are available, I'd have a slight preference for Lo. Fields has struck out 26 batters in 25 innings, but he has also allowed seven homers and 19 earned runs. Lo has only tossed 7.1 innings in the majors this year, but he has yet to give up a run, striking out five of the 29 batters he has faced.
• SP Jeff Locke, Pittsburgh Pirates: Anyone with a basic understanding of advanced metrics could see the Great Lockean Regression coming from miles away. After getting lit up for eight runs in 2.2 innings against the Diamondbacks in his last start, Locke sports a 4.08 ERA in the second half. Hitters have posted a .315/.420/.421 slash against him since the break, with a .371 wOBA. It was fun while it lasted, but Locke shouldn't be counted on in mixed leagues.
• 3B David Freese, St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals promoted second base prospect Kolten Wong last week, and he'll likely start in place of Freese (with Matt Carpenter moving to third), at least against righties. It could still be a straight platoon, with Freese getting the nod against lefties, but even if that's how manager Mike Matheny plays it, Freese doesn't have much value in mixed leagues. He's hitting just .265/.343/.380 with six homers in 399 plate appearances this year, and has been one of the bigger busts of the season.