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The 2020 Major League Baseball season begins Thursday with a pair of games on ESPN: New York Yankees at Washington Nationals at 7 p.m. ET, and San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Dodgers at 10 p.m. ET. From there, the other 26 teams enjoy their Opening Day on Friday, with three of the 14 games on ESPN: Atlanta Braves at New York Mets at 4 p.m. ET, Milwaukee Brewers at Chicago Cubs at 7 p.m. ET, and Los Angeles Angels at Oakland Athletics at 10 p.m. ET. The Thursday start creates a lengthier "Week 1" of the fantasy baseball season, extending 11 days in length, beginning with the pair of July 23 games and extending through the games on Sunday, Aug. 2. Leagues with weekly lineup deadlines will lock lineups for the entirety of Week 1 at the start of each team's first scheduled game and will not allow changes to take effect again until Monday, Aug. 3. ESPN leagues with daily lineup deadlines, however, will still lock players at the start times of each of their respective games each day. If you play in a head-to-head league, your first matchup of the season will also be 11 days in length, covering the 11-day span from July 23-Aug. 2.
Off days aren't as plentiful during the opening scoring period, as 23 of 30 teams play 10 games, the Yankees, Nationals, Giants and Dodgers included, with each having a mid-period off day to compensate for the earlier start. A trio of teams is at a significant, volume-oriented disadvantage, due to having July 23 off as well as an additional two off days during the opening scoring period: The Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers each play only eight times. Another six teams play only nine times, having July 23 off as well as an additional off day: The Chicago White Sox, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, Oakland Athletics and Pittsburgh Pirates. Weigh the fewer scheduled games when making lineup decisions, especially in leagues that lock lineups on a weekly basis.
For the Rockies in particular, Week 1 is disadvantageous: They'll open with three games at Texas' new Globe Life Field, which is expected to be noticeably more pitching-friendly than its predecessor, Globe Life Park, then make a two-game trip to the Oakland Coliseum, before returning home for three games at Coors Field against the San Diego Padres. In the process, they'll draw Lance Lynn, Mike Minor, Corey Kluber and Frankie Montas as four of their eight starting-pitching opponents, placing Week 1 squarely up there among their three least-favorable single-week schedules of 2020 (Weeks 4 and 9 also rank up there, at least projecting at the season's onset). With the Rockies' catcher, first base, second base, left field and designated hitter roles still somewhat in question, borderline mixed-league options such as Garrett Hampson, Sam Hilliard, Matt Kemp, Brendan Rodgers, Raimel Tapia and Tony Wolters are much weaker Week 1 options in weekly leagues.
On the pitching side, the 10- versus eight-game schedules, coupled with the earlier start to the season for the aforementioned four teams, creates a slight imbalance in the number of potential starts for pitchers. For example, if the Giants, Yankees, Nationals or Dodgers want to start their ace on four days' rest for each turn, then Gerrit Cole, Johnny Cueto, Max Scherzer and/or Clayton Kershaw could make as many as three "Week 1" starts in a league with weekly transactions. Those four names are listed in order of their likelihood of doing so, based either upon their teams' announced rotation plans or projections with the information available. Conversely, teams with only eight games mathematically can only have three of their five starters pitch twice during Week 1, and some might skip fifth starters entirely due to off days. Among the fantasy-relevant starting pitchers who could make either one or zero starts: Kyle Gibson, Josh Lindblom, Jordan Lyles, Carlos Martinez, Miles Mikolas, Jordan Montgomery, Nate Pearson and Justus Sheffield.
Several teams' rotations are also clouded as of now either due to injuries to individual starters or their not having yet fully announced plans. Of the Forecaster's listed rotation assignments, 82% (125-of-152) were formally announced by their teams, with another 8% (12 of 152) listed via projection, based upon summer camp scheduling or team feedback. There are another 15 starting assignments yet to be handed out. Injuries to a few pitchers also cloud their teams' Week 1 plans: John Means (arm fatigue) will miss his originally scheduled Opening Day start, and it's unclear whether he'll pitch at all during Week 1. Andrew Heaney (back) and Jacob deGrom (back) have battled injuries during the past week that threatened their Opening Day starts but now merely cast some doubt upon their pitch counts. Jake Odorizzi (back) was scratched from his scheduled July 25 start and now might not pitch during Week 1. Brett Anderson (blister, 10-day IL) was set for a July 25 start but will now miss at least the first turn through the Brewers' rotation, and A.J. Puk (shoulder, 10-day IL) will also miss his July 28 start and probably more. Masahiro Tanaka (head) might not be ready to join the Yankees' rotation until the second turn through, at the end of the opening scoring period.
Speaking of the Rangers' new ballpark, we'll get an immediate look at how it plays, as the team hosts the Rockies for three games (July 24-26) and Arizona Diamondbacks for two more (July 28-29) to open the season. All indications are that Globe Life Field will favor pitchers more than its predecessor, due to more spacious outfield territory in center field and the power alleys, as well as the roof that can cap temperatures at 72 degrees. For an eight-game, season-opening period, Rangers pitchers have sneaky-good fantasy appeal, especially if you consider they complete the week with a three-game series at San Francisco's Oracle Park against a light-hitting Giants team. Lynn, Minor and Kluber look much more attractive as fantasy plays than you might think, and Week 1 is a good one to take a chance on closer Jose Leclerc, too.
Nicholas Castellanos plays his first games against his original, drafting team, the Detroit Tigers, on July 24. It'll be one of a whopping six games (out of 10) that his Cincinnati Reds will play against said Tigers, who finished 2019 28th in team ERA (5.24), boosting Castellanos' and all of the Reds' Week 1 schedule to one of the league's best. After all, the Reds' remaining three games, July 27-29, include matchups with the Cubs' Nos. 4 and 5 starters. Seven of the Reds' 10 games are expected to be played against right-handed starters, and since the majority of the Tigers' and Cubs' bullpens are right-handed as well, this is a great week for left handed-hitting Reds -- not that it's a bad thing for Castellanos, either, as he slugged .485 against righties in 2019. Projected Nos. 1-2 hitters Shogo Akiyama and Joey Votto are strong plays in the opening scoring period, despite what their sub-175 preseason ADPs might say about them.
Padres and Philadelphia Phillies hitters also stack up remarkably well during the opening scoring period, with the Padres' schedule highlight a week-ending, three-game series at Coors Field and the Phillies' advantages their three-game, season-opening series against the Miami Marlins and three-game, week-ending series against the Toronto Blue Jays. For the Phillies, their toughest starting-pitching assignment will be Gerrit Cole (July 28 or 29), but they could face as many as four lefty starters, which would be rather advantageous for right handed-hitting Rhys Hoskins (.261/.444/.536 rates against lefties in 2019), Andrew McCutchen (.294/.429/.412), Jean Segura (.289/.342/.563) and Scott Kingery (.293/.318/.561).
While many of the back ends of rotations have yet to be announced, rotation projections skew righty/lefty advantages firmly in favor of the Cubs and Pirates, each of whom is expected to face at least seven (and probably eight) right-handed starters, as well as the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and Mets, each of whom is scheduled to face at least four left-handed starters. Adam Frazier (.285/.346/.436 rates against righties in 2019) and Kyle Schwarber (.255/.348/.552), as well as J.D. Davis (.312/.374/.539 rates against lefties in 2019), Franmil Reyes (.280/.361/.520) and Christian Vazquez (.285/.337/.557), all look aligned to be Week 1 fantasy standouts.