The Fantasy Baseball Forecaster has been updated as of Sunday, Sept. 24, at 11:30 p.m. ET.
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On tap: This is it! It's the final week of the 2017 major league baseball regular season, and with it, the fantasy baseball season. The week begins early, with a makeup game between the Kansas City Royals and New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium, a rescheduling of their May 25 postponement, beginning at 1 p.m. ET. Be sure to get your lineups in on time, as there's also a 4:10 p.m. ET game between the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets at Citi Field, part of a doubleheader with one game being a rescheduling of their April 25 postponement.
Week 25 ends with the traditional final Sunday free-for-all, with all 15 games having scheduled start times within 15 minutes of one another, ranging from 3:05 p.m. ET (six games) to 3:20 p.m. ET (Cincinnati Reds at Chicago Cubs).
Playoff clinching scenarios will increasingly influence rotation decisions, especially during the season's final weekend. In order of lowest magic number -- either for a playoff berth or specific seeding -- here is where teams currently stand:
Yankees: magic number of 2 to clinch home-field advantage in the American League wild-card game
Cubs: 2 to clinch the NL Central title
Los Angeles Dodgers: 3 to clinch home-field advantage during the Division and Championship Series and 6 for home-field advantage during the World Series
Boston Red Sox: 3 to clinch the AL East title
Minnesota Twins: 3 to clinch the AL's second wild card
Houston Astros: 4 to clinch the AL's No. 2 seed and home-field advantage in the Division Series
Colorado Rockies: 5 to clinch the NL's second wild card
Cleveland Indians: 6 to clinch the AL's No. 1 seed and home-field advantage in the Division and Championship Series
The Washington Nationals are already locked into the NL's No. 2 seed, and the Arizona Diamondbacks are already locked into the NL's top wild-card spot.
ESPN is currently scheduled to broadcast three games during Week 25, but keep in mind that an additional two games with playoff implications were added during Week 24, so that could again be the case for the final week. ESPN will broadcast a Wednesday triple-header: Astros at Texas Rangers at 2 p.m. ET, Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals at 7 p.m. ET, and San Diego Padres at Dodgers at 10 p.m. ET.
Let's start with a reminder that this week concludes championship matchups in ESPN standard head-to-head leagues, the second of two weeks of competition in such matchups (if you have not adjusted the settings in your custom league). Tiebreaker games required on Monday, Oct. 2 (or later) that count as "regular-season" games will not count in ESPN leagues, regardless of whether yours is a standard or custom league.
Motivation -- i.e. games that matter -- has more influence on Week 25 planning than in any previous week. Wherever possible, you'll want players from teams still fighting for playoff spots, especially those playing teams whose playoff fates have already been decided (no motivation on their side). Entering Week 25, here are my rankings of the 10 teams most likely to play the largest volume of "motivated" games, while also accounting for their matchups -- addressing both the pitching and hitting sides: Los Angeles Angels (@CWS-4, SEA-3), Rockies (MIA-3, LAD-3), Milwaukee Brewers (CIN-3, @STL-3), Cardinals (CHC-4, MIL-3), Twins (@CLE-3, DET-3), Rangers (HOU-3, OAK-4), Yankees (KC-1, TB-3, TOR-3), Cubs (@STL-4, CIN-3), Royals (@NYY-1, DET-3, ARI-3), Diamondbacks (SF-3, @KC-3).
As mentioned in last week's Forecaster, rotations are as fluid in the regular season's final week as they'll be in any other and, in fact, they're almost always the most so in this concluding week. It's a dangerous game to rely upon two-start pitchers in Week 25, but at the same time, it's worth pointing out that in 2016, there were 34 two-start pitchers in the final week. Shortened outings -- especially in the final weekend -- are often the greater risk for two-start pitchers, as only 23 of those 34 pitchers threw at least 10 innings in the final week and only 15 of the 34 were allowed to throw 90 or more pitches in their second outings. Among the projected two-start pitchers, here are the "start-worthy" ones I'm most confident in from a purely volume perspective, in alphabetical order: Jake Arrieta, Johnny Cueto, Zach Davies, Cole Hamels, Carlos Martinez and Drew Pomeranz.
Conversely, I'm least confident from a purely volume perspective in Yu Darvish, Chris Sale and Luis Severino, all of whom could have their Sept. 29-Oct. 1 weekend outings skipped in order to align them for wild-card games or to grant them additional rest before the postseason. Also, Blake Snell and Luke Weaver are young arms who could have their final turns skipped if/when their teams are eliminated in order to keep their innings totals in check.
The computer's hitting grade for the Rockies is about as poor as one could ask for in a week played entirely at Coors Field, and it's mostly because they have a chance at drawing Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish as opposing starters during the week-ending series. Still, the Rockies have one of the most outstanding recent histories when playing September baseball, boasting a 44-35 record at Coors from Sept. 1 forward since the beginning of 2012. This is despite the fact that the team is a whopping 105 games under .500 during that nearly six-year stretch overall, and the team's .387 wOBA during that time span (backed by .322/.372/.518 offensive rates) is by far the best in baseball. With the prospect of as many as three left-handed starters facing the Rockies this week, Trevor Story, a .301/.381/.683 hitter against lefties and .245/.302/.460 at home this season, stands out. Start all of your Rockies hitters in Week 25, of course.
The Angels' schedule grades out as Week 25's best, which is one of the reasons the AL wild card might be in play right up until the season's final pitch. Four games at Chicago's Guaranteed Rate Field boosts the team from a ballpark-factor perspective, and a visit from the Seattle Mariners during the season-ending series send in a team that has had to rely on relief pitching as much as any other staff in the past two weeks, tilting things again in the Angels' favor. It's a shame Los Angeles lacks many trustworthy left-handed bats -- Kole Calhoun and Luis Valbuena have performed beneath expectations -- as the Angels could face as many as seven right-handed starters. Still, their Nos. 1-2-3 hitters, Brandon Phillips (.330 wOBA), Mike Trout (.472) and Justin Upton (.366) rank 1-2-5 on the team in terms of wOBA against right-handers this season (counting stats from previous teams), and No. 6 hitter Andrelton Simmons is a .292/.330/.447 hitter against righties.
The Orioles have the misfortune of Week 25's only short week of five games, and two of them will be played in an NL venue, Pittsburgh's PNC Park, where the team won't have the luxury of the designated hitter. The team was eliminated from postseason contention on Saturday, has shut down Dylan Bundy for the season, and couldn't get a less favorable hitting schedule, considering their final three will be played in an extreme pitchers' park, Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field. The only Orioles definitely worth keeping active are Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Jonathan Schoop and Trey Mancini.
The Royals' hitting schedule could grant them a chance at an AL wild card, considering they'll play three games against the worst pitching staff in baseball (Detroit Tigers), then three at home against a Diamondbacks team that will almost assuredly already be locked into the NL's No. 1 wild-card seed and doesn't have either Zack Greinke or Robbie Ray aligned for that series. Besides your obvious Royals, Brandon Moss, available in 92.6 percent of ESPN leagues and a .523 slugger in his past 38 games, is a worthwhile plug-in in larger mixed and AL-only leagues, especially with the possibility that the team could face as many as five right-handed starters.
Justin Bour is a .359/.438/.590 hitter in 11 games since his activation from the disabled list. He has started each of the team's past 10 games and he's available in 62.5 percent of ESPN leagues. His Miami Marlins play three games at Colorado's Coors Field to begin the week, then face a Braves staff that has a 5.08 September ERA to conclude their year. Make sure you get Bour back into your lineup for the final week of action.