Fantasy Forecaster updated Saturday, Aug. 25 at 9:55 p.m. ET.
On tap: The "stretch run" is officially here. Opinions might vary on when that cliched portion of the schedule arrives, but as people tend to measure things based upon the calendar, September, the final "month" of baseball's regular season, seems as good a time as any to reassess your fantasy team's championship prospects. (OK, so there are technically three days of October baseball that are still part of the 2012 regular season, but remember traditional thinking, not to mention statistical splits, measures the concluding month as September.) Sept. 1 arrives on Saturday of the coming week. Barring postponements between now and then, 81 percent of the season will be in the books when play begins that day.
Beginning with this week, there are five scoring periods remaining in weekly ESPN fantasy baseball leagues. This, in fact, is the final regular-season week in head-to-head leagues; the fantasy playoffs begin next week (Week 21).
Sept. 1 also marks another important date on baseball's calendar: It is the day that teams are permitted to expand their active rosters from 25 to 40 players. Last season, bigleague clubs promoted 51 total players from the minor leagues and activated 12 players from the disabled list on Sept. 1 alone. Rosters are bound to change, and with that, potentially rotations, too. It's for that reason you should tread carefully when assessing your two-start pitching candidates. The charts below project rotations through Sunday. This, however, is a week like the one including the July 31 trade deadline; everything is subject to change.
The Sept. 1 roster expansion -- if not a few days before it -- might mark the anticipated returns of two first-round fantasy talents, Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies and Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds. As things stand on Friday, Aug. 24, their estimated return dates aren't definitive enough for their owners to expect anything more than those two days' action in Week 20. But both are on the mend, and there's more good news on the first-rounders front: Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays, scheduled back Aug. 24, will be playing his first full week back from the disabled list. He's well worth activating in all formats.
Aces might dominate the pitching stat sheets, fitting for a final week of regular-season head-to-head matchups. Who doesn't want his or her ace leading a last-minute playoff push? To that end, six of the top 11 starting pitchers on our Player Rater (as of Aug. 24) are scheduled to start twice: David Price second), Felix Hernandez (fourth), Matt Cain (sixth), Chris Sale (eighth), Jered Weaver (10th) and Stephen Strasburg (11th). They all dominate my Week 20 rankings.
ESPN leagues: Week 20
There is an early start time to the week, triggered by the conclusion of a four-game, wraparound weekend series between the Boston Red Sox and Kansas City Royals. The series finale kicks off at Fenway Park at 1:35 p.m. ET, so get your lineups in before then. Here are the scheduled start times of the first games each day:
The chart below lists each of the 30 MLB teams' schedules and projected starting pitchers, and provides a matchup rating for each day's starter. Pitchers scheduled to start at least twice this week are in gold/beige boxes.
P: The starting pitcher's matchup rating, which accounts for past history (three years' worth as well as past 21 days), opponent and ballpark. Ratings range from 1-10, with 10 representing the best possible matchup, statistically speaking, and 1 representing the worst.
1. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- Mon-@MIN (Hendriks), Sat-LAA (Santana)
2. Matt Cain (SF) -- Tue-@HOU (Norris), Sun-@CHC (Wood)
3. David Price (TB) -- Mon-@TEX (Holland), Sat-@TOR (Laffey)
4. Justin Verlander (DET) -- Wed-@KC (Chen)
5. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Thu-ARI (Corbin)
6. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- Tue-@CHC (Wood), Sun-PIT (Burnett)
7. Stephen Strasburg (WAS) -- Tue-@MIA (Nolasco), Sun-STL (Westbrook)
8. Madison Bumgarner (SF) -- Fri-@CHC (Volstad)
9. Chris Sale (CHW) -- Tue-@BAL (Gonzalez), Sun-@DET (Sanchez)
10. Adam Wainwright (STL) -- Fri-@WAS (Gonzalez)
11. Roy Halladay (PHI) -- Fri-@ATL (Minor)
12. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Wed-NYM (Harvey)
13. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Tue-BOS (Buchholz), Sun-@SEA (Iwakuma)
14. Josh Johnson (MIA) -- Sat-NYM (Hefner)
15. Mat Latos (CIN) -- Wed-@ARI (Skaggs)
16. Cliff Lee (PHI) -- Sat-@ATL (Hudson)
17. Hiroki Kuroda (NYY) -- Fri-BAL (Tillman)
18. Kyle Lohse (STL) -- Mon-@PIT (Burnett), Sat-@WAS (Zimmermann)
19. Johnny Cueto (CIN) -- Tue-@ARI (Miley)
20. Clay Buchholz (BOS) -- Tue-@LAA (Weaver), Sun-@OAK (Milone)
21. R.A. Dickey (NYM) -- Fri-@MIA (Eovaldi)
22. James Shields (TB) -- Tue-@TEX (Darvish), Sun-@TOR (Happ)
23. Gio Gonzalez (WAS) -- Fri-STL (Wainwright)
24. Paul Maholm (ATL) -- Mon-@SD (Kelly), Sun-PHI (Worley)
25. Kris Medlen (ATL) -- Tue-@SD (Werner)
26. Tim Hudson (ATL) -- Sat-PHI (Lee)
27. Derek Holland (TEX) -- Mon-TB (Price), Sun-@CLE (McAllister)
28. CC Sabathia (NYY) -- Wed-TOR (Villanueva)
29. Jordan Zimmermann (WAS) -- Sat-STL (Lohse)
30. Hisashi Iwakuma (SEA) -- Tue-@MIN (Diamond), Sun-LAA (Weaver)
31. Jon Lester (BOS) -- Wed-@LAA (Wilson)
32. Jake Peavy (CHW) -- Wed-@BAL (Britton)
33. Jaime Garcia (STL) -- Thu-@WAS (Jackson)
34. Trevor Cahill (ARI) -- Mon-CIN (Arroyo), Sun-@LAD (Blanton)
35. Matt Moore (TB) -- Wed-@TEX (Harrison)
36. Tommy Hanson (ATL) -- Wed-@SD (Stults)
37. Francisco Liriano (CHW) -- Mon-@BAL (Chen), Sat-@DET (Scherzer)
38. Brandon Morrow (TOR) -- Thu-TB (Cobb)
39. Max Scherzer (DET) -- Sat-CHW (Liriano)
40. Wade Miley (ARI) -- Tue-CIN (Cueto)
41. Tommy Milone (OAK) -- Tue-@CLE (McAllister), Sun-BOS (Buchholz)
42. Zack Greinke (LAA) -- Thu-BOS (Cook)
43. Jarrod Parker (OAK) -- Wed-@CLE (Kluber)
44. C.J. Wilson (LAA) -- Wed-BOS (Lester)
45. Marco Estrada (MIL) -- Mon-@CHC (Germano), Sat-PIT (Bedard)
46. Ryan Vogelsong (SF) -- Thu-@HOU (Lyles)
47. Tim Lincecum (SF) -- Sat-@CHC (Germano)
48. Yu Darvish (TEX) -- Tue-TB (Shields)
49. Ross Detwiler (WAS) -- Wed-@MIA (Turner)
50. Brett Anderson (OAK) -- Mon-@CLE (Carmona), Sat-BOS (Matsuzaka)
51. Jonathon Niese (NYM) -- Thu-@PHI (Kendrick)
52. Matt Harrison (TEX) -- Wed-TB (Moore)
53. Jeremy Hellickson (TB) -- Fri-@TOR (Romero)
54. Anibal Sanchez (DET) -- Tue-@KC (Mendoza), Sun-CHW (Sale)
55. Ian Kennedy (ARI) -- Fri-@LAD (Harang)
56. Ryan Dempster (TEX) -- Fri-@CLE (Jimenez)
57. Bronson Arroyo (CIN) -- Mon-@ARI (Cahill), Sun-@HOU (Norris)
58. Shaun Marcum (MIL) -- Thu-@CHC (Raley)
59. Brandon McCarthy (OAK) -- Thu-@CLE (Masterson)
60. Patrick Corbin (ARI) -- Thu-@LAD (Kershaw)
61. Jake Westbrook (STL) -- Tue-@PIT (McDonald), Sun-@WAS (Strasburg)
62. Dan Haren (LAA) -- Fri-@SEA (Millwood)
63. Zach McAllister (CLE) -- Tue-OAK (Milone), Sun-TEX (Holland)
64. Matt Harvey (NYM) -- Wed-@PHI (Hamels)
65. Jason Vargas (SEA) -- Wed-@MIN (Deduno)
66. Edwin Jackson (WAS) -- Thu-STL (Garcia)
67. Chris Capuano (LAD) -- Wed-@COL (Pomeranz)
68. A.J. Burnett (PIT) -- Mon-STL (Lohse), Sun-@MIL (Gallardo)
69. Ervin Santana (LAA) -- Sat-@SEA (Hernandez)
70. Jeff Samardzija (CHC) -- Wed-MIL (Fiers)
71. Mike Minor (ATL) -- Fri-PHI (Halladay)
72. Phil Hughes (NYY) -- Tue-TOR (Happ)
73. Mike Fiers (MIL) -- Wed-@CHC (Samardzija)
74. Mark Buehrle (MIA) -- Sun-NYM (Young)
75. Josh Beckett (LAD) -- Mon-@COL (Francis), Sat-ARI (Saunders)
Two-start options for AL-/NL-only leagues:
Wei-Yin Chen (BAL) -- Mon-CHW (Liriano), Sat-@NYY (Garcia)
Scott Diamond (MIN) -- Tue-SEA (Iwakuma), Sun-@KC (Mendoza)
Luke Hochevar (KC) -- Mon-@BOS (Matsuzaka), Sat-MIN (Hendriks)
Casey Kelly (SD) -- Mon-ATL (Maholm), Sun-@COL (Francis)
Daisuke Matsuzaka (BOS) -- Mon-KC (Hochevar), Sat-@OAK (Anderson)
Bud Norris (HOU) -- Tue-SF (Cain), Sun-CIN (Arroyo)
David Phelps (NYY) -- Mon-TOR (Laffey), Sun-BAL (Gonzalez)
Travis Wood (CHC) -- Tue-MIL (Gallardo), Sun-SF (Cain)
Vance Worley (PHI) -- Tue-NYM (Young), Sun-@ATL (Maholm)
Chris Young (NYM) -- Tue-@PHI (Worley), Sun-@MIA (Buehrle)
No-thank-yous, among two-start pitchers:
Joe Blanton (LAD) -- Tue-@COL (Chatwood), Sun-ARI (Cahill)
Jeff Francis (COL) -- Mon-LAD (Beckett), Sun-SD (Kelly)
Justin Germano (CHC) -- Mon-MIL (Estrada), Sat-SF (Lincecum)
Miguel Gonzalez (BAL) -- Tue-CHW (Sale), Sun-@NYY (Phelps)
J.A. Happ (TOR) -- Tue-@NYY (Hughes), Sun-TB (Shields)
Liam Hendriks (MIN) -- Mon-SEA (Hernandez), Sat-@KC (Hochevar)
Roberto Hernandez (CLE) -- Mon-OAK (Anderson), Sat-TEX (Feldman)
Aaron Laffey (TOR) -- Mon-@NYY (Phelps), Sat-TB (Price)
Luis Mendoza (KC) -- Tue-DET (Sanchez), Sun-MIN (Diamond)
• This is the Atlanta Braves' opportunity to extend their lead in the National League wild-card race, or perhaps even close the gap in the East Division, what with six games stacked toward their red-hot pitching staff. My Baseball Challenge pitching pick of Week 20, the Braves have the game's second-best ERA (2.62) and third-best WHIP (1.14) in the month of August, and they'll play three games at baseball's most cavernous ballpark, Petco Park, then three against a so-so Philadelphia Phillies offense. Consider that the Phillies, since Aug. 1, have averaged 3.73 runs per game while managing .245 AVG/.313 OBP/.390 SLG rates as a team. Braves starters as a whole have a 3.04 ERA in the month, as well as 14 quality starts in 22 games. Among other recommended BBC pitching staffs: San Francisco Giants (@HOU-3, @CHC-3), Oakland Athletics (@CLE-4, BOS-3), Texas Rangers (TB-3, @CLE-3), St. Louis Cardinals (@PIT-3, @WAS-4).
The following pitchers are scheduled at Colorado's Coors Field, No. 1 in runs scored on our Park Factor page and home to the Colorado Rockies, baseball's No. 1 team in terms of runs scored per game and OPS in home games:
• Josh Beckett (Monday): 4 career GS at Coors, 3.60 ERA, 1.36 WHIP. Start. It's mostly a hunch, but there's no better case for motivation than in his debut for his new team.
• Joe Blanton (Tuesday): 1 career GS at Coors (9/2/10), 4 1/3 IP, 10 H, 4 ER. Sit. He's a classic matchups type coming off back-to-back so-so outings.
• Chris Capuano (Wednesday): 7 career G, 6 GS, at Coors, 3.46 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 3 QS. Start, unless you're bumping up against a starts/innings cap.
• Clayton Richard (Friday): 5 career GS at Coors, 9.00 ERA, 1.93 WHIP, 2 QS. Sit. He's a classic Petco pitcher, meaning sit him in this road game.
• Edinson Volquez (Saturday): 3 career GS at Coors, 3.18 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 2 QS. Sit. He's unpredictable. But three straight poor road starts equals a sit.
• Casey Kelly (Sunday): has never pitched at Coors. Sit. A rookie making his second big-league start at Coors? No thanks.
The following pitchers are scheduled to pitch at San Diego's Petco Park, No. 26 in runs scored on our Park Factor page and home to the San Diego Padres, No. 29 in terms of both runs scored per game and OPS in home games:
• Paul Maholm (Monday): Has never pitched at Petco. Start. Set your baseline at his Aug. 15 start against the Padres (7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, win).
• Kris Medlen (Tuesday): 1 career G at Petco, 1/3 IP, 0 R. Start. This is a no-brainer. He has a 0.83 WHIP in his past five starts.
• Tommy Hanson (Wednesday): 3 career GS at Petco, 1.42 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 3 QS. Start. He's three starts removed from the DL and this is a great matchup.
The following pitchers are scheduled to pitch at Seattle's Safeco Field, No. 30 in runs scored on our Park Factor page and home to the Seattle Mariners, baseball's worst team in terms of runs scored per game and OPS in home games.
• Dan Haren (Friday): 10 career GS at Safeco, 1.99 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 9 QS. Sit, if only because the Mariners pounded him on Aug. 11.
• Ervin Santana (Saturday): 13 career GS at Safeco, 4.13 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 8 QS. Start. He has a 2.96 ERA in his past 10 starts at Safeco.
• Jered Weaver (Sunday): 11 career GS at Safeco, 4.48 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 5 QS. Start. He has three straight quality starts at Safeco.
• As with Petco and Safeco games, matchups against the Houston Astros have become effective must-starts for opposing starting pitchers. This Astros team, after all, has managed .224/.286/.342 rates and averaged 2.85 runs per game in August. This week, the Cincinnati Reds are the staff primed to capitalize upon those matchups, all three opponents available in at least 80 percent of ESPN leagues: Mike Leake (Friday), who is 5-for-8 in quality starts with a 3.86 ERA in 10 career games (two were relief appearances) against the Astros; Homer Bailey (Saturday), who is 4-0 with a 1.33 ERA and five quality starts in six career games against the Astros; and Bronson Arroyo (Sunday), who is 4-1 with a 2.51 ERA and five quality starts in six career games against the Astros.
Several "comeback kids" -- pitchers recently off the disabled list -- match up nicely in their scheduled starts this week:
• Jaime Garcia, making his third start since activation, is 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA but a 1.65 WHIP in three career starts versus the Washington Nationals.
• Shaun Marcum, making his second start, has won both of his career starts, both quality starts, with a 2.57 ERA at Wrigley Field.
• Brett Anderson, making his second start, tossed a gem of a quality start on Aug. 21, and is a two-start pitcher for Week 20. He is also 3-for-3 in quality starts with a 1.29 ERA and 0.76 WHIP in his career against the Cleveland Indians.
• CC Sabathia, making his second start, is 6-0 with five quality starts, a 2.41 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in seven starts versus the Toronto Blue Jays since 2009.
• Brandon Morrow, making his second start, has five quality starts, a 3.79 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in nine career starts versus the Tampa Bay Rays.
Among streaming starter -- something I define as single-start options in daily leagues among pitchers owned in 25 percent of ESPN leagues or fewer -- options for Week 20, here are my picks by day:
Monday, Aug. 27: Brett Anderson at Cleveland Indians
Tuesday, Aug. 28: Hisashi Iwakuma at Minnesota Twins
Wednesday, Aug. 29: Barry Zito at Houston Astros
Thursday, Aug. 30: Jeremy Guthrie versus Detroit Tigers
Friday, Aug. 31: Mike Leake at Houston Astros
Saturday, Sept. 1: Luke Hochevar versus Minnesota Twins
Sunday, Sept. 2: David Phelps versus Baltimore Orioles
Friday, Aug. 17: Hisashi Iwakuma -- W, QS, 7 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K
Saturday, Aug. 18: Patrick Corbin -- W, 7 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 5 K
Sunday, Aug. 19: Clayton Richard -- W, QS, 8 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K
Monday, Aug. 20: Joe Saunders -- 3 2/3 IP, 12 H, 9 ER, 0 BB, 2 K
Tuesday, Aug. 21: Scott Feldman -- 5 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 4 K
Wednesday, Aug. 22: Hisashi Iwakuma -- 5 2/3 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 5 K
Thursday, Aug. 23: Bartolo Colon -- This one sure worked out well. He's suspended 50 games, ending his season.
Week's total: 6 GS, 3 W (50.0%), 2 QS (33.3%), 36 1/3 IP, 41 H, 18 ER, 6 BB, 23 K, 4.46 ERA, 1.29 WHIP
Season total: 128 GS, 57 W (44.5%), 68 QS (53.1%), 778 IP, 744 H, 332 ER, 250 BB, 577 K, 3.84 ERA, 1.28 WHIP
The chart below lists each of the 30 teams' total number of scheduled games, home games and games versus right- and left-handed pitchers, and provides a matchup rating for the week's games in terms of overall offense, offense for left- and right-handed hitters and base stealing. Matchup ratings for each individual game are listed under the corresponding date.
Some of the data used to generate this chart is derived from Baseball Musings' Day-by-day database.
H: Hitters' matchup rating, which accounts for the opposing starting pitcher's past history (three years' worth as well as past 21 days) as well as ballpark factors. L: Hitters' matchup rating accounting only for left-handed hitters. R: Hitters' matchup rating accounting for only right-handed hitters. S: Base stealing matchup rating, which accounts for the opponent's catchers' ability to gun down opposing base stealers. Ratings range from 1-10, with 10 representing the best possible matchup, statistically speaking, and 1 representing the worst.
• No team has hit more home runs in the month of August than the Chicago White Sox (38), and despite their hitting the road, where they won't have homer-friendly U.S. Cellular Field helping their cause, they still match up favorably this week. Remember, Camden Yards is one of the 10 most hitting-friendly venues in baseball as well, its No. 6 ranking on our Park Factor page in terms of home runs only two spots beneath "The Cell." Camden Yards is a familiar place for Kevin Youkilis, a .327/.436/.538 lifetime hitter with 10 home runs in 53 games there. It's also a plus for A.J. Pierzynski, a .371/.396/.538 hitter with five homers in 34 career games there, and Alex Rios, a .291/.333/.427 hitter in 53 games there.
• This might be a bounce-back week for certain Tampa Bay Rays hitters, as well. They'll make stops at two of the 10 best venues in baseball for runs scored, Rangers Ballpark and Rogers Centre, and despite their up-and-down hitting performances on a nightly basis, they're generally worth a look. As they'll face five left-handed starting pitchers, Jeff Keppinger, a .405/.429/.571 hitter versus lefties this season, and Ben Zobrist, .280/.376/.470 against lefties, are well worth activating. Evan Longoria, a .382/.476/.765 hitter against that side, is a must-start.
• With the Kansas City Royals facing a favorable hitters' schedule, Justin Verlander matchup (Wednesday) notwithstanding, two of their lesser players are worth a look in deeper leagues: Salvador Perez is a .346 hitter with four home runs in 23 games in the month of August, while Lorenzo Cain is a .298/.352/.383 hitter with two stolen bases in 23 games played in the month.