Fantasy Forecaster updated Sunday, Sept. 23 at 10:52 p.m. ET.
On tap: This is it, the final week of the 2012 fantasy baseball season. It's an extended "week" of 10 days ending Wednesday, Oct. 3, plus any necessary tiebreaker games. By "tiebreaker games," I mean additional games needed to settle playoff positioning, not the wild-card play-in games. For example: Should the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees tie for first place in the American League East while also sharing the same record with the Oakland Athletics for the two AL wild-card spots, the Orioles and Yankees would require a one-game playoff to decide their division, a game played Thursday, Oct. 4, that would count in ESPN leagues.
Expect the unexpected in the final week -- rotations in flux, rookies granted sporadic starts as 2013 auditions, injured players shut down for the year and playoff teams resting veterans. The rotations listed below are projections and are more subject to change in this than in any of the preceding 23 weeks. We'll keep you updated throughout the weekend, leading up to the Monday weekly deadline, but understand that, while almost every pitcher is tentatively scheduled for two starts, there are no guarantees with any assignments.
Motivation is a critical angle at this stage of season. Fantasy owners want players playing for something, and they generally want to avoid players whose playoff fates are already sealed. Through Saturday's games, the following teams had either already clinched or had at least a five-game lead on their opposition in their playoff races:
• Cincinnati Reds: Clinched National League Central divison title.
• Washington Nationals: Clinched playoff berth, held 5½-game lead in NL East (magic number 6).
• San Francisco Giants: Clinched NL West title.
• Atlanta Braves: Held six-game lead for first NL wild-card spot (magic number 5) and 8½ for second wild-card spot (magic number 3).
Conversely, the following teams remained within five games of a playoff spot, whether in the lead or trailing:
• Texas Rangers: 4-game lead in AL West.
• St. Louis Cardinals: 2½-game lead for second NL wild-card spot.
• Yankees: 1-game lead in AL East.
• Chicago White Sox: ½-game lead in AL Central.
• Detroit Tigers: Trail in AL Central race by ½ game and the AL wild-card race by 4½ games.
• Orioles: Trail in AL East race by 1 game, 2-game lead for first AL wild-card spot (magic number 10) and 4½ for second wild-card spot (magic number 7).
• Los Angeles Angels: Trail in AL wild-card race by 2½ games.
• Milwaukee Brewers: Trail in NL wild-card race by 2½ games.
• Los Angeles Dodgers: Trail in NL wild-card race by 3 games.
• Tampa Bay Rays: Trail in AL wild-card race by 3½ games.
• Oakland Athletics: Trail in AL West race by 4 games, have a 2½-game lead for the second wild-card spot.
• Philadelphia Phillies: Trail in NL wild-card race by 4 games.
• Arizona Diamondbacks: Trail in NL wild-card race by 4½ games.
The Pittsburgh Pirates were also 6½ games removed from a playoff spot. Add them to the above group and there are 14 teams that begin the week highly motivated.
The AL Central race is perhaps the most compelling this week, with the White Sox and Tigers avoiding each other in the final 10 days, fattening up on weaker divisional competition -- save, perhaps, a four-game White Sox home series versus the Rays. It's conceivable that the race will go down to the final Oct. 1-3 series for each team, and it could mean a lot of W's between the two squads. Both teams have rotation questions in need of answers before the playoffs begin: The White Sox need to determine who among Francisco Liriano, Gavin Floyd and Jose Quintana can be a viable playoff starter, while the Tigers need to hope that Max Scherzer's shoulder quickly heals.
Meanwhile, the NL's second wild-card race, and its two Central division contenders, will be under the microscope. Having just welcomed Chris Carpenter back to their rotation, the Cardinals head to Houston for three games before returning home for a pair of three-game series against the Nationals and Reds, teams that have already clinched playoff berths and might largely be playing B squads. The Brewers, meanwhile, play three in Cincinnati before returning home for a pair of soft, three-game matchups versus the Houston Astros and San Diego Padres. Their decision to move up Yovani Gallardo in their rotation last week pays off in fantasy, as he'll now get two starts this week instead of one.
ESPN leagues: Week 24
This is the second and final week of championship matchups in ESPN standard head-to-head leagues, and owners in our games need remember that those Thursday, Oct. 4, tiebreakers will count in the standings. That goes for all ESPN leagues, head-to-head and Rotisserie.
The Monday conclusion of the Brewers at Nationals four-game wraparound series creates an early lineup deadline for the week. That series finale begins at 1:05 p.m. ET. 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, providing 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.
As all but 24 of the 152 pitchers scheduled to start this week will pitch twice, this week's rankings are extended from 75 to 100. No-thank-you two-start pitchers are generally those who miss this week's cutoff.
1. Matt Cain (SF) -- 9/26-ARI (Miley), 10/1-@LAD (Capuano)
2. Justin Verlander (DET) -- 9/24-KC (Hochevar), 9/29-@MIN (Walters)
3. Kris Medlen (ATL) -- 9/25-MIA (Eovaldi), 9/30-NYM (McHugh)
4. Gio Gonzalez (WAS) -- 9/28-@STL (Wainwright), 10/3-PHI (Halladay)
5. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- 9/25-WAS (Lannan), 9/30-@MIA (Eovaldi)
6. Chris Sale (CHW) -- 9/24-CLE (McAllister), 9/29-TB (Hellickson)
7. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- 9/28-HOU (Gonzalez), 10/3-SD (Werner)
8. R.A. Dickey (NYM) -- 9/27-PIT (Correia), 10/2-@MIA (Turner)
9. Zack Greinke (LAA) -- 9/25-SEA (Ramirez), 9/30-@TEX (Darvish)
10. David Price (TB) -- 9/25-@BOS (Buchholz), 9/30-@CHW (Liriano)
11. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- 9/28-@TEX (Dempster), 10/3-@SEA (Beavan)
12. Josh Johnson (MIA) -- 9/26-@ATL (Maholm), 10/1-NYM (Niese)
13. Dan Haren (LAA) -- 9/27-SEA (Iwakuma), 10/2-@SEA (Iwakuma)
14. Roy Halladay (PHI) -- 9/28-@MIA (Buehrle), 10/3-@WAS (Gonzalez)
15. Yu Darvish (TEX) -- 9/25-OAK (Milone), 9/30-LAA (Greinke)
16. Adam Wainwright (STL) -- 9/28-WAS (Gonzalez), 10/3-CIN (Latos)
17. Mat Latos (CIN) -- 9/28-@PIT (Burnett), 10/3-@STL (Wainwright)
18. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- 9/26-@LAA (Wilson), 10/1-LAA (Wilson)
19. Doug Fister (DET) -- 9/27-KC (Mendoza), 10/2-@KC (Guthrie)
20. Jake Peavy (CHW) -- 9/26-CLE (Masterson), 10/1-@CLE (Kluber)
21. CC Sabathia (NYY) -- 9/26-@MIN (Deduno), 10/1-BOS (Buchholz)
22. James Shields (TB) -- 9/27-@CHW (Quintana), 10/2-BAL (Gonzalez)
23. Tim Lincecum (SF) -- 9/25-ARI (Skaggs), 9/30-@SD (Volquez)
24. Ian Kennedy (ARI) -- 9/28-CHC (Wood), 10/3-COL (Francis)
25. Max Scherzer (DET) -- 9/28-@MIN (Diamond), 10/3-@KC (Mendoza)
26. Mike Minor (ATL) -- 9/28-NYM (Young), 10/3-@PIT (Burnett)
27. Cliff Lee (PHI) -- 9/29-@MIA (Nolasco)
28. Derek Holland (TEX) -- 9/24-OAK (Straily), 9/29-LAA (Santana)
29. Hiroki Kuroda (NYY) -- 9/28-@TOR (Jenkins), 10/3-BOS (Matsuzaka)
30. Marco Estrada (MIL) -- 9/24-@WAS (Zimmermann), 9/29-HOU (Keuchel)
31. C.J. Wilson (LAA) -- 9/26-SEA (Hernandez), 10/1-@SEA (Hernandez)
32. Matt Harrison (TEX) -- 9/27-OAK (Blackley), 10/2-@OAK (Blackley)
33. Ryan Dempster (TEX) -- 9/28-LAA (Weaver), 10/3-@OAK (Griffin)
34. Jordan Zimmermann (WAS) -- 9/24-MIL (Estrada), 9/29-@STL (Lohse)
35. Brandon Morrow (TOR) -- 9/27-NYY (Nova), 10/3-MIN (Diamond)
36. Wandy Rodriguez (PIT) -- 9/25-@NYM (McHugh), 9/30-CIN (Leake)
37. Clay Buchholz (BOS) -- 9/25-TB (Price), 10/1-@NYY (Sabathia)
38. Josh Beckett (LAD) -- 9/25-@SD (Volquez), 9/30-COL (De La Rosa)
39. Anibal Sanchez (DET) -- 9/25-KC (Chen), 9/30-@MIN (Hendriks)
40. Jaime Garcia (STL) -- 9/25-@HOU (Harrell), 10/1-CIN (Cueto)
41. Jonathon Niese (NYM) -- 9/26-PIT (Locke), 10/1-@MIA (Johnson)
42. Tommy Hanson (ATL) -- 9/27-MIA (Turner), 10/2-@PIT (Correia)
43. Trevor Cahill (ARI) -- 9/24-@COL (Chatwood), 9/29-CHC (Germano)
44. Lance Lynn (STL) -- 9/24-@HOU (Abad), 9/30-WAS (Lannan)
45. Matt Moore (TB) -- 9/28-@CHW (Floyd), 10/3-BAL (Tillman)
46. Jon Lester (BOS) -- 9/26-TB (Cobb), 10/2-@NYY (Nova)
47. A.J. Griffin (OAK) -- 9/28-SEA (Beavan), 10/3-TEX (Dempster)
48. Francisco Liriano (CHW) -- 9/25-CLE (Kluber), 9/30-TB (Price)
49. Johnny Cueto (CIN) -- 9/26-MIL (Marcum), 10/1-@STL (Garcia)
50. Jarrod Parker (OAK) -- 9/26-@TEX (Perez), 10/1-TEX (Perez)
51. Madison Bumgarner (SF) -- 9/29-@SD (Stults)
52. Phil Hughes (NYY) -- 9/25-@MIN (Vasquez), 9/30-@TOR (Romero)
53. Ross Detwiler (WAS) -- 9/26-@PHI (Kendrick), 10/1-PHI (Kendrick)
54. Travis Wood (CHC) -- 9/28-@ARI (Kennedy), 10/3-HOU (Norris)
55. A.J. Burnett (PIT) -- 9/28-CIN (Latos), 10/3-ATL (Minor)
56. Erasmo Ramirez (SEA) -- 9/25-@LAA (Greinke), 9/30-@OAK (Milone)
57. Kyle Lohse (STL) -- 9/29-WAS (Zimmermann)
58. Chris Carpenter (STL) -- 9/26-@HOU (Norris), 10/2-CIN (Arroyo)
59. Andy Pettitte (NYY) -- 9/24-@MIN (Hendriks), 9/29-@TOR (Alvarez)
60. Tim Hudson (ATL) -- 9/29-NYM (Mejia)
61. Wily Peralta (MIL) -- 9/27-@CIN (Arroyo), 10/2-SD (Kelly)
62. Carlos Villanueva (TOR) -- 9/26-@BAL (Gonzalez), 10/2-MIN (Deduno)
63. Shaun Marcum (MIL) -- 9/26-@CIN (Cueto), 10/1-SD (Richard)
64. Ryan Vogelsong (SF) -- 9/28-@SD (Werner), 10/3-@LAD (Fife)
65. Edwin Jackson (WAS) -- 9/27-@PHI (Cloyd), 10/2-PHI (Cloyd)
66. Jeremy Hellickson (TB) -- 9/29-@CHW (Sale)
67. Gavin Floyd (CHW) -- 9/28-TB (Moore), 10/3-@CLE (Jimenez)
68. Chris Capuano (LAD) -- 9/26-@SD (Richard), 10/1-SF (Cain)
69. Homer Bailey (CIN) -- 9/29-@PIT (McPherson)
70. Paul Maholm (ATL) -- 9/26-MIA (Johnson), 10/1-@PIT (Locke)
71. Jose Quintana (CHW) -- 9/27-TB (Shields), 10/2-@CLE (Masterson)
72. Wade Miley (ARI) -- 9/26-@SF (Cain), 10/1-COL (Pomeranz)
73. Mike Fiers (MIL) -- 9/25-@CIN (Leake), 9/30-HOU (Lyles)
74. Lucas Harrell (HOU) -- 9/25-STL (Garcia), 10/2-@CHC (Volstad)
75. Kevin Correia (PIT) -- 9/27-@NYM (Dickey), 10/2-ATL (Hanson)
76. Hisashi Iwakuma (SEA) -- 9/27-@LAA (Haren), 10/2-LAA (Haren)
77. Bronson Arroyo (CIN) -- 9/27-MIL (Peralta), 10/2-@STL (Carpenter)
78. Edinson Volquez (SD) -- 9/25-LAD (Beckett), 9/30-SF (Lincecum)
79. Jacob Turner (MIA) -- 9/27-@ATL (Hanson), 10/2-NYM (Dickey)
80. Martin Perez (TEX) -- 9/26-OAK (Parker), 10/1-@OAK (Parker)
81. Tommy Milone (OAK) -- 9/25-@TEX (Darvish), 9/30-SEA (Ramirez)
82. Mark Buehrle (MIA) -- 9/28-PHI (Halladay), 10/3-NYM (Young)
83. Ivan Nova (NYY) -- 9/27-@TOR (Morrow), 10/2-BOS (Lester)
84. Jeremy Guthrie (KC) -- 9/26-@DET (Porcello), 10/2-DET (Fister)
85. Ervin Santana (LAA) -- 9/29-@TEX (Holland)
86. Clayton Richard (SD) -- 9/26-LAD (Capuano), 10/1-@MIL (Marcum)
87. Ubaldo Jimenez (CLE) -- 9/28-KC (Smith), 10/3-CHW (Floyd)
88. Joe Saunders (BAL) -- 9/25-TOR (Laffey), 10/1-@TB (Archer)
89. Wei-Yin Chen (BAL) -- 9/24-TOR, Gm. 2 (Romero), 9/30-BOS (Stewart)
90. Kyle Kendrick (PHI) -- 9/26-WAS (Detwiler), 10/1-@WAS (Detwiler)
91. Nate Eovaldi (MIA) -- 9/25-@ATL (Medlen), 9/30-PHI (Hamels)
92. Jhoulys Chacin (COL) -- 9/27-CHC (Volstad), 10/2-@ARI (Corbin)
93. Bud Norris (HOU) -- 9/26-STL (Carpenter), 10/3-@CHC (Wood)
94. Patrick Corbin (ARI) -- 9/27-@SF (Zito), 10/2-COL (Chacin)
95. Miguel Gonzalez (BAL) -- 9/26-TOR (Villanueva), 10/2-@TB (Shields)
96. Barry Zito (SF) -- 9/27-ARI (Corbin), 10/2-@LAD (Blanton)
97. Chris Young (NYM) -- 9/28-@ATL (Minor), 10/3-@MIA (Buehrle)
98. Eric Stults (SD) -- 9/29-SF (Bumgarner)
99. Tyler Cloyd (PHI) -- 9/27-WAS (Jackson), 10/2-@WAS (Jackson)
100. Ricky Nolasco (MIA) -- 9/29-PHI (Lee)
• Ten games, including six at home against the Astros (3) and Padres (3), provide the Brewers not only the advantage they need in the NL wild-card race, but that also makes them my final Baseball Challenge pitching staff pick of 2012. Despite the July 27 trade of Zack Greinke, this team has 33 wins, 25 quality starts, a 3.91 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 8.69 strikeouts per nine innings in 51 games since that date. Gallardo has been key, with nine wins, nine quality starts, a 3.40 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 9.25 K's per nine in 13 second-half starts. But it's also the performances they've squeezed out of Marco Estrada, who has a 3.23 ERA in 13 second-half starts, and Wily Peralta, who had a 1.80 ERA in his first three big league starts before getting hit hard on Saturday, that have propelled them back into the race. Among other recommended BBC pitching staffs: Cardinals (@HOU-3, WAS-3, CIN-3), Tigers (KC-4, @MIN-3, @KC-3), Dodgers (@SD-3, COL-3, SF-3) and White Sox (CLE-3, TB-4, @CLE-3).
The following visiting pitchers are scheduled for starts 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:
• Trevor Cahill (Monday, Sept. 24): 2 career GS at Coors, 3.65 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 1 QS. Start in larger mixed and NL-only leagues.
• Chris Rusin (Tuesday, Sept. 25): Has never pitched at Coors. Sit. No-brainer.
• Jason Berken (Wednesday, Sept. 26): Has never pitched at Coors. Sit. Another no-brainer.
• Chris Volstad (Thursday, Sept. 27): 3 career G, 2 GS at Coors, 6.57 ERA, 1.70 WHIP. Sit. 3-for-3 in the no-brainer department.
The following visiting pitchers are scheduled for starts at San Diego's Petco Park, No. 25 in runs scored on our Park Factor page and home to the Padres, No. 24 in terms of runs scored per game and No. 25 in terms of OPS in home games:
• Josh Beckett (Tuesday, Sept. 25): 3-for-3 in QS at Petco, 3.05 ERA, 1.16 WHIP. Start. He has a 3.45 ERA in his five starts with the Dodgers.
• Chris Capuano (Wednesday, Sept. 26): 3 career GS at Petco, 5.29 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 2 QS. Start. Save for a rocky stretch in late August, he has been consistently reliable.
• Joe Blanton (Thursday, Sept. 27): 5 career GS at Petco, 3.90 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 4 QS. Start in larger mixed and NL-only leagues.
• Ryan Vogelsong (Friday, Sept. 28): 3 career G, 2 GS at Petco, 20.25 ERA, 3.56 WHIP. Sit. Besides that track record at Petco, he has struggled mightily of late.
• Madison Bumgarner (Saturday, Sept. 29): 6 career G, 5 GS at Petco, 3.06 ERA, 1.24 WHIP. Start. The Giants need to straighten him out before the playoffs, and this is the kind of matchup that can do it.
• Tim Lincecum (Sunday, Sept. 30): 10 career GS, 2.15 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 8 QS. Start. Petco has been as automatic a matchup as they come in Lincecum's career, and he has four straight quality starts to boot.
The following visiting pitchers are scheduled for starts 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:
• C.J. Wilson (Monday, Oct. 1): 26 career G, 8 GS at Safeco, 3.12 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 6 QS. Sit. He's pitching too poorly of late to be trusted at such a critical time.
• Dan Haren (Tuesday, Oct. 2): 11 career GS at Safeco, 1.82 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 10 QS. Start. That's a track record that cannot be overlooked.
• Jered Weaver (Wednesday, Oct. 3): 12 career GS at Safeco, 4.40 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 5 QS. Start. Three of his past four games at Safeco resulted in quality starts, and he has three consecutive quality starts overall heading into the week.
Delving into deeper detail about starting-pitching assignments that might be changed after the weekly lineup deadline, I see the following as worries, the pitchers either being moved, skipped or held to a limited pitch count:
• Jake Peavy (Monday, Oct. 1, @CLE)
• Max Scherzer (Wednesday, Oct. 3, @KC)
• CC Sabathia (Monday, Oct. 1, BOS)
• Hiroki Kuroda (Wednesday, Oct. 3, BOS)
• Ryan Dempster (Wednesday, Oct. 3, @OAK)
• Johnny Cueto (Monday, Oct. 1, @STL)
• Mat Latos (Wednesday, Oct. 3, @STL)
• Adam Wainwright (Wednesday, Oct. 3, CIN)
• Edwin Jackson (Tuesday, Oct. 2, PHI)
• Gio Gonzalez (Wednesday, Oct. 3, PHI)
Among streaming starters -- something I define as single-start options in daily leagues among pitchers owned in 25 percent of ESPN leagues or fewer -- for Week 24, here are my picks by day. At this critical stage of season, I'm picking two per day, listed in order of preference.
Monday, Sept. 24: Andy Pettitte at Minnesota Twins, Marco Estrada at Washington Nationals
Tuesday, Sept. 25: Erasmo Ramirez at Los Angeles Angels, Francisco Liriano versus Cleveland Indians
Wednesday, Sept. 26: Rick Porcello versus Kansas City Royals, Martin Perez versus Oakland Athletics
Thursday, Sept. 27: Jose Quintana versus Tampa Bay Rays, Jhoulys Chacin versus Chicago Cubs
Friday, Sept. 28: Travis Wood at Arizona Diamondbacks, Will Smith at Cleveland Indians
Saturday, Sept. 29: Andy Pettitte at Toronto Blue Jays, Dan Straily versus Seattle Mariners
Sunday, Sept. 30: Francisco Liriano versus Tampa Bay Rays, Edinson Volquez versus San Francisco Giants
Monday, Oct. 1: Rick Porcello at Kansas City Royals, Jason Berken versus Houston Astros
Tuesday, Oct. 2: Jose Quintana at Cleveland Indians, Wily Peralta versus San Diego Padres
Wednesday, Oct. 3: Travis Wood versus Houston Astros, Chris Young at Miami Marlins
Friday, Sept. 14: Andrew Cashner -- 3 2/3 IP, 10 H, 6 ER, 0 BBs, 2 K's
Saturday, Sept. 15: Rick Porcello -- 4 2/3 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 3 BBs, 2 K's (pitched Sept. 16)
Sunday, Sept. 16: Miguel Gonzalez -- skipped
Monday, Sept. 17: Travis Wood -- 5 2/3 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 9 K's, Chris Tillman -- W, QS, 6 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 0 BBs, 4 K's
Tuesday, Sept. 18: Tyler Cloyd -- W, QS, 8 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 2 BBs, 6 K's (pitched Sept. 20), Gavin Floyd -- W, QS, 7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K's
Wednesday, Sept. 19: Trevor Cahill -- W, QS, 6 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 4 BBs, 4 K's, Marco Estrada -- W, QS, 7 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K's
Thursday, Sept. 20: Joe Kelly -- skipped, Francisco Liriano -- 5 1/3 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 K's
Week's total: 9 GS, 5 W (55.6%), 5 QS (55.6%), 53 1/3 IP, 45 H, 20 ER, 13 BBs, 37 K's, 3.38 ERA, 1.09 WHIP
Season total: 158 GS, 70 W (44.3%), 82 QS (51.9%), 946 2/3 IP, 916 H, 407 ER, 305 BBs, 692 K's, 3.87 ERA, 1.29 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.
• The White Sox have had the Indians' number this season, winning eight of 12 games, batting .291/.367/.463 and averaging 7.08 runs per game. That alone offsets any concern about the team's offense having to face the Rays' pitching staff for four games Sept. 27-30. Those games are at homer-friendly U.S. Cellular Field at least. Gordon Beckham is a potential gem off the wire, available in 79.7 percent of ESPN leagues, as he is a .319/.365/.447 hitter in 12 games against Indians pitching this season and .313/.421/.625 in 16 games in September. This is also a big week for Alejandro De Aza, being that he is left-handed, is a .289/.346/.420 hitter versus right-handers this season and is a .380/.466/.600 hitter in 12 games against the Indians in 2012.
• Shifting focus to the trailing Tigers, they have incredibly lost 22 of 36 meetings with the Royals and Twins combined this season, yet they sport .290/.349/.457 team rates in those contests, which conflict somewhat with their 3.53 runs per game in them. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder have been carrying this team in recent weeks and have been largely the team's standouts in past meetings with these foes. Austin Jackson has as well. He is a .351/.412/.532 hitter in 19 games against the Royals and Twins. But the Tigers need more than Cabrera, Fielder and Jackson. Accounting for that generous rating above, fantasy owners might roll the dice on Andy Dirks, Omar Infante, Jhonny Peralta and Delmon Young. Young has six homers in 21 games against the Royals and Twins combined in 2012.
• The Brewers' offense has carried them at least as much as its pitching, and six home games against the Astros and Padres and three at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park against a team that has already clinched a playoff spot make an outstanding schedule for this wild-card-hungry squad. This is not merely the Ryan Braun show. Among lesser-known Brewers, Norichika Aoki (available in 14.7 percent of ESPN leagues) is a .352/.429/.634 hitter with 14 RBIs, 14 runs scored and seven stolen bases in 18 games in September, while Jean Segura (available in 99.3 percent of leagues) is a .385 hitter with 11 runs scored and two steals in 13 games this month. Rickie Weeks has also returned to form, batting .327/.400/.612 with seven homers, 16 RBIs, seven stolen bases and 22 runs scored in his past 23 contests.
The following hitters face injury questions heading into the season's final scoring period and are riskier options than usual as a result:
• Alex Avila (jaw)
• Asdrubal Cabrera (wrist)
• Zack Cozart (oblique)
• Carlos Gonzalez (hamstring)
• Josh Hamilton (sinus issues)
• Ryan Ludwick (groin)
• Carlos Quentin (knee)
• Giancarlo Stanton (oblique)
• Mark Teixeira (calf). He might return for the Sept. 27-30 series in Toronto, but expect sporadic starts even if he does.
• Neil Walker (back)