Fantasy baseball forecaster for Week 4: Aug. 17-23

The schedule is kind to Carlos Carrasco and the Indians pitching staff. David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

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  • Scheduling changes continue to have a huge bearing on fantasy baseball planning. There are five rescheduled games on the Week 4 schedule: St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs doubleheaders on Monday and Wednesday, played at Chicago's Wrigley Field but with the added games on those dates having the Cardinals as the home team in order to make up their Aug. 7-8 postponements at St. Louis; a Philadelphia Phillies at Toronto Blue Jays doubleheader on Thursday, which makes up for their July 31-Aug. 1 postponements; and Miami Marlins at Washington Nationals on Saturday, a makeup of their Aug. 4 postponement, which creates a doubleheader that day. Remember that schedules are increasingly subject to change this season, with doubleheaders -- they're all now seven innings in length, remember, if decided in regulation -- much more commonplace. As is, the Pittsburgh Pirates at Cincinnati Reds postponements Aug. 15-16 could still be rescheduled as a doubleheader on Monday, a scheduled off day for the two teams, should the Reds be cleared to resume play by then. The Reds could also face additional postponements should they have any more positive COVID-19 tests. As of early Monday morning, the Reds' schedule wasn't yet clear.

  • These scheduling changes cause a wide disparity in teams' game totals, which presents advantages for some and disadvantages for others. The Cardinals, for example, are scheduled for an unheard-of nine games during Week 4. The Cubs, Marlins and Blue Jays, meanwhile, are all scheduled for eight games, and the Pirates and Reds would have the same if they do play a doubleheader on Monday. Fortunately, no team is scheduled to play only five games during Week 4, but eight teams are scheduled for only six: The Atlanta Braves, Cubs, Reds, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays. Among those teams, the Brewers are scheduled to play all six games on the road, and the Reds would be entirely on the road after Monday.

  • The Detroit Tigers are expected to promote their top two pitching prospects, Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, on Wednesday and Tuesday respectively. Mize is the one who individually grades higher for his one matchup, but Skubal will be aligned for two starts and is also worth a start in all formats.

  • Even after accounting for those nine- and eight-game weeks, the Los Angeles Dodgers grade the best on the hitting side for Week 4. They'll begin with four games of a home-and-home (two games at each site) series against the Seattle Mariners, before welcoming the hot-starting Colorado Rockies during the weekend. The Mariners' pitching staff is 28th in team ERA (5.66), and while the Rockies have an eighth-ranked 3.99 ERA so far, it's important to note that their three probable starters for their weekend series, Jon Gray, Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela, have a combined 5.52 ERA and 1.66 WHIP in 13 career starts and one relief appearance against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. In addition, as the Dodgers are scheduled to face three left- and four right-handed starters, they should be able to maximize the value of their matchups-driven hitters, such as Joc Pederson (10% available in ESPN leagues), A.J. Pollock (47% available), Enrique Hernandez (66%) and Chris Taylor (73%).

  • On the other end, the Rays have the roughest hitting schedule, and it's not much better on the pitching side, either. The six-game week doesn't help, but the Rays are also scheduled to face the front end of the New York Yankees' rotation -- Masahiro Tanaka, Gerrit Cole and James Paxton, pitching in that order -- during their three-game trip to New York's Yankee Stadium, and Matt Shoemaker, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Nate Pearson during their weekend series at home against the Toronto Blue Jays. The Yankees and Blue Jays, too, have top-10 bullpens in terms of ERA (Yankees 3.49, eighth; Blue Jays 3.72, 10th). If you're going to lean on Rays hitters, trust only productive regulars Yandy Diaz, Brandon Lowe and Austin Meadows, and bear in mind that lefty-mashing hitters such as Mike Brosseau and Jose Martinez might see limited action and/or underperform in a week where only two of those projected starters are left-handed.

  • On the injury front, the Rays could welcome Charlie Morton (shoulder) back to their rotation on the first day he's eligible to return from the injured list, Thursday at the Yankees, though he'd be a stronger fantasy option if brought back during the weekend series against the Blue Jays. The Yankees are expected to have closer Aroldis Chapman (COVID-19) back for the entirety of Week 4, and he warrants your immediate activation since it seems likely he'll be reinstalled as the team's closer. Rich Hill (shoulder) is also tentatively scheduled for activation in time for a Wednesday start against the Brewers, which while a tough matchup still grades well enough in the projections to warrant using him in anything larger than a standard league.

  • Your sleeper offense for Week 4 is the Baltimore Orioles, who through the season's first 23 days are the fourth-highest-scoring offense, going by runs per game (5.33). The Orioles have three hitters ranked among the Player Rater's top 60 overall (through Aug. 13), all of whom warrant places in every lineup accounting for their schedule: Renato Nunez (27th overall), by far the team's earliest-drafted player; Hanser Alberto (41st), the team's regular leadoff hitter; and Anthony Santander (51st), its regular No. 2 hitter. There are lower-tier sleepers to consider as well: Rio Ruiz (95% available in ESPN leagues), the Orioles' cleanup hitter who currently ranks 145th on the Player Rater; Pedro Severino (70% available), who despite his catcher partnership ranks fifth at his position on the Rater; and Jose Iglesias (95%), a .383 hitter thus far who warrants a plug-in when his matchups align as nicely as these.

  • This is a big week in which for the Nationals to make up some ground in the National League East race. On the hitting side, they'll face the injury-riddled back end of the Atlanta Braves' rotation during a three-game, week-opening trip to Atlanta's Truist Park, followed by the Marlins' similarly thin rotation during a four-game weekend visit to Marlins Park. There are far too many talented Nationals bats in their lineup to put stock in their current No. 25 ranking in terms of runs per game (3.81), but slow starters Adam Eaton, Victor Robles and Trea Turner need to capitalize during Week 4. Red-hot Asdrubal Cabrera (65% available in ESPN leagues) should also be locked into all lineups facing matchups like these.

  • Keep tabs on the Indians' pitching plans in advance of Week 4, as they draw one of the most favorable schedules on that side of the ball, with three week-opening games at Pittsburgh's PNC Park followed by three at home against the Detroit Tigers during the weekend. PNC is one of the more favorable pitching environments, and while the Tigers rank 11th in runs per game (5.13), they did recently lose one of the better run producers to the injured list in C.J. Cron. The Indians did assign Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac to their alternate camp, which requires a minimum 10-day assignment, meaning they're both likely ruled out of pitching during Week 4. Still, the Indians will need a fifth starter no later than Saturday. Carlos Carrasco is currently aligned as their two-start pitcher, and all of their four listed starters warrant universal fantasy starts regardless of the series in which they're assigned.

  • Among the teams scheduled to face a greater-than-usual number of left- or right-handed starting pitchers are the Minnesota Twins, Mariners and Blue Jays, who are scheduled to face four left-handed starters apiece; and the Rockies, Houston Astros, Oakland Athletics, Cardinals and San Diego Padres, who are scheduled to face six right-handed starters apiece. Consider the following matchup-type hitters: Dylan Carlson (79% available in ESPN leagues), a switch hitter projected to join the Cardinals upon their active return; Marwin Gonzalez (77% available), a .314/.343/.467 hitter against lefties in 2019-20; Teoscar Hernandez (49%), a .239/.328/.465 hitter against lefties in 2019-20; Austin Nola (87%), a .267/.364/.558 career hitter against lefties; and Josh Reddick (93%), the Astros' No. 2 hitter in four straight games and a .316/.381/.474 hitter against righties so far in 2020.