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'The Nine' for Week 18
The spotlight is on pitchers who were recently traded to new teams: Chris Archer will make his second Pittsburgh Pirates start on Wednesday at Coors Field, which is quite a test for him (as you'll read in the next note). I say go for it; the computer likes the matchup and his strikeout potential, even if he struggles to meet the quality-start innings minimum. New Chicago Cub Cole Hamels makes two starts (at Kansas City Royals, versus Washington Nationals), with the former presenting him enough upside to warrant using him in all leagues. Lance Lynn will join the New York Yankees' rotation in Sonny Gray's place on Monday, lining him up for favorable starts of his own (at Chicago White Sox, versus Texas Rangers) that will warrant activating him in mixed leagues. Fellow Yankee acquisition J.A. Happ (DL: hand, foot and mouth disease) should be ready to rejoin the rotation in time for a favorable start of his own against the Rangers. Kevin Gausman will make his second start for the Atlanta Braves on Thursday against the Milwaukee Brewers. The assignment being at SunTrust Park rather than Milwaukee's Miller Park provides him a huge ballpark boost.
It's a full week of seven games at Colorado's Coors Field -- let's celebrate, right? Not so fast. The home-team Colorado Rockies draw one of their lower weekly hitting ratings (6) for a seven-games-at-Coors week, in large part due to their playing four of those contests against the best-team-ERA-in-the-National-League Los Angeles Dodgers (3.47), as well as having to face Pittsburgh Pirates right-handers Archer (Wednesday) and Jameson Taillon (Tuesday). So which side bends? Five of the seven projected Rockies opponents project for roughly a league-average Game Score in their assignments, which means things could go in either direction, but the Rockies have had their share of struggles against more proven starters in home games of late (see: Cole, Gerrit; Morton, Charlie; and Ray, Robbie). The offense, too, has had greater success this season against left- than right-handers, and this is a week of six projected righty opposing starters. Keep Archer, Taillon, Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda in there, but don't be afraid to hedge by starting Rockies hitters with confidence, especially Carlos Gonzalez (.293/.349/.510 rates against righties this season).
The Dodgers, one of those aforementioned Week 18 Coors visitors, have rotation questions that could shuffle their projected order. (What's new?) Ross Stripling (DL: toe) told reporters recently that he expects to rejoin the rotation on Thursday or Friday, and since that's deep into the week, there's a hint more risk than usual with your Dodgers starters. Their best two plays for the week are Rich Hill and Clayton Kershaw, with the former having a good chance at a two-start week, though the prospect (generally at any time and without notice) of a six-man rotation and the somewhat uncertain order means that the other pitchers, many of whom could pitch at Coors, are riskier. Again, Maeda is the closest to a "sure thing" of the four assigned to Coors -- as the best one almost assured of one start there -- but monitor the news as you decide whether to use him, Walker Buehler on Stripling in a weekly league.
Speaking of that Dodgers pitching, the Oakland Athletics are their other Week 18 opponent, drawing the tough lefties Hill and Kershaw in what's a five-game week, the only such short schedule in a week where 11 other teams play as many as seven times. Another pitching note: Tyler Skaggs (who could be activated from the DL in time to make the "TBD" Saturday start) has three straight quality starts against the Athletics, and Nick Tropeano (Sunday) is 3-0 with a 0.51 ERA and 31.0 percent strikeout rate in three career starts against them (in fairness, all of those were in 2015-16). The result is the league's worst hitting rating for the week (1), and since the Athletics are a matchup-driven team set to face two lefty, two righty and one "TBD" starters, Khris Davis, Matt Chapman, Matt Olson and Stephen Piscotty appear in only mixed league-viable plays.
Sticking with the interleague theme, eight of the 10 scheduled interleague contests during Week 18 involve National League teams visiting American League venues, meaning they gain the designated hitter in those games. The Houston Astros are the lone AL team visiting an NL park -- San Francisco's AT&T Park, for two games - which merely slightly diminishes DH Evan Gattis' fantasy value, as he has logged only four innings behind the plate all season. Gaining the DH benefits the St. Louis Cardinals' (three at Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium) Jose Martinez, who has only 15 starts in the Cardinals' past 27 games; the Chicago Cubs' (also three at Kauffman Stadium) Ian Happ, who can have left field to himself while Kyle Schwarber DHs against three projected right-handed starters; and the Los Angeles Dodgers' (two at the Oakland Coliseum) offense as a whole due to their matchups-oriented approach, though Chris Taylor will probably benefit most as Justin Turner might benefit from DH duty for those two games. All three NL teams get a noticeable benefit in Week 18, with the potential fantasy impact for the individuals ranked in that order.
Those Yankees need to capitalize upon what is by far baseball's most favorable Week 18 hitting schedule, especially after such an ugly exhibition of fundamentals in recent days (granted, many of those missteps came on defense). They get three games at hitting-friendly Chicago's Guaranteed Rate Field, followed by four back home against the Texas Rangers, with the White Sox and Rangers ranked among the majors' bottom four in team ERA for the season. These are games in which the team desperately needs to pick up a lot of wins to avoid falling in danger of being locked into the upper wild-card spot and out of the AL East title race, and injuries to Aaron Judge (DL: wrist) and Gary Sanchez (DL: groin) have created value opportunities -- whether boosts in playing time or lineup positioning -- for players like Greg Bird (available in just shy of two-thirds of ESPN leagues), Austin Romine (available in nearly 90 percent) and Neil Walker (available in more than 95 percent).
The Yankees' division rivals, the Boston Red Sox, also benefit on the hitting side, but a key to their Week 18 matchups is a favorable schedule in terms of base stealing, important considering the Red Sox have been the second most-apt team (tied with the Texas Rangers) to attempt a steal since the All-Star break (15 attempts, 12 successful steals). If you've been watching the games, you'll notice their increasingly aggressive approach on the base paths, with Brock Holt (available in more than 98 percent of ESPN leagues) and Eduardo Nunez (available in roughly half) appealing additions considering the matchups. The prospect of more stolen bases than usual props up these players, and that also applies to the Washington Nationals, whose 16 attempts since the All-Star break are the majors' most. The Nationals' best fantasy plays are more obvious of the two teams, but Adam Eaton (available in roughly 25 percent) could be one of the team's weekly standouts facing this schedule.
Staying in the American League East, the Tampa Bay Rays draw the same two opponents as the Red Sox (versus Orioles for three, at Blue Jays for three), which gives the team a sneaky-good hitting schedule of their own (7 rating). It's their pitching that warrants careful attention, however, what with the team getting Blake Snell and Jacob Faria back from the DL recently, and the team immediately inserting acquisition Tyler Glasnow into its "opener"-driven rotation. Could the Rays finally have three-fifths of a rotation, after it had literally zero active rotation members as of 4:01 p.m. ET on July 31? Snell should be immediately activated everywhere for his projected Friday start at Toronto's Rogers Centre, and those willing to roll the dice on matchups could extract good value out of Faria (likely a 52 Game Score projection) or Glasnow (likely a 49, that low mainly due to a limited pitch count) if either draws a start during the Orioles series.
For those seeking lefty/righty weekly matchups opportunities, here are some hitters to consider: Jake Bauers (available in roughly 65 percent of ESPN leagues), whose Rays are projected to face six right-handed starters, has .263 isolated power against righties this season. Robinson Chirinos (available in roughly 80 percent) and Jurickson Profar (available in more than one-third), whose Rangers are projected to face four left-handed starters, are .250/.370/.517 and .271/.364/.479 hitters against lefties this season. Denard Span (available in more than 75 percent), whose Seattle Mariners are projected to face at least five (and possibly six) right-handed starters in their seven games, is a .266/.351/.437 hitter against righties this season.