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'The Nine' for Week 5
Here are my observations for the week ahead, with scheduling and matchup notes that will help you set your lineups:
The Cleveland Indians have struggled on offense to begin the season, only six times (in 23 games through April 26) scoring as many as five runs, the third-fewest such instances in the majors, but things could be looking up for their bats entering Week 5. In a stretch of 18 games without a day off in a 17-day span (April 20-May 6), they'll face a mediocre Texas Rangers pitching staff (team 4.68 ERA, 1.46 WHIP), play a Thursday doubleheader against a pair of hittable Toronto Blue Jays starters, then make a three-game trip to hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium while missing Luis Severino in the New York Yankees' rotation. The eight-game schedule is advantageous to Indians hitters, but more so is the fact that five of those games are scheduled to be played against left-handed starting pitchers. That's great news for Jose Ramirez, a .320/.363/.560 hitter against lefties since the beginning of last season, Francisco Lindor, .298/.356/.512 in the same split, and Edwin Encarnacion, .228/.382/.426. For those seeking a weekly plug-in -- especially those going with the streaming-catchers strategy in ESPN standard leagues -- Yan Gomes (96.6 percent available) is well worth adding considering his .248/.333/.504 slash line against lefties since last season.
A pair of American League teams visit National League ballparks in the week's only two interleague series, which is bad news for the Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros, each of whom will lose the designated hitter (two games for the White Sox, three for the Astros). Matt Davidson's playing time will suffer most for the former, as he has a team-leading 15 starts at DH, and has only played first base in a game in which usual first baseman Jose Abreu was on the bench (Abreu was the DH in Davidson's other two starts at first base). The only positive for the streaky Davidson's fantasy value -- mostly in deeper-than-12-team mixed and AL-only formats -- is that he has balanced career splits (.317 wOBA versus left-handers, .316 versus right-handers), and most of the Minnesota Twins' starters are as susceptible to righties as lefties, resulting in a better rating for White Sox right- than left-handed hitters despite facing opponents that have entirely right-handed rotations. Evan Gattis will be the odd man out for the Astros, as he has played just two innings at catcher while making 19 starts at DH this season, making it unlikely he'd see more than one start there (if that many) during the Astros' weekend trip to Arizona's Chase Field. Considering he's off to a slow start and his team faces one of the worst hitting schedules of Week 5, Gattis is someone to sit, assuming he's not your No. 2 catcher in a 12-plus-team mixed league.
It's a shame Eric Thames (DL: thumb) is sidelined for a likely 6-8 weeks, as his Milwaukee Brewers begin Week 5 with a three-game visit to Great American Ball Park to face a Cincinnati Reds pitching staff that he has slammed to the tune of .344/.481/.922 slash rates and 12 home runs since the beginning of last season. Coupling those games at that hitting-friendly venue with three games at home against the below-average Pittsburgh Pirates pitching staff at the team's own hitting-friendly ballpark, all Brewers hitters enjoy a matchups boost.The speedy Brewers are the ones who enjoy the biggest bump, as the team has been giving the green light at a greater-than-league-average rate thus far. The Reds should give weak-armed Devin Mesoraco at least one start, and the Pirates have been regularly using Francisco Cervelli, one of the worst catchers in the game at managing the running game, behind the plate. Jonathan Villar, a .297 hitter with a .328 on-base percentage against righties this season who has begun to earn starts as the team's No. 6 hitter against right-handers, particularly stands out.
Few seem to give the Detroit Tigers' lineup much attention, as the team is in rebuild mode, but consider this: The team ranks 12th in runs per game (4.78) and 11th in wOBA (.323) and has the majors' second-highest contact rate (79.0 percent of their at-bats). They're getting contributions from four widely available players who warrant your Week 5 lineup consideration, the first in ESPN standard leagues and the rest generally in larger-than-12-team mixed: Jeimer Candelario (68.3 percent available), who has started 47 of the past 51 regular-season Tigers games and batted .308/.382/.508 during that time span; Leonys Martin (78.8 percent), the team's leadoff hitter in all but two games; James McCann (91.8), who has started 17 of the Tigers' 23 games at catcher; JaCoby Jones (95.5), a .324/.333/.618 hitter in his past nine games; Victor Martinez (96.8), the team's typical No. 5 hitter; and Jose Iglesias (98.8), a .349 hitter (15-for-43) in his past 11 games. That's especially the case with the team set to face opponents with bottom-10 pitching staffs thus far in the Tampa Bay Rays and Kansas City Royals.
The Boston Red Sox should feast upon weak Royals pitching to open the week, and they'll conclude Week 5 with a four-game trip to Texas' hitting-friendly Globe Life Park. While Red Sox hitters are generally obvious fantasy plays in any week, this should be one of their brighter weeks on offense overall. Since the team is scheduled to face four left-handed starting pitchers, Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez could put up league-leading weekly numbers, with their success leading to a greater volume of runs/RBIs for the remainder of the lineup. Stack your Red Sox!
The St. Louis Cardinals suffer the misfortune of the short week, with only five games scheduled, a disadvantage in a week when two other teams play eight games and another 11 play as many as seven times. The two home games against White Sox starters James Shields and Lucas Giolito boost Cardinals hitters' matchups enough to make "known-commodity" hitters (Paul DeJong/Jose Martinez/Yadier Molina/Marcell Ozuna/Tommy Pham) worthwhile plays in shallow mixed, but this is a week to avoid ice-cold players Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong, especially in light of the team facing two left-handed starting pitchers during the weekend series against the Chicago Cubs.
For those seeking advantageous lefty/righty matchups picks for Week 5: Adam Duvall (now 42.3 percent available) could finally get his season in order as his Reds face at least three left-handed starters, as he's a .273/.356/.565 hitter against lefties since the beginning of last season. Colin Moran (86.6 percent) is a .299/.351/.463 hitter against righties this season, and the Pirates are scheduled to face nothing but right-handed starting pitching in their seven games. Curtis Granderson (86.4) is a .333/.433/.588 hitter against right-handers this season and typically leads off for the Toronto Blue Jays against them, and the team is scheduled to face at least seven righty starters in eight games.
Nick Kingham's major-league debut was a historic one, beginning with 6 2/3 perfect innings against the Cardinals, concluding with seven shutout innings and putting an exclamation mark on a week during which Pittsburgh Pirates starters had five wins and a 1.08 WHIP. The team should have a tougher go of it on the road in Washington and Milwaukee, though both teams' offenses have gotten off to relatively sluggish starts to the year. The Forecaster projections prefer Pirates starters' long-term track records rather than the recent returns, which is why none ranks higher than 47th (two-start pitcher Jameson Taillon) for the week. Kingham isn't even a top-100 option, based upon a minor league career of lower strikeout totals and the hitting-friendly nature of Milwaukee's Miller Park. Let him earn your trust first with another strong start before activating him in standard mixed leagues.
The Royals' Jorge Soler, who enjoyed a six-homer, .244 isolated power spring, finally appears to be getting into a groove with the bat during the regular season, with five multihit games and a .340 batting average (17-for-50) in his past 15 contests. More importantly, he has done most of his damage against left-handed pitching (.429/.500/.714 rates this season) and has typically batted fourth or fifth against lefty starters. With the Royals set to face five left-handed starters during Week 5, Soler is worth a pickup and start in the 97.1 percent of ESPN leagues in which he's available.