Experts league races on track for exciting finishes

Even though the non-waivers trade deadline has passed, deals such as the one Sunday that sent All-Star first baseman Yonder Alonso to the Seattle Mariners can still affect the balance of power in fantasy leagues.

But the final two months of the regular season constitute the homestretch for fantasy owners. It’s a time to look at league standings with a renewed sense of urgency and plan out exactly where your team can gain or lose ground.

In most cases, standings won’t change dramatically on a week-to-week basis, but there are exceptions.

In the League of Alternative Baseball Reality, MLB.com’s Fred Zinkie — who won the Mixed League in 2013 — made a huge jump this week in his bid for a second title.

Zinkie began Week 18 two points behind LABR Mixed league leader Jake Ciely of RotoExperts. But after his team scored a league-high 58 runs and stole 13 bases, Zinkie made a huge jump in the standings to open up a 7.5-point advantage.

Steals, in particular, figure to be extremely volatile down the stretch with 12 thefts separating third place from 11th in the 15-team league.

In AL LABR, there’s a 13.5-point gap separating first and eighth place, so every one of those teams has to feel it has a shot.

And in NL LABR, my USA TODAY Sports team spent eight of the first 16 weeks in first place until ESPN’s Eric Karabell caught and passed me.

Karabell, who has finished second at least four or five times in LABR but has never won, also had the advantage this weekend of the league’s highest remaining free agent budget. That gave him the opportunity to add the trade deadline’s crown jewel — Yu Darvish of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Already possessing the league’s best overall offense, Darvish should improve his pitching and put Karabell firmly in the driver’s seat. (Because the trade wasn’t finalized until after last week’s transaction deadline, Karabell wasn’t able to enjoy the benefits of Darvish’s seven scoreless innings and 10 strikeouts in his Dodgers debut Friday.)

On the other hand, I have the league’s best pitching staff and a comfortable lead in wins, ERA and WHIP. Trading a starting pitcher for some saves and/or additional offense could give my team a shot at chasing Karabell down.

(UPDATE: Just before this week’s transaction deadline, I did make a deal — acquiring San Diego Padres closer Brad Hand for St. Louis Cardinals starter Michael Wacha.)

Rosario arrives

One other card I have up my sleeve in NL LABR goes back to a late $1 bid I made on draft day in March.

I threw out New York Mets prospect Amed Rosario as one of the last players nominated. No one else bid on him, and I’ve kept the shortstop as one of my six reserves.

That move could pay off with the Mets finally promoting Rosario to the majors, where he figures to settle in as the everyday shortstop.

The No. 4 fantasy prospect in our preseason rankings, Rosario, 21, is a worthwhile addition in NL-only leagues.

And his solid all-around game makes him a decent pickup in mixed leagues as well.

At Class AAA Las Vegas, Rosario hit .328 with seven home runs, 58 RBI, 66 runs and 19 steals.

And while he hit .211 in his first five MLB games, he did show off his speed with two triples and a stolen base.

The same day the Mets promoted Rosario, the Atlanta Braves called up their top middle-infield prospect, Ozzie Albies. The 20-year-old can also give fantasy owners a speed boost; he stole 21 bases in 23 attempts in the minors.

Although he had two hits (one a home run) and no steals in his first 14 major league at-bats, it’s a good sign that he drew a walk in four of five games. He should have plenty of chances to show off his speed if that continues.

Rosario and Albies could be just the beginning of a new wave of prospects making their MLB debuts.

Some could even have an impact in the final standings in fantasy leagues.

 

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