Fantasy Forecaster updated Sunday, Aug. 31, at 11:01 p.m. ET.
On tap: Don't read too much into the Baltimore Orioles' 16-9 August record or seven-game lead in the American League East race. They're in a critical stage of their schedule, during which they need to fatten up on weaker competition yet haven't played their best baseball during it. In the midst of a 23-games-in-24-days stretch, during which time they play nothing but sub-.500 teams -- they'll play games 14-20 of those in Week 22 -- the Orioles have won just six of 10 games facing this meaty schedule, making their upcoming week critical for separating themselves. They finish their four-game, weekend-wraparound series with the Minnesota Twins on Monday before hosting the ice-cold Cincinnati Reds (13-25 since the All-Star break), then visiting Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field, where they're 5-1 this year. Considering the increasing difficulty of their schedule in the regular season's final weeks, the Orioles must know they can use Week 22 to separate themselves further in the standings, meaning they'll probably play their best baseball this week.
The Sept. 1 roster expansion -- major league rosters increase from 25 to 40 men on Monday -- brings with it some new faces, some fresh off the disabled list and others from the minor league ranks, so expect minor changes to teams' lineups, rotations and bullpens. It's specifically the rotations that bear watching, as changes might be more common this week. For instance, the aforementioned Orioles will welcome back two starters they "demoted" (they exploited a rules technicality to maximize roster flexibility), Kevin Gausman and Wei-Yin Chen; the Seattle Mariners will do the same with James Paxton; the Los Angeles Dodgers activated Hyun-Jin Ryu (glute) into their rotation; and the Milwaukee Brewers will activate Matt Garza (oblique).
Week 22 is the first week of playoffs in ESPN standard head-to-head leagues, and in rotisserie leagues (or any fantasy league, really), it bears mentioning that there are exactly four weeks remaining in the 2014 regular season.
Quick-click by section, if you're seeking advice in a specific area:
ESPN lineup deadlines | Interleague impact | Projected starting pitchers
Pitching scuttlebutt | Week 22 pitcher rankings | Pitching advantages
Hitting ratings | Hitting advantages
Monday is Labor Day, and with it comes a doubleheader of day games on ESPN: Philadelphia Phillies at Atlanta Braves begins at 1 p.m. ET (that the earliest game on Monday), and Detroit Tigers at Cleveland Indians begins at 4 p.m. ET. In total, 10 of the 12 games -- plus the resumption of the suspended San Francisco Giants at Colorado Rockies game from May 22 that starts at 4:10 p.m. ET and is followed 20-30 minutes after its completion by the team's regularly scheduled game -- are day games, forcing fantasy owners in leagues with weekly transactions to set their lineups earlier. As the week begins on the final day of Labor Day weekend, a popular travel/vacation time for many, make sure to set your lineups well in advance.
Tuesday is one of two days during Week 22 that features only night games, but oddly, Thursday -- that the day of the NFL kickoff -- is the other one with no games beginning earlier than 7 p.m. ET. For those in leagues with daily transactions, here are the earliest start times for the other days: Wednesday, 12:10 p.m. ET (Phillies at Braves, one of five day games); Friday, 2:20 p.m. ET (Pittsburgh Pirates at Chicago Cubs is the only day game); Saturday, 1:05 p.m. ET (Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays, one of seven day games); and Sunday, 1:05 p.m. ET (Kansas City Royals at New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox at Indians, two of 14 day games).
As mentioned, the playoffs begin in ESPN standard head-to-head leagues, as Round 1 matchups begin on Monday and extend for two full weeks concluding on Sunday, Sept. 14. Seeds 1 and 4 battle in one bracket while seeds 2 and 3 battle in the other, and the winners will advance to battle for the championship, Sept. 15-28.
This week's interleague series:
• Reds at Orioles (3 games, Tuesday-Thursday)
• Giants at Tigers (3 games, Friday-Sunday)
For the second consecutive week, we have a schedule light on interleague play, a trend that extends until the regular season's end: Only 24 total interleague games remain on the 28 days of baseball scheduled (thus far) in September, and on no single day is there more than one interleague game. And, for the second consecutive week, the only interleague games are those played in American League parks, meaning no AL designated hitters will be relegated to pinch-hitting duty.
In addition, with the aforementioned September roster expansion on Monday, National League teams will have additional candidates to DH. Consider that during the 12 games in September 2013 when an NL team visited an AL park, no team gave the same player three consecutive starts at DH, as every team used one player twice and another for the third game. Oddly, both the Reds and the Giants were among those teams, and coincidentally they gave two DH starts to players who are on their 2014 teams: Ryan Ludwick and Buster Posey. Such an arrangement might happen again this year, as the Reds can free up left field for either Chris Heisey or Skip Schumaker, while the Giants could free up either catcher for Andrew Susac or first base for Travis Ishikawa.
The net gain of at-bats for any of these players, guys like Heisey, Susac or Schumaker, however, isn't enough to warrant even NL-only attention.
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.
• Wei-Yin Chen and Kevin Gausman, who were optioned to the Gulf Coast League Orioles on Aug. 27 and 28, will become eligible to rejoin the Orioles' rotation and are likely to do so on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, lining Chen up for a Friday start and Gausman for a two-start week (Monday and Saturday) during Week 22. The Orioles have hinted, though, that they're also considering Ubaldo Jimenez for Monday.
• The Tigers have been mixing and matching fill-in starters in place of Anibal Sanchez (pectoral), whose rotation spot arrives on Tuesday and Sunday of Week 22. Kyle Lobstein got the most recent assignment in that spot on Aug. 28 and was immediately returned to Triple-A Toledo afterward; he's considered the leading candidate, however, to be summoned for Tuesday's game.
• Yordano Ventura (back), who was scratched from his Aug. 27 start, was expected to miss only the one turn in the Royals' rotation. If he needs to miss another start, Liam Hendriks could fill in again.
• The Los Angeles Angels gave Cory Rasmus a spot start on Aug. 30, but it is unclear whether he'll pitch when that spot next arrives on Friday, or Saturday if the team decides to push him back thanks to Monday's off day. The team also gave Hector Santiago two extra days' rest, moving C.J. Wilson up to be their two-start pitcher.
• James Paxton, who was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma on Aug. 27, is eligible to rejoin the Mariners' rotation and will do so on Tuesday. The team also swapped Chris Young and Roenis Elias in their rotation, giving Young some additional rest. Young will now be one of the team's two-start pitchers, working Monday and Saturday.
• Derek Holland (back) made his final rehabilitation start for Triple-A Round Rock on Aug. 28, and he will rejoin the Texas Rangers' rotation on Tuesday. Miles Mikolas (fatigue) is scheduled to start on Thursday, but if he is unable to, Scott Baker would fill in.
• The Reds recalled Dylan Axelrod to start on Aug. 28, and will keep him on regular rotation pitching next on Wednesday.
• Brad Penny will rejoin the Miami Marlins' rotation on Tuesday, replacing Brad Hand.
• Matt Garza (oblique) will rejoin the Brewers' rotation on Wednesday, giving the team a six-man rotation at least through the completion of Week 22. Jimmy Nelson, who was optioned to Class A Brevard County on Aug. 30, will be recalled in time to start Monday's game.
• Charlie Morton (hip) made a rehabilitation start for Double-A Altoona on Aug. 28, and it's possible he could be ready to rejoin the Pirates' rotation sometime during Week 22. He'd be lined up for either a Tuesday (Jeff Locke's turn) or Wednesday (Edinson Volquez) start if so, but more likely he'd return in Week 23.
• Michael Wacha (shoulder) is scheduled to begin a rehabilitation assignment with Double-A Springfield on Aug. 31, but he's highly unlikely to be ready to rejoin the St. Louis Cardinals' rotation after only the one start. The team also hasn't yet committed to giving Justin Masterson another start on Thursday. Marco Gonzalez appears the leading candidate to make that start, though Tyler Lyons is also a candidate.
1. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Tue-WSH (Fister)
2. Max Scherzer (DET) -- Thu-@CLE (Bauer)
3. Chris Sale (CWS) -- Sat-@CLE (Kluber)
4. David Price (DET) -- Mon-@CLE (Kluber), Sat-SF (Bumgarner)
5. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- Wed-@OAK (Lester)
6. Stephen Strasburg (WSH) -- Fri-PHI (Williams)
7. Corey Kluber (CLE) -- Mon-DET (Price), Sat-CWS (Sale)
8. Madison Bumgarner (SF) -- Sat-@DET (Price)
9. Drew Smyly (TB) -- Mon-BOS (De La Rosa), Sat-BAL (Gausman)
10. Tyson Ross (SD) -- Mon-ARI (Cahill), Sat-@COL (De La Rosa)
11. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Mon-@ATL (Teheran), Sun-@WSH (Gonzalez)
12. Matt Shoemaker (LAA) -- Sat-@MIN (Hughes)
13. Gio Gonzalez (WSH) -- Mon-@LAD (Hernandez), Sun-PHI (Hamels)
14. Adam Wainwright (STL) -- Tue-PIT (Locke), Sun-@MIL (Nelson)
15. Johnny Cueto (CIN) -- Sat-NYM (Gee)
16. Alex Cobb (TB) -- Fri-BAL (Chen)
17. Julio Teheran (ATL) -- Mon-PHI (Hamels), Sun-@MIA (Alvarez)
18. Gerrit Cole (PIT) -- Mon-@STL (Lynn), Sun-@CHC (Turner)
19. Carlos Carrasco (CLE) -- Tue-DET (Lobstein), Sun-CWS (Quintana)
20. Zack Greinke (LAD) -- Fri-ARI (Anderson)
21. Jake Arrieta (CHC) -- Tue-MIL (Gallardo)
22. Mat Latos (CIN) -- Tue-@BAL (Norris), Sun-NYM (Wheeler)
23. Francisco Liriano (PIT) -- Sat-@CHC (Wood)
24. Lance Lynn (STL) -- Mon-PIT (Cole), Sat-@MIL (Lohse)
25. Sonny Gray (OAK) -- Tue-SEA (Paxton)
26. Hisashi Iwakuma (SEA) -- Fri-@TEX (Martinez)
27. Zack Wheeler (NYM) -- Mon-@MIA (Alvarez), Sun-@CIN (Latos)
28. Mike Fiers (MIL) -- Fri-STL (Lackey)
29. Danny Salazar (CLE) -- Wed-DET (Verlander)
30. Alex Wood (ATL) -- Sat-@MIA (Eovaldi)
31. Jeff Samardzija (OAK) -- Fri-HOU (Oberholtzer)
32. A.J. Burnett (PHI) -- Sat-@WSH (Roark)
33. Shane Greene (NYY) -- Tue-BOS (Kelly), Sun-KC (Ventura)
34. Henderson Alvarez (MIA) -- Mon-NYM (Wheeler), Sun-ATL (Teheran)
35. Jon Lester (OAK) -- Wed-SEA (Hernandez)
36. Jake Odorizzi (TB) -- Thu-TOR (Buehrle)
37. Chris Archer (TB) -- Wed-TOR (Stroman)
38. Tanner Roark (WSH) -- Sat-PHI (Burnett)
39. Bud Norris (BAL) -- Tue-CIN (Latos), Sun-@TB (Hellickson)
40. Phil Hughes (MIN) -- Mon-@BAL (Gausman), Sat-LAA (Shoemaker)
41. Hyun-Jin Ryu (LAD) -- Sat-ARI (Cahill)
42. James Paxton (SEA) -- Tue-@OAK (Gray), Sun-@TEX (Holland)
43. James Shields (KC) -- Fri-@NYY (Pineda)
44. Mike Minor (ATL) -- Tue-PHI (Kendrick)
45. R.A. Dickey (TOR) -- Tue-@TB (Hellickson), Sun-@BOS (Kelly)
46. Kevin Gausman (BAL) -- Mon-MIN (Hughes), Sat-@TB (Smyly)
47. Josh Collmenter (ARI) -- Wed-@SD (Cashner)
48. Ervin Santana (ATL) -- Wed-PHI (Buchanan)
49. Scott Kazmir (OAK) -- Sat-HOU (Feldman)
50. Chris Tillman (BAL) -- Thu-CIN (Leake)
51. Jordan Zimmermann (WSH) -- Wed-@LAD (Haren)
52. Wade Miley (ARI) -- Tue-@SD (Despaigne), Sun-@LAD (Hernandez)
53. Marcus Stroman (TOR) -- Wed-@TB (Archer)
54. Ian Kennedy (SD) -- Thu-ARI (Nuno)
55. C.J. Wilson (LAA) -- Tue-@HOU (Peacock), Sun-@MIN (Milone)
56. Jason Vargas (KC) -- Wed-TEX (Tepesch)
57. Jimmy Nelson (MIL) -- Mon-@CHC (Turner), Sun-STL (Wainwright)
58. John Lackey (STL) -- Fri-@MIL (Fiers)
59. Tsuyoshi Wada (CHC) -- Fri-PIT (Worley)
60. Yordano Ventura (KC) -- Mon-TEX (Lewis), Sun-@NYY (Greene)
61. Hector Santiago (LAA) -- Thu-@MIN (Gibson)
62. Justin Verlander (DET) -- Wed-@CLE (Salazar)
63. Derek Holland (TEX) -- Tue-@KC (Guthrie), Sun-SEA (Paxton)
64. Jeremy Hellickson (TB) -- Tue-TOR (Dickey), Sun-BAL (Norris)
65. Chris Young (SEA) -- Mon-@OAK (Hammel), Sat-@TEX (Lewis)
66. Tim Hudson (SF) -- Mon-@COL (Morales), Sun-@DET (Lobstein)
67. Bartolo Colon (NYM) -- Fri-@CIN (Simon)
68. Danny Duffy (KC) -- Sat-@NYY (McCarthy)
69. Clay Buchholz (BOS) -- Fri-TOR (Hutchison)
70. Yusmeiro Petit (SF) -- Tue-@COL (Lyles)
71. Jacob deGrom (NYM) -- Wed-@MIA (Koehler)
72. Doug Fister (WSH) -- Tue-@LAD (Kershaw)
73. Michael Pineda (NYY) -- Fri-KC (Shields)
74. Andrew Cashner (SD) -- Wed-ARI (Collmenter)
75. Jason Hammel (OAK) -- Mon-SEA (Young), Sun-HOU (Keuchel)
Two-start options for AL-/NL-only leagues:
Trevor Cahill (ARI) -- Mon-@SD (Ross), Sat-@LAD (Ryu)
Rubby De La Rosa (BOS) -- Mon-@TB (Smyly), Sat-TOR (Happ)
Joe Kelly (BOS) -- Tue-@NYY (Greene), Sun-TOR (Dickey)
Colby Lewis (TEX) -- Mon-@KC (Ventura), Sat-SEA (Young)
No-thank-yous among two-start pitchers:
Odrisamer Despaigne (SD) -- Tue-ARI (Miley), Sun-@COL (Morales)
Roberto Hernandez (LAD) -- Mon-WSH (Gonzalez), Sun-ARI (Miley)
Kyle Lobstein (DET) -- Tue-@CLE (Carrasco), Sun-SF (Hudson)
Tommy Milone (MIN) -- Tue-CWS (Noesi), Sun-LAA (Wilson)
Franklin Morales (COL) -- Mon-SF (Hudson), Sun-SD (Despaigne)
Jacob Turner (CHC) -- Mon-MIL (Nelson), Sun-PIT (Cole)
• Orioles pitchers benefit most from the aforementioned light schedule, and that's a good thing considering their usual starting five is generally regarded members of the streaming class: Chris Tillman (94.0 percent owned) is the only one owned in more than 50 percent of ESPN leagues. Consider that since the All-Star break, the opposing Reds (home series, Tuesday-Thursday) and Rays (road series, Friday-Sunday) rank 30th and 24th in terms of team weighted on-base average (.265 and .294), and 29th and 20th in terms of runs per game (3.9 and 3.3). Let's examine some of the Orioles starters' relevant matchups data:
Bud Norris (CIN, Tuesday): Current, active Reds are career .237/.318/.371 hitters with a 23.6 percent strikeout rate against him.
Miguel Gonzalez (CIN, Wednesday): Is a perfect 4-for-4 with a 3.20 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in his interleague career.
Chris Tillman (CIN, Thursday): Is 9-for-14 with a 2.54 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in home games this season.
Wei-Yin Chen (@TB, Friday): Has a 3.25 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in six career starts at Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field.
Kevin Gausman (@TB, Saturday): Tossed six shutout innings at Tropicana Field on June 18.
Bud Norris (@TB, Sunday): Current, active Rays are career .264/.363/.345 hitters with a 19.6 percent strikeout rate against him.
• David Price's fantasy owners need not be panicky in spite of his recent stinker as well as his poor outing the last time he faced the Indians (5 IP, 10 H, 8 ER, 2 HR on April 7, 2013). That matchup inspires a considerable bounce-back -- and the must-start status indicated by his ranking above -- as the Indians have the majors' third-widest righty-lefty wOBA split favoring the side against right-handed pitchers; they have mere .245/.308/.352 team rates against left-handers.
• Although the San Diego Padres have a set of polarizing matchups -- four at home versus the Arizona Diamondbacks, a .226/.288/.338-hitting team that has averaged just 3.3 runs per game in August, followed by three at hitters' heaven Coors Field in Colorado -- it's the strength of their first four that makes enduring their final three worthwhile. Besides, Tyson Ross is one of the team's two-start pitchers; he tossed a quality start at Coors on July 8, and he has limited active Rockies to a combined .186/.222/.302 stat line in their careers. There's no reason to worry about his second matchup.
However, you should start Eric Stults, a one-start Padres pitcher (Friday at Coors), in deeper leagues while avoiding Odrisamer Despaigne, their other two-start pitcher, in all formats. Stults has a 3.09 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in his two starts at Coors this season, and he has a 3.42 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in his past nine starts overall, most of his recent uptick in performance the product of a 2.6-to-1 K-to-walk ratio. Despaigne's 4.98 ERA, not to mention the .279/.336/.407 slash rates he has afforded opposing hitters, during his past six starts makes him a dicey proposition facing a Coors start.
• Here are this week's "Streamer's Delight" picks (pitchers must be available in at least 75 percent of ESPN leagues as of our publishing time on Friday):
1. Tom Koehler (NYM, Wednesday): His track record against the New York Mets is outstanding, a point made frequently in this space this season. Koehler has five quality starts, a 2.47 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in his past seven games against them.
2. Jonathon Niese (@MIA, Tuesday): He's 9-for-his-last-10 in quality starts with a 2.80 ERA against the Miami Marlins, and he's a perfect 3-for-3 in quality starts with a 1.42 ERA and 1.16 WHIP at Miami's Marlins Park.
3. Jorge De La Rosa (SD, Saturday): Don't casually discard his Coors matchups; he's 9-2 with a 3.19 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 13 starts there this season. De La Rosa is also 2-for-2 in quality starts with a 1.38 ERA against the Padres in 2014.
4. Trevor Cahill (@SD, Monday): He has quality starts in five of his past six appearances with a 3.96 ERA in those games, and he has a 1.71 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in four career starts at San Diego's Petco Park.
5. Trevor Bauer (DET, Thursday): Home games (3.07 ERA, 1.31 WHIP) certainly suit him better than road (5.81 ERA, 1.52 WHIP) this season, and he's 2-for-3 in quality starts against the Tigers this year as well.
6. Clay Buchholz (TOR, Friday): On a poor day for streaming, Buchholz's recent string of success stands out. He has three quality starts in his past four games, his WHIP of 1.09 a more accurate representation of his performance than his 4.30 ERA during that span; that included a 65 Game Score outing against the Toronto Blue Jays on Aug. 25. Buchholz's ground-ball rate during those four starts was 55 percent, which is much closer to where it needs to be in order for him to succeed.
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.
• 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: Cleveland Indians 7, Tampa Bay Rays 7, Minnesota Twins 6, New York Yankees 6, Oakland Athletics 6, Chicago Cubs 6, Colorado Rockies 6, Los Angeles Dodgers 6, Miami Marlins 6. No other team plays more than four home games.
Versus RH: Baltimore Orioles 6, Detroit Tigers 6, Toronto Blue Jays 6, Arizona Diamondbacks 6, Cincinnati Reds 6, Milwaukee Brewers 6, New York Mets 6, St. Louis Cardinals 6. Eight teams face five right-handed starters.
Versus LH: San Diego Padres 5, Cleveland Indians 4, Boston Red Sox 3, Minnesota Twins 3, Oakland Athletics 3, Texas Rangers 3, San Francisco Giants 3. Nine teams face two left-handed starters.
• Remember when the Padres were easily the game's worst-hitting team against left-handed pitchers? Since posting ghastly .124/.211/.213 slash rates (and a .194 wOBA that was 36 points beneath the next-worst team's mark) in June, the Padres improved to 27th in wOBA against lefties in July and now a much-closer-to-league-average 19th in August (.299, three points beneath the average behind .245/.325/.354 rates). This is a largely different roster today than it was in June, with some better right-handed choices for owners seeking weekly plug-ins, and in a week of five games against lefty starters and three games at Coors, Padres are worth your while.
Yangervis Solarte and Tommy Medica, both of whom have started all nine Padres games against left-handed pitchers since the All-Star break, are .350/.386/.575 and .233/.303/.467 hitters respectively versus southpaws since the break. Abraham Almonte, who has started all six Padres games against a lefty since the team acquired him at the trade deadline, is a .291/.333/.436 hitter against southpaws this season. And Jedd Gyorko, who has started five of six Padres games versus lefties since his return from the DL, is a .300/.417/.500 hitter against lefties during that time span. All four players are worth consideration in NL-only formats or as mixed-league plug-ins.
• The Giants also benefit as a result of a week full of left-handed opposition as well as a trip of their own to Coors Field. The Giants have the majors' sixth-best team wOBA against lefties in August (.322); their 143 total bases against lefties trail only the Royals' 151 in the month.
There perhaps isn't a greater example of a Week 22 matchups candidate than Michael Morse; he is a career .393/.422/.639 hitter in 15 games at Coors, and he has hit half of his 16 home runs behind .243/.312/.507 rates against lefties this season. He's not the only one with outrageous career statistics at Coors: Buster Posey is a .385/.453/.607 hitter in 34 games there, Hunter Pence a .286/.335/.536 hitter in 41 games and Brandon Crawford a .274/.337/.442 hitter in 27 games. The middle infielders, meanwhile, are standouts this season against lefties: Crawford is a .287/.367/.457 hitter in 151 plate appearances and Joe Panik a .375/.390/.450 hitter in 41 PAs, curious numbers considering both are left-handed hitters.