Congratulations for those in their head-to-head finals. Monday is the first day of the two-week championship period in standard ESPN leagues. Good luck to you and those still grinding away in rotisserie leagues.
There's good news for everyone as Monday's slate is busier than normal with 24 of the 30 clubs in action. With so much on the line, it's time to dig deeper than normal, so nearly everyone featured is available in at least 80 percent of all ESPN leagues.
Pitchers to Stream
Joe Musgrove (R), rostered in 21 percent of ESPN leagues, Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Kansas City Royals: Musgrove has tossed at least six innings in nine of his past 10 starts. He's posted a 3.94 WHIP and tiny 1.03 WHIP in that span. For the season, the Royals are in the bottom third when it comes to production versus right-handers, though they've been one of the top clubs during the past month. That said, working against them is playing without their designated hitter and a significant park downgrade.
Framber Valdez (L), 12 percent, Houston Astros vs. Seattle Mariners: Conventional wisdom preaches, "Never chase wins." My motto is, "Always remember, never forget, in fantasy baseball, always and never don't exist." In short, if you need to chase wins, well, chase them. The Astros will be favored, despite a raw rookie taking the hill. They're still battling the Athletics for the AL West and playing at home while facing the pedestrian offerings of Mike Leake. The only downside is that manager A.J. Hinch may have a short leash, though Valdez does have two victories in his four starts, plus another in a long relief stint.
Jordan Zimmermann (R), 8 percent, Detroit Tigers vs. Minnesota Twins: Using Zimmerman isn't for everyone. In half of his previous eight efforts he's allowed four or more runs while surrendering two or fewer in the other four. Monday's matchup gives hope for another solid effort, facing a depleted Twins lineup that's a bit below average with a righty on the hill.
Bryan Mitchell (R), fewer than 1 percent, San Diego Padres vs. San Francisco Giants: It's not a coincidence that all four streaming recommendations enjoy home starts as on average, baseline skills are around 10 percent better at home compared to the road. After failing miserably early in the season, Mitchell rejoined the Padres' rotation in September. His 1.64 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in those efforts may look impressive, but note he struck out just four in those 11 innings. Still taking on the Giants and the worst lineup against righty pitching in the league, Mitchell is in play for those in deeper formats.
One of the marquee matchups on Monday's slate features a couple of squads vying for a playoff berth with the Cubs and Kyle Hendricks visiting the desert to take on Patrick Corbin and the Diamondbacks. Curiously, both teams have recently switched closers. The Cubs are playing matchups, with Steve Cishek the most likely to secure a save while Yoshihisa Hirano has taken over for Brad Boxberger. Over the past week, Hirano has sandwiched a pair of successful tries around one blown opportunity, but his grasp on the role remains secure.
The Orioles and Twins are blessing us with a pair of bullpen games. Baltimore has not announced who will get the bulk of the work but, to be frank, it doesn't matter. Nobody on their staff is fantasy relevant. Minnesota will open with Gabriel Moya, with no pitcher on the staff to consider for fantasy.
Projected game scores
GS is the projected game score for the pitcher. The "*" symbol means the pitcher lacks requisite career major league data to produce an accurate rating; these are the author's ratings.
Austin Hedges (R), 19 percent, San Diego Padres vs. San Francisco Giants (LHP Andrew Suarez): Suarez has been homer-happy since the break, allowing a dozen in 56.1 innings despite working in mostly power-suppressing venues. Hedges (or possibly Francisco Mejia) is capable of taking advantage. Hedges has 13 homers in just 273 at bats, two during the past week.
Ji-Man Choi (L), 11 percent, Tampa Bay Rays at Texas Rangers (RHP Adrian Sampson): It's hard to stop highlighting Choi while he continues to produce, especially if you need power. The hefty lefty has four blasts during the past three weeks, with two coming this past week. He's facing a pedestrian pitcher with the platoon edge in a great park for left-handed pop.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (R), 9 percent, Toronto Blue Jays at Baltimore Orioles (Bullpen game): You can throw a dart at the Blue Jays' lineup and land on someone in a great spot against a parade of weak Baltimore relievers. Billy McKinney has been featured a lot lately, and is in play, but let's focus on Gurriel. The younger brother of Yuli has displayed surprising power, adding another skill to a plus hit tool. Gurriel qualifies at both middle infield spots, adding some flexibility to a fantasy roster.
Renato Nunez (R), 1 percent, Baltimore Orioles vs. Toronto Blue Jays (LHP Ryan Borucki): While 24 may be a little young to be saddled with the post-hype prospect label, Nunez debuted in rookie ball as an 18-year old. He profiled as a middle infielder with above average power, which may still come to fruition. For now, he's just trying to prove that he belongs on a major-league roster. As you likely intuit, plate skills are an issue. Facing Borucki and his mediocre 15 percent strikeout rate, Nunez has a chance to tap into some of that latent power.
Alen Hanson (B), 2 percent, San Francisco Giants at San Diego Padres (RHP Bryan Mitchell): This spot was a toss-up between Brandon Crawford and Hanson. Neither is hitting all that well in September, but Hanson has a better chance of taking advantage of Mitchell's woes controlling the running game.
Daniel Descalso (L), 9 percent, Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Chicago Cubs (RHP Kyle Hendricks): Descalso has cooled considerably from earlier in the season, but he's still playing regularly versus righty pitching, usually from a productive spot in the order. As ESPN Research Associate Kyle Soppe points out, the Diamondbacks offense has picked up the pace since the break while Hendricks has been less effective lately, tossing just five innings in each of his past three outings, striking out only 10 in those 15 frames.
Wilmer Difo (B), 3 percent, Washington Nationals at Miami Marlins (RHP Trevor Richards): Like Descalso, Difo has been a frequent visitor to this space, possessing a fantasy-friendly power/speed combo from the middle infield. Richards has allowed at least three runs during his past six outings, posting a bloated 7.57 and 1.65 WHIP in that span.
Phillip Ervin (R), 2 percent, Cincinnati Reds at Milwaukee Brewers (LHP Wade Miley): Ervin picked a bad time to hit a cold spell as the Reds will have faced five lefties in their past six games, with Miley being the fourth straight southpaw. Slumps are non-predictive, capable of being snapped at any moment. As such, it's best to rely on track record, and historically Ervin handles lefty pitching very well.
Curtis Granderson (L), 2 percent, Milwaukee Brewers vs. Cincinnati Reds (RHP Anthony DeSclafani): The Brewers inserted Granderson into their already crowded outfield and he has responded, big time. During the past three weeks, the veteran has registered a sparkling 1.328 OPS, with much of the damage coming during the past week.
Christin Stewart (L), 1 percent, Detroit Tigers vs. Minnesota Twins (Bullpen game): It took longer than many expected, but the Tigers finally promoted Stewart. The 24-year-old left fielder exhibited decent plate skills for a slugger, recording a reasonable 21 percent strikeout rate in tandem with a patient 13 percent walk rate with Triple-A Toledo, launching 23 homers for the Mud Hens.
Hitter matchup ratings
Hitter ratings account for the opposing starting pitcher's history (three years' worth), as well as ballpark factors. "LH" and "RH" ratings account only for left- and right-handed batters, respectively.
Weighted on-base average (wOBA) is the primary statistic used in the calculation. Ratings range from 1 to 10, with 10 representing the best possible matchup, statistically speaking, and 1 representing the worst. For example, a 10 is a must-start rating, while a 1 should be avoided (if possible); a 1-2 is poor, 3-4 is fair, 5-6 is average, 7-8 is very good and 9-10 is excellent.