The first full week of September baseball is upon us, with expanded rosters, playoff races and plenty of intriguing narratives to follow. However, it also means the stretch run for season-long players, and playoffs for those in head-to-head leagues. No matter your fantasy baseball game of choice, we've got a breakdown of Monday's full slate, including a loaded roster of pitching options.
The fact Max Scherzer has whiffed double-digit hitters a dozen times this season isn't too surprising considering he's sporting a. 11.3 K/9. What makes it impressive is the dominant righty didn't fan at least 10 until his eighth start of the season, meaning he's done it in 12 of his last 21 outings. Scherzer's first September effort comes at home against an Atlanta Braves squad that's middle of the pack in terms of runs scored since the All-Star break. Mad Max is easily the best option on the board; it's just a matter of paying the cost.
Instead of a treating Monday's start as a revenge game against his former team, Drew Pomeranz should thank everyone upon his return to Petco Park, seeing that he's gone from eating innings for a cellar dweller to being a key in the battle for the AL East crown. After allowing five runs in two of his first three outings with the Boston Red Sox, the lefty allowed two or fewer his next five starts before surrendering three last time out. Since being traded by the San Diego Padres, his former teammates are near the bottom of the league with respect to weighted on base average (wOBA) while striking out the most against southpaws, setting Pomeranz up for a huge effort.
Chris Sale has tossed at least eight frames in five of his last eight efforts, including the past three. Continuing the streak will be a challenge as the Chicago White Sox entertain the Detroit Tigers in the opener of a series at U.S. Cellular Field. For the past month, the visitors are hitting southpaws well as evidenced by a .351 wOBA in that scenario while fanning at a below average rate. If you're paying up for pitching, Sale is strictly a contrarian option based on game theory, since it's not backed by the numbers.
If the rumors are true, there were discussions about Zack Greinke returning to his former team this season, but instead he's facing them Monday as the Arizona Diamondbacks visit the Los Angeles Dodgers. The home team has been crushing right-handed pitching for the past month, sporting a league-best .385 wOBA over that span. On a holiday slate with some nice options, it's best not to risk using Greinke, who still isn't as sharp as he's been in previous campaigns.
While it's early to begin the Cy Young award debate, a strong September would definitely put Cole Hamels in the middle of the discussion. The Texas Rangers southpaw's only blemish is an elevated walk rate, which is something fantasy analysts care more about than those casting a ballot. Next up for Hamels is a date at Safeco Field with the Seattle Mariners. The hosts are dangerous, but many of their hitters will be at a platoon disadvantage, putting Hamels in play for DFS tournament action.
Speaking of under-the-radar Cy Young contenders, Kyle Hendricks is on pace to garner some secondary votes, as a 2.09 ERA are offset by his lower win and strikeout totals (which isn't a bad thing, since the voting should be about more than ERA -- and wins, for that matter). Hendricks usually profiles better for cash game play, but facing the Milwaukee Brewers and their 25 percent whiff rate against righties, the Chicago Cubs' right-hander is in play for GPP action as the clubs meet at Miller Park for an NL Central tilt.
In an effort to keep him fresh for the playoffs, the Dodgers gave Kenta Maeda an extra day's rest this time around, after giving him two extra days before his last start. Keep in mind the Japanese import was used to working on five days' rest along with enduring a far less taxing travel schedule when pitching in his home country. Maeda faces Greinke, which will make securing his sixth win in his last seven decisions a little tougher, but with pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium at his back, the steady righty is a cash game candidate.
Justin Verlander and the Tigers head to the Windy City for meeting with the Pale Hose and Sale. The White Sox check in as an average squad against righties. On another day, an argument could be made for Verlander, but on a loaded slate, there are options with higher upside and better potential value.
The same can be said for Felix Hernandez, as he draws the tough Rangers and Hamels, albeit in Safeco Field. Still, while it's good to be the King, a couple of aces beat that today.
An usually high half of the docket registers a game score above 53, which is the cut-off for pitchers safe to use in seasonal leagues without excess concern. There are three hurlers in the automatic avoid range, leaving only a dozen candidates falling in the streaming range. As always, those with less than a 50 percent ownership in ESPN leagues and in a good spot will be highlighted. If you have questions about anyone left out, I'll be happy to lend a hand on this Labor Day Monday if you post your question in the comments or fire a tweet to @ToddZola.
The Tampa Bay Rays' offense is a tough one to peg. Earlier in the season, they were weak against righties but crushed lefties. Lately that pattern has reversed. On paper, this puts Ubaldo Jimenez in a precarious spot, but since the Rays are a very impatient club, the Baltimore Orioles right-hander's control woes aren't as worrisome. There's some risk, but if you need an early week shot in the arm, using Jimenez is certainly defensible, especially since he'll likely receive some run support as his teammates bat against Matt Andriese.
A similar argument can be posed for Mike Fiers as the Houston Astros travel to face the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. The Tribe provide Fiers some strikeout upside and will send Mike Clevinger to the hill, meaning the visitors' bats should be productive.
Noted statistician Tom Tango says "but" should never follow "it's a small sample size." With that note, in four games against knuckleballers this season, the New York Yankees check in with a meek .210 wOBA and generous 25 percent strikeout rate. This makes R.A. Dickey a DFS option as well as a candidate to stream in seasonal formats as the Toronto Blue Jays open a set in the Bronx.
As implied above, three hurlers register a projected game score too low to risk, beginning with Raul Alcantara making his debut for the Oakland Athletics. Alcantara is likely to stick in the rotation for the final month. He's not particularly dominant, drawing the strikeout-stingy Los Angeles Angels in his inaugural effort. The Halos have hit righties well the second half and the A's defense is rather suspect, which doesn't bode well for a youngster likely to record only a couple of punch outs.
While there are some close calls, in the spirit of maintaining the aggressive approach preached for early in the week all season, only Mike Clevinger profiles as being too risky among the remaining options. The Indians' righty issues too many free passes, and the last thing you want to do is give the dangerous Astros free base runners.
Reverse splits for pitchers are much more predictive than for hitters. It's in that vein that the right-handed bats of the San Francisco Giants lead off our hitting section with a date against Chad Bettis at Coors Field. Hunter Pence and Buster Posey are the chief beneficiaries with Eduardo Nunez and switch-hitter Angel Pagan in play as well. There's nothing wrong with using lefties Denard Span, Joe Panik, Brandon Belt or Brandon Crawford, except that some others will unnecessarily gravitate towards them since they have the perceived platoon bump.
Edwin Jackson has been also been historically generous to hitters from either side of the plate, putting everyone from the visiting Red Sox and their league-leading offense in play. Expect Travis Shaw to get at least one start at first base in the series, with one going to David Ortiz and the other Hanley Ramirez as the San Diego Padres are scheduled to run three right-handers to the Petco Park hill in the series. So along with whoever is manning first base, the usual parade of Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts are in line for a big game. One other note, the Friars don't control the running game, so don't be afraid to use newcomer Yoan Moncada, as he's more than capable of taking advantage.
Not only is Monday Labor Day, apparently it's also platoon-agnostic day as the right-handed heavy Houston Astros set up nicely against righty offerings of Mike Clevinger. Pick and choose between the standard fare featuring George Springer, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Evan Gattis and Yulieski Gurriel.
The Athletics are coming off of a tough series, though they did escape with an exciting walk-off win Sunday that could spark them against Angels' right-hander Jered Weaver. Continuing the theme, 18 of the whopping 32 homers surrendered by the Halo's hurler have come from a right-handed swing. Thus, Danny Valencia, Khris Davis and Marcus Semien join lefty Stephen Vogt as solid options.
Most likely to go deep: After all that, it's only right we go with a righty-on-righty matchup, so let's give the nod to Brian Dozier as he's knocked 23 of his 33 homers off of righties. He'll face Ian Kennedy, who's conveniently allowed 14 of his 29 long balls to right-handed hitters.
Most likely to steal a base: Teased above, Moncada can run, as evidenced by 94 total pilfers in two years on the farm. He's in a great spot for his first in the bigs going against a Padres receiving corps that has trouble controlling the running game.