The Fantasy Baseball Forecaster has been updated as of Monday, Aug. 7, at 9:25 a.m. ET.
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On tap: Week 18 starts off quietly, with only seven games -- and just one of them (St. Louis Cardinals at Kansas City Royals) having any real influence on playoff races on both sides -- but finishes with a bang, as the New York Yankees host the Boston Red Sox on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball at 8 p.m. ET in the finale of their three-game showdown for the American League East lead. Fantasy owners have extra time to get their lineups in this week, as games don't begin until 7:05 p.m. ET.
Despite playing two of their seven games at Milwaukee's Miller Park, where they won't have the luxury of the designated hitter, the Minnesota Twins stand out in a big way on the hitting side. They'll face a group of mostly pitch-to-contact types -- including four of the 28 worst starters (minimum 10 starts) in terms of strikeout rate -- plus Anibal Sanchez, Brent Suter and Brandon Woodruff. Other than Brian Dozier and Miguel Sano, Twins hitters are readily available in ESPN leagues, with their third-most-owned player being Max Kepler (14.4 percent ownership). Byron Buxton has returned from the DL and should capitalize upon this schedule, while Eddie Rosario is a .273/.328/.473 hitter in 16 games since the All-Star break.
The Houston Astros draw a similarly favorable schedule against contact-oriented starters, with five of their six opponents ranking among the 32 worst current big-league starters in terms of strikeout rate. Carlos Rodon on Thursday is the toughie, but he's one of four left-handed starters the Astros will face. That's great news for Alex Bregman, a .323/.411/.505 hitter against lefty starters this season, who is a .355/.414/.677 hitter in 18 games since the All-Star break and is available in more than 30 percent of ESPN leagues. Also keep an eye on George Springer's (DL: quadriceps) status, as he might be back early in the week and should be immediately activated if so. Should Springer's absence linger, though, Derek Fisher, available in more than 85 percent of ESPN leagues and a .294/.368/.471 hitter in nine games since the break, is a solid start.
It's a short week for the Texas Rangers, who are one of four teams to play just five games in a week during which 12 will play a full seven, but they still have the most favorable hitting schedule of those four squads. Missing Jacob deGrom -- he could still be moved up a day into that series -- helps, but losing the DH for two games at New York's Citi Field causes a volume concern for the team's corner infielders and outfielders, as there will be six candidates for four lineup spots for two-fifths of the team's schedule. Mike Napoli and Delino DeShields, two of the three righties from amongst that mix, are the players to avoid in a week when the Rangers face four righty starters, but keep Adrian Beltre in there. Shin-Soo Choo, Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara are also worth keeping active, as they'll have four games with the platoon advantage.
The Red Sox and Yankees square off in a weekend series at New York's Yankee Stadium, as they continue to battle for the AL East lead, but despite the favorable ballpark factor, neither team stacks up well from a hitting perspective in Week 18. The Red Sox are likely to face two lefty starters -- not to mention play only five games -- and the Yankees four, and both teams have been below-average against left-handers since the All-Star break. This is a bad week in mixed leagues to expect much from Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headley.
The Pittsburgh Pirates get the unusual benefit of five games in American League parks -- two at Detroit's Comerica Park, followed by three at Toronto's Rogers Centre -- out of their seven total games, where they'll be able to squeeze an extra hitter into the DH spot. It's a plus for players like Josh Bell (31.4 percent ESPN ownership), Adam Frazier (4.4) and Gregory Polanco (58.2), all of whom might start all seven games and have been productive since the All-Star break.
Since the All-Star break, the Cubs have batted .303/.387/.532 with a 4.8 percent home run rate against left-handers, ranking among the league's leaders in those categories during that time span. They'll battle four left-handed starters during Week 19, which is great news for Javier Baez, a .293/.337/.598 hitter against lefties this season, who has hit well since the All-Star break. Albert Almora Jr. also warrants a look in NL-only formats, as he's a .343/.432/.529 hitter against lefties this year.
Melky Cabrera's arrival in Kansas City has had the most adverse impact upon Jorge Bonifacio's playing time thus far, and things won't improve in terms of the roster clutter, as the Royals play two of their seven games at St. Louis' Busch Stadium, where they won't have the DH. It's actually a favorable schedule overall for Royals hitters, but the loss of the DH is bad news for Brandon Moss, and the six games against right-handed starters is bad news for Bonifacio, making them the two players most worth sitting on the team. Keep Cabrera, Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Whit Merrifield, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez in your lineup, however.
The Milwaukee Brewers will face a lot of weak pitching this week, with five of their games played at home at hitting-friendly Miller Park. In a good number of ESPN leagues, you should be able to pick up Keon Broxton, dropped following his recent demotion and now 14.6 percent owned but back as the team's starting center fielder, and Manny Pina, 10.9 percent owned and sure to see increased playing time with both Jett Bandy (DL: rib) Stephen Vogt (DL: knee) sidelined.
Speaking of lesser-owned players you should grab for their great Week 18 schedule, consider two members of the Washington Nationals: Wilmer Difo (9.3 percent owned), who has started 14 of 18 team games while batting .290/.313/.468 since the All-Star break, and Brian Goodwin (3.8 percent), who has led off 15 times since the All-Star break while posting .259 isolated power and two stolen bases.