Think you know how the season will shape up, and who the best players on your fantasy season are?
You might have thought that last May 31 as well. Boy, were you wrong.
At the end of May 2006, the Minnesota Twins were struggling with a 24-28 record. First baseman Justin Morneau was available in some fantasy leagues; his numbers (.250-11-40) weren't terrible, but at a deep position, he wasn't turning lots of heads.
Then came June. Minnesota reeled off 19 wins in 26 games, catcher Joe Mauer asserted himself as an elite hitter with a .452 average, and Morneau hit 10 more home runs and batted .364.
Mauer went on to win the batting title, Morneau the MVP award and the Twins took the AL Central. And fantasy owners who had Mauer and Morneau were smiling all summer and fall.
Keeping in mind that there are no new story lines, who will catch fire and be this year's Mauer and Morneau? What teammates will step up and help their team make a run? Guess right, make the right trade, and you could be on your way to winning your fantasy league.
Lance Berkman, 1B and Morgan Ensberg, 3B, Astros
Each of the last four seasons, Lance Berkman has hit under .300 in exactly two months. His combined numbers in those months have been dwarfed by his production the rest of the year:
-03: .231-5-18 in April and August
-04: .246-3-22 in July and August
-05: .238-2-15 in May and August
-06: .254-12-44 in May and August
Take those months out, and Berkman is a .332 hitter from 2003-06, with a home run every 13.8 at-bats. In his off months, he went deep every 30.8 at-bats. Hopefully, Berkman (.244-6-28) has started this year with his two bad months. He seems destined to turn things around and is among the top three players worth trading for right now.
Ensberg is tougher to recommend, but he's certainly among the finest sluggers who is readily available in most fantasy leagues. There's a good reason for that; he's hit just five homers and driven in 14 runs in his first 130 at-bats. But an offensively challenged Astros team needs him to produce, and he should continue to get chances to break out of his season-long slump. He hasn't hit more than three home runs in a month since last May. That's bad news, but consider that he hit 17 in the first two months last year. That's what he's capable of doing.
Robinson Cano, 2B and Bobby Abreu, OF, Yankees
Cano has been one of the bigger fantasy disappointments of the first two months, hitting .264 with two home runs after a great rookie season in 2005 and an even better sophomore campaign. But there's good news. Historically, Cano heats up as the season goes on. Coming into this season, he was a career .280 hitter in April and May, and a .333 hitter from June on. His career average in June is .350. Don't worry about the power, either; Last year, he had two homers and 20 RBIs through May and ended with 15 and 78. Good things will come to Cano owners who wait.
A guy with an eye like Abreu's isn't likely to struggle for long. It's been tough in the early going for Abreu (.228-2-22), but it's too early to count him out, especially in a lineup like the Yankees have. He's one of baseball's most consistent performers in the last decade, with nine straight seasons of 15-plus home runs, eight straight years with 20-plus steals and at least 100 walks, and 100 or more RBIs in five of the last six years. So long as he stays healthy, Abreu is almost certain to come around.
Garrett Atkins, 3B and Kaz Matsui, Rockies
for his hard luck the first two months of the season. He hit higher than .310 in five of the six months last season; his swing is basically the same, so expect a big rebound.
Yes, I refer to the same Kaz Matsui who is reviled by Mets fans for falling well short of his potential. He has been hurt for much of the first two months, but ever since joining the Rockies he's shown himself to be a major spark plug.
Including last season, Matsui is a .339 hitter with 15 steals and 34 runs scored in 174 at-bats for Colorado. If he can stay healthy, he has the possibility to be a surprisingly good fantasy choice at second.
QUICK HITS: Brewers 3B Ryan Braun, called up May 24, is known to be a top power prospect. If you haven't seen his swing, however, you might not understand just how good he could be. Elite power and an ability to hit the gaps mean Braun should immediately help the Brewers and your fantasy team. Over time he might be a first-round fantasy pick. ... Reds SS Alex Gonzalez quietly has 10 home runs. Some fantasy owners might not realize that's not a total fluke; Gonzalez hit 41 home runs combined in 2003-04 in Florida. ... Rangers 1B Mark Teixeira started slow, but was among the best in baseball in May, hitting .365 with seven homers and 27 RBIs.

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