Pitching is at the forefront of fantasy managers' minds this weekend, from those traded to new teams during the past week making their debuts in their new digs, to prominent names returning from the IL, to a scorching-hot duo drawing soft matchups:
Justin Verlander, who won the 2022 (and 2019) AL Cy Young Award while pitching for the Houston Astros, is back with the team and expected to start either Saturday or Sunday on the road against the New York Yankees, depending upon the timing of Jose Urquidy's scheduled return from the IL.
Nestor Cortes will rejoin the Yankees rotation to potentially go head-to-head with Verlander (if not Urquidy) on Saturday.
Corbin Burnes and Tyler Glasnow, the Nos. 1 and 2 pitchers in terms of fantasy points since the beginning of July, draw extremely favorable matchups on Saturday at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates and Sunday on the road against the Tigers, respectively.
And that overflowing list doesn't even include Thursday's new-team debuts of Michael Lorenzen with the Philadelphia Phillies at Miami's loanDepot Park and Jack Flaherty with the Baltimore Orioles at Toronto's Rogers Centre. As mentioned above, Scherzer, too, is debuting for his new team. Yes, it is quite a weekend of pitching headlines.
So which of these (or other) pitchers are our fantasy analysts, Tristan H. Cockcroft and Eric Karabell, most excited to be watching this weekend? Here are their thoughts on that, as well as other weekend storylines.
Cockcroft: For fantasy purposes, the most important of those pitching storylines for me are Fried, Civale, Cortes and Montgomery, probably in that order. The ones that rise to the top tend to be the injury returnees or the ones with some fantasy availability. Their value is up for debate, since those are the "actionable" pitchers.
Fried and Cortes had decent-to-good reports in their respective minor league rehabilitation assignments. I'd expect more from Fried, facing a Cubs offense much more susceptible to lefties than righties, especially as the Braves built up his pitch count better than the Yankees did for Cortes. Leave Cortes on your bench and evaluate him after he takes the mound against the Astros -- or better yet, keep him in your IL spot until you absolutely have to activate him.
Will Civale benefit from the "Rays magic" so many of us have hyped up in recent years (and are we too optimistic about the franchise overall)? His curveball has elite spin and he adds a "tough to square up" cutter, but the opposing Tigers actually hit both of those pitches quite well (relative to other pitch types). He's a definite start for me considering his strong year and the Tigers' weak-against-righties lineup. I consider this an important game to track from a future-scouting perspective. Will Civale change his pitch usage at all? Consider me "slightly leaning to yes" on both of these questions.
Karabell: I expect the left-handers (Fried, Cortes, Montgomery) to perform well, but Civale is a bit of a wild card because his current ERA (2.34) and FIP (3.54) tell vastly different stories, and his strikeout rate is well below average. Civale has feasted on AL Central hitters (or the division's lack thereof) this season, permitting just one earned run in 26 innings, but hey, he gets the Tigers and then his old mates in Cleveland, so fantasy managers should rely on him until things change.
A pitcher changing clubs that you did not mention is new Dodgers RHP Lance Lynn, scheduled to face the Padres and Seth Lugo on Sunday Night Baseball. Lynn's Dodger debut was promising, with only three runs over seven innings and seven whiffs, and I do think I would prefer Lynn to Civale for the final two months. Yeah, it seems ridiculous, since Lynn drags a 6.32 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP into the weekend, but look ahead, not back. Lynn ranks top 10 in baseball in strikeouts. He goes deep into games. Add Lynn.
Speaking of the Padres and the hitting side of things, I am mildly interested in their new DH platoon of recent acquisitions Ji Man Choi and Garrett Cooper. OK, so the Matt Carpenter/Nelson Cruz pairing flopped. Welcome to Choi and Cooper. I don't know what to expect from Dodgers rookie RHPs Bobby Miller and Emmet Sheehan.
Cockcroft: I'm with you on Lynn, seasonal ERAs be damned, in part because he's got that great rest-of-year Dodgers schedule helping him. Unless he's slotted into those September series against the Atlanta Braves (Labor Day weekend) or at Coors Field (final week), this would be his toughest remaining matchup.
A pair of "so-so since the break" teams have my eye this weekend, particularly on the hitting side. The Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies have played near-.500 baseball -- the former one game under, the latter one over -- as well as having scored at a below-average rate over that time, but both play home series with highly favorable matchups. The Reds host the Washington Nationals, fourth-worst in team ERA and ninth-worst in runs per game, while the Phillies host the Kansas City Royals, second-worst in runs per game and third-worst in ERA.
I wrote yesterday that the Reds have one of the toughest remaining schedules, so this is a critical time for them to pile up some wins and separate themselves in the NL Central standings, so yes, I would wait a few days on any prospective TJ Friedl or Spencer Steer sell-high offers.
Karabell: Yeah, the Phillies can be a tough watch, as it's not just Realmuto and Turner struggling. Nick Castellanos has been awful since the All-Star break. Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper aren't hitting for much power. Bryson Stott is the lone Phillie among the top 75 hitters on the 30-day Player Rater. Still, these fellows should hit. Nobody should drop Castellanos or Schwarber.
I'm wondering if more Reds hitters may hit fantasy free agency if they don't have a big weekend. Rookie Elly De La Cruz entered Thursday hitting just .169 over the last 21 days, with only one stolen base. Steer and Friedl struggled in July, too. Christian Encarnacion-Strand is on the most-dropped list, along with injured 2B Jonathan India. The Reds need to hit this weekend or fantasy managers may move on.
Meanwhile, the Cubs have a tough matchup with the Braves, and five of their hitters are among the 25 most-added in ESPN leagues. That is so interesting. Can Mike Tauchman keep hitting? Where will new 3B Jeimer Candelario settle in the lineup? And it sure looks like Christopher Morel has a shot at 30 home runs in perhaps fewer than 400 plate appearances.
Cockcroft: The Cubs have been the hottest team in the league since the All-Star break, their .684 winning percentage and 7.63 runs-per-game average on offense both tops in the game, so it makes sense. It's a big test, for sure, and the Forecaster projects the Braves as the heavy favorite and then slight favorite for the first two, and a pick 'em for the Sunday finale.
You're right in that it's a telling series for the Cubs, especially considering how soft their next three weeks' worth of matchups are -- @NYM-3, @TOR-3, CWS-2, KC-3, @DET-3, @PIT-4, although there are three days off sprinkled in there. Even if it's a "close but a series loss" result, I'd remain confident in the Cubs for the foreseeable future.
Finally, a bookkeeping note: The San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics play a two-game weekend series at the Oakland Coliseum, an awful park for offense, but neither team is scheduled to pitch a meaningful fantasy starter -- Alex Cobb is apparently being held back for the opener of their next series at the Los Angeles Angels. Especially if you play in an NFBC-style league where you can shuffle lineups on Fridays, you're going to want to avoid your Giants and Athletics due to this volume disadvantage.