Fantasy Forecaster: Week 24

Fantasy Forecaster updated Monday, Sept. 16 at 1:21 p.m. ET.

On tap: Welcome to the wild, wacky world of stretch-run baseball, as the theme for September 2013, thus far, has been "unpredictability." Thirteen of the 30 teams made Week 23 -- that's this past week (still in progress) -- rotation alterations after such point that weekly-league lineups locked (Monday, 7 p.m. ET), seven of them National League squads. That's also discounting the fact that, between our Friday publish time and Monday's weekly kickoff, there were several other teams that made tweaks accounted in the previous weekend's (Sept. 6-8) updates.

In short, if you've hung in your league's race for this long, first, congratulations. Second, take nothing for granted. Things change quickly in September, and the Forecaster merely projects, giving you a guideline with which to set your lineup.

At-bats and innings are critical this time of year: Just ask Donnie Murphy, who already has 10 home runs in roughly six weeks' action, and who would never have been a relevant fantasy player if not for his Chicago Cubs scrambling to find somebody -- anybody -- to fill their third-base vacancy. He got a job and with it he has thrived. The bottom line: A player playing beats a player who might not; stick to teams with lineup/rotation/closer clarity wherever you can.

Motivation -- the "quest for the postseason" -- is always a factor this time of year, so here's a rundown, as of the morning of Sept. 15, of teams that remain in the tightest playoff races (5-game differential or less) entering Week 24:

Tampa Bay Rays (tied for AL wild cards, 1/2 games ahead)
Texas Rangers (tied for AL wild cards, 1/2 GA)
Cleveland Indians (5 games behind in AL Central, 1/2 GB in AL wild card)
Baltimore Orioles (2 1/2 GB in AL wild card)
New York Yankees (3 GB in AL wild card)
Kansas City Royals (3 1/2 GB in AL wild card)
Pittsburgh Pirates (tied for National League Central lead/NL wild card 1, 3 1/2 GA for NL wild card 2)
St. Louis Cardinals (tied for NL Central lead/NL wild card 1, 3 1/2 GA for NL wild card 2)
Cincinnati Reds (3 1/2 GB in NL Central/for NL wild cards)
Washington Nationals (4 1/2 GB for NL wild cards)

Let's not discount the surging Washington Nationals' chances, however. They entered the week 4 1/2 games back of the Reds for an NL wild card, they had won 19 of their past 25 games, and they now face a seven-game week entirely played at home against the playoff-destined-and-resting Atlanta Braves and dead-last-and-now-sans-Jose Fernandez Miami Marlins teams. The Nationals match up remarkably well accordingly, and they're plenty driven to make an out-of-nowhere charge toward the postseason.

Quick click by section, if you're seeking advice in a specific area:
ESPN lineup deadlines | Interleague impact | Projected starting pitchers
Pitching scuttlebutt | Week 23 pitcher rankings | Pitching advantages
Hitting ratings | Hitting advantages

ESPN leagues: Lineup deadlines

Monday begins Round 2/the League Championship round of ESPN's standard head-to-head leagues. It is a 14-day week in which the Round 1/Weeks 22-23 winners square off for all the marbles, with consolation games for all other seeds. You can see all our playoff rules for ESPN standard leagues right here.

You'll have plenty of time with which to set your first lineups of this championship round -- or "Week 24," for those in any league -- as the first games on Monday begin at 7:05 p.m. ET: Atlanta Braves at Washington Nationals, Miami Marlins at Philadelphia Phillies and San Diego Padres at Pittsburgh Pirates. From there, the vast majority of the week's games are at night -- schools are open now, so it makes sense -- as Tuesday's first games begin at 7:05 p.m. ET; there are two Wednesday day games (the first at 2:10 p.m. ET); six Thursday day games (the first at 12:35 p.m. ET); one Friday day game (2:20 p.m. ET); and only four Saturday day games (the first at 1:05 p.m. ET).

Interleague impact

This week's interleague series:
• Cincinnati Reds at Houston Astros (3 games, Monday-Wednesday)
San Francisco Giants at New York Yankees (3 games, Friday-Sunday)

Thank you, Major League Baseball schedulers, for limiting interleague play to only two series, both of them National League teams visiting American League cities, in a critical Week 24. This means no lost at-bats for designated hitters; it actually means increased playing time for NL hitters slotting in at DH.

While the Reds haven't made maximum use of the DH in AL cities earlier this year -- Xavier Paul (3), Chris Heisey (2), Jack Hannahan (1) and Devin Mesoraco (1) have been their DHs in their past seven such contests -- things have changed this time around now that Ryan Ludwick is healthy. The DH grants them the opportunity to use both Ludwick and Heisey in the same lineup, though the fact that the Astros are scheduled to start two right-handers in the series might convince manager Dusty Baker to start left-handed Xavier Paul in one (or both) of them. It's good news for Ludwick, at least, as he has started just five of the team's past nine games but might stand a chance at a full six starts this week, considering the Pittsburgh Pirates, their weekend opponent, plan to start two left-handers in that series.

The Giants have used the DH as a "rest day" opportunity thus far this year, with Buster Posey (3), Marco Scutaro (3) and Pablo Sandoval (1) their past starters there, and Posey's recent finger injury might make this a natural chance for them to shift him there for three, paving the way for Hector Sanchez to catch. Sanchez is only of relevance in the deepest of NL-only leagues, however.

Projected starting pitchers

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.

Pitching scuttlebutt

• The Chicago White Sox, Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Mets and San Diego Padres are all currently utilizing six-man rotations, with only the Mets and Padres giving any indication of reverting to five in the near future.
Bud Norris (elbow) was scratched from his Sept. 13 start for the Baltimore Orioles, but claims he'll miss only the one turn. Jason Hammel filled in for him, and will be the fall-back should Norris suffer any setbacks. The Orioles tentatively expect to have Norris back on either Friday or Saturday. Hammel could also fill in on Saturday should Miguel Gonzalez (groin) be unable to pitch.
Felix Doubront, who was skipped in the Boston Red Sox's Week 23 rotation, is expected to make a start during the weekend's series against Toronto. It is unclear on what date or for whom he'll join the rotation, or whether the team will go to a six-man rotation. One consideration: Jake Peavy suffered a wrist injury during his Sept. 12 start, and is day-to-day.
• With Jarred Cosart having reached his innings cap, the Astros will replace him in the rotation with Erik Bedard beginning Monday.
Jarrod Parker (illness) was scratched from his scheduled start on Sept. 15. He is tentatively expected to pitch on Monday, but if he's not up to it, the Oakland Athletics could always choose to slot him in anytime they want between then and Friday.
• The Seattle Mariners will restore Felix Hernandez (oblique) to their rotation on Wednesday, if a Monday bullpen session goes well. Before Hernandez's injury, they were utilizing a six-man rotation, and they might resume it if he pitches this week.
Nick Tepesch hasn't been officially confirmed for the assignment, but Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington said Sept. 10 that the rookie is the most likely candidate to assume Tuesday's open rotation spot.
• The Atlanta Braves, thanks to their substantial lead in the NL East division, have begun resting regulars, their rotation members especially. Freddy Garcia and David Hale made back-to-back spot starts Sept. 12-13, and they could factor again into the team's rotation this week, what with Paul Maholm (elbow) ailing and the team trying to keep Julio Teheran's innings in check.
• With Tony Cingrani (back) injured, the Cincinnati Reds will give Johnny Cueto (lat) a start on Monday. The Reds will also push back Mat Latos in their rotation to Friday, giving Greg Reynolds a Wednesday spot start, in order to get the pitchers they want during their critical three-game weekend series at Pittsburgh.
• The Colorado Rockies, looking to keep Chad Bettis' innings in check, replaced him in the rotation with Roy Oswalt on Sept. 14. In addition, with Jorge De La Rosa (thumb) unavailable to start on Monday -- he's tentatively expected back Saturday -- Collin McHugh will make a Monday spot start.
• With Jose Fernandez's season complete and Nate Eovaldi battling a back injury, the Miami Marlins' rotation is uncertain entering the week. Eovaldi could be a candidate to start Wednesday, but it's then unclear whether recent fill-ins Sam Dyson, Brian Flynn and/or Brad Hand would remain in the rotation, or whether the team will use a six-man rotation.
• New York Mets manager Terry Collins said Sept. 12 that the team will likely utilize a five-man rotation through season's end, but it's unclear who will exit their rotation this week. Zack Wheeler might be a candidate as he approaches his innings cap, but Carlos Torres is most likely to be skipped for Week 24, in which case Wheeler would pick up a second start.
Stephen Strasburg (forearm) was scratched from his Sept. 13 start, but he is tentatively expected to rejoin the Washington Nationals' rotation on Thursday. That would give the team a six-man rotation for the week, but if Strasburg isn't ready, the Nationals could revert to five, giving Tanner Roark two starts.

Tristan's Week 23 pitcher rankings: Top 75

1. Cliff Lee (PHI) -- Mon-MIA (Dyson), Sun-NYM (Gee)
2. Zack Greinke (LAD) -- Tue-@ARI (Corbin), Sun-@SD (Cashner)
3. Anibal Sanchez (DET) -- Tue-SEA (Maurer), Sun-CWS (Sale)
4. Homer Bailey (CIN) -- Sat-@PIT (Burnett)
5. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Wed-@ARI (McCarthy)
6. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Fri-NYM (Matsuzaka)
7. Jarrod Parker (OAK) -- Mon-LAA (Wilson), Sat-MIN (Hernandez)
8. Stephen Strasburg (WSH) -- Thu-MIA (Alvarez)
9. Ricky Nolasco (LAD) -- Thu-@ARI (Miley)
10. Gio Gonzalez (WSH) -- Fri-MIA (Turner)
11. Max Scherzer (DET) -- Fri-CWS (Santiago)
12. Madison Bumgarner (SF) -- Thu-@NYM (Niese)
13. Yu Darvish (TEX) -- Thu-@TB (Moore)
14. James Shields (KC) -- Mon-CLE (Kazmir), Sun-TEX (Tepesch)
15. David Price (TB) -- Fri-BAL (TBD)
16. Mat Latos (CIN) -- Fri-@PIT (Liriano)
17. Francisco Liriano (PIT) -- Fri-CIN (Latos)
18. Jordan Zimmermann (WSH) -- Sat-MIA (Koehler)
19. Andrew Cashner (SD) -- Mon-@PIT (Burnett), Sun-LAD (Greinke)
20. Jake Peavy (BOS) -- Wed-BAL (Chen)
21. Justin Verlander (DET) -- Wed-SEA (Iwakuma)
22. Adam Wainwright (STL) -- Wed-@COL (Chatwood)
23. Chris Sale (CWS) -- Sun-@DET (Sanchez)
24. Sonny Gray (OAK) -- Tue-LAA (Richards), Sun-MIN (Hendriks)
25. Alex Cobb (TB) -- Mon-TEX (Garza), Sat-BAL (Gonzalez)
26. A.J. Burnett (PIT) -- Mon-SD (Cashner), Sat-CIN (Bailey)
27. Mike Minor (ATL) -- Mon-@WSH (Haren), Sun-@CHC (Jackson)
28. Jhoulys Chacin (COL) -- Fri-ARI (Delgado)
29. Hyun-Jin Ryu (LAD) -- Mon-@ARI (Cahill), Sat-@SD (Smith)
30. Patrick Corbin (ARI) -- Tue-LAD (Greinke), Sun-@COL (Nicasio)
31. Michael Wacha (STL) -- Thu-@COL (Oswalt)
32. Ubaldo Jimenez (CLE) -- Thu-HOU (Keuchel)
33. C.J. Wilson (LAA) -- Mon-@OAK (Parker), Sun-SEA (Maurer)
34. R.A. Dickey (TOR) -- Tue-NYY (Pettitte), Sun-@BOS (Dempster)
35. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Fri-SEA (Ramirez)
36. Jon Lester (BOS) -- Fri-TOR (Rogers)
37. Kris Medlen (ATL) -- Fri-@CHC (Baker)
38. Gerrit Cole (PIT) -- Thu-SD (Kennedy)
39. Zack Wheeler (NYM) -- Tue-SF (Petit)
40. Julio Teheran (ATL) -- Sat-@CHC (Wood)
41. Matt Cain (SF) -- Wed-@NYM (Harang)
42. Andy Pettitte (NYY) -- Tue-@TOR (Dickey), Sun-SF (Petit)
43. Jonathon Niese (NYM) -- Thu-SF (Bumgarner)
44. Clay Buchholz (BOS) -- Sat-TOR (Buehrle)
45. Matt Moore (TB) -- Thu-TEX (Darvish)
46. Matt Garza (TEX) -- Mon-@TB (Cobb), Sat-@KC (Guthrie)
47. Marco Estrada (MIL) -- Tue-CHC (Samardzija)
48. Ivan Nova (NYY) -- Sat-SF (Vogelsong)
49. Shelby Miller (STL) -- Fri-@MIL (Hellweg)
50. Bartolo Colon (OAK) -- Fri-MIN (Albers)
51. Chris Tillman (BAL) -- Thu-@BOS (Lackey)
52. Scott Feldman (BAL) -- Tue-@BOS (Dempster), Sun-@TB (Hellickson)
53. Scott Kazmir (CLE) -- Mon-@KC (Shields), Sat-HOU (Clemens)
54. CC Sabathia (NYY) -- Fri-SF (Lincecum)
55. Travis Wood (CHC) -- Sat-ATL (Teheran)
56. A.J. Griffin (OAK) -- Wed-LAA (Vargas)
57. Corey Kluber (CLE) -- Tue-@KC (Duffy), Sun-HOU (Bedard)
58. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- Sat-STL (Lynn)
59. Danny Salazar (CLE) -- Wed-@KC (Chen)
60. John Lackey (BOS) -- Thu-BAL (Tillman)
61. Ervin Santana (KC) -- Fri-TEX (Perez)
62. Rick Porcello (DET) -- Mon-SEA (Saunders), Sat-CWS (Rienzo)
63. Hisashi Iwakuma (SEA) -- Wed-@DET (Verlander)
64. Chris Archer (TB) -- Wed-TEX (Holland)
65. Dillon Gee (NYM) -- Sun-@PHI (Lee)
66. Yusmeiro Petit (SF) -- Tue-@NYM (Wheeler), Sun-@NYY (Pettitte)
67. Doug Fister (DET) -- Thu-SEA (Paxton)
68. Jeff Samardzija (CHC) -- Tue-@MIL (Estrada)
69. Jose Quintana (CWS) -- Tue-MIN (Pelfrey)
70. Dan Haren (WSH) -- Mon-ATL (Minor), Sun-MIA (TBD)
71. Bronson Arroyo (CIN) -- Sun-@PIT (Locke)
72. Joe Kelly (STL) -- Tue-@COL (Nicasio), Sun-@MIL (Peralta)
73. Derek Holland (TEX) -- Wed-@TB (Archer)
74. Tanner Roark (WSH) -- Tue-ATL (Garcia)
75. Dan Straily (OAK) -- Thu-MIN (Correia)

Two-start options for AL-/NL-only leagues:
Trevor Cahill (ARI) -- Mon-LAD (Ryu), Sat-@COL (De La Rosa)
Edwin Jackson (CHC) -- Mon-@MIL (Peralta), Sun-ATL (Minor)
Jeff Locke (PIT) -- Tue-SD (Stults), Sun-CIN (Arroyo)
Lance Lynn (STL) -- Mon-@COL (McHugh), Sat-@MIL (Gallardo)
Juan Nicasio (COL) -- Tue-STL (Kelly), Sun-ARI (Corbin)
Wily Peralta (MIL) -- Mon-CHC (Jackson), Sun-STL (Kelly)

No-thank-yous, among two-start pitchers:
Erik Bedard (HOU) -- Mon-CIN (Cueto), Sun-@CLE (Kluber)
Ryan Dempster (BOS) -- Tue-BAL (Feldman), Sun-TOR (Dickey)
Jeremy Hellickson (TB) -- Tue-TEX (Tepesch), Sun-BAL (Feldman)
Liam Hendriks (MIN) -- Mon-@CWS (Johnson), Sun-@OAK (Gray)
Brandon Maurer (SEA) -- Tue-@DET (Sanchez), Sun-@LAA (Wilson)
Joe Saunders (SEA) -- Mon-@DET (Porcello), Sat-@LAA (Williams)
Nick Tepesch (TEX) -- Tue-@TB (Hellickson), Sun-@KC (Shields)

Pitching advantages

• Streaming opportunities and the Cleveland Indians -- a point also raised in this week's "60 Feet 6 Inches" -- are a significant theme of Week 24. This is a team that, despite no individual starter being owned in more than 50.3 percent of ESPN leagues, has managed the majors' best strikeout rate (24.5 percent of batters faced) and ninth-best starters' ERA (3.78) since the beginning of August.

Kansas City Royals and Houston Astros matchups are polarizing ones at least on the strikeout side; the Astros have been the majors' most strikeout-prone offense this season, the Royals the least, and those facts don't change whether you run the statistical splits as full-season or since the All-Star break. The Royals, though, have mere .271/.324/.392 triple-slash rates for the majors' No. 17 wOBA (weighted on-base average) since the All-Star break, so they're still a favorable matchup.

Conveniently, Ubaldo Jimenez (23.6 percent K rate), Scott Kazmir (22.6 percent) and Corey Kluber (22.7) are all lined up to make starts during the Astros series, with both Kazmir and Kluber set for two starts (their first against the Royals). That makes all three well worth adding even in shallow mixed formats, especially as Jimenez is 6-of-9 in quality starts with a 1.94 ERA and 27.0 percent K rate since the All-Star break, Kazmir has a 3.67 ERA and 24.0 percent K rate during that same span and Kluber has a 2.68 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in six starts during that time. You'll find Kazmir and Kluber among my "Streamer's Delight" picks below; it's an expanded list this week.

• Conversely, temper your expectations with St. Louis Cardinals pitchers, as the team is taking a more conservative approach with its youngsters' innings plus plays four games at Colorado's Coors Field, not to mention three more in another hitter-friendly venue, Milwaukee's Miller Park. Shorter outings for starters Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller, as well as lighter relief usage for relievers Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist and Carlos Martinez, might result in diminished win/save potential for the team as a whole going up against more hitter-friendly matchups.

This isn't to say that Cardinals pitchers should all sit; there's a difference between that and "tempering expectations," as my rankings above show. Adam Wainwright, after all, is 2-for-2 in quality starts with a 1.08 ERA in his career at Coors Field. Wacha's fantasy appeal Thursday at Coors might hinge upon his Sept. 14 performance; he had back-to-back quality starts and had an active streak of 19 2/3 scoreless innings entering that assignment. And Miller has a 2.38 ERA but also a 1.50 WHIP in two starts at Miller Park this season.

Yusmeiro Petit, 3-for-5 in quality starts this season and two turns removed from a near-perfect game, has a polarizing set of matchups in New York. His stuff has generated far more swings and misses than anyone could've expected -- he has a 29.6 percent K rate and 26 percent miss rate on swings thus far -- and he'll first face a New York Mets team that has whiffed the third-most often since the All-Star break (22.2 percent rate). But as an extreme fly-baller -- he has a 41.5 percent rate -- he's in severe danger of a correction to his 2.9 home run/fly ball percentage during his weekend start at New York's Yankee Stadium against a surging New York Yankees offense. Petit is a brilliant mix-and-match candidate in NL-only leagues, but his modest ranking this week accounts for the risk of start No. 2.

• This could be the week that the Oakland Athletics separate themselves in the AL West race, as their underrated pitching staff gets seven games at home at pitching-friendly O.co Coliseum. As a team, Athletics pitchers are 16-of-29 in quality starts, 11-of-14 in saves and have a 3.29 ERA at home since the All-Star break, each of those placing them among the game's top 10 during that span.

About the only risky play among Athletics this week is Dan Straily, who is 2-of-5 in quality starts with a 6.91 ERA and 1.68 WHIP in his career against the Los Angeles Angels. The standout play is two-start pitcher Sonny Gray, who is 5-of-7 in quality starts with a 2.63 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 26.6 percent K rate thus far in the majors, and who defeated the Minnesota Twins, his weekend opponent, behind five innings of two-run, seven-strikeout baseball on Sept. 11.

• Don't underestimate Andrew Cashner's improved strikeout rate since the All-Star break; his 19.4 percent number is a lot closer to his 19.7 percent major league or 22.1 percent minor league rates than the 16.2 percent rate he had in the first half. On paper his matchups might seem treacherous, but look closer: Pittsburgh's PNC Park is one of the more pitching-friendly venues in baseball, not to mention the Pittsburgh Pirates rank 21st with a .307 team wOBA thus far in September. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Dodgers could soon be resting regulars for the postseason, not to mention Cashner is 2-of-2 in quality starts with a 1.83 ERA against them in 2013.

• Here are this week's Streamer's Delight picks -- players need to be available in at least 75 percent of ESPN leagues as of our publishing time (Fridays):
1 and 2. Scott Kazmir (HOU, Saturday) and Corey Kluber (HOU, Sunday).
3. Andrew Cashner (@PIT, Monday)
4. Edinson Volquez (@SD, Friday): Revenge! Volquez returns to San Diego's Petco Park, which he called home from 2012 until Aug. 27, and he's 12-of-20 in quality starts with a 2.85 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in his career there.
5. Rick Porcello (CWS, Saturday): His Seattle Mariners matchup on Monday is solid, but would it surprise you to learn that he has seven wins, eight quality starts, a 2.00 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in nine starts against the Chicago White Sox in 2012-13?
6. Marco Estrada (CHC, Tuesday): He's 4-of-5 in quality starts with a 3.72 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 27.2 percent K rate in his career against the Chicago Cubs.
7. Kyle Kendrick (MIA, Wednesday): He has already defeated these Miami Marlins twice at home this year, and he's 10-0 with seven quality starts, a 2.18 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in his past 12 games (11 starts) against them.

Hitting ratings

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.

Hitting advantages

• Here are this week's "volume plays" -- defined as the teams that play the most home games, or games against left- or right-handed starters:
Home games: Detroit Tigers 7, Oakland Athletics 7, Tampa Bay Rays 7, Colorado Rockies 7, Milwaukee Brewers 7, Pittsburgh Pirates 7, Washington Nationals 7
Versus LH: Cleveland Indians 5, Detroit Tigers 4, Oakland Athletics 4, Arizona Diamondbacks 3, Cincinnati Reds 3, Los Angeles Dodgers 3, New York Mets 3, San Francisco Giants 3
Versus RH: St. Louis Cardinals 7, Houston Astros 6, Seattle Mariners 6, Texas Rangers 6, Chicago Cubs 6, Colorado Rockies 6, Milwaukee Brewers 6, Pittsburgh Pirates 6

• Loyal Forecaster followers might recall that the Washington Nationals struggled for the majority of the year against left-handed pitchers, but consider this: In the past 30 days (Aug. 14-Sept. 12), they have .277/.355/.406 triple-slash rates with the majors' 14th-ranked wOBA (.327) against them. This is no longer a pushover squad against lefties, so there's no need to worry about the two lefty matchups this week.

It's the home games that tilt the scales in their favor, giving them a fighting chance at a playoff push. In their past 20 games at Nationals Park, the Nationals have .296/.355/.443 triple-slash rates and a .341 wOBA, ranking among the five best offensive teams at home during that span. Three Nationals in particular stand out: Adam LaRoche (owned in only 58.8 percent of ESPN leagues), a .344 hitter with two home runs in 11 games in September; Denard Span (48.7 percent), a .308/.355/.411 hitter at Nationals Park this season; and Wilson Ramos (25.7), who has nine home runs and 30 RBIs in 42 games since the All-Star break.

• While the St. Louis Cardinals' pitching matchups will challenge them, their hitting matchups stack firmly in their favor. After all, the most talented pitcher they'll face this week is Yovani Gallardo, who is 1-10 with a 6.78 ERA in 16 career starts against them. Toss in those hitting-friendly venues and this is a week where the Cardinals will surely attempt to outscore their opponents.

Is this the week that Allen Craig returns from a foot injury? Perhaps, but without definitive word he's a highly risky fantasy play in leagues with weekly transactions. Craig's high likelihood of requiring rest even after his return to action, however, keeps Matt Adams in the "useful plug-in" category, and Adams remains available in 84.2 percent of ESPN leagues. A week facing six right-handed starters in extremely homer-conducive ballparks is an excellent one in which to add Adams.

• The red-hot Oakland Athletics lineup, despite playing entirely at their spacious home ballpark, also enjoy a modest bump in matchups appeal, avoiding Los Angeles Angels ace Jered Weaver during their week-opening series, then getting four games against the beleaguered Minnesota Twins pitching staff.

The home-game, plus four-against-lefties, schedule stacks things in favor of many of their right-handed hitters: Breakout sensation Josh Donaldson is a .338/.404/.619 hitter against lefties and .284/.353/.515 in 72 home games this season. Among those more widely available in ESPN leagues, and attractive pickups in AL-only formats, consider Alberto Callaspo (1.9 percent owned), a lifetime .300 hitter against left-handers; Nate Freiman (0.1), a .314/.359/.471 hitter against left-handers who has started 45 of the team's 47 games against lefty starters; and Derek Norris (0.0), a lifetime .266/.347/.477 hitter against southpaws.