He's the total package at third base, and he leads one of the hottest teams in baseball in every major offensive statistical category.
We're not talking about Miguel Cabrera. Sure, Miggy is one of the greatest hitters of the decade, but he's far from a defensive force at the hot corner. And we love us some Evan Longoria, but his Tampa Bay Rays cooled off last month after a scorching 21-5 stretch in July.
We're talking about Texas Rangers 3B Adrián Beltré, one of the most consistent and under-appreciated players in the Big Leagues.
With the departure of Josh Hamilton, Beltré lost valuable protection in the lineup this season. But it didn't faze the three-time Silver Slugger. Through September 1, Beltré has posted a .327/.382/.536 slash line, while belting 28 home runs and driving in 82 runs.
His solid offensive production is a main reason why his team, The Beltré Belters, is in command of the Rawlings "Defenders of the Nine" fantasy baseball league.
Oh, did we mention that his team's pitching staff is anchored by Max Scherzer, who entered the final month of the regular season with a 19-1 record?
That'll certainly help the cause.
Add to the mix Baltimore Orioles closer Jim Johnson, the American League leader in saves, and that, my friends, is a formula for a winning fantasy baseball team.
With roughly 25 games to go in the regular season, here's a look at two Defenders of the Nine teams that have the best shot at catching up to the Beltré Belters.
Stant'n Like His Dad
Giancarlo Stanton's group was firmly entrenched in first place with a 14-point lead at the All-Star break. What happened?
It's not that this team has faltered. It still leads the league in home runs, runs batted in and runs scored. Even though Chris Davis has hit just 10 home runs since the All-Star break, he's not to blame.
The more devastating blow was the loss of staff ace Matt Moore, who missed the month of August after landing on the DL with a sore elbow. During that period, his team slid to the bottom third of the league in strikeouts.
Moore had been lights out with a 14-3 record and 3.41 earned run average, and he is set to rejoin the rotation this week. The lefty will certainly give his team a much-needed boost.
Deficit: 8.5 points
Big Al's Crew
It's been feast or famine across the scoring categories for Big Al's Crew.
The pitching staff has been tremendous, leading the league in wins, strikeouts and earned run average.
On the other hand, Big Al's Crew ranks last in batting average and stolen bases.
If the pitching stays strong and the hitters can string together a few good weeks at the plate, this team could close the gap and make a run at the title.
Deficit: 10.5 points
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