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'The Nine' for Week 3
Fantasy baseball's Week 3 gets off to an unusually early start due to Patriot's Day in Boston. As is the annual tradition, the Boston Red Sox game has an 11:05 a.m. ET scheduled first pitch on Monday, so make sure to set your lineups early, whether you play in a league with weekly or daily transactions. In a rare, bizarre scheduling twist, the Red Sox then hit the road for the West Coast, playing a game in Anaheim, California, at 10:07 p.m. ET on Tuesday. While the Red Sox do have a hitting-friendly schedule, keep in mind the possibility that some of their regulars might be rested during the week as the team concludes a 13-day span without a day off, which began with the tense Week 2 series versus the New York Yankees. On the pitching side, David Price (hand) had his next start pushed back by a day to Tuesday, and there's no guarantee he'll be ready to pitch even by then. (Side note: The Baltimore Orioles, Boston's Monday opponent, will be just beginning a stretch of 17 games in as many days, though with less travel involved.)
The Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins, thanks to a pair of games to be played at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Tuesday and Wednesday, play a major league-low five games apiece in Week 3. It's a significant disadvantage to these two teams, especially in a week where 12 other teams play seven games. Seven of those teams are American League squads, further depressing the value of Indians and Twins in AL-only leagues. Hiram Bithorn has a reputation for being a homer-friendly venue, but the numbers don't bear it out. In 47 major league games played there -- 43 of them being Montreal Expos home games in 2003-04, three being Florida Marlins home games in 2010 and one being the 2001 regular-season opener between the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays -- the venue has seen .258/.322/.409 hitting rates (.151 ISO) with per-game averages of 8.9 runs scored and 2.3 home runs. By comparison -- and the homer-happy offensive environment does influence these -- last season, 27 of 30 major league stadiums saw greater isolated power, 21 saw a greater home run average and 20 saw a greater runs-per-game average.
The Indians have been one of the game's colder offenses to begin 2018, and one of the saving graces of their schedule is that they're highly likely to face nothing but right-handed starting pitching in their five games, good news for those who need to rely upon their midtier hitters like Yonder Alonso, Jason Kipnis and Bradley Zimmer. As for the Twins, their low hitting rating is largely the product of their drawing assignments against Corey Kluber and Chris Archer, giving this lineup with a lot of swing-and-miss in it one of the more strikeout-susceptible schedules. Coupling that with the fact that this is a terrible base stealing schedule, ice-cold Byron Buxton and Logan Morrison appear to be wise sits.
Speaking of awful hitting schedules, may I present to you the Washington Nationals, who will have to tangle with both Jacob deGrom and Clayton Kershaw during Week 3 -- not to mention probably also Rich Hill during their weekend series at the Los Angeles Dodgers? The Nationals haven't extracted a lot of offensive value out of any of their active hitters other than Bryce Harper, and that probably won't change for slow starters such as Michael Taylor and Ryan Zimmerman, despite the likelihood of four of their six games coming against left-handed starting pitchers.
Anthony Rizzo (DL, back) is eligible to be activated by the Chicago Cubs on Monday, and word has it that he should be ready by then. Should that remain the case by the time weekly lineups lock, he'd be an instant start in all formats -- despite the tricky nature of back injuries and their sometimes-adverse impact upon hitters' power numbers -- as the team draws a good-to-excellent set of hitting matchups. Three weekend games at Colorado's Coors Field have a lot to say about that, but it also helps that the Cubs play the week-opening three games against the St. Louis Cardinals at home, which is the more hitting-oriented of the NL rivals' home ballparks, and against only right-handed Cardinals starting pitching. That's also great news for Ian Happ, typically the team's leadoff hitter against righties, and Kyle Schwarber, usually the team's No. 5 hitter against them.
What a dream schedule for the Milwaukee Brewers: seven games, all of them at home at one of the game's most hitter-friendly venues, Miller Park, facing the teams that, through April 12, had the majors' two worst team ERAs. The Brewers battle the Cincinnati Reds at a time when their (true) ace, Luis Castillo, has been struggling, and the other six starters they're scheduled to face all have major league FIPs of 4.32 or greater since the beginning of last season. Stick with the slow-starting Domingo Santana and Orlando Arcia knowing this schedule awaits them, and consider this a strong week to take a chance on Jonathan Villar. On the pitching side, while the ballpark factor is an obstacle, this is one of the stronger schedules that Brewers pitchers will face. Two-start pitcher Brent Suter (available in more than 95 percent of ESPN leagues) warrants a look in weekly formats.
Both of Week 3's interleague series will involve National League teams visiting American League parks, which means the addition (rather than subtraction going in the opposite direction) of the designated hitter for the Miami Marlins (two games at Yankee Stadium) and San Francisco Giants (three games at Angel Stadium). Unfortunately, there's little benefit for the Marlins, who will probably use the position as a "half-day off" for one of their regular hitters, but the Giants could allow Pablo Sandoval to pick up the majority of their DH starts. The bigger story for these two teams is the potential return of a few notable names from the DL: catcher J.T. Realmuto (back) for the Marlins, and starting pitchers Johnny Cueto (ankle) and Jeff Samardzija (pectoral) for the Giants. Cueto could wind up as a two-start pitcher if he returns as scheduled on Tuesday, in which case he'd warrant instant activation in all formats.
New Philadelphia Phillies manager Gabe Kapler might be drawing attention for other things, but it should be noted that, entering play on April 13, his team had attempted steals on the greatest percentage of their opportunities (11.0 percent, with Baseball-Reference.com being the source for "opportunities"). The team draws an excellent schedule for base stealing in Week 3, as Atlanta Braves starters Julio Teheran and Brandon McCarthy are well below-average at holding opposing baserunners and catcher Kurt Suzuki is below-average throwing them out, and Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli is one of the game's worst at reining in the running game. The Phillies' hitting matchups aren't too shabby, either, with the Jameson Taillon game on Thursday their only truly challenging matchup. Nick Williams, a lifetime .287/.336/.490 hitter against right-handers, who has started three straight against them, is a particularly strong play in a week facing six righty starters.
This is a good week to track the happenings from the Braves bullpen, where closer Arodys Vizcaino is already 0-for-1 in save chances and has shown shaky control, while middle relievers A.J. Minter, Sam Freeman, Peter Moylan and Daniel Winkler have all outpitched him. Minter's electric stuff is a great Week 3 match for a Phillies lineup that has a lot of swing-and-miss in it, and for a New York Mets team that gets a good amount of production from left-handed hitters. If there's to be a performance-related closer change in this next week-plus, Atlanta's is one to monitor closely.
The Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers play a makeup game of their April 4 postponement on Friday, giving them a doubleheader on that day, and both of them a seven-game week. Thanks in part to the extra game, the Tigers and their pair of series against below-average pitching staffs, and the Royals with a week-opening trip to hitting-friendly Rogers Centre, both teams could provide handy plug-ins for your Week 3 lineups. Tigers leadoff man Leonys Martin (available in more than 95 percent of ESPN leagues) is worth your while in a week where the Tigers face five right-handed starters, while Royals four/five hitter Lucas Duda (available in roughly 85 percent) could benefit from the stronger home-run environments on the team's schedule.