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At what point will the defending champion Boston Red Sox begin hitting at the level everyone projected during the preseason? This week, which begins a 10-day, 10-game home stand, seems a critical time for it, in that if it doesn't happen, perhaps it'll be time to adjust our expectations downward. The Red Sox open Week 4 facing a Detroit Tigers pitching staff that, after a hot start, has begun exhibiting regression -- 4.68 starters' ERA and 7.4 full-staff K-per-nine ratio between April 9-18 -- before drawing the first-place Tampa Bay Rays in one of the season's more important early-season series. Blake Snell's (fractured toe, IL, eligible to return Wednesday) impending return could shift the Red Sox's hitting grades, but all four Tigers matchups grade as plus matchups and drive the team's outstanding weekly projections. As the Red Sox are expected to face at least five right-handed starters, Rafael Devers (available in nearly 80 percent of ESPN leagues) and Mitch Moreland (available in more than 75 percent) are both well worth chancing this being big weeks for them. Michael Chavis, who was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket on April 19, could also see enough time at second base to warrant activation in deep-mixed and AL-only leagues.
The Colorado Rockies at Coors Field might be an obvious talking (writing?) point for fantasy, but during their three-game, week-opening series there, they'll miss both Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg in the Nationals' rotation, which represents a huge matchups advantage. Throw in the fact that the Rockies' weekend road trip to Atlanta's SunTrust Park gives them a three-game series against a pitching staff that has had its share of injuries, especially in the bullpen, and it's no shock that the Rockies' weekly hitting grades are so good. David Dahl is back in action right in time for this favorable week of matchups, and the Rockies seem committed to finding enough places for Garrett Hampson (available in nearly 90 percent of ESPN leagues) and Ryan McMahon (available in more than 90 percent) that both warrant speculative adds/starts in mixed leagues.
The New York Yankees, who entered play on April 19 ranked only 15th in baseball in runs per game (4.8), have the roughest go of it in Week 4 from an interleague-play perspective. The team should have Gary Sanchez (calf, IL, eligible to return April 21) back in action in advance of the week, but while there's optimism Giancarlo Stanton (biceps, IL, already eligible to return) could rejoin the team at the start of the road trip, there won't be a designated hitter spot to ease either player back in during their three-game weekend road series against the San Francisco Giants. Here's the other problem: Los Angeles' Angel Stadium, where the Yankees open the week with four games, is a pitching-friendly park, while San Francisco's AT&T Park is the game's most extreme pitchers' environment -- and the starkest contrast in outfield dimensions to the Yankees' own Yankee Stadium. Brett Gardner's (available in more than 80 percent of ESPN leagues) recent play and weekly stolen-base grades could coax his fantasy managers to start him, but he'll have a rough time of it on the hitting front. If your league affords you the luxury of stashing Stanton on your IL for an additional week, it'd be worth waiting until Week 5 to get him back in there.
As mentioned above with Snell, Week 4 could be one of several returns from the IL among starting pitchers. Rich Hill (knee, IL, already eligible to return) will make a Monday rehabilitation start in extended spring training before being activated in time for Sunday's game with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but that's awfully late in the week to risk activating him in anything but NL-only leagues. Mike Foltynewicz (elbow, IL, already eligible to return) made another minor league rehabilitation start on April 21, but he hasn't pitched effectively enough on his stint so far to trust potentially facing the Rockies during the weekend. Jon Lester (hamstring, IL, already eligible to return) threw a simulated game April 20 and could assume the Cubs' fifth-starter spot on April 25 at Arizona's Chase Field. Other options include: Tyler Skaggs (ankle, IL, eligible to return Tuesday) could wind up returning against the Yankees; and Freddy Peralta (SC joint, IL, eligible to return Friday), whose potential return is too deep into the week to risk.
Few teams will have as good a go of it as the Chicago White Sox, who play three week-opening games at hitting-friendly Camden Yards against the Orioles' 29th-ranked pitching staff followed by three back home against the Tigers. The advantage here is that four members of the White Sox's regular lineup are rostered in at least 84 percent of ESPN leagues -- and the lowest of those, Eloy Jimenez, finally seems to be hitting -- but three others are regulars available in more than 90 percent: Yonder Alonso, who has batted .281 with two home runs in his past eight games (through April 19); Welington Castillo, who has a pair of homers in his past four games (entering April 19); and Leury Garcia, the team's leadoff man, who brings cheap speed. All three are worth plugging in, considering these weekly matchups.
All three teams that suffer the misfortune of having five-game weeks rank among the 10 weakest offenses in the game -- and are projected to remain there for the full year -- the San Diego Padres, Giants and Toronto Blue Jays. It's another layup to say "stay away" from these teams, but the reminder could help for fantasy managers of slow-starting performers like Eric Hosmer or Danny Jansen. That said, even in a five-game week, the Blue Jays could be the overperformer of the trio, in that there's a decent chance that top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. could be promoted in advance of the team's home stand that commences Week 4. He'd add a jolt to that struggling offense and would warrant immediate activation in all leagues regardless of the short week, as the team's righty matchups grade slightly better than average, thanks in part to the team's scheduled two left-handed starting opponents.
Your stolen-base sleeper of Week 4 is Delino DeShields, already tied for third in baseball with his six steals for the season and available in nearly 95 percent of ESPN leagues. It's rare that an individual speedster enjoys a matchups boost significant enough to make him singularly worth adding/starting in shallow mixed leagues, but this schedule is it: Three games at the Oakland Athletics followed by four at the Seattle Mariners, with those opponents both ranking among the four worst in the majors in terms of stolen bases allowed. It's a good idea to supplement your team steals total with a handful of plus weekly matchups in the category, and with DeShields having picked up 14 starts in the Rangers' 17 games (entering April 19), he's getting enough playing time to make a noticeable impact.
If it's not the Red Sox, then the Philadelphia Phillies have the week's most balanced set of plus-matchups on both the hitting and pitching sides. The Phillies are scheduled to miss both Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard in the Mets' rotation during their three-game, week-opening road trip to Citi Field, then return home to host a 4-15 (entering April 19) Miami Marlins team for four games. Zach Eflin (available in roughly 45 percent) is one of the strongest two-start pitching matchup choices of the week.
If you're looking for righty/lefty matchup advantages amongst players more suited for deep-mixed (think 14-plus teams) or "only" leagues, consider: Curtis Granderson (available in more than 95 percent of ESPN leagues), a .233/.344/.427 hitter against righties in 2018-19, whose Marlins face nothing but right-handed starters; Jose Martinez (available in more than 55 percent), a .311/.360/.458 hitter against righties whose St. Louis Cardinals face nothing but right-handed starters; and Ryan Zimmerman (available in more than 90 percent), a .392/.484/.658 hitter against lefties in 2018-19 whose Nationals face at least four (and possibly five) left-handed starters.