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2018 Fantasy baseball rankings for head-to-head categories leagues — MLB H2H

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The baseball season will be here before you know it, and that means draft preparation season begins now for fantasy players.

No matter what kind of league you play in, our experts have rankings for you. Read on for Tristan H. Cockcroft’s head-to-head categories rankings, or click here for points leagues or here for roto leagues.

Top 300

Note: “Elig. Pos.” is the player’s eligible position(s). Position eligibility is determined based upon a minimum of 20 games, otherwise the position the player appeared at most, in 2017. “Pos. Rank” is the player’s ranking at his ESPN primary position. Player ages are as of Opening Day, March 29, 2018.


Positional rankings

Note: Players are listed by position, and their overall rank is included if in the top 300. Players outside the top 300 are denoted by NR.

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New York Yankees will turn to Kyle Higashioka behind plate for Game 1 of series vs. Cleveland Indians

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Yankees manager Aaron Boone announced Monday that Kyle Higashioka — not Gary Sanchez — will catch Gerrit Cole in Game 1 against the Indians on Tuesday.

Cole had a 1.00 ERA in four starts this season with Higashioka behind the plate, but posted a 3.91 ERA in eight starts with Sanchez.

“He was fine,” Boone said about Sanchez’s reaction. “He knows to be ready at any point, early in the game.”

The Yankees lost six of their last eight regular-season games, which included series losses to the Toronto Blue Jays and Miami Marlins, but they still limped into the wild-card round as the fifth seed in the first 16-team expanded playoffs in MLB history, setting up the matchup with Cleveland.

Before the slump to end the year, the Yankees put together a 10-game winning streak to help secure a berth. Included in that run was a 13-2 win over Toronto on Sept. 16, in which Higashioka slugged a career-high three home runs.

Higashioka was a seventh-round draft pick by New York in 2008, and only Brett Gardner has been with the organization longer. He debuted in the majors in 2017 but has never gotten regular at-bats until he began siphoning playing time amid Sanchez’s struggles.

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A case for Ronald Acuña Jr. as the MLB Latino Face of the 2020s

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With the MLB postseason here and Hispanic Heritage Month underway, ESPN found the timing ideal to tackle one of the bigger debates among one section of baseball’s fandom: With so many superstar candidates, which one is most worthy of being labeled the current Face of Latino Baseball?

Our friends at ESPN Deportes and FiveThirtyEight devised a formula using on-field performance, social media popularity, feedback from 30 ESPN analysts and fan votes to get to the answer. The results produced a ballot that stands at four candidates: the Atlanta BravesRonald Acuña Jr., from Venezuela; Dominican players Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals and Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres; and Puerto Rico’s Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians. All are young, charismatic and popular and have enough accomplishments in their short careers to be considered for the honor.

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Check out the highlights from baseball’s biggest stars under the age of 25.

Monday through Thursday this week, we will present the case for one of the four superstars, with our winner to be revealed Friday. We start with Acuña, the Braves’ sensational outfielder.

Stats

At 22, Acuña already has three major league seasons under his belt and has put together a .281 batting average, 81 homers, 194 RBIs and 61 stolen bases. The 2018 National League Rookie of the Year also appeared in last year’s All-Star Game.

He earned a Silver Slugger award in 2019, a season in which he joined Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Jose Canseco and Alfonso Soriano as the only players in history to tally 40 homers and 35 stolen bases.

Acuña, from La Guaira, Venezuela, draws frequent comparisons to Ken Griffey Jr. However, arguments can be made that Acuna is already ahead of the Hall of Famer Griffey’s pace with a WAR of 11.9 — the second-highest among our four candidates. Equally impressive are his career .909 OPS and .538 slugging percentage.

Social media popularity

Acuña is the fifth-most popular Latino player on Instagram, with 549,000 followers, trailing established stars such as Javier Baez, Lindor and Carlos Correa, as well as Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

What hurts Acuña’s case: He has shared just four Instagram posts in 2020, but those have nevertheless averaged more than 90,000 interactions for each.

Web searches

Even though he has a low Instagram profile, Acuña has been one of the most searched Latino players since the beginning of the 2019 season. His average Google Trends search index for the period of Apr. 1, 2019 to Sep. 1, 2020, trails only Albert Pujols and Guerrero Jr. among all Latino players, and leads our finalists for the Latino Face of Baseball.

Experts

Acuña, who debuted in April 2018, received only three first-place votes from our panel of experts, but he appeared on 27 of the 30 ballots, the most of any player.

“Acuña is already one of the best players in the major leagues,” ESPN Deportes’ Enrique Rojas said. “He’s more or less like a Venezuelan Mike Trout. Both can hit for power, run, play defense and throw hard at the bases — a complete package of tools that belongs only to the best in the business.”

Special category: Fan vote

Between Aug. 26 and Aug. 28, you, the fans, had a hand in deciding who should be the Latino Face of Baseball through four tightly contested polls.

Acuña dominated the SC Español poll with 39.9% of the vote. He was second among voters in the other three web polls: ESPN Béisbol (29%), ESPN Deportes (26.3%), and ESPN México (21.9).



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Expert picks for the 2020 MLB playoffs

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The Washington Nationals did not make it into this year’s MLB playoffs, so Major League Baseball will crown a different team as champion in 2020. Can the Los Angeles Dodgers get over the final hurdle and take home their first championship since 1988? Or could the Tampa Bay Rays win their first title after earning just their second pennant? Will the Cleveland Indians win their first World Series since 1948? Or will we see a complete surprise, like the upstart Chicago White Sox or San Diego Padres, storming back from their successful rebuilds?

We asked 30 of our MLB experts — from ESPN.com, TV, Stats & Information and more — to give us their predictions: wild-card series winners, division series winners, league championship series winners and World Series winner.

Below are the vote totals along with analysis from some of our experts.

National League wild-card series

No. 8 Milwaukee Brewers at No. 1 Los Angeles Dodgers — Dodgers 30 votes, Brewers 0

No. 7 Cincinnati Reds at No. 2 Atlanta Braves — Reds 16, Braves 14

No. 6 Miami Marlins at No. 3 Chicago Cubs Cubs 20, Marlins 10

No. 5 St. Louis Cardinals at No. 4 San Diego Padres — Padres 27, Cardinals 3

American League wild-card series

No. 8 Toronto Blue Jays at No. 1 Tampa Bay Rays — Rays 29, Blue Jays 1

No. 7 Chicago White Sox at No. 2 Oakland Athletics — A’s 19, White Sox 11

No. 6 Houston Astros at No. 3 Minnesota Twins — Twins 21, Astros 9

No. 5 New York Yankees at No. 4 Cleveland Indians — Indians 20, Yankees 10

National League Division Series

NLDS No. 1: Dodgers 25, Padres 5

NLDS No. 2: Reds 11, Braves 9, Cubs 8, Marlins 1

Why are you picking the Braves to get through the NLDS?

The Braves have to get past the Reds in the wild-card round — no easy assignment — but their high-powered offense should carry them past the Cubs (or Marlins) in the NLDS. Last year, it felt like the Atlanta lineup thinned out after Ronald Acina Jr., Freddie Freeman and the now departed Josh Donaldson, but with Acuna, Freeman, Marcell Ozuna, Travis d’Arnaud and Adam Duvall, you have five players slugging over .500. Dansby Swanson bats ninth and he’s a tough out. Sure, the Atlanta rotation is thin, but the bullpen has been solid and the Cubs’ offense has struggled all season and it’s not like they have a lot of pitching depth behind Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks. Braves in 5. — David Schoenfield

American League Division Series

ALDS No. 1: Rays 19, Indians 11, Yankees 2

ALDS No. 2: Twins 13, A’s 8, White Sox 6, Astros 3

Why are you picking the Indians to get through the ALDS?

Outside of a mid-September stretch when the Indians collectively forgot how to play baseball and lost eight games in a row, they’ve been as good as anyone in the American League most of the season. I am of the belief that Cleveland has the best pitching staff in this postseason, period. Tampa Bay might actually be No. 2 overall there, so I expect lots of low-scoring games. And while their offense isn’t going to win many slugfests, Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor & Co. have a penchant for coming through late in close games. — Dan Mullen

National League Championship Series

Dodgers: 24
Padres: 3
Reds: 2
Braves: 1

Why did you pick the Padres to win the NLCS?

One of 2020’s most exciting teams to watch had a rough final week of the regular season with injuries putting the status of Dinelson Lamet and Mike Clevinger up in the air for the postseason, but that shouldn’t put a dent in Slam Diego’s chances at making a World Series run. The rotation will lean on the likes of Chris Paddack and Zach Davies for strong innings should Lamet and Clevinger not be at full strength, and they’ll depend on relievers Trevor Rosenthal and Drew Pomeranz — who both had strong seasons — to help overcome any potential starting pitching shortcomings. I expect this postseason to be chaotic with the introduction of the best-of-three first round, but San Diego boasts the second-best run differential in baseball and is riding on the backs of Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado. I expect this team to make a strong run. — Joon Lee

American League Championship Series

Rays: 15
Indians: 6
Twins: 4
White Sox: 2
Yankees: 2
A’s: 1

Why did you pick the White Sox to win the ALCS?

Don’t let that No. 7 seed fool you, these White Sox are really good. Sure, it’s a bit of a feast-or-famine lineup — but postseason games often come down to the long ball, and Jose Abreu, Luis Robert, Tim Anderson, Edwin Encarnacion and Eloy Jimenez can all change a game with one swing of the bat. They have a one-two punch at the top of the rotation in Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel and there are some nasty young arms like 2020 draft pick Garrett Crochet and Codi Heuer in that bullpen. — Dan Mullen

World Series

Dodgers: 16
Rays: 6
Twins: 2
Padres: 1
A’s: 1
Indians: 1
White Sox: 1
Yankees: 1

Why are the Dodgers your pick to win the World Series?

The Dodgers finished the 2020 season with the fourth-best run differential per game since 1900, even though three of their most important hitters — Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Joc Pederson — struggled mightily through most of it. The Dodgers’ depth and talent remains unmatched. They’re as susceptible to the randomness of a short series as anybody, but they feature a deep and versatile bullpen this year, a major advantage given that there will be no days off within the Division Series and Championship Series. That might end up being the key difference. — Alden Gonzalez

The 2020 playoff tournament is a crapshoot, more so than any postseason in baseball history. That’s due to a combination of the best-of-three first round and the fact that all 16 teams have to survive four rounds before they can hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy. Nevertheless, there is simply no reason to pick against the Dodgers. Los Angeles might have challenged the all-time win record if the season had been a normal length. If you think you see a fatal flaw in that roster, you’re overthinking it. — Bradford Doolittle

The injury to Corbin Burnes gives them a favorable wild-card matchup. Their depth is enough to overwhelm whomever they play in the division series. And when the seven-game series start, it’s simply too hard not to bet on the Dodgers’ deluge of talent. This is a special team. There are concerns about the back end of their bullpen, and it may well lose them a game or two. But the Dodgers have spent years building toward this moment. And the highlight of Kirk Gibson limping around the bases and pumping his fist will be replaced by Mookie Betts or A.J. Pollock or Corey Seager or Cody Bellinger or Will Smith or someone in that gifted lineup that finally gets them another ring. — Jeff Passan

I know, going out on a limb here. The Dodgers were my preseason pick back in March and there is no reason to change now. They scored the most runs in our 60-game sprint and only Cleveland allowed fewer (by just four). They were second in rotation ERA, second in relief ERA, hit the most home runs, had the second-most defensive runs saved and won the most games (with the highest winning percentage since the ’54 Indians). There are the best team and this, finally, will be their year. — Schoenfield

Why are the Padres your pick to win the title?

The Padres are essentially tied for first with the White Sox and Dodgers in FanGraphs offensive WAR, which includes hitting, baserunning and defense for the whole team. On the pitching side, they’re somewhere in the top five or six depending on your metric of choice. A key separator is that these are full-season numbers while the Friars have no major injuries from key 2020 contributors and the team also dramatically improved at the trade deadline. Their top two starters — Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet — are both trending toward being available for their first-round starts, but it’s in the cautiously optimistic realm as of Sunday night.

The playoffs will see more weight on the top three starters, best relievers and core hitters, where the Padres have concentrated more value throughout the year. Playing with less rest, youth and enthusiasm are also keys, which Slam Diego leads the league in. Even after all of those little edges in their favor on top of the surface stats, they’re still basically a coinflip with the Dodgers for the best team in the playoffs in my book, but I give the Padres a slight edge. — Kiley McDaniel

Why did you pick the Rays to win it all?

The Rays were my preseason World Series pick, and I’m going to stay consistent here. Tampa Bay started the season out a bit slow but managed to climb atop the AL East with strong seasons from players like Brandon Lowe, a bounce-back from former Cy Young award winner Blake Snell and an always adaptable, ever-changing bullpen featuring strong performances from Ryan Yarbrough, Nick Anderson and Diego Castillo, among others. I believed in the roster-building and front-office philosophies of the organization coming into the year, which best positioned the Rays to take advantage of the idiosyncrasies and maximize the performance of a roster during this 60-game season. I see no reason to shift away from that as this first-place team marches into the postseason. — Lee

Why did you pick the Indians to win it all?

Start with the best pitcher in the sport in Shane Bieber, and on the days he does not pitch, there is a deep, well-run bullpen with myriad strikeout options. The offense is top-heavy but those top options can be great, led by Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor. I think it is Cleveland’s time to get back to the Series and edge the Dodgers. — Eric Karabell

Why did you pick the A’s to win it all?

Sixty games shouldn’t cause us to throw aside everything-or even much-of what we know about these players. So while the A’s rotation is filled with bloated 2020 ERAs, I’m holding on to what I knew about Sean Manaea, Mike Minor, Frankie Montas and Jesus Luzardo two months ago: They’re really good. In a crammed postseason, with few days off, Oakland’s pitching depth really stands out, with at least five starters capable of shutting down a top-tier offense and at least seven relievers comfortable in high-leverage innings. — Sam Miller

Why did you pick the Twins to bust up their postseason jinx and take home the title?

Avoiding the Yankees until the League Championship Series — if such a matchup happens at all — shouldn’t be a big deal, but I think it’s a very big deal, considering how much the Yankees seem to be in the Twins’ heads for the past decade-plus. Instead, the Twins draw perhaps the most advantageous Wild Card Series matchup, and their roster is well balanced between offense, defense and pitching, with the latter particularly important in a postseason that doesn’t provide midseries days off. Kenta Maeda is probably the postseason’s most underrated staff ace, and how great a story would it be if the guy who couldn’t crack the Dodgers’ rotation in postseasons past tosses a pair of gems against them as a starter in the World Series? — Tristan Cockcroft

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