Fantasy Forecaster updated Sunday, Sept. 1, at 9:50 a.m. ET.
On tap: Though September arrived during fantasy's Week 21, and with it the major-league roster expansion from 25 to 40 players, the next key date from a transactions period arrives on Tuesday. That's the day after the conclusion of all higher-level minor league (Double-A and Triple-A) regular seasons, at which point players on those rosters become eligible for immediate promotion (regardless of whether they have stayed the requisite 10-game minimum in the minors). This is how teams like the Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals have finagled the back ends of their rotations, the Orioles and Pirates reportedly slotting the recently demoted Wei-Yin Chen and Jeff Locke back into their starting five this week, the Cardinals choosing among Tyler Lyons, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez, all of whom were demoted this past week, for a Tuesday start.
The upshot is that, once again, big-league rotations are somewhat in flux, and that's especially true for teams like the Miami Marlins, Pirates and Seattle Mariners, who have innings-cap concerns for youngsters Jose Fernandez (age 21), Gerrit Cole (turns 22 on Sunday) and Taijuan Walker (21). Don't get too cozy with your rotation projections; they are always subject to change in September.
Max Scherzer takes a second crack at win No. 20 -- still a benchmark in many baseball people's eyes (though not this columnist) -- in a game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, that three-game, Monday-Wednesday series a potential American League Championship Series preview. Sticking with American League themes, the Tampa Bay Rays welcome Matt Moore (elbow) back to their rotation on Tuesday, right in time for him to be a two-start pitcher during the team's 10-game west-coast swing, making starts at Los Angeles' Angel Stadium and Seattle's Safeco Field.
For the second consecutive week, we've got a bunch of National League Central showdowns, the St. Louis Cardinals again taking on their division rivals and primary competition for playoff spots, the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates. This time these series will be played at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park (the Cardinals the visitors) and St. Louis' Busch Stadium (the Cardinals at home). Thus far this season (through Aug. 29), the Cardinals had won 10 of 15 meetings with the Reds, and the Pirates eight of 13 meetings with the Cardinals.
The Reds, meanwhile, face another challenge, hosting the Los Angeles Dodgers for three games Friday-Sunday. That puts the Dodgers' schedule under the microscope; their starters are riding a string of 13 quality starts in an 18-game stretch from Aug. 10-28 during which time they have 11 wins, a 1.98 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. That's especially important considering the Dodgers play the entire week at the two most hitter-friendly venues in the National League, Colorado's Coors Field (Monday-Wednesday) and the aforementioned Great American Ball Park (Friday-Sunday).
Finally, 10 of the 15 American League teams play a full seven games this week, while only four of the 15 NL squads play that many. This might be a week to lean more on AL squads if you're seeking volume of at-bats/starts.
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Labor Day arrives on Monday, and with it, a full slate of action. It's one of only two Mondays all season during which every team has a game -- the other was Memorial Day (May 27) -- and, just like the previous one, there is a slew of day baseball on the holiday. The first game begins at 1:05 p.m. ET, Chicago White Sox at New York Yankees, though 13 of the 15 Monday games scheduled are "day games" (start times at 4:35 p.m. ET or earlier). Before you head out for your weekend trip, your Monday BBQ or one of those Monday games, make sure you set your lineup!
After all, this represents the first week of playoffs for owners in ESPN's standard head-to-head leagues. It's the first week of Round 1, which extends through fantasy's Week 23 (that concludes with the games of Sunday, Sept. 15). You can see how the playoff format works right here.
There are also day games on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this week, so make sure to set your lineups early on those days if you play in a league with daily transactions; people can sometimes forget if distracted by the lure of NFL's Week 1. Wednesday's first game is New York Mets at Atlanta Braves at 12:10 p.m. ET; Thursday's first game is Seattle Mariners at Kansas City Royals at 2:10 p.m. ET; and Friday's first game is Milwaukee Brewers at Chicago Cubs at 2:20 p.m. ET.
As was the case during their last trip to NL cities, from May 29-June 5, the Blue Jays face the difficult decision of how to fit first base/designated hitter partners Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind into their lineup. Encarnacion made five starts at third base during that seven-game stretch, meaning this might be his last and best chance at reaching the 20-game minimum requirement for eligibility at that position (he has 10 games there thus far). That said, usual third baseman Brett Lawrie was on the disabled list at the time, and the Blue Jays aren't likely to sit their best two hitters in terms of wOBA (weighted on-base average) since the All-Star break, Encarnacion (.391, and .288/.394/.534 triple-slash rates) and Lawrie (.386, and .326/.388/.514). That the Diamondbacks are scheduled to start two right-handers, however, could mean that Lind sneaks in a start at either's expense.
The Mets, meanwhile, have a bevy of lackluster fantasy options whom they could use at DH in Cleveland. Lucas Duda might be the most natural choice based upon his poor defense, but he has only one start since his Aug. 24 recall, or the team could grant some additional at-bats to first base partners Ike Davis and Josh Satin. Here's a wild thought: David Wright (hamstring), who was scheduled to begin a rehabilitation assignment for Class A St. Lucie during the weekend but won't really have a place to finish it due to the impending end to the minor league season, could be activated by the Mets to work his way back to full strength as a DH. There's not enough promise to risk it in leagues with weekly transactions -- not without an announcement by the Mets first -- but Wright's owners in daily leagues should track his progress.
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.
• Wei-Yin Chen, who was demoted by the Baltimore Orioles to their Gulf Coast League affiliate on Aug. 28, is eligible to return to the rotation and will on Sept. 1, setting him up for a Friday start.
• Samuel Deduno (shoulder) will miss his scheduled Tuesday start for the Minnesota Twins, with Pedro Hernandez the most likely fill-in candidate.
• Matt Moore (elbow), who allowed four runs on eight hits in four innings of a rehabilitation start for Triple-A Durham on Aug. 29, is expected to rejoin the Tampa Bay Rays' rotation this week, with Tuesday the most probable day. However, with the team skipping Roberto Hernandez on Sept. 1, instead playing matchups, Moore's return could be pushed back to Wednesday. Consider everything after Chris Archer's scheduled Monday start in flux.
• Tony Cingrani (back) has resumed throwing and told the Cincinnati Reds' official website on Aug. 28 that he should be ready to rejoin the rotation the next time his turn comes up on Thursday. If he suffers any setbacks, Greg Reynolds would likely make another spot start in his place.
• Jose Fernandez's impending shutdown casts every one of his remaining assignments into doubt, as the Miami Marlins might begin shuffling his spots to pick the matchups that they want.
• Tyler Thornburg has replaced Tom Gorzelanny in the Milwaukee Brewers' rotation, but it's not exactly clear whether he'll pitch Monday or Tuesday, the order important because either he or Yovani Gallardo would be the team's two-start pitcher depending upon whom pitches first. The order listed above is directly from the team's Aug. 31 press notes.
• Jeff Locke, who was demoted to Double-A Altoona on Aug. 28 to provide him some rest, becomes eligible to rejoin the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday. He's expected to reclaim his rotation spot eventually, but between his impending return and Gerrit Cole's workload management, the team's rotation order is somewhat unclear for the week. Kris Johnson was to make a spot start on Sept. 1, and if he gets a second turn, it'd likely be on Saturday.
• The St. Louis Cardinals demoted Tyler Lyons to Triple-A Memphis on Aug. 27, and will push back his vacated rotation spot to Tuesday. It is unclear who will assume it then, though Lyons, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez are all eligible for recall that day, as well as the leading candidates.
• Matt Cain (forearm) is expected to return to the San Francisco Giants' rotation on Saturday, but it's unclear whether he'd bump Yusmeiro Petit or Barry Zito. Zito is the more likely candidate, especially considering he was pushed back to Monday, lining him up with Cain's turn in the rotation.
• The Washington Nationals have been concerned about Ross Ohlendorf's stamina, but were still expected to choose him ahead of Tanner Roark for their Sept. 1 game. The debate might resume when that spot comes up again on Saturday.
1. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Mon-@COL (Bettis), Sun-@CIN (Bailey)
2. Stephen Strasburg (WSH) -- Mon-@PHI (Hamels), Sun-@MIA (Alvarez)
3. Mat Latos (CIN) -- Mon-STL (Wainwright), Sat-LAD (Greinke)
4. Homer Bailey (CIN) -- Tue-STL (TBD), Sun-LAD (Kershaw)
5. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Mon-WSH (Strasburg), Sun-ATL (Maholm)
6. Yu Darvish (TEX) -- Wed-@OAK (Parker)
7. Zack Greinke (LAD) -- Sat-@CIN (Latos)
8. Max Scherzer (DET) -- Tue-@BOS (Lester)
9. Adam Wainwright (STL) -- Mon-@CIN (Latos), Sat-PIT (Johnson)
10. Chris Sale (CWS) -- Tue-@NYY (Kuroda), Sun-@BAL (Tillman)
11. Anibal Sanchez (DET) -- Fri-@KC (Shields)
12. Jose Fernandez (MIA) -- Wed-@CHC (Samardzija)
13. Madison Bumgarner (SF) -- Tue-@SD (Erlin), Sun-ARI (Miley)
14. Cliff Lee (PHI) -- Fri-ATL (Minor)
15. David Price (TB) -- Wed-@LAA (Weaver)
16. Derek Holland (TEX) -- Mon-@OAK (Straily), Sun-@LAA (Vargas)
17. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- Mon-@KC (Duffy), Sat-TB (Archer)
18. Mike Minor (ATL) -- Fri-@PHI (Lee)
19. Chris Tillman (BAL) -- Tue-@CLE (Jimenez), Sun-CWS (Sale)
20. Jarrod Parker (OAK) -- Wed-TEX (Darvish)
21. Justin Verlander (DET) -- Sat-@KC (Duffy)
22. Wade Miley (ARI) -- Tue-TOR (Rogers), Sun-@SF (Bumgarner)
23. Ricky Nolasco (LAD) -- Tue-@COL (Chacin)
24. Hyun-Jin Ryu (LAD) -- Wed-@COL (De La Rosa)
25. Dan Haren (WSH) -- Fri-@MIA (Turner)
26. Kris Medlen (ATL) -- Tue-NYM (Torres)
27. Julio Teheran (ATL) -- Wed-NYM (Gee)
28. Jon Lester (BOS) -- Tue-DET (Scherzer), Sun-@NYY (Kuroda)
29. John Lackey (BOS) -- Mon-DET (Fister), Sat-@NYY (Hughes)
30. Alex Wood (ATL) -- Sat-@PHI (Kendrick)
31. Jonathon Niese (NYM) -- Sat-@CLE (Salazar)
32. Hiroki Kuroda (NYY) -- Tue-CWS (Sale), Sun-BOS (Lester)
33. Jake Peavy (BOS) -- Thu-@NYY (Nova)
34. Travis Wood (CHC) -- Mon-MIA (Alvarez), Sun-MIL (Thornburg)
35. Marco Estrada (MIL) -- Fri-@CHC (Rusin)
36. R.A. Dickey (TOR) -- Fri-@MIN (Pelfrey)
37. James Shields (KC) -- Fri-DET (Sanchez)
38. Chris Archer (TB) -- Mon-@LAA (Richards), Sat-@SEA (Hernandez)
39. Alex Cobb (TB) -- Thu-@LAA (Williams)
40. A.J. Burnett (PIT) -- Fri-@STL (Kelly)
41. Justin Masterson (CLE) -- Mon-BAL (Norris), Sun-NYM (Matsuzaka)
42. Jeff Samardzija (CHC) -- Wed-MIA (Fernandez)
43. Jhoulys Chacin (COL) -- Tue-LAD (Nolasco)
44. Patrick Corbin (ARI) -- Fri-@SF (Petit)
45. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Wed-TB (Price)
46. Francisco Liriano (PIT) -- Wed-@MIL (Peralta)
47. Hisashi Iwakuma (SEA) -- Fri-TB (TBD)
48. Ian Kennedy (SD) -- Mon-SF (Zito), Sun-COL (Bettis)
49. Shelby Miller (STL) -- Wed-@CIN (Arroyo)
50. Jordan Zimmermann (WSH) -- Wed-@PHI (Halladay)
51. Zack Wheeler (NYM) -- Fri-@CLE (Kazmir)
52. Erasmo Ramirez (SEA) -- Tue-@KC (Chen), Sun-TB (Moore)
53. Tony Cingrani (CIN) -- Thu-STL (Lynn)
54. Lance Lynn (STL) -- Thu-@CIN (Cingrani)
55. Danny Duffy (KC) -- Mon-SEA (Hernandez), Sat-DET (Verlander)
56. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- Tue-PIT (Cole)
57. Doug Fister (DET) -- Mon-@BOS (Lackey), Sun-@KC (Chen)
58. Sonny Gray (OAK) -- Thu-HOU (Peacock)
59. Matt Cain (SF) -- Sat-ARI (McCarthy)
60. Charlie Morton (PIT) -- Mon-@MIL (Thornburg), Sun-@STL (TBD)
61. Tyson Ross (SD) -- Sat-COL (Chatwood)
62. Gio Gonzalez (WSH) -- Tue-@PHI (Martin)
63. Martin Perez (TEX) -- Tue-@OAK (Colon)
64. Jose Quintana (CWS) -- Mon-@NYY (Hughes), Sat-@BAL (Norris)
65. Matt Garza (TEX) -- Fri-@LAA (Wilson)
66. Garrett Richards (LAA) -- Mon-TB (Archer), Sat-TEX (Blackley)
67. Tim Lincecum (SF) -- Wed-@SD (Stults)
68. Andrew Cashner (SD) -- Fri-COL (Nicasio)
69. Danny Salazar (CLE) -- Sat-NYM (Niese)
70. Ervin Santana (KC) -- Wed-SEA (Walker)
71. Gerrit Cole (PIT) -- Tue-@MIL (Gallardo)
72. Matt Moore (TB) -- Tue-@LAA (Vargas), Sun-@SEA (Ramirez)
73. Bronson Arroyo (CIN) -- Wed-STL (Miller)
74. Dillon Gee (NYM) -- Wed-@ATL (Teheran)
75. Bruce Chen (KC) -- Tue-SEA (Ramirez), Sun-DET (Fister)
Two-start options for AL-/NL-only leagues:
Andrew Albers (MIN) -- Mon-@HOU (Clemens), Sun-TOR (Redmond)
Henderson Alvarez (MIA) -- Mon-@CHC (Wood), Sun-WSH (Strasburg)
Bartolo Colon (OAK) -- Tue-TEX (Perez), Sun-HOU (Clemens)
Paul Maholm (ATL) -- Mon-NYM (Matsuzaka), Sun-@PHI (Hamels)
Bud Norris (BAL) -- Mon-@CLE (Masterson), Sat-CWS (Quintana)
Dan Straily (OAK) -- Mon-TEX (Holland), Sat-HOU (Oberholtzer)
Jason Vargas (LAA) -- Tue-TB (Moore), Sun-TEX (Holland)
No-thank-yous, among two-start pitchers:
Chad Bettis (COL) -- Mon-LAD (Kershaw), Sun-@SD (Kennedy)
Paul Clemens (HOU) -- Mon-MIN (Albers), Sun-@OAK (Colon)
Phil Hughes (NYY) -- Mon-CWS (Quintana), Sat-BOS (Lackey)
Daisuke Matsuzaka (NYM) -- Mon-@ATL (Maholm), Sun-@CLE (Masterson)
Brandon McCarthy (ARI) -- Mon-TOR (Redmond), Sat-@SF (Cain)
Todd Redmond (TOR) -- Mon-@ARI (McCarthy), Sun-@MIN (Albers)
Tyler Thornburg (MIL) -- Mon-PIT (Morton), Sun-@CHC (Wood)
• Tim Lincecum returns to San Diego's Petco Park, the site of his first career no-hitter, a 148-pitch, 13-strikeout masterpiece on July 13, for a Wednesday start. If there is any time to use the right-hander -- his 4.55 ERA ranks 73rd and 1.32 WHIP 60th out of 85 qualifiers -- it's at Petco, where he's 10-for-13 in quality starts with a 2.22 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 11.63 strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio in his career.
• Jonathon Niese, available in 42.9 percent of ESPN leagues, is 3-for-4 in quality starts with three wins, a 1.93 ERA and 0.96 WHIP since returning from a rotator cuff injury. He has quietly reverted to the pitcher who flew under the radar for much of 2012; his average fastball velocity since returning is 90.3 mph (it was 90.4 mph last season), his walk rate is 5.4 percent (was 6.2 percent in 2012) and he has continued to minimize fly balls (33.8 percent rate). What's more, he's facing a struggling Cleveland Indians offense, their .287 wOBA in the month of August fourth worst in the majors. It's an advantageous matchup for Niese, not to mention fellow Met Zack Wheeler, scheduled for a Friday start at Cleveland.
• Speaking of Wheeler, be forewarned that any young pitcher approaching his innings cap could have his next scheduled start pushed back. That puts matchups for pitchers like him, Gerrit Cole, Jose Fernandez, Shelby Miller and Taijuan Walker at risk of midweek changes. I'm on record as shying from pitchers who have outings pushed back -- the "extra rest" strategy -- or at least lowering their ratings, but let's detail the strength of their opponents for your consideration:
Cole: @MIL (Milwaukee Brewers have No. 13 wOBA at home this season, No. 19 since the All-Star break) or @STL (St. Louis Cardinals have No. 11 wOBA at home this season, No. 18 since the All-Star break) Scheduled for: @MIL, Tuesday. Root for: @MIL.
Fernandez: @CHC (Chicago Cubs have No. 14 wOBA at home this season, No. 27 since the All-Star break) or WSH (Washington Nationals have No. 26 wOBA on the road this season, No. 6 since the All-Star break) Scheduled for: @CHC, Wednesday. Root for: @CHC.
Miller: @CIN (Cincinnati Reds have No. 16 wOBA at home this season, No. 20 since the All-Star break) or PIT (Pittsburgh Pirates have No. 19 wOBA on the road this season, No. 20 since the All-Star break) Scheduled for: @CIN, Wednesday. Root for: PIT.
Walker: @KC (Kansas City Royals have No. 24 wOBA at home this season, No. 12 since the All-Star break) or TB (Tampa Bay Rays have No. 7 wOBA on the road this season, No. 8 since the All-Star break) Scheduled for: @KC, Wednesday. Root for: @KC.
Wheeler: @ATL (Atlanta Braves have No. 7 wOBA at home this season, No. 4 since the All-Star break) or @CLE (Cleveland Indians have No. 10 wOBA at home this season, No. 16 since the All-Star break). Scheduled for: @CLE, Friday. Root for: @CLE.
• Again, don't worry too much about those Los Angeles Dodgers pitching matchups at Coors and Great American, as they're -- with the possible exception of Chris Capuano -- all pitching well. Let's take a look at their individual track records at those venues, their numbers at Coors since the beginning of last season and their numbers at Great American career stats:
Clayton Kershaw (@COL, Monday): 2-for-3 in QS, 3.09 ERA, 0.94 WHIP.
Ricky Nolasco (@COL, Tuesday): 8 IP, 9 H, 5 ER in only start (Aug. 16, 2012).
Hyun-Jin Ryu (@COL, Wednesday): Has never pitched at Coors Field.
Chris Capuano (@CIN, Friday): 2-for-6 in QS, 4.50 ERA, 1.50 WHIP.
Zack Greinke (@CIN, Saturday): 4-for-4 in QS, 4 W, 2.57 ERA, 0.89 WHIP.
Clayton Kershaw (@CIN, Sunday): 2-for-4 in QS, 3.46 ERA, 1.23 WHIP.
• 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. Sonny Gray (HOU, Thursday): He's a strikeout artist (26.1 percent K rate in the bigs) facing a Houston Astros team he whiffed nine times on Aug. 15.
2. Paul Maholm (NYM, Monday): He's 2-for-3 in quality starts with a 0.81 ERA and 0.99 WHIP against the New York Mets since the beginning of last season.
3. Danny Salazar (NYM, Saturday): His 30.2 percent K rate ranks second among pitchers with five-plus starts this season, and the New York Mets have the majors' fifth-highest K rate (22.2 percent).
4. Danny Duffy (SEA, Monday): He has back-to-back road quality starts, and the Seattle Mariners have the majors' fourth-worst wOBA against lefties (.291).
5. Juan Nicasio (@SD, Friday): He has a 3.92 ERA and 1.37 WHIP in eight starts since the All-Star break, plenty good enough to make a Petco Park matchup attractive.
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.
• 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: Kansas City Royals 7, Los Angeles Angels 7, New York Yankees 7, Oakland Athletics 7, Cincinnati Reds 7
Versus LH: New York Yankees 5, Los Angeles Angels 4, Oakland Athletics 4, Philadelphia Phillies 4, San Francisco Giants 4
Versus RH: Boston Red Sox 6, Kansas City Royals 6, Tampa Bay Rays 6, Chicago Cubs 6
• Has anyone noticed that the New York Yankees, previously an anemic offense against left-handed pitching, have become one of the better teams against that side in recent weeks? Consider: The Yankees rank eighth in wOBA (.346), sixth in slugging percentage (.446) and ninth in on-base percentage (.351) against left-handers in the month of August; they ranked 27th (.287), 29th (.346) and 22nd (.306) in those categories in the majors' first four months. Adding a healthy Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter as well as midseason acquisitions Alfonso Soriano and Mark Reynolds is a significant reason why, and know that A-Rod remains available in 26.1 percent of ESPN leagues, Jeter 58 percent and Reynolds 75.3 percent.
Reynolds is the sneaky pickup/play of the bunch. He's a .265/.324/.471 hitter in 11 games since joining the Yankees, he has a lifetime OPS 71 points higher against left- (.846) than right-handers (.775), and he has started all five of their games against lefties since he signed. Oh, and Reynolds has hit seven home runs in 24 career games at Yankee Stadium, so home games suit him equally nicely.
• What's behind that perfect-10 rating for the Arizona Diamondbacks? Simple: They're the fourth-best team in terms of wOBA since the All-Star break (.326), and they have .284/.342/.430 team triple-slash rates against left-handers during that time, which bodes well in a week where they'll face three lefties. Madison Bumgarner will present a challenge for them on Sunday, but their six games before it come against the weaker ends of the Toronto Blue Jays' and San Francisco Giants' rotations.
The Diamondbacks possess many widely available hitters for your consideration: The freshly activated Miguel Montero (17.3 percent owned), A.J. Pollock (0.7) and Gerardo Parra (47.6) are all worth a look. But the sneaky pickup of the week might be Adam Eaton (22.9 percent owned), a .292/.352/.477 hitter in his past 16 games who has played every inning of each of the team's past eight contests.