Oh, to be a kid again.
The MLB Little League Classic takes place on Sunday, this season's game involving the Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals, with the latter being declared the contest's "home" team. An exciting event for kids and adults alike, past Classics haven't been nearly as high-scoring as one might expect in a non-standard ballpark. In fact, the last five games have seen a combined average of 7.6 runs, barely what the over/under would be for one of the more pitching-angled games on any given day's slate.
However, the true highlight of that series might instead occur Friday at Nationals Park, when Philadelphia's Michael Lorenzen makes his first start since his no-hitter against these very same Nationals, pitching this contest on eight days' rest after he threw 124 pitches in that masterpiece. He has been excellent on extra rest this season, with a 2.68 ERA in seven starts made after waiting at least six days. Can he deliver another gem?
It's not all the Phillies and Nationals this coming weekend, though, as there's plenty of critical baseball on tap! Our analysts, Tristan H. Cockcroft and Eric Karabell, have the scoop on all that you need to know for fantasy baseball.
Cockcroft: I love the Little League Classic, but then I love specialty games played in unusual ballparks - and not just because it means getting to project Forecaster park factors for a venue we've rarely or never seen before. Muncy Bank Ballpark might be a near-neutral environment, but we should see a lot of Phillies home runs this weekend, against a "most generous to power hitters" Nationals pitching staff. In the Classic specifically, Lane Thomas and Stone Garrett could have some fun against susceptible-to-righty-power Ranger Suarez. Hey, at least the kids and coaches that are present on Sunday will appreciate Kyle Schwarber's penchant for walks more than my Little League coaches did mine.
Sunday is also an important day in a city 500 miles southwest, as the Cincinnati Reds welcome Hunter Greene back into their rotation for a home start against the Toronto Blue Jays. First starts back after a lengthy absence - it will have been 64 days, to be exact, for Greene - are notoriously difficult to gauge, especially given the uncertainty surrounding pitch counts. Still, Greene was masterful in his final rehab start for Triple-A Louisville on Tuesday, throwing 5 2/3 innings of one-run (unearned), nine-strikeout baseball while tallying 83 pitches. I'm lukewarm on him as a standard-league recommendation for Sunday specifically, but it is a must-watch outing, examining the performance of his fastball (will it maintain its 99 mph average velocity?) and slider (is it still generating the seven-or-so swings and misses he averages with it per game?).
Karabell: Indeed, I love everything about the Little League World Series, especially watching 12-year-olds who are taller than me and weigh more than me hit baseballs farther than I ever could. Their unbridled enthusiasm and care-free attitude is exhilarating as well, and they seem to enjoy the stage with so many eyes on them. Their parents just seem tense and worried. The kids are just playing baseball. Some will succeed. Some will make mistakes. I love the interaction between the players and the MLB players, too. Baseball should be fun. We could all learn much from them.
It should be fun watching Greene pitch and boy do the Reds need him. The wild-card races remain hotly contested among so many flawed, but dangerous teams, and there are myriad weekend matchups between teams with more wins than losses (Blue Jays-Reds, Giants-Braves, Brewers-Rangers, Mariners-Astros, Marlins-Dodgers). Still, I cannot help but watch the San Diego Padres. This talented group cannot underachieve for all six months. They will have the pitching advantage over the sputtering Arizona Diamondbacks all weekend long, including underrated Michael Wacha on Sunday. Invest in the Padres. A run of wins is pending.
Cockcroft: I'm with you on the Padres, and maybe their back-to-back wins against the Baltimore Orioles will jump-start a hot streak. The Padres desperately need wins -- not that the Diamondbacks don't, as this series is critical to both teams -- as 19 of their next 22 games after this series come against teams that are either currently standing in or tied for playoff spots. The Padres have five players in the top 100 of the Player Rater's last 30 split -- and that group excludes the awfully good Yu Darvish, Josh Hader and Manny Machado, so I'm also loading up in the hopes they have a huge weekend.
I can't say the same for my New York Yankees, who host a three-game series against the Boston Red Sox, in what's perhaps the lowest-enthusiasm August Yankees-Red Sox series we've seen in decades. To do that same Player Rater comparison, guess how many Yankees place among the top 100 for the last 30 days? That's right. It's zero and their highest-placing player is Michael King, currently being stretched out to possibly start for the team in September.
There's more reason to lean on your Red Sox for this series, especially with the team's rotation strengthening with the recent return of Chris Sale and impending return of Tanner Houck (scheduled for Monday). Yes, I am once again suggesting that Sale, Brayan Bello and Nick Pivetta (Sunday's starter) need to be in your lineups against this overrated offense.
Karabell: Well, everyone knows I am always on board with recommendations for Mr. Pivetta, so bring 'em on! Fantasy managers must consider him, along with so many other readily available starting pitchers for this weekend. Royals RHP Brady Singer is fourth among starters in fantasy points over the past month. He faces the Cubs on Saturday. Guardians RHP Tanner Bibee hosts the Tigers, also on Saturday. Bibee has outscored Gerrit Cole and Blake Snell -- the ERA leaders -- over the last 30 days. Angels RHP Chase Silseth hosts the vulnerable Rays on Saturday. It sure seems like Saturday is a good day for streamers!
This weekend also features several starting pitchers one might not consider as having positive matchups. Fantasy managers should pay close attention to matchups, and the Oakland Athletics cannot hit. Even someone like Kyle Gibson, who took the proverbial "one for the team" in his most recent outing, is worth it in Oakland on Friday night, as is Kyle Bradish on Sunday. Guardians LHP Logan Allen faces the Tigers after Gavin Williams and Bibee. Dodgers RHP Bobby Miller looked terrific versus the Brewers on Tuesday, and he should handle Miami on Sunday afternoon. Gotta love the youngsters!
Cockcroft: Howe about some last-minute bullet points to wrap up the preview, huh?
Those Cleveland Guardians starters are all available in at least 47% of ESPN leagues. What are you waiting for ... football? Hey, those creative last-place punishments apply to baseball, too!
The hitting matchups weigh, too. Those Orioles should feast upon the Athletics pitching staff (worst ERA in baseball) which might be starting Brian Kingman for all we know. (Kingman only fits one team combination for Immaculate Grid, by the way, unless they add a 20-loss category!) Two lefties in the projected rotation means Ryan Mountcastle and Austin Hays are both worth your while.
That oh-so-fun Chicago Cubs offense gets three home games against the woeful Kansas City Royals. I don't care about their hitting ups and downs, Jeimer Candelario and Christopher Morel will be in all of my lineups for this favorable series.
We buried the lede: The Chicago White Sox travel to Colorado's Coors Field! OK, so their offense seems to be Luis Robert Jr. and little else, but Elvis Andrus, who has started 11 games in a row -- four of them at leadoff, where he .364 with three stolen bases -- is worth a pickup. On the Colorado Rockies' side, Nolan Jones is 93% available and gets to face three right-handed starters.
Finally, the Minnesota Twins play three home games against a Pittsburgh Pirates staff that has just four quality starts in its last 29 games -- four!. It's another series of three projected right-handed starters, which is fantastic news for second base platoon man Edouard Julien, a .310/.415/.540 hitter against righties. It's also a plus for similarly widely available lefty bats Joey Gallo and Max Kepler.