BASEBALL RETURNS! ... with a packed, everyone-plays-each-day weekend that even includes a scheduled doubleheader between the San Diego Padres and Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday.
As a reminder, in ESPN leagues, these next three days extend the scoring period that began on Monday, July 3, meaning that they still count within your current head-to-head matchup and all weekly starts and pickups limits still apply, and lineups in custom leagues with weekly transactions remain locked through Sunday. Most of our league offerings, however, afford teams the flexibility of daily transactions, and many offsite leagues that have weekly transactions treat this upcoming weekend as its own three-day scoring period.
That's where this column comes in! Our fantasy analysts, Tristan H. Cockcroft and Eric Karabell, have the scoop on what to expect during this opening weekend of baseball's traditional second half.
Cockcroft: First off, from a Forecaster planning standpoint, there will be a new edition released Friday that will cover next week's games, spanning Monday, July 17, through Sunday, July 23. Here, meanwhile, we're focused on the three days that lie immediately ahead, a tricky scoring period considering the various ways that leagues handle them, not to mention the annual shuffling of rotations that teams do.
A four-day All-Star break makes this weekend's planning challenging, especially considering our publishing times, as so far we've received word on only 81 of 92 starting pitching assignments. At column's end, you'll find Forecaster-style rankings for all of the ones we know, which I'll update when/if we get additional announcements. You can also check out any individual projections and ratings on both our 10-day pitching and hitting Forecaster grids, which are continually updated.
But let's focus on the games!
Call me a homer, but I'm curious to see how the New York Yankees' lineup, under the tutelage of new hitting coach Sean Casey, fares in its trip to hitters' heaven Colorado's Coors Field. Sure, these matchups present a hindrance to solid-in-his-2023-debut Carlos Rodon -- I'd sit him for Friday's start (as well as Saturday starter Clarke Schmidt) -- but the offense gets the benefit of facing a team that just lost its ERA leader, Kyle Freeland (4.72), to a shoulder injury, and whose six healthy, non-opener starter candidates all have ERAs north of 6. OK, so Casey, only four days into his new gig, probably deserves less credit for any weekend success than Coors' park factors do, but Yankees hitters are in dream circumstances for this series. Giancarlo Stanton (50.5% available) and Anthony Volpe (59.7%) are must-adds.
Karabell: Indeed, anytime we have a series in Denver, it is always worth watching for fantasy purposes. Do you feel totally different today than you did just a week ago? The proverbial first half of the season is over. Time's a wastin'. Now it is the second half, even though all teams have played more than half their games already. As a former Yankees catcher once said, "it gets late early out here." I don't think it was Kyle Higashioka who said it.
If we're looking for series with a pair of winning clubs, we've got some. Miami Marlins-Baltimore Orioles is certainly interesting, especially as Miami RHP Sandy Alcantara starts things off Friday looking to keep his ERA on the good side of 5. The Arizona Diamondbacks visit the Toronto Blue Jays, and we should get another look at Toronto RHP Alek Manoah, who pitched well in his return before the break. And we cannot forget the NL Central matchup between the Milwaukee Brewers and upstart Cincinnati Reds, even though they met just last weekend. I can't wait to see the Cincinnati track meet continue, but I have to admit I want to see what Joey Votto does. He homered twice in last weekend's series. What matchups are you paying extra attention to?
Cockcroft: The Reds-Brewers games this season certainly are strangely scheduled this season, aren't they? They'll even play again to begin fantasy's Week 16 (July 24-30), meaning they'll play nine head-to-head games over 20 days and all 13 of their 2023 matchups over a 55-day span. Weird.
I've got my eye on three other series, each for a different reason. The Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets, widely regarded playoff locks in the preseason who have disappointed to date, match up at New York's Citi Field, a series in which both Julio Urias (Friday) and Max Scherzer (Sunday) could stand to make statements to begin their second halves. Worrisome as the matchups are, I'd start both as name brands, but I might be singing a different tune on Monday.
From a viewing standpoint, I like the matchup of the elite Yu Darvish and Blake Snell -- bummer that the San Diego Padres pushed Joe Musgrove back to Tuesday, though the opposing Phillies also pushed Aaron Nola back until then -- facing the potent Philadelphia offense. Both teams could stand to start the second half strong, and while I'm often lukewarm on good-versus-good team matchups in fantasy terms, the added game definitely helps, especially for the hitters.
And as strange as this may seem, I'm curious to see the Oakland Athletics' second-half strategy, with the news that they'll welcome both top prospects Tyler Soderstrom and Zack Gelof into their lineup for Friday's opener against the Minnesota Twins. Gelof is a decent pop, decent speed second base prospect, while Soderstrom is a big-time power prospect who brings initial first base eligibility alone -- not to mention that's where he'll probably play -- but he's capable of catching and could sneak in the occasional appearance there if your league brings a low qualification threshold. Neither quite rises to standard pickup levels, but Soderstrom is close.
Karabell: Yeah, I was definitely going to mention the Athletics and their curious but welcomed decision to promote a few youngsters to the majors. This is probably not good news for those looking to capitalize on the recent good work of Tony Kemp and Ryan Noda. Perhaps other teams are thinking about giving their top prospects a chance soon? Could the Reds give Christian Encarnacion-Strand a big league look? They should! He is hitting .321 with 20 home runs at Triple-A Louisville. Teams tend to find space for power hitters. I also think it is just a matter of time before the Orioles rereward RHP Grayson Rodriguez with a rotation spot. He has a 1.96 ERA in eight starts at Triple-A Norfolk. Get him now if you can.
Meanwhile, back to the veteran players; keep an eye on the Jordan Romano situation. The Blue Jays' closer left his All-Star appearance with lower back tightness, and it may be nothing, but let's see if Romano is available to pitch this weekend. Romano has 26 saves. His investors may want to see if they can stash setup RHP Erik Swanson just in case there is an injured list stint looming.
Cockcroft: Luis Robert Jr.'s calf injury, too, bears watching, after he hurt it participating in the Home Run Derby. On an aside, there isn't a Derby curse! But if Robert isn't available for the Chicago White Sox this weekend, gosh, does that swing things further in favor of the Atlanta Braves, who by the way made the curious move to use Kolby Allard over Bryce Elder in the Sunday series finale.
Michael Kopech starts the opener of that series, and he's a no for me against the loaded Braves lineup, whereas Shane McClanahan gets a soft matchup in his return from the injured list on Sunday at Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium. The Tampa Bay Rays sure need to clean up during that series with a much tougher schedule to follow (@TEX-3, BAL-4, MIA-2, @HOU-3, @NYY-3, to take them into August), wouldn't you say?
Karabell: Indeed, I would say. Fantasy managers really need to pay attention to matchups, and there is no better way to do so than by checking out your Forecaster! One final weekend thought, and I am sure we will get to this in this space the next few weeks: The trade deadline approaches on Aug. 1. There will be moves. There may be moves before then, so pay attention to potential closer openings and prospect promotions. Because when you come to a fork in the road, take it.
Cockcroft: Ah, another former Yankees catcher quote -- Butch Wynegar, right?