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  • There are some fantastic teammate pairings, but nobody compares to J.D. Martinez and Mookie Betts.
By Michael Beller
May 21, 2018

The process behind compiling the Table Setter every week revealed an interesting fact about the fantasy baseball season that’s equally as compelling in everyday baseball. Construction of each week’s Table Setter begins by pulling up season-long fantasy rankings for hitters in 5x5 leagues. That makes it easy to find a collection of hitters to watch from players who have been raking, or struggling, all season, and those who have been hot in the more recent term.

Something jumped out from the season-long rankings this week. There are three sets of teammates among the top-10 hitters in fantasy baseball: Mookie Betts (first) and J.D. Martinez (seventh) of the Red Sox, Freddie Freeman (fifth) and Ozzie Albies (eighth) of the Braves, and Jose Ramirez (ninth) and Francisco Lindor (10th) of the Indians.

All three pairs have been incredible this season, but add up their individual exploits and it’s easy to see which has been the best. Freeman and Albies have combined to hit .302/.376/.574 with 22 homers. Ramirez and Lindor are slashing .296/.375/.582 with 25 bombs. In many other seasons, either the Braves’ or Indians’ duo would be the best in the league. Such is not the case this season.

Betts and Martinez are hitting a ridiculous .354/.417/.719 with 30 home runs. Both would have to be included on the short list of AL MVP candidates through the first two months of the season, along with Mike Trout, Aaron Judge and, of course, Ramirez and Lindor. It’s hard enough for pitchers to deal with one player like Betts or Martinez. When they have to see two, it’s nearly impossible to navigate the top half of a lineup.

With that, let’s get to this week’s Table Setter.

Hitters to Watch this Week

J.D. Martinez, OF, Red Sox

Martinez has been on an absolute tear in May, hitting .351/.415/.824 with 10 homers and 19 RBI in 82 plate appearances. Pace stats are always kind of silly, but if we assume a full season’s worth of plate appearances, approximately 650 for an everyday player, Martinez’s May puts him on pace for just shy of 80 homers. In Boston’s last eight games, he has six homers, 11 RBI and a 1.069 slugging percentage. You think the Diamondbacks would like to have a second chance at keeping him in Arizona this offseason?

Andrew Benintendi, OF, Red Sox

We’ll stick with the Red Sox for our second player, with Benintendi finally showing signs of life. Just 10 days ago, on May 11, he was hitting .243/.335/.404. Now, his slash line is up to .285/.367/.477. How does a hitter make such a dramatic change so quickly? By going 16-for-36 with three homers, two doubles and four walks in a nine-game stretch. That comes out to a .444/.488/.750 slash line in those nine games, which include five multi-hit performances.

Jesus Aguilar, 1B, Brewers

Domingo Santana has been a disappointment, and both Eric Thames and Ryan Braun are on the DL. At the beginning of the season, that would have seemed a nightmare scenario for the Brewers. Aguilar has prevented those nightmares from coming to fruition. The 31-year-old is hitting .250/.351/.625 with seven homers in 74 plate appearances. We can take the on-base and power skills at face value, given that he had a .359 OBP, .518 slugging percentage and 31 homers in 551 trips to the plate last year. Even when Thames and Braun return, Craig Counsell is going to have to find at-bats for Aguilar.

Brandon Belt, 1B/OF, Giants

Belt seemed a fully formed player heading into this, his eighth and age-30, season. Instead, he has looked like a completely different hitter, slashing .313/.413/.594 with 11 homers in 189 plate appearances. He showed off his new power stroke last season, drilling 18 homers in just 451 plate appearances, losing 58 games due to injury. Still, he sacrificed on-base skills for the power, hitting .241 with a .355 OBP. This year, he seems to be putting it all together. It could go largely for naught in the team context, with the Giants sitting at 24-24 entering play Monday, but Belt is easily on pace for the best season of his career.

Kyle Schwarber, OF, Cubs

Schwarber got a day off last Thursday after spending most of the first two weeks of May mired in an ugly slump. It may have been just what he needed. Schwarber started three of the four games the Cubs played in Cincinnati over the weekend, going 3-for-9 with a homer, double, five walks and three RBI. In one series, he raised his OBP 20 points and his slugging percentage 22 points. The Cubs are slated to face two left-handed starters in their five games this week, but chances are strong that Schwarber will start in one of them.

Pitchers to Watch this Week

Luiz Gohara, SP, Braves

With Mike Soroka and Anibal Sanchez on the DL, Gohara will make his first start of the 2018 season on Wednesday. Gohara, the No. 23 prospect in Baseball America’s rankings entering the season, spent the first six weeks of the season on the DL with an ankle injury. He has made three appearances out of Atlanta’s bullpen, allowing one earned run on two hits with five strikeouts in seven innings. He was a candidate for the rotation at the start of spring training, but the ankle injury knocked him out of consideration. Soroka is locked into the rotation at this point, and that could ultimately force Gohara back to the bullpen. Still, his start on Wednesday bears watching.

Joe Musgrove, SP, Pirates

Musgrove will make his Pirates debut on Friday after spending the first two months of the season on the DL with a shoulder injury. The 25-year-old made 38 appearances, including 15 starts, with the Astros last season, pitching to a 4.77 ERA, 4.38 FIP and 1.33 WHIP with 98 strikeouts in 109 1/3 innings. The Pirates still saw enough in him to accept him as one of the key pieces in the deal that sent Gerrit Cole to Houston. Musgrove was excellent in his rehab assignment, most recently throwing 5 2/3 perfect innings with seven strikeouts at Triple A Indianapolis. There is a ton of potential here, both for the Pirates and fantasy owners.

Max Scherzer, SP, Nationals

Look, it’s impossible to predict a perfect game. Jordan Lyles, who had started all of 10 games in the previous two seasons, nearly just threw one, then went out in his next start and gave up four runs on seven hits in 5 2/3 innings. Still, if you were going to try to predict one, Scherzer against the Marlins would be your best bet. That’s exactly the matchup we’ll see in the first game of the weekend series between the Nationals and Marlins on Friday. Scherzer was electric again in his last start, striking out 13 Dodgers in seven innings, and now owns a 1.78 ERA, 1.83 FIP, 0.85 WHIP and 104 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings this season.

Nick Pivetta, SP, Phillies

Pivetta has been lights out since getting shelled for six runs on five hits in one inning against the Nationals in his first start in May. He has taken the ball twice since then, allowing a total of one run on six hits with 18 strikeouts against one walk in 12 innings. All told, Pivetta has a 3.72 ERA, 3.09 FIP and 1.13 WHIP this season, with 53 strikeouts against 11 walks in 46 innings. He’ll make two starts this week, facing the Braves on Monday and Blue Jays on Sunday.

Trevor Bauer, SP, Indians

Bauer has arguably the toughest week ahead of any pitcher in the majors. His first start of the week comes at Wrigley Field against the Cubs on Tuesday, and he’ll follow that up by taking the ball in the series finale against the Astros on Sunday. The Cubs rank first in the majors in offensive fWAR, fourth in runs, sixth in batting average, second in OBP and fourth in slugging percentage. The Astros haven’t been quite as good, but are still seventh in offensive fWAR and eighth in runs scored. Bauer, who has been excellent this year with a 2.59 ERA, 2.80 FIP, 1.12 WHIP and 67 strikeouts in 59 innings, will have his hands full.

Matchups to Watch this Week

The best pitcher vs. pitcher, pitcher vs. hitter, pitcher vs. offense, and series matchups over the next seven days.

Dallas Keuchel vs. Corey Kluber, Friday

Keuchel and Kluber are responsible for three of the last four AL Cy Young Awards; the two faced off just last week, with the latter getting the better of the former. Kluber struck out 10 Astros and allowed two runs on six hits in seven innings, en route to his seventh win of the season. Keuchel, meanwhile, surrendered four runs on six hits and two walks in five innings. Kluber has 71 strikeouts in 72 1/3 innings this season, and while that would represent a career-high strikeout rate and K/9 for most pitchers, it’s well below his standard. This is a guy who struck out 1,006 batters in 876 1/3 innings over the previous four seasons, so one strikeout per inning isn’t exactly what’s expected of him.

Shohei Ohtani vs. Masahiro Tanaka, Sunday

Assuming Ohtani remains on his pitch-every-Sunday routine this week, which seems likely, he’ll face Tanaka and the Yankees to wrap up the three-game series in New York. Ohtani is exceeding all expectations this year, amassing a 3.35 ERA, 3.29 FIP, 1.07 WHIP and 52 strikeouts in 40 1/3 innings on the mound, and a .321/.367/.619 slash line with six homers in 90 plate appearances. At some point, the Angels are going to have to take the kid gloves off and try to get more out of him, as Tom Verducci discussed in this week’s Nine Innings. Tanaka keeps falling victim to one big inning, with his 4.73 ERA and 1.07 WHIP almost entirely incongruent. This will almost certainly be the most anticipated matchup between two Japanese pitchers in MLB history.

Oh, and, of course, this doubles as one of the best pitcher vs. offense matchups of the week, with Ohtani facing the mighty Yankees.

Chris Sale vs. Freddie Freeman, Sunday

The Red Sox welcome the Braves to Boston this weekend, with Sale taking the mound on Sunday. That means we’ll get to see one of the best left-handed pitchers against one of the best left-handed hitters in the game today. Sale and Freeman have met just three times, and while the Red Sox starter has retired the Braves first baseman twice, the one hit was a home run. Both are enjoying phenomenal seasons for first place teams. Sale has a 2.29 ERA, 2.77 FIP, 0.92 WHIP and 87 strikeouts in 63 innings, while Freeman is hitting .325/.431/.568 with nine homers and 12 doubles in 204 plate appearances.

Luis Severino vs. Mike Trout, Friday

The weekend ends with Sale vs. Freeman and starts with Severino vs. Trout. Severino is following up his breakout 2017 season in grand fashion, totaling a 2.35 ERA, 1.98 FIP, 1.00 WHIP and 76 strikeouts in 65 innings. Trout is Trout, on pace for what would be the best season in a career that is already worthy of Hall of Fame induction. He’s hitting .294/.440/.632 with 14 homers, 28 RBI, 10 steals and more walks (41) than strikeouts (40). The two have faced each other just three times, with Trout going 1-for-3 with a single and a strikeout.

Sean Newcomb vs. Red Sox, Friday

Would you believe that Newcomb is the 13th-ranked starting pitcher in standard 5x5 fantasy leagues? You should, because it’s true. The soon-to-be 25-year-old has a 2.39 ERA, 3.04 FIP, 1.14 WHIP and 58 strikeouts in 52 2/3 innings this season. He has been excellent in four starts in May, allowing a grand total of one run on nine hits in 25 innings, striking out 24 while walking 10. This will also be a homecoming for Newcomb, who grew up in Massachusetts and went to high school in Middleboro, about 40 miles from Fenway Park. Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez and the rest of the Red Sox offense may not be the friendliest welcoming committee.

Braves at Phillies, Monday through Wednesday

The first and second place teams in the NL East kick off a three-game series on Monday. No, not the Nationals and Mets. It’s the Braves and Phillies atop the division, and both are looking like true postseason contenders. The Braves offense is among the best in baseball, ranking second in fWAR, while Phillies pitchers are fifth in fWAR. They’ve already met nine times this year, with the Braves holding a 6–3 advantage. Mike Foltynewicz and Nick Pivetta will square off on Monday, Brandon McCarthy and Vince Velasquez take the mound on Tuesday, and Luiz Gohara and Jake Arrieta toe the rubber in the finale.

Astros at Indians, Thursday through Sunday

The Indians still can’t break out of their funk, even with Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez among the most productive players in the league. They enter the week at 22–23, which is still somehow good for first place in the AL Central, but obviously far short of where they expected to be heading into the final full week of May. The Astros, meanwhile, are right where they expected to be, atop the AL West with a record of 30–18, third-best in baseball behind the Yankees and Red Sox. These two teams met last week in Houston, with the Astros taking two of three. This will be a brutal series of matchups for the Indians, with the Astros sending Charlie Morton, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers and Gerrit Cole to the mound. The Indians counter with Mike Clevinger, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer.

Braves at Red Sox, Friday through Sunday

That homecoming for Sean Newcomb we discussed above kicks off what should be a great weekend series between the Braves and Red Sox. Not only are they both in first place, but they own the best records in the NL and AL, respectively. Unlike Astros-Indians, the on-paper matchups suggest quite a bit of offensive fireworks. We already touched on the Braves bats in their opening series this week with the Phillies. The Red Sox are right there with them, ranking fourth in fWAR, second in runs, first in batting average, homers and slugging percentage, and sixth in OBP. The matchups: Newcomb vs. Eduardo Rodriguez on Friday, Julio Teheran vs. Drew Pomeranz on Saturday, and Mike Foltynewicz vs. Chris Sale on Sunday.

GIF of the Week

If you told me Nolan Arenado could throw 1 million miles per hour, I’d believe you.

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