Fantasy Forecaster: Week 1

Forecaster updated Friday, March 28 at 3:50 p.m.

On tap: Play ball!

The 2014 Major League Baseball season resumes on Sunday, March 30, as the Los Angeles Dodgers visit the San Diego Padres on Sunday Night Baseball. Unlike in the Australian opener, however, Clayton Kershaw won't make an appearance (due to a back injury). The No. 5 pick overall on average this preseason, Kershaw's status is entirely unknown for Week 1 of the fantasy season.

He's not the only fantasy ace on the shelf: The consensus No. 2 starting pitcher in the ranks, and No. 17 pick overall on average, Yu Darvish is known to be sidelined for the entirety of Week 1 due to a neck injury. Darvish's absence severely diminishes the quality of the Texas Rangers' bullpen; in his place the team will use two converted relievers (Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross), a starter with a 4.30 career ERA (Joe Saunders), another with a 6.23 spring ERA (Martin Perez) and a rookie who has only four professional starts above Class A ball (Nick Martinez).

All told, six members of the top 30 starting pitchers selected on average this preseason are either in jeopardy of being or have already been ruled out for Week 1: Mat Latos (No. 21 starter picked), Mike Minor (22), Doug Fister (26) and Hisashi Iwakuma (30) are all highly doubtful to pitch. That makes this season-opening week one of the more challenging ones from a pitching standpoint.

Quick click by section, if you're seeking advice in a specific area:
ESPN lineup deadlines | Interleague impact | Projected starting pitchers
Pitching scuttlebutt | Week 1 pitcher rankings | Pitching advantages
Hitting ratings | Hitting advantages

ESPN leagues: Lineup deadlines

Lineups in ESPN leagues with weekly transactions will remain locked through the conclusion of fantasy's Week 1, which ends with the San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Dodgers game on Sunday Night Baseball on April 6. For those leagues that have not yet drafted, lineups will lock with the drafted starting lineups, those earning statistics from the two March 22 games in Australia retroactively. In other words, if you draft Matt Kemp as your starting outfielder in a Saturday, March 29, draft, he will remain in that spot through Sunday, April 6, even though he is on the disabled list to begin the season.

In order to ensure that your lineup locks the way you want it mid-draft within the draft room, when selecting a player, use the "Choose Slot" option beneath the "Draft Player" button to place him into any empty slot, as illustrated to the right.

ESPN leagues with daily transactions will lock with the first pitch of each player's scheduled game each day. This means that Dodgers and Padres will lock at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, for example. Be aware that in the season's opening week, there are more day games than usual. "Opening Day" -- Monday, March 31 -- has nine day games, the first one the Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates at 1 p.m. ET. Tuesday is the only day all week in which there isn't a single day game (meaning a game with a 1:08 p.m. ET start time or earlier): The first game of that night is at 6:40 p.m. ET (Dodgers at Padres).

Interleague impact

This week's interleague series:
Philadelphia Phillies at Texas Rangers (three games; Monday-Wednesday)
Milwaukee Brewers at Boston Red Sox (three games; Friday-Sunday)

Thankfully, fantasy owners won't have to suffer the effects of American League teams visiting National League parks and losing their designated hitter during Week 1; it's only NL squads visiting AL venues and gaining a DH. This means that both the Phillies and Brewers will pick up a DH and the resulting 12 (or so) plate appearances that come with it.

With news that Darin Ruf will miss 4-6 weeks with an oblique strain and that the Phillies released Bobby Abreu and Kevin Frandsen, the team's DH choices have been whittled down to effectively their extra outfielders, John Mayberry Jr. and Tony Gwynn Jr. (with either potentially playing the field and shifting a starter into the actual DH spot). Mayberry stands to benefit the most -- that the Rangers will start two left-handers helps his cause -- but even with the added plate appearances he'd be only a fringe starter in NL-only leagues.

As for the Brewers, the DH grants them an opportunity to play both of their first basemen, Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds, or both of their second basemen, Scooter Gennett and Rickie Weeks, or it could result in Ryan Braun shifting to DH to clear up the occasional outfield start for Logan Schafer. As with the Phillies, there might not be any advantage to be gained outside of NL-only leagues.

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. Pitchers scheduled to start at least twice this week are in gold/beige boxes.

Pitching scuttlebutt

• The Baltimore Orioles plan to start Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris in two of their three weekend games in Detroit, but had not officially announced which games they'd start.
• The Seattle Mariners hadn't officially named their Nos. 3-5 starters, but James Paxton and Roenis Elias were the leading candidates for the first two spots in that order, while Blake Beavan or Hector Noesi might take the open Friday start.
• The Atlanta Braves haven't yet decided upon their fourth starter, with either David Hale or Gus Schlosser assuming that spot on Friday.
• With Jake Arrieta (shoulder) out for Week 1, the Chicago Cubs will decide between Chris Rusin or Carlos Villanueva for a start either Saturday or Sunday.
• Mat Latos (knee) will miss Week 1, forcing the Cincinnati Reds to give a start to Alfredo Simon on April 6, the first time they'll need a fifth starter.
• The Colorado Rockies have not yet decided between Franklin Morales or Jordan Lyles as their fifth starter, with Morales the leading candidate to assume that Friday slot.
• The injury to Clayton Kershaw thrusts the Los Angeles Dodgers' rotation into question; Zack Greinke, who starts Tuesday, is the only one locked in. Hyun-Jin Ryu (toenail) is tentatively set for Sunday, March 30, but Dan Haren would move up if needed. Kershaw might be ready to pitch by Thursday.
• The Miami Marlins haven't officially announced the winner of their fifth-starter battle, but Tom Koehler is likely to earn it -- and a resulting Friday start -- over Brad Hand.
Jonathon Niese (elbow) is tentatively set to make his first start for the New York Mets on Sunday, leaving Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jenrry Mejia to battle for the remaining Friday vacancy. The loser of that competition would presumably take Niese's place in the event of a setback.
• Though the San Diego Padres recently named Robbie Erlin their fifth starter, he won't be needed until April 8 (Week 2) due to a Thursday off day.
• The San Francisco Giants could swap Tim Hudson's and Tim Lincecum's turns in the rotation, in order to set one up for the April 8 home opener (Week 2).
• Doug Fister's (lat) injury makes him doubtful to pitch in Week 1, leaving Friday's and Sunday's spots vacant for fifth-starter combatants Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan. Expect them to occupy those spots in some order.

Tristan's Week 1 pitcher rankings: Top 75

1. Adam Wainwright (STL) -- Mon-@CIN (Cueto), Sun-@PIT (Volquez)
2. Stephen Strasburg (WSH) -- Mon-@NYM (Gee), Sat-ATL (Teheran)
3. Cliff Lee (PHI) -- Mon-@TEX (Scheppers), Sat-@CHC (Samardzija)
4. Jose Fernandez (MIA) -- Mon-COL (De La Rosa), Sat-SD (Cashner)
5. Madison Bumgarner (SF) -- Mon-@ARI (McCarthy), Sat-@LAD (Ryu)
6. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- Mon-@LAA (Weaver), Sat-@OAK (Gray)
7. David Price (TB) -- Mon-TOR (Dickey), Sat-TEX (Martinez)
8. Chris Sale (CWS) -- Mon-MIN (Nolasco), Sun-@KC (Shields)
9. Max Scherzer (DET) -- Wed-KC (Vargas)
10. Justin Verlander (DET) -- Mon-KC (Shields), Sun-BAL (Norris)
11. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Fri-SF (Vogelsong)
12. Hyun-Jin Ryu (LAD) -- Mon-@SD (Cashner), Sat-SF (Bumgarner)
13. Andrew Cashner (SD) -- Mon-LAD (Ryu), Sat-@MIA (Fernandez)
14. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Mon-SEA (Hernandez), Sun-@HOU (Feldman)
15. Zack Greinke (LAD) -- Tue-@SD (Kennedy)
16. Matt Cain (SF) -- Tue-@ARI (Miley), Sun-@LAD (Maholm)
17. James Shields (KC) -- Mon-@DET (Verlander), Sun-CWS (Sale)
18. Johnny Cueto (CIN) -- Mon-STL (Wainwright), Sat-@NYM (Gee)
19. Jordan Zimmermann (WSH) -- Thu-@NYM (Wheeler)
20. Francisco Liriano (PIT) -- Mon-CHC (Samardzija), Sat-STL (Kelly)
21. Sonny Gray (OAK) -- Mon-CLE (Masterson), Sat-SEA (Hernandez)
22. Anibal Sanchez (DET) -- Thu-KC (Ventura)
23. Julio Teheran (ATL) -- Mon-@MIL (Gallardo), Sat-@WSH (Strasburg)
24. Homer Bailey (CIN) -- Thu-STL (Lynn)
25. Alex Cobb (TB) -- Tue-TOR (Hutchison), Sun-TEX (Scheppers)
26. Masahiro Tanaka (NYY) -- Fri-@TOR (McGowan)
27. R.A. Dickey (TOR) -- Mon-@TB (Price), Sat-NYY (Pineda)
28. Gerrit Cole (PIT) -- Fri-STL (Miller)
29. Jon Lester (BOS) -- Mon-@BAL (Tillman), Sun-MIL (Gallardo)
30. Gio Gonzalez (WSH) -- Wed-@NYM (Colon)
31. Justin Masterson (CLE) -- Mon-@OAK (Gray), Sun-MIN (Nolasco)
32. Shelby Miller (STL) -- Fri-@PIT (Cole)
33. Jeff Samardzija (CHC) -- Mon-@PIT (Liriano), Sat-PHI (Lee)
34. Michael Wacha (STL) -- Wed-@CIN (Cingrani)
35. Dan Haren (LAD) -- Wed-@SD (Ross)
36. Clay Buchholz (BOS) -- Sat-MIL (Peralta)
37. Danny Salazar (CLE) -- Fri-MIN (Pelfrey)
38. C.J. Wilson (LAA) -- Tue-SEA (Ramirez)
39. Ivan Nova (NYY) -- Thu-@HOU (Oberholtzer)
40. Hiroki Kuroda (NYY) -- Wed-@HOU (Cosart)
41. Scott Kazmir (OAK) -- Tue-CLE (Kluber), Sun-SEA (Ramirez)
42. Chris Archer (TB) -- Thu-TOR (Morrow)
43. Alex Wood (ATL) -- Tue-@MIL (Lohse), Sun-@WSH (Jordan)
44. Bartolo Colon (NYM) -- Wed-WSH (Gonzalez)
45. Zack Wheeler (NYM) -- Thu-WSH (Zimmermann)
46. CC Sabathia (NYY) -- Tue-@HOU (Feldman), Sun-@TOR (Hutchison)
47. Jake Peavy (BOS) -- Fri-MIL (Estrada)
48. A.J. Burnett (PHI) -- Tue-@TEX (Perez), Sun-@CHC (TBD)
49. Matt Garza (MIL) -- Wed-ATL (Harang)
50. Drew Smyly (DET) -- Sat-BAL (Tillman)
51. Matt Moore (TB) -- Wed-TOR (Buehrle)
52. Travis Wood (CHC) -- Fri-PHI (Hernandez)
53. Tyson Ross (SD) -- Wed-LAD (Haren)
54. John Lackey (BOS) -- Wed-@BAL (Jimenez)
55. Rick Porcello (DET) -- Fri-BAL (Gonzalez)
56. Dan Straily (OAK) -- Thu-SEA (Elias)
57. Lance Lynn (STL) -- Thu-@CIN (Bailey)
58. Ian Kennedy (SD) -- Tue-LAD (Greinke), Sun-@MIA (Eovaldi)
59. Kyle Lohse (MIL) -- Tue-ATL (Wood)
60. Tony Cingrani (CIN) -- Wed-STL (Wacha)
61. Dillon Gee (NYM) -- Mon-WSH (Strasburg), Sat-CIN (Cueto)
62. Hector Santiago (LAA) -- Wed-SEA (Paxton)
63. Tim Hudson (SF) -- Wed-@ARI (Cahill)
64. Jorge De La Rosa (COL) -- Mon-@MIA (Fernandez), Sat-ARI (McCarthy)
65. Marco Estrada (MIL) -- Fri-@BOS (Peavy)
66. Nate Eovaldi (MIA) -- Tue-COL (Anderson), Sun-SD (Kennedy)
67. Mike Leake (CIN) -- Fri-@NYM (Mejia)
68. Ubaldo Jimenez (BAL) -- Wed-BOS (Lackey)
69. Henderson Alvarez (MIA) -- Wed-COL (Chatwood)
70. Trevor Cahill (ARI) -- Wed-SF (Hudson), Sun-@COL (Anderson)
71. Martin Perez (TEX) -- Tue-PHI (Burnett)
72. Yordano Ventura (KC) -- Thu-@DET (Sanchez)
73. Corey Kluber (CLE) -- Tue-@OAK (Kazmir)
74. Tyler Skaggs (LAA) -- Sat-@HOU (Keuchel)
75. Michael Pineda (NYY) -- Sat-@TOR (Dickey)

Two-start options for AL-/NL-only leagues:
Brandon McCarthy (ARI) -- Mon-SF (Bumgarner), Sat-@COL (De La Rosa)
Ricky Nolasco (MIN) -- Mon-@CWS (Sale), Sun-@CLE (Masterson)
Erasmo Ramirez (SEA) -- Tue-@LAA (Wilson), Sun-@OAK (Kazmir)
Tanner Scheppers (TEX) -- Mon-PHI (Lee), Sun-@TB (Cobb)
Chris Tillman (BAL) -- Mon-BOS (Lester), Sat-@DET (Smyly)

No-thank-yous, among two-start pitchers:
Brett Anderson (COL) -- Tue-@MIA (Eovaldi), Sun-ARI (Cahill)
Scott Feldman (HOU) -- Tue-NYY (Sabathia), Sun-LAA (Weaver)
Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- Mon-ATL (Teheran), Sun-@BOS (Lester)
Drew Hutchison (TOR) -- Tue-@TB (Cobb), Sun-NYY (Sabathia)

Pitching advantages

• It's quite the week of pitching matchups for the Los Angeles Angels, who, with a 3.52 ERA and 1.28 WHIP this spring, ranked fourth and seventh in those categories entering March 28's action. Fantasy owners are already familiar with the names Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson -- Weaver gets two starts this week and Wilson one against the Seattle Mariners at home -- but it's the back three rotation members who warrant a look in larger leagues/streaming circumstances. After all, two of them -- Richards on Friday, Skaggs on Saturday -- will be facing the Houston Astros, who set a single-season, major-league record for strikeouts by batters in 2013.

• The Tampa Bay Rays also enjoyed a productive spring -- they led with a 3.06 ERA and were second with a 1.20 WHIP -- and play a full seven-game schedule at Tropicana Field, a venue in which they've had much success on the mound in the past decade. Don't panic when you see the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers, two teams with reputations as loaded lineups, as the opponents; those teams sported more potent offenses in their hitting-friendly home ballparks than on the road (the Blue Jays had a 24-point home/road wOBA split, the Rangers 12 points). Besides, consider the career Tropicana Field statistics of the Rays' top four starters:

David Price: 2.78 ERA, 1.09 WHIP in 72 G (71 GS)
Alex Cobb: 3.30 ERA, 1.18 WHIP in 30 GS
Matt Moore: 3.73 ERA, 1.30 WHIP in 28 GS
Chris Archer: 3.13 ERA, 1.04 WHIP in 14 GS

• Even with the Los Angeles Dodgers' rotation in flux entering Week 1, their starters enjoy an advantage: They have six games of favorable matchups, beginning with the three at San Diego's Petco Park and concluding with three at home versus the San Francisco Giants. As noted above, Zack Greinke is the only starter whose first-week assignment is firm, but Dan Haren and Paul Maholm are scheduled to make starts at some point during the week, Haren in the Padres and Maholm in the Giants series. Hyun-Jin Ryu is the potential standout, should his toenail injury afford him the opportunity to start the Sunday, March 30, game, as he'd then get two starts this week.

• Streamer's Delight picks return for the 2014 season, albeit with adjusted rules. This season, I'll pick seven streaming candidates, stipulating that one must be selected for each of the seven days of the week, those seven then ranked in terms of overall quality. As with seasons past, pitchers must be available in at least 75 percent of ESPN leagues as of our publishing time (Fridays).

1. Hector Santiago (SEA, Wednesday): The 2013 Seattle Mariners had the majors' worst wOBA versus lefties, and their 2014 lineup remains chock full of lefties, like Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Brad Miller, Logan Morrison.
2. Corey Kluber (@OAK, Tuesday): Still a Kings of Command favorite of mine, and he kept up that good work this spring, with 23 K's compared to three walks.
3. Mike Leake (@NYM, Friday): He is 2-for-2 in his career in quality starts at New York's Citi Field, with a 0.69 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in those games combined.
4. Jorge De La Rosa (@MIA, Monday): Opening Day is never rich in quality streaming options, but De La Rosa at pitching-friendly Marlins Park stands out.
5. Tyler Skaggs (@HOU, Saturday): Strikeout potential -- he K'ed 23 percent of the batters he faced at all levels in 2013 -- and he's facing 2013's most whiff-prone team.
6. Nate Eovaldi (SD, Sunday): Home games are always preferable to road with Miami Marlins, and Eovaldi has a 0.79 ERA in two career games against the San Diego Padres.
7. Jose Quintana (MIN, Thursday): Recall that nine-inning spring nightmare of his if you wish; I like the fact that he rebounded in his next turn with five shutout innings. It bodes well for him facing this favorable opening-week matchup, at least.

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 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:
Home games: Oakland Athletics 7, Tampa Bay Rays 7, Miami Marlins 7, Detroit Tigers 6, Houston Astros 6, New York Mets 6, Pittsburgh Pirates 6
Versus RH: Colorado Rockies 7, Atlanta Braves 6, Pittsburgh Pirates 6
Versus LH: Seattle Mariners 4, Arizona Diamondbacks 4, San Francisco Giants 4, Baltimore Orioles 3, Toronto Blue Jays 3, Chicago Cubs 3, Miami Marlins 3, Philadelphia Phillies 3

• Though a quick glance at the Phillies' schedule -- they get those three games at hitter friendly Texas' Rangers Ballpark, two against converted relievers -- might make them appear one of Week 1's standout offenses, don't be too hasty. The Phillies have a notoriously left-handed lineup, and they'll face at least three lefties: Martin Perez and Robbie Ross during the Texas series, and potentially Chris Rusin in Chicago's Wrigley Field on Sunday. Unless you're loading up with right-handed Phillies bats, a weak crop that includes only Marlon Byrd, John Mayberry Jr. and Carlos Ruiz (and, yes, Jimmy Rollins when he bats from the right side), you're probably setting yourself up for disappointment.

• The Rangers opponent that truly benefits is the Tampa Bay Rays, who also begin the week with a four-game set against a Toronto Blue Jays team starting R.A. Dickey (5.79 spring ERA), the untested Chad Hutchison and the injury-prone Brandon Morrow. The Rays face six starters projected for Game Scores beneath the quality-start standard of 50; Joe Saunders, Nick Martinez (who has little experience above Class A ball) and Tanner Scheppers are the Rangers' three foes. This is a Rays team that has historically feasted upon matchups, and a week of five games against right-handers favors those who hit from the left side: This includes Matt Joyce, David DeJesus and James Loney, so if you own them, this is an ideal week to activate them.