It's make-or-break time for a pair of struggling wild-card hopefuls that have struggled since the trade deadline.
The Los Angeles Angels, who lost seven straight following their going "all in" at the deadline, take a two-game winning streak into a critical weekend series at the Houston Astros, who are 8 1/2 games up on them in the AL wild-card standings. The Angels, incidentally, need to make up seven games on the final wild-card spot.
Meanwhile, the Arizona Diamondbacks, who have lost eight consecutive games, play a three-game home series against the San Diego Padres, a team that now resides only two games behind them in the NL's wild-card standings. The Diamondbacks need to make up 2 1/2 games on the final wild-card spot, but they could drop behind the Padres in the standings should they get swept. In that event, the Padres could re-establish themselves as bona fide playoff contenders.
There's plenty more going on in the baseball world heading into this weekend, but what's the scoop for fantasy managers? Our analysts, Tristan H. Cockcroft and Eric Karabell, are here to dish out all the lineup advice you need.
Cockcroft: It's not just the Angels and Diamondbacks who are in make-or-break territory. The Cincinnati Reds are 1-8 since the deadline and, other than Graham Ashcraft, who isn't lined up for this weekend, their pitching is getting slaughtered. They have a 8.58 team ERA in August excluding his contributions, and rank last in baseball even with his stats.
Their three-game road series against the Pittsburgh Pirates represents one of the few soft spots remaining on their schedule, certainly so on the pitching side, so these are big matchups for rookies Andrew Abbott (Friday) and Brandon Williamson (Saturday). The former seems like he might be running out of steam, so while I'm OK with Abbott for the Friday assignment, a so-so outing would "land him in Cutsville."
A potential highlight of that series, though, is Jonathan India's expected return. The Reds offense has been decent even through their slump, but he again clutters the infield. Who sits? Elly De La Cruz, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Matt McLain, Spencer Steer and Joey Votto have all played fine recently, and while placing Steer in left could fix that conundrum, the need to constantly check their lineups is frustrating.
Karabell: Weekend? Sorry, but all I can think about is Michael Lorenzen throwing a no-hitter and the Phillies securing relative safety in the wild-card race. ... Yeah, the Reds have a lot of players and the Diamondbacks and Padres have a big series and um what were we talking about? ... Lorenzen! Weston Wilson! They're awesome!
OK, I agree the Reds have joined the Diamondbacks are both in a relative free fall, but I look at these teams differently.
With the Reds, they can't pitch -- and we knew that a month ago. Seems like a wise time to invest in hitters facing their pitching, but can we find value on the Pirates? Rookie Henry Davis isn't doing much. Neither is Andrew McCutchen. It should be an interesting weekend and let's not ignore Pirates RHP Johan Oviedo, who has won three consecutive starts and permitted two earned runs in them. He is the No. 6 starter on the 30-day Player Rater, yet available in 80% of ESPN standard leagues.
With the Diamondbacks, they have a big disadvantage Friday night facing Padres LHP Blake Snell, and a big advantage Saturday with fellow Cy Young candidate Zac Gallen hurling. Sunday? It's rookie Brandon Pfaadt and his 7.16 ERA in 10 starts. He hasn't been so bad lately, though, and he may be one of the better Sunday streamer options in weekly formats. Next year, perhaps he is a top-50 starter.
Cockcroft: Fun fact No. 1: I've always wanted to throw a no-hitter too. ... Fun fact No. 2: Coffee works great for your no-hitter hangover. ... Fun fact No. 3: Oviedo was the final cut from my Wednesday column, so I'm with you on him being quite interesting down the stretch. After this start, he'll get @NYM, STL, CHC, @STL for his next four turns, so it's quite a favorable schedule ahead.
Another pitching staff I'm closely monitoring is that of the Tampa Bay Rays, primarily because their only four healthy starters are aligned from Thursday through Sunday, Zack Littell, Aaron Civale, Tyler Glasnow and Zach Eflin, all in home games facing favorable matchups (Littell faces the St. Louis Cardinals and the others get the Cleveland Guardians).
Glasnow hasn't pitched in 10 days due to a back issue, has had his turn pushed back twice, and is one of the most critical pitchers to watch this weekend for me. The Rays rotation has been decimated by injuries and can't afford to lose its current ace, but would the team push him if he's at noticeably less than 100%?
Fortunately, all of their other scheduled starters are doing fine of late and all of them make for worthwhile fantasy starts. Littell made my Wednesday cut as an "also under consideration," if only because he's more pitch-to-contact than the five pitchers I did profile, but I very much have my eye on Glasnow's outing.
Karabell: The Rays promoted young infielder Curtis Mead last week, but they haven't let him do much so far. That might continue this weekend as the Guardians throw right-handed pitchers at them.
We await other top hitting prospects that could soon get the call, including Red Sox OF Ceddanne Rafaela, who led my Thursday column. This may be new to fantasy managers, but organizations can start calling up hitting prospects as long as they keep them below 130 PA, the threshold for rookie eligibility for next season. It's all about money and control and nobody should be surprised. Anyway, we could see Rafaela soon.
We will see the Athletics promote OF Lawrence Butler, after he hit 15 home runs and stole 23 bases across two minor league levels this season, and the Rangers are giving OF J.P. Martinez a chance. Martinez hit .312 at Triple-A Round Rock with 12 home runs and 33 stolen bases. He's 27. I don't know if he will help fantasy managers, but he's new, and we all love watching the new players. Perhaps a star or relevant fantasy option emerges here.
Cockcroft: The Atlanta Braves and New York Mets play a doubleheader at Citi Field on Saturday, making up for their April 29 postponement, so naturally the teams gain a volume advantage on the hitting side. The Braves might feast on what remains of the Mets rotation, and the Forecaster grades Atlanta's right-handed bats tops in the league accordingly.
The next-best grade, surprisingly, belongs to the very team your Lorenzen just no-hit: The Washington Nationals! They host the awful Oakland Athletics pitching staff, which means better things should be ahead for CJ Abrams, Joey Meneses and Lane Thomas, each of whom has been performing recently - and Thomas for the entire year - as a relevant standard-league fantasy hitter.
The opposing Athletics hitters grade "9" from both sides, which props up rookie Zack Gelof as a fantasy starter for the weekend; Toronto Blue Jays lefties grade a "9," which is good news for No. 2-against-righties Brandon Belt; and Los Angeles Dodgers lefties grade an "8," which means resurgent rookie James Outman belongs back in every fantasy lineup.
Karabell: One final thought for me entering the weekend is about Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano, on the mend from lower back spasms and eligible to return to active duty on Sunday. Expect the Jays to bring him back to closing right away. Romano is worth activating in fantasy right away, too. For those searching for available saves, Nationals RHP Kyle Finnegan and Cubs RHP Adbert Alzolay certainly stand out, and Mariners RHPs Andres Munoz and Matt Brash may be forming the best 1-2 punch in the league.