Fantasy Forecaster: Key matchup factors for Sept. 26-Oct. 2

The Yankees are one of a handful of teams still competing hard for a playoff berth, and with seven games on the schedule for the final week. AP Photo/Steve Nesius

Fantasy Forecaster updated Monday, Sept. 26, at 10:09 a.m. ET.

On tap: This is it! One final week for all the beans, all the marbles, all the moolah. The 2016 Major League Baseball regular season -- and with it, the fantasy baseball season -- comes to a close in Week 25.

It is the week when fantasy-league champions are crowned, but it's also the week that the real-game playoff teams are decided. Playoff motivation is a key angle in the final week, as teams in tight races for October tickets tend to most freely play their regulars. Here are the teams that, entering play on Sept. 26, are within three games of a playoff spot (either haven't clinched and lead by no more than that, or trail by no more than that, in the standings): Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners, New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants.

Teams that have already clinched playoff positioning often shuffle rotations unexpectedly midway through the final week, or hold their top (and members of the playoff rotation) starters to limited pitch/inning counts. Brace for change on the pitching side, with the following prominent starting pitchers at greatest risk of being skipped or having a short start: Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks, Rich Hill, Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Kenta Maeda, Rick Porcello, Tanner Roark, Max Scherzer.

Among the week's schedule oddities: There is an unusually small number of day games in Week 25, eight in total through Saturday, Oct. 1, but then the entirety of the final-day schedule on Sunday, Oct. 2, is set to begin between 3:05 and 3:15 p.m. ET. That's by design; baseball wants to maximize playoff motivation within teams on that final day, and that's good for fantasy, because it means not having to make roster decisions early in the day, only to discover that your player is sitting out a late-afternoon game due to his team having clinched a playoff position in an earlier time block.

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ESPN leagues: Lineup deadlines

Games on Monday, Sept. 26 don't begin until 7:05 p.m. ET, so fantasy owners have additional time to set their final weekly matchups of the season.

Championship matchups, which are two-week matchups, in ESPN leagues conclude in Week 25. These matchups began on Monday, Sept. 19, and extend through the games of Sunday, Oct. 2. Note: Any tiebreaker games that Major League Baseball requires to decide playoff spots will not count in ESPN leagues; this means that any "Game 163s" (and 164s and so on) will be excluded from your league's scoring. This includes all ESPN leagues and not merely head-to-head and standard formats. If you play offsite, check your league's rule book as to how these games are handled.

Remember that game times have tremendous influence upon daily planning, so be aware of every day's first scheduled pitch. This week, they are:

Monday, Sept. 26: 7:05 p.m. ET (two games begin at that time)
Tuesday, Sept. 27: 7:05 p.m. ET (three games begin at that time)
Wednesday, Sept. 28: 2:10 p.m. ET (Seattle Mariners at Houston Astros, the day's only day game)
Thursday, Sept. 29: 1 p.m. ET (Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers on ESPN, one of two day games)
Friday, Sept. 30: 7:05 p.m. ET (three games begin at that time)
Saturday, Oct. 1: 4:05 p.m. ET (two of five day games begin at that time)
Sunday, Oct. 2: All games begin between 3:05 and 3:15 p.m. ET

Interleague impact

This week's interleague series:

Brewers' probable DH(s), 3 games in AL ballparks: Ryan Braun against left-handers and Chris Carter against right-handers, as that was the team's arrangement during the Aug. 19-21 series at Seattle. Jake Elmore will likely start in left field against lefties; Scooter Gennett will likely start at second base with Hernan Perez at first base against righties. Based on the Rangers' current rotation alignment, it seems most probable that the Brewers will face two lefties during their series at Texas' Globe Life Park, so Elmore could be a handy final-week plug-in for NL-only owners.

Tigers' traditional DH, 3 games in NL ballparks: Victor Martinez, who has 132 of the Tigers' 145 starts at DH in AL parks, but who also has five starts at first base this season, two of them during interleague play. It's unclear whether the team would use Martinez, who has been dealing with a knee problem recently, in the field, but the team's competitive state entering the final weekend might drive its decision. If they're still in contention, there's a good chance that Martinez will start all three games at first base, with Miguel Cabrera shifting to third base, and the chances of that are good enough that it's worth keeping Martinez in your lineup.

Projected starting pitchers

The chart below lists each of the 30 MLB teams' schedules and projected starting pitchers, and provides a projected Bill James Game Score for each day's starter.

Projected starting pitchers, Sept. 26-Oct. 2
P: The starting pitcher's projected Bill James game score, accounting for past history (three years' worth as well as past 21 days), opponent and ballpark. A 50 is typically deemed a "quality start" by this measure, while a 70 is considered a dominant start.

Pitching scuttlebutt

  • The Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland Athletics and San Diego Padres have been using and appear set to continue using six-man rotations through Week 25.

  • Baltimore Orioles: Kevin Gausman (intercostal) had his next start pushed back to Sept. 27, and it appears that he'll then be brought back on four days' rest for the Oct. 2 regular-season finale. The team could instead opt to slot Dylan Bundy in this week, depending upon its playoff fate.

  • Boston Red Sox: David Price has been moved up to Sept. 27 in order to keep him on regular rest, though that arrangement makes little sense from a postseason perspective, as if he makes his Oct. 2 start, he'd be on only three days' rest to pitch Division Series Game 1. His second start this week is highly likely to either be skipped or kept to an extremely limited pitch count.

  • New York Yankees: Masahiro Tanaka (forearm) will miss his scheduled Sept. 26 start, though he's tentatively expected to take his next turn on Oct. 1. Luis Severino will fill in on Sept. 26, in what's a likely "bullpen day."

  • Toronto Blue Jays: Though R.A. Dickey isn't currently scheduled to make a Week 25 start, the Blue Jays could slot him in if they choose to shuffle their rotation order in preparation for the playoffs.

  • Detroit Tigers: The Tigers' Sept. 30-Oct. 2 weekend rotation is unclear, with Jordan Zimmermann an unlisted candidate for a start (or two), though he's probably the least likely of the team's seven top options to pitch. Anibal Sanchez is the other starter not currently scheduled to pitch during Week 25.

  • Houston Astros: Dallas Keuchel (shoulder) and Lance McCullers (DL: elbow) are officially out for the regular season.

  • Oakland Athletics: Sonny Gray (DL: forearm) will rejoin the Athletics' rotation on Sept. 28, throwing an inning or two before being backed up by Ross Detwiler.

  • Texas Rangers: The Rangers have moved Derek Holland to the bullpen, though it's possible that they could change their minds during the Sept. 30-Oct. 2 weekend, in preparation for the playoffs.

  • Atlanta Braves: Mike Foltynewicz (calf) is expected to rejoin the Braves' rotation on Sept. 28. It appears that he will replace Ryan Weber, though the team could always remove someone else.

  • New York Mets: Steven Matz (DL: shoulder) experienced a setback and has been ruled out for the regular season. Noah Syndergaard (illness), who had his Sept. 24 start scratched, will rejoin the rotation on Sept. 27. That will keep Syndergaard on turn to pitch on Oct. 2, though if the Mets clinch a playoff spot before then, he'll likely be held back to pitch the wild-card game, with Gabriel Ynoa a candidate to fill in.

  • Philadelphia Phillies: Though Jake Thompson is currently listed by the Phillies as their Oct. 1 scheduled starter, all indications are that he'll skip that start. Expect a "bullpen day" arrangement in his place.

  • Washington Nationals: Though Max Scherzer is currently aligned to start the Oct. 2 finale, it seems highly unlikely that the team would use its playoff ace on that day. Lucas Giolito or Reynaldo Lopez are available for spot starts.

  • Chicago Cubs: The Cubs have already begun to align their playoff rotation, beginning with pushing Kyle Hendricks back from Sept. 24 to 26, then going with a "bullpen day" led by Rob Zastryzny on Sept. 29 in order to afford them the opportunity to reset their order to what's listed above.

  • Pittsburgh Pirates: Tyler Glasnow has replaced Steven Brault in the Pirates' rotation for the remainder of the season.

  • St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals have moved Luke Weaver to the bullpen, and will start Jaime Garcia in his place beginning on Sept. 26, with Adam Wainwright moving back a day to Sept. 27.

  • Colorado Rockies: The Rockies have shut Jorge de la Rosa down for the season in order to give German Marquez an additional start this season.

  • Arizona Diamondbacks: Zack Greinke (shoulder) has been shut down for the season, leaving the Diamondbacks in need of a fill-in on Sept. 27 and also Oct. 2. Zack Godley is the leading candidate, as both Patrick Corbin and Matt Koch have recently been used in relief.

  • Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers have announced only their Sept. 27-28 starters, though they've also indicated that Clayton Kershaw and Brett Anderson will make Week 25 starts. It's unclear when or if Rich Hill, Scott Kazmir Brandon McCarthy will slot into their rotation.

  • San Diego Padres: Jarred Cosart (elbow), who left his Sept. 24 start due to injury, is questionable to make his next scheduled start on Oct. 1. The Padres can revert to a five-man rotation to replace him, in which case Paul Clemens would pick up a second start.

  • San Francisco Giants: Johnny Cueto (groin) is likely unavailable before Sept. 28, but he could slot into the Giants' rotation anytime during Week 25, pushing the other starters back.

Tristan's Week 25 pitcher rankings

Hitting ratings

The chart below lists each of the 30 teams' total number of scheduled games, home games and games versus right- and left-handed pitchers, and provides a matchup rating for the week's games in terms of overall offense, offense for left- and right-handed hitters and base stealing. Matchup ratings for each individual game are listed under the corresponding date.

Hitting matchup chart, Sept. 26-Oct. 2
H: Hitters' matchup rating, which accounts for the opposing starting pitcher's past history (three years' worth as well as past 21 days) as well as ballpark factors.
L: Hitters' matchup rating accounting only for left-handed hitters.
R: Hitters' matchup rating accounting for only right-handed hitters.
S: Base stealing matchup rating, which accounts for the opponent's catchers' ability to gun down opposing base stealers.
Ratings range from 1-10, with 10 representing the best possible matchup, statistically speaking, and 1 representing the worst.

Hitting advantages

Here are this week's "volume plays," defined as the teams that play the most home games, or games against right- or left-handed starters:

  • Versus LH: New York Yankees 4, Minnesota Twins 4, Tampa Bay Rays 3, Chicago White Sox 3, Washington Nationals 3, Milwaukee Brewers 3, Los Angeles Dodgers 3. Seven teams face two left-handed starters.

  • Versus RH: Detroit Tigers 7, Chicago Cubs 7, St. Louis Cardinals 7, Cleveland Indians 6, Kansas City Royals 6, Oakland Athletics 6, Seattle Mariners 6, Miami Marlins 6, Philadelphia Phillies 6. Nine teams face five right-handed starters.

You couldn't ask for a much more favorable schedule than the one Brewers hitters face in Week 25. They'll play three games apiece at Texas' Globe Life Park and Colorado's Coors Field, two extreme hitters' parks, and they'll do so against a Rangers staff that's primarily interested in aligning its rotation for the postseason plus has a 4.47 second-half ERA (25th), and a Rockies staff that has a 4.66 second-half ERA (27th). That the Brewers are also extremely likely to face exactly three left-handed starters -- probably two during the Rangers and one during the Rockies series -- also helps, as they have baseball's second-best team wOBA against lefties since the All-Star break (.367), that wOBA 50 points higher than against righties.

Two widely available lefty mashers stand out: Domingo Santana, owned in only 11.0 percent of ESPN leagues, is a .318/.423/.576 hitter (.435 wOBA) in 78 plate appearances against lefties this season, while Orlando Arcia, owned in 4.9 percent, is a .324/.444/.514 hitter (.422) in 45 PAs. Ryan Braun, Chris Carter, Jonathan Villar and Hernan Perez should all also find places in your lineup.

If the Mariners are to sneak into one of the AL's two wild-card spots, it's more likely that it'll be their hitting rather than their pitching that carried them there, at least judging by their Week 25 schedule. They'll face both the Astros and Athletics, who have 4.37 and 4.56 team ERAs in the month of September, with the first three of those played at Houston's Minute Maid Park, a more favorable hitters' environment than their home ballpark. It'll also help that the Mariners, a lefty-heavy roster that typically starts six or seven left-handed hitters in games against right-handed starters, are scheduled to face six righty starters (perhaps seven depending upon Sonny Gray's status).

Four of these lefty hitters are available in the vast majority of ESPN leagues: Norichika Aoki, owned in only 5.5 percent of ESPN leagues, is a .347/.396/.571 hitter against righties in the past month; Seth Smith, owned in 5.3 percent, is a .269/.356/.615 hitter in that same split; Adam Lind, owned in 1.7 percent, is a .257/.381/.486 hitter; and Leonys Martin, owned in 10.0 percent, is a .283/.313/.400 hitter.