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'The Nine' for Week 20
The Oakland Athletics, who absorbed back-to-back poor hitting schedules, are now rewarded with one of the best hitting schedules in Week 20. As often stated, "best" and "worst" schedules are merely weekly matchup grades accounting for what an average major league team might do facing the scheduled opponents and starting pitchers, as the Athletics have stepped up impressively despite their Week 18-19 matchup challenges, winning five of eight games (entering play on Aug. 17) and averaging 4.1 runs per game during that time span. Imagine what this offense might now do with a seven-game schedule including three home games against a Texas Rangers pitching staff with a 5.99 ERA and 1.47 WHIP (both second worst in baseball) since the All-Star break and four at Minnesota's Target Field, while not facing a single scheduled starter with a greater-than-league-average projected game score (Jose Berrios being closest). The Athletics should face at least five right-handed starters -- six depending upon the Rangers' decision on Mike Minor's next start -- which doesn't hurt righty-hitting Khris Davis, Matt Chapman and Stephen Piscotty as much as you might think, and helps Jed Lowrie (.271/.358/.502 against righties this year) and Matt Olson (.238/.331/.486).
Anytime the Milwaukee Brewers play an entire week of home games, at their sneaky-elite hitters' park (Miller Park), they're bound for good hitting numbers. After all, they're 5.5 games better at home while averaging roughly one-fifth of a run more at home (4.52) than on the road (4.33). Even better: They're projected to face nothing but right-handed starters, and a good chunk of their lineup is lefty-matchup-driven. This team typically gets Mike Moustakas, Travis Shaw and Eric Thames (he's available in nearly 60 percent of ESPN leagues) into its lineup against the majority of righties, along with obviously Christian Yelich, and typically bats the quartet in the top six spots in the lineup. Start them all with confidence this week, but expect more of a timeshare approach with Jesus Aguilar, Orlando Arcia and Jonathan Schoop.
One of the hottest starting pitchers in baseball -- he's fourth at the position on our Player Rater's Last 30 split -- draws a two-start Week 20 schedule: Zack Wheeler faces the San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals at home. While the Nationals present a bit of a challenging matchup for him, Wheeler's Giants matchup draws a 59 Game Score projection that drives his must-start status, and he's available in roughly 25 percent of ESPN leagues.
As a result of their two-game interleague series to begin the week, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Angels are the lone teams with five-game schedules, in a week where 12 other teams play as many as seven times and an additional six play six home games. It's quite the disadvantage for the Angels, who lose their designated hitter in the series at Arizona's Chase Field and therefore one of their better offensive players in Shohei Ohtani (at least at the game's onset), not to mention might not start Ohtani in the Friday game against Houston Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel. Mike Trout (DL: wrist) should be back in time for Week 20 and warrants instant activation, but outside of him, limit your Angels exposure to Justin Upton and Kole Calhoun in shallow mixed.
Speaking of interleague implications, here are some others to consider: The Philadelphia Phillies, who gain the designated hitter during their three-game weekend trip to Toronto's Rogers Centre, finally have a place to play Justin Bour (available in nearly 75 percent of ESPN leagues), and be aware that he earned two of the past three starts (through Aug. 16) ahead of Carlos Santana at first base. Two of those three games in Toronto represent favorable matchups against righty starters for Bour. Nelson Cruz seems relegated to DH duty at this stage of his career, and his Seattle Mariners face Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton in two of their other three games in Week 20, so this is the one week all year where benching Cruz in a standard mixed league makes sense. The Chicago Cubs should spread around their two additional starts created by the DH spot in Detroit's Comerica Park, benefiting the lineup as a whole rather than anyone specific, as they face a righty and lefty starter. Losing the DH for two games at Miami's Marlins Park isn't too disadvantageous for the New York Yankees, as with Aaron Judge (DL: wrist) sidelined, Giancarlo Stanton should merely shift to right field ahead of the Neil Walker/Shane Robinson duo. The Rangers play three at San Francisco's AT&T Park to conclude the week, losing their DH, meaning the Robinson Chirinos/Isiah Kiner-Falefa catching duo and Shin-Soo Choo/Joey Gallo/Ronald Guzman/Nomar Mazara first base/left field/right field glut loses a slight amount of volume appeal.
The Atlanta Braves have quite the opportunity to create some space behind them in the National League East race, have high-grade matchups on both the pitching and hitting side and should bring additional energy to the table during a rematch with the Miami Marlins during a four-game, weekend series at Marlins Park. Jose Urena, who hit Ronald Acuna Jr. with the first pitch of their Aug. 15 game, is again scheduled to start against them on Saturday, though with Urena's appeal of his six-game suspension pending, the Braves could wind up facing a spot starter on that day. Either way, Chris Archer (on Monday) is the Braves' only "tough" projected matchup, two-start pitchers Kevin Gausman and Julio Teheran are effective musts with Marlins matchups on their schedules and four-fifths of the rotation ranks among my top 25 Week 20 starters. Johan Camargo (available in roughly two-thirds of ESPN leagues), a .260/.352/.414 hitter against right-handers this season, is a strong value pick.
The Chicago White Sox will promote top pitching prospect Michael Kopech from Triple-A Charlotte, where he had a 1.84 ERA in his past seven starts, on Tuesday. That'll align the hard-throwing right-hander for a probable two-start week -- White Sox manager Rick Renteria has said he will use a five- rather than six-man rotation, meaning Dylan Covey is probably bullpen-bound -- drawing above-average matchups against the Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers. Kopech's 33.9 percent strikeout and 2.3 percent walk rates during the aforementioned seven-start stretch make him look especially attractive as an add-and-start, even in shallow mixed. See if he's still out there in your league.
A few of Week 20's best righty/lefty matchup advantages come from the American League East, where the Baltimore Orioles' right-handed hitters grade a perfect "10," while the Toronto Blue Jays lefty bats receive the same high grade. That makes this a good week to have Mark Trumbo (available in roughly 70 percent of ESPN leagues) of the Orioles and Kendrys Morales (available in nearly 95 percent and a .257/.354/.448 hitter against right-handers this season) in your lineup.
Among other righty/lefty matchup advantages to consider in Week 20: Tyler Austin (available in more than 99 percent of ESPN leagues), a .246/.333/.544 hitter against left-handers this season, whose Twins are scheduled to face three lefty starters; Harrison Bader (available in more than three-quarters of ESPN leagues), a .325/.400/.554 hitter against left-handers this season, and Jedd Gyorko (available in more than 95 percent), a .324/.414/.581 hitter against lefties, whose St. Louis Cardinals are scheduled to face three lefty starters and will play three of six games at Colorado's Coors Field; Jurickson Profar (available in more than 20 percent), a .283/.364/.504 hitter against left-handers this season, whose Rangers are scheduled to face at least three lefty starters; Hunter Renfroe (available in nearly 85 percent), a .244/.333/.478 hitter against left-handers this season, whose San Diego Padres are scheduled to face five lefty starters and will play three of six games at Colorado's Coors Field.