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Week 21 fantasy baseball rankings

Johnny Cueto may be one of the top 15 starting pitchers in ERA as August draws to a close, but his schedule gets a lot tougher come September. AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

For the remainder of the season, pick first from National League East pitchers and American League Central hitters. The schedules say those should be the best divisional sources for statistics of either type in September.

With roughly one month -- 32 days, to be exact -- remaining in the schedule, the schedule itself carries increasing influence upon rest-of-player projections and values.

As I've done in past seasons, I collected the remaining schedules for all 30 teams, beginning with the games of Sept. 1 and concluding with the final regular-season day on Oct. 2, then taken their opponents' per-game rates in four categories -- runs scored, home runs, total bases and strikeouts -- on both the hitting and pitching sides, and totaled them.

For example, on Thursday, the Chicago White Sox visit the Minnesota Twins, who have scored an average of 4.32 runs per game at home this season; the White Sox are therefore assigned 4.32 runs allowed (by their pitchers) for that game, and then the next day's matchup is calculated and added, and so on.

This gives every team a rough outline of its "strength of schedule," though it assumes that all 30 are equal in terms of talent to one another, and that their opponents perform at precisely their year-to-date averages for the remainder of the season. As always, this is only one portion of the player valuation equation; don't overrate the schedule.

Most favorable pitching schedule

Washington Nationals (Off day, @NYM-3, ATL-3, PHI-4, NYM-3, off day, @ATL-3, @MIA-3, off day, @PIT-3, ARI-4, MIA-3): You couldn't ask for a more obviously pitching-friendly schedule than that of the Nationals, who play 23 of their final 29 games against National League East foes, and 17 of their final 29 at home, tied for the most remaining home games of any team.

Each of the Nationals' first 16 September games are against the teams ranked 28th (New York Mets), 29th (Atlanta Braves) and 30th (Philadelphia Phillies) in runs per game for the season, so the danger here is that the Nationals might wrap up their playoff seeding by the third full week of September, after which point they'll probably rest pitchers and reset their rotation. Still, that early-September schedule is so favorable, anyone who gets a back-of-the-rotation/fill-in assignment during the month warrants a look, from A.J. Cole to Lucas Giolito to Reynaldo Lopez to Joe Ross.

Other favorable pitching schedules: Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Colorado Rockies, Atlanta Braves, Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, Miami Marlins, Minnesota Twins.

Least favorable pitching schedule

San Francisco Giants (@CHC-4, @COL-3, off day, @ARI-3, SD-3, STL-4, @LAD-3, @SD-4, off day, COL-3, LAD-3): What an awful way to begin your September, having to make trips to Chicago's Wrigley Field, Colorado's Coors Field and Arizona's Chase Field. The Chicago Cubs have been one of baseball's most productive offenses all season, and the latter two are extreme hitters' parks.

Bear in mind that Johnny Cueto, the Giants' No. 2 starter, has a higher career ERA in September (4.14) than any other month (nearly half a run higher than August); Jeff Samardzija, the team's No. 3, melted down spectacularly late in 2015 and has shown similar signs of regression in the past two months; and Matt Moore, the team's No. 4, is only 15 2/3 innings away from setting a new professional high, after having thrown just 124 1/3 total frames the previous two years combined.

Other unfavorable pitching schedules: New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Houston Astros, Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, Oakland Athletics, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Diego Padres.

Most favorable hitting schedule

Pittsburgh Pirates (Off day, MIL-3, STL-3, CIN-4, @PHI-4, @CIN-4 including a Sept. 17 doubleheader, off day, @MIL-3, WSH-3, CHC-4, @STL-3): They're the only team with as many as 31 remaining games, and most of them will be NL Central contests. That means a majority of games against a Milwaukee Brewers staff lacking in star talent, a young Cincinnati Reds staff that seems likely to fatigue as the year progresses, and a St. Louis Cardinals staff that ranks among the bottom 10 in team ERA during the second half, for a total of 20 against just those three foes.

Andrew McCutchen, a major fantasy disappointment this season, has picked up the pace with .294/.406/.447 rates in 23 August games, and lesser names such as Josh Bell and Francisco Cervelli are also more likely to contribute facing a schedule like this.

Other favorable hitting schedules: Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Seattle Mariners, Chicago Cubs, Oakland Athletics, Houston Astros.

Least favorable hitting schedule

Atlanta Braves (SD-1, @PHI-3, @WSH-3, off day, NYM-3, MIA-3, off day, WSH-3, @NYM-3, @MIA-4, off day, PHI-3, DET-3): Not that the Braves are a significant source of fantasy production, but their offense isn't in for an easy September, not facing some of the elite NL East arms on the schedule. The caveat is that some of these games could ultimately be played against teams either locked into or eliminated from the playoffs, meaning big arms such as Max Scherzer, Jose Fernandez or Noah Syndergaard being skipped, but the risk of multiple outings coming against each of those pitchers makes the Braves a team to avoid.

Well, except for Freddie Freeman, that is. Though we all know by now the follies of investing in batter-vs.-pitcher statistics, Freeman's success against some of these NL East aces is remarkable: He's a .350/.381/.700 hitter (21 career plate appearances) against Fernandez, a .412/.476/.853 hitter (42 career PAs) against Stephen Strasburg and has good career numbers against Madison Bumgarner, Clayton Kershaw and Jon Lester as well.

Other unfavorable hitting schedules: Philadelphia Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks, Cincinnati Reds, Miami Marlins, Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins, Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles, San Francisco Giants.


New ESPN position eligibility

The following players added new position eligibility within the past two weeks. As a reminder, position players need to appear 10 times at a new position to gain in-season eligibility, while pitchers need to make three starts to earn starting-pitching eligibility or five relief appearances to earn relief-pitching eligibility.

Tyler Austin (1B), Mike Clevinger (RP), Christian Colon (3B), Ivan De Jesus (3B), Daniel Descalso (2B), Matt Duffy (SS), Marco Hernandez (3B), Jose Peraza (SS), Trevor Plouffe (1B), Ronald Torreyes (SS).

The following players are within two games of earning new eligibility, with their total games played noted at the listed position.

Cristhian Adames (2B, 9 games; 3B, 8 games), Emilio Bonifacio (OF, 8 games), Daniel Castro (3B, 9 games), Ivan De Jesus (1B, 8 games), Stephen Drew (3B, 9 games; SS, 9 games), Ryan Flaherty (SS, 9 games), Phil Gosselin (3B, 8 games), Marco Hernandez (2B, 8 games), Paul Janish (3B, 9 games), Howie Kendrick (1B, 8 games), Michael Martinez (2B, 8 games), Shawn O'Malley (2B, 9 games), Jorge Polanco (3B, 9 games), Jurickson Profar (SS, 8 games), T.J. Rivera (3B, 8 games), Adam Rosales (SS, 8 games), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (1B, 9 games).


Going-forward rankings: Week 21

Listed below are my updated, going-forward rankings. These are based upon an ESPN standard league of 10 teams and Rotisserie 5x5 scoring. Click here to see these rankings sorted by position.