Fantasy Forecaster updated Sunday, Sept. 7, at 2:17 p.m. ET.
On tap: A critical, 17-day stretch begins for the American League Central race, as the Kansas City Royals (first in the division by two games entering play Sept. 7), Detroit Tigers (two games back) and Cleveland Indians (five games back) battle each other in 12 games total during that span. As Week 23 dawns, the Tigers are under the microscope: They host both the Royals (three games, Monday-Wednesday) and Indians (three games, Friday-Sunday) at Comerica Park, coming off a 24-27 performance since the All-Star break, their .471 winning percentage during that time span trailing 10 other AL teams, including the aforementioned Royals (.638) and Indians (.553). Motivation will certainly be in the Tigers' corner ... but will the matchups themselves?
Meanwhile, in both the AL East and NL East, the leading teams get outstanding chances to effectively wrap up their races, meaning this might be the final week of truly meaningful, high-motivation games for both the Baltimore Orioles (first by 8½ games) and Washington Nationals (ahead by six). The Orioles, after visiting the last-place Boston Red Sox for three, play four games (including a Friday doubleheader) against the second-place New York Yankees, while the Washington Nationals open with a three-game home series versus the second-place Atlanta Braves. The Orioles' magic number to clinch their division is 14, the Nationals' 16, and considering the Yankees' and Braves' recent struggles -- the Yankees are 12-13 since Aug. 9, the Braves 16-20 since July 29 -- this could not only be a week during which both teams whittle their magic numbers down into the single digits, but both also provide outstanding all-around fantasy statistics (perhaps their final elite week of 2014, as both could rest regulars more often once they clinch playoff spots).
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There are two day games Monday, both a result of rescheduling: Los Angeles Angels at Cleveland Indians, a makeup of their June 18 postponement, begins at 1:05 p.m. ET. Kansas City Royals at Detroit Tigers also now has a 4:08 p.m. ET start time, that game moved up approximately three hours to accommodate the Detroit Lions' home opener on "Monday Night Football." Fantasy owners in weekly leagues need to get their lineups in early, though this is the final regular-season Monday of 2014 -- barring further postponements or rescheduling -- with day games on the schedule.
For fantasy owners in daily leagues, there are only night games Tuesday, but every other day has at least one day game: Wednesday's first game begins at 1:35 p.m. ET (Baltimore Orioles at Boston Red Sox, one of two day games); Thursday's first game begins at 12:05 p.m. ET (Minnesota Twins at Cleveland Indians, one of four day games); Friday's first game begins at 1:05 p.m. (Game 1 of the New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles doubleheader, the only day game Friday); Saturday's first game begins at 1:05 p.m. ET (Yankees at Orioles and Atlanta Braves at Texas Rangers among three day games); and Sunday's first game begins at 1:07 p.m. ET (Tampa Bay Rays at Toronto Blue Jays, one of 14 day games).
This week's interleague series:
• Chicago Cubs at Toronto Blue Jays (three games, Monday-Wednesday)
• Atlanta Braves at Texas Rangers (three games, Friday-Sunday)
For the third consecutive week, we have a schedule light on interleague play -- it's another week with only six total interleague games, or a pair of three-game series -- as well as one played entirely in American League ballparks, where visiting National League teams will gain the designated hitter. Fantasy owners love that; it makes planning easier and results in additional at-bats for NL hitters.
The Cubs, with key bats Anthony Rizzo (back) and Starlin Castro (ankle) sidelined potentially for the remainder of the season, will likely use the DH to give some of their bench bats some starts. Expect players such as Ryan Kalish, Matt Szczur, Chris Valaika and Logan Watkins to each sneak in a handful of extra at-bats, though it's possible that Mike Olt (hamstring), fresh off a rehabilitation assignment with Class A Kane County, could serve as the DH for the entire series at Toronto.
The Braves, meanwhile, have used the DH in their previous seven interleague games at AL venues to squeeze an extra catcher into the lineup; Ryan Doumit and Evan Gattis have three starts each at DH. A Gattis-at-DH, Christian Bethancourt-at-catcher arrangement makes a lot of sense, and might be in order for at least two of the three games in Texas. It's possible, however, that Justin Upton could sneak in some DH time to free up an outfield spot for Emilio Bonifacio, as was the case Aug. 6.
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.
• The Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, Houston Astros, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers have all either already announced or appear likely to use six-man rotations in Week 23.
• At some point during the Baltimore Orioles' upcoming 10-game homestand (begins Friday of Week 23, ends Sept. 21, which is Sunday of Week 24), they'll need a spot/sixth starter to fill in due to Friday's doubleheader (the opener of said homestand). The team can delay such a decision until Sept. 16 (Tuesday of Week 24) if it wishes. Ubaldo Jimenez is considered the most likely candidate for the extra start.
• The White Sox promoted Scott Carroll to start their Sept. 7 game and, while they haven't yet made it official, it appears that they'll start Chris Bassitt on Wednesday to give their other starters some additional rest.
• Kyle Lobstein has been filling in as the Detroit Tigers' fifth starter, that spot next arriving Saturday, though the team could use Thursday's off day to push him back until Sept. 9 (Tuesday of Week 24) if they wish. Max Scherzer would pick up a second start this week in that event.
• The Houston Astros will insert Nick Tropeano into their rotation beginning on Wednesday, giving them six starters for the foreseeable future.
• Danny Duffy (shoulder) was forced to leave his Sept. 6 start after only one pitch and is likely to miss at least his next start, scheduled for Thursday. Liam Hendriks, who relieved him on Sept. 6, is the leading candidate to fill in for the Kansas City Royals.
• Tommy Milone (shoulder fatigue) had his Sept. 7 start skipped, and it is unclear whether he'll be ready to rejoin the Minnesota Twins' rotation the next time his turn arrives Saturday. Logan Darnell might fill in if Milone isn't ready.
• The New York Yankees will need a spot/sixth starter to fill in due to Friday's doubleheader. It has been previously hinted by the team that Masahiro Tanaka (elbow) could return for one of those games, though he's an extreme long shot.
• The Seattle Mariners will use James Paxton and Felix Hernandez on four days' rest apiece on Friday and Saturday, but their Sunday starter remains unannounced. Chris Young could get that assignment, or the team could choose another fill-in.
• The Texas Rangers' rotation is entirely uncertain, as the team went with a six-man rotation during Week 22, except said that it wanted to keep only Derek Holland on a regular four-days'-rest schedule. It's unclear whether the Rangers will use five or six starters this week, or whether Holland will pitch Friday (that'd be four days' rest for him), but what's listed above follows last week's order.
• The Los Angeles Dodgers have shuffled their rotation to ensure that their top three starters, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw -- in that order -- are lined up for their weekend series at San Francisco's AT&T Park. Roberto Hernandez's Week 23 start will be pushed back to Tuesday as the team uses its days off to push their fifth starter back as often as possible.
• Henderson Alvarez (oblique) will need to complete a bullpen session before rejoining the Miami Marlins' rotation. His turn next arrives on Friday, but if he's unable to go, Brad Hand will likely fill in again.
• Joe Wieland joined the San Diego Padres' rotation on Sept. 6, giving the team six options, though it's unclear whether he'll remain in the rotation for Week 23. If the team chooses to use six starters again, Wieland would presumably start Saturday, pushing Tyson Ross back to Sunday and costing Odrisamer Despaigne his second (and more attractive of the two) start.
1. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Mon-SD (Despaigne), Sun-@SF (Petit)
2. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- Mon-HOU (Peacock), Sat-OAK (Gray)
3. Max Scherzer (DET) -- Tue-KC (Vargas)
4. Chris Sale (CWS) -- Thu-OAK (Kazmir)
5. Madison Bumgarner (SF) -- Fri-LAD (Ryu)
6. Stephen Strasburg (WSH) -- Wed-ATL (Harang)
7. David Price (DET) -- Fri-CLE (Carrasco)
8. Sonny Gray (OAK) -- Mon-@CWS (Noesi), Sat-@SEA (Hernandez)
9. Alex Cobb (TB) -- Thu-@NYY (Pineda)
10. Jon Lester (OAK) -- Tue-@CWS (Danks), Sun-@SEA (TBD)
11. Tyson Ross (SD) -- Sat-@ARI (Anderson)
12. Johnny Cueto (CIN) -- Thu-STL (Lynn)
13. Zack Greinke (LAD) -- Sat-@SF (Hudson)
14. Jordan Zimmermann (WSH) -- Tue-ATL (Santana), Sun-@NYM (DeGrom)
15. Alex Wood (ATL) -- Fri-@TEX (Baker)
16. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Fri-MIA (TBD)
17. Hisashi Iwakuma (SEA) -- Wed-HOU (Tropeano)
18. Corey Kluber (CLE) -- Thu-MIN (Nolasco)
19. Jake Arrieta (CHC) -- Tue-@TOR (Buehrle)
20. Drew Smyly (TB) -- Fri-@TOR (Happ)
21. Mike Minor (ATL) -- Mon-@WSH (Fister), Sun-@TEX (Holland)
22. Gio Gonzalez (WSH) -- Fri-@NYM (Wheeler)
23. Adam Wainwright (STL) -- Fri-COL (De La Rosa)
24. Jeff Samardzija (OAK) -- Wed-@CWS (Bassitt)
25. Mike Fiers (MIL) -- Thu-MIA (Eovaldi)
26. Jacob deGrom (NYM) -- Tue-COL (Bergman), Sun-WSH (Zimmermann)
27. Francisco Liriano (PIT) -- Thu-@PHI (Burnett)
28. Marcus Stroman (TOR) -- Mon-CHC (Turner), Sun-TB (Archer)
29. Danny Salazar (CLE) -- Mon-LAA (Weaver), Sat-@DET (Lobstein)
30. A.J. Burnett (PHI) -- Thu-PIT (Liriano)
31. Yusmeiro Petit (SF) -- Tue-ARI (Miley), Sun-LAD (Kershaw)
32. James Shields (KC) -- Wed-@DET (Porcello)
33. Gerrit Cole (PIT) -- Fri-CHC (Wada)
34. Carlos Carrasco (CLE) -- Fri-@DET (Price)
35. Julio Teheran (ATL) -- Sat-@TEX (Martinez)
36. Chris Tillman (BAL) -- Tue-@BOS (Ranaudo), Sun-NYY (Kuroda)
37. Hyun-Jin Ryu (LAD) -- Fri-@SF (Bumgarner)
38. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Mon-@CLE (Salazar), Sat-HOU (Feldman)
39. Doug Fister (WSH) -- Mon-ATL (Minor), Sat-@NYM (Niese)
40. Tanner Roark (WSH) -- Thu-@NYM (Gee)
41. Chris Archer (TB) -- Tue-@NYY (Kuroda), Sun-@TOR (Stroman)
42. Jake Odorizzi (TB) -- Wed-@NYY (Capuano)
43. Hector Santiago (LAA) -- Tue-@TEX (Lewis), Sun-HOU (Keuchel)
44. Michael Wacha (STL) -- Tue-@CIN (Leake), Sun-COL (Lyles)
45. Jason Vargas (KC) -- Tue-@DET (Scherzer), Sun-BOS (Kelly)
46. Collin McHugh (HOU) -- Tue-@SEA (Elias)
47. Ervin Santana (ATL) -- Tue-@WSH (Zimmermann)
48. Lance Lynn (STL) -- Thu-@CIN (Cueto)
49. John Lackey (STL) -- Wed-@CIN (Simon)
50. Josh Collmenter (ARI) -- Wed-@SF (Vogelsong)
51. Mat Latos (CIN) -- Fri-@MIL (Lohse)
52. Shelby Miller (STL) -- Mon-@CIN (Axelrod), Sat-COL (Morales)
53. Derek Holland (TEX) -- Sun-ATL (Minor)
54. Edinson Volquez (PIT) -- Tue-@PHI (Buchanan), Sun-CHC (Wood)
55. Hiroki Kuroda (NYY) -- Tue-TB (Archer), Sun-@BAL (Tillman)
56. Matt Shoemaker (LAA) -- Wed-@TEX (Tepesch)
57. Zack Wheeler (NYM) -- Fri-WSH (Gonzalez)
58. Odrisamer Despaigne (SD) -- Mon-@LAD (Kershaw), Sun-@ARI (Cahill)
59. Ian Kennedy (SD) -- Wed-@LAD (Haren)
60. Scott Kazmir (OAK) -- Thu-@CWS (Sale)
61. Drew Hutchison (TOR) -- Wed-CHC (Hendricks)
62. Jake Peavy (SF) -- Thu-ARI (Delgado)
63. Tom Koehler (MIA) -- Tue-@MIL (Garza), Sun-@PHI (Buchanan)
64. Clay Buchholz (BOS) -- Fri-@KC (Ventura)
65. Andrew Cashner (SD) -- Tue-@LAD (Hernandez)
66. Phil Hughes (MIN) -- Fri-@CWS (Quintana)
67. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- Mon-MIA (Penny), Sun-CIN (Leake)
68. Vidal Nuno (ARI) -- Fri-SD (Stults)
69. Yordano Ventura (KC) -- Fri-BOS (Buchholz)
70. R.A. Dickey (TOR) -- Sat-TB (Hellickson)
71. Tsuyoshi Wada (CHC) -- Fri-@PIT (Cole)
72. James Paxton (SEA) -- Fri-OAK (Hammel)
73. Michael Pineda (NYY) -- Thu-TB (Cobb)
74. Bartolo Colon (NYM) -- Wed-COL (Matzek)
75. Jose Quintana (CWS) -- Fri-MIN (Hughes)
Two-start options for AL-/NL-only leagues:
Trevor Bauer (CLE) -- Tue-MIN (May), Sun-@DET (Verlander)
Miguel Gonzalez (BAL) -- Mon-@BOS (Kelly), Sat-NYY (Greene)
Jeremy Guthrie (KC) -- Mon-@DET (Verlander), Sat-BOS (De La Rosa)
Kyle Kendrick (PHI) -- Mon-PIT (Locke), Sat-MIA (Penny)
Mike Leake (CIN) -- Tue-STL (Wacha), Sun-@MIL (Gallardo)
Jeff Locke (PIT) -- Mon-@PHI (Kendrick), Sat-CHC (Doubront)
Jonathon Niese (NYM) -- Mon-COL (Lyles), Sat-WSH (Fister)
Justin Verlander (DET) -- Mon-KC (Guthrie), Sun-CLE (Bauer)
No-thank-yous, among two-start pitchers:
Dylan Axelrod (CIN) -- Mon-STL (Miller), Sat-@MIL (Nelson)
David Buchanan (PHI) -- Tue-PIT (Volquez), Sun-MIA (Koehler)
Joe Kelly (BOS) -- Mon-BAL (Gonzalez), Sun-@KC (Vargas)
Jordan Lyles (COL) -- Mon-@NYM (Niese), Sun-@STL (Wacha)
Trevor May (MIN) -- Tue-@CLE (Bauer), Sun-@CWS (Noesi)
Hector Noesi (CWS) -- Mon-OAK (Gray), Sun-MIN (May)
Brad Penny (MIA) -- Mon-@MIL (Gallardo), Sat-@PHI (Kendrick)
• At this time of year, with so many rotations in flux -- as many as nine teams could utilize six-man rotations during Week 23 -- overall team pitching schedules and streaming-starter opportunities warrant the closest attention. To the former point, no team's pitching schedule stands out quite like that of the Washington Nationals, a prime choice in staff-based games like our Baseball Challenge. As mentioned above, they host the ice-cold Atlanta Braves for three before heading to New York's Citi Field for four games. Both of those represent outstanding sets of matchups: The Braves have swung and missed (27.0 percent) and struck out (23.7 percent) at the second-highest rates in baseball since Aug. 1, plus have been shut out four times in their past 11 games (Aug. 23-Sept. 3); the Mets have the majors' lowest weighted on-base average (wOBA) since the All-Star break (.270). The Nationals, who have relied upon the same five starters for months, also rate among the least likely teams to shuffle their rotation, knowing that they can effectively wrap up the division this week. It's no wonder that all five Nationals starters made my top-50 rankings above.
• Consider it a disadvantage that the Detroit Tigers have Justin Verlander lined up as their two-start pitcher, as he has a 6.64 ERA while falling short of quality-start qualification in three of his past four starts. Working particularly against Verlander is his 1-2 record, 5.68 ERA and 1.50 WHIP in four starts versus the Kansas City Royals, as well as his 1-2 record, 4.74 ERA and 1.62 WHIP in four starts versus the Cleveland Indians, this season. Verlander's "name value" might convince his fantasy owners to start him this week, but don't be so hasty. He's as high-risk as they come.
Pending the result of their week-opening series versus the Royals, the Tigers might find themselves in need of squeezing an extra start out of Max Scherzer -- he could return to pitch Sunday if the team pushes back Kyle Lobstein -- and Scherzer's owners should certainly take the chance at the extra start. Meanwhile, David Price again matches up nicely against the lefty-heavy Cleveland Indians, whom he defeated while limiting to one run in seven innings on Sept. 1. Scherzer and Price, two obvious fantasy standouts, and Rick Porcello, 2-for-2 in quality starts against the Royals (both of those on the road), are the only three Tigers to trust during Week 23.
• Marcus Stroman stands out as an exceptional two-start value, and he's available in more than 80 percent of ESPN leagues (as of Sept. 5). Consider that he'll be making a pair of home starts -- he's 9-for-10 in quality starts plus has a 2.97 ERA (counting his relief work) at Rogers Centre this season -- plus he'll be facing the Chicago Cubs for the first time; that's important, as he has a 3.34 ERA and 1.20 WHIP when making his first start against a given opponent.
• Michael Wacha enjoyed a standout, albeit brief, return to the St. Louis Cardinals' rotation Thursday, tossing three innings of one-run, three-hit baseball behind a 95.0 mph average fastball, as well as a curveball that generated three swings and misses and two of his three K's. With two of his three staple pitches looking as effective as they did, not to mention his past reputation for an outstanding changeup (that's his third, and arguably best, offering), Wacha stands out as easily the greatest quality-at-the-expense-of-quantity pitcher of Week 23. Here's the problem: He was limited to only 50 pitches in his return to the rotation, making it difficult to envision him topping 100 in either of his two starts this week; there's a good chance he'll be capped around 75 (Tuesday) and 90 (Sunday). You can be sure that the results will be good, but if your league has a conservative start cap, keep it in mind when considering him.
• 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 Friday):
1. Marcus Stroman (CHC, Monday): He's 9-for-10 in quality starts with a 2.97 ERA in his home games this season, and thus far he has a 3.34 ERA and 1.20 WHIP when he is making his first career start against a given opponent, as is the case here.
2. Kevin Gausman (NYY, Friday): Current, active New York Yankees have combined for a .185 batting average, seven K's and only one extra-base hit (a Brett Gardner home run) in 27 trips to the plate in their careers against Gausman.
3. Drew Hutchison (CHC, Wednesday): So much for the wide home/road split; he has three consecutive quality starts with a 0.83 ERA and 30.0 percent strikeout rate at Rogers Centre. The Chicago Cubs, meanwhile, have averaged just 3.7 runs per game in their past 11 games away from Wrigley Field.
4. Derek Holland (ATL, Sunday): He's a curve/slider-reliant pitcher, all six of his K's in his 2014 debut and 129 of his 189 K's in 2013 coming off either pitch, and he's going up against an Atlanta Braves team that has been rather swing-and-miss-prone this season, especially lately against curves and sliders. Since Aug. 1, no team has swung and missed (38.5 percent) or struck out (39.0 percent) at a higher rate against breaking balls than the Braves.
5. Hector Santiago (@TEX, Tuesday): Since the All-Star break, he has a 2.06 ERA and 1.19 WHIP, including a quality start at Texas' Globe Life Park on Aug. 17 (6 IP, 1 ER). Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios might have good histories against Santiago -- they combined have batted .304 (7-for-23) with four home runs against him in their careers -- but beyond them, the other Texas Rangers are combined .171 hitters with no extra-base hits, 12 strikeouts and just three walks in 46 plate appearances against him.
6. Odrisamer Despaigne (@ARI, Sunday): The Arizona Diamondbacks have struggled mightily since losing Paul Goldschmidt to injury, batting just .225/.288/.322 with a major league-low .272 wOBA since his last appearance (Aug. 1). Despaigne, a natural matchups choice, has posted a 2.41 ERA in his three starts against them.
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: Chicago White Sox 7, Milwaukee Brewers 7, New York Mets 7, Philadelphia Phillies 7, Detroit Tigers 6, Seattle Mariners 6, Texas Rangers 6, Toronto Blue Jays 6, San Francisco Giants 6. No other team plays more than four home games.
Versus RH: Kansas City Royals 7, New York Yankees 7, Cincinnati Reds 7, Milwaukee Brewers 7, Baltimore Orioles 6, Miami Marlins 6. Twelve teams face five right-handed starters.
Versus LH: Chicago White Sox 3, Houston Astros 3, Los Angeles Angels 3, Oakland Athletics 3, Texas Rangers 3, Pittsburgh Pirates 3, San Francisco Giants 3. Ten teams face two left-handed starters.
• Though the Los Angeles Angels face the challenge of a one-day stop in Cleveland on Monday, facing Danny Salazar, before concluding their 10-road-games-in-10-days stretch in Texas from Tuesday-Thursday, they couldn't ask for a more favorable set of hitting matchups. The Salazar game is the challenge -- you can hear why in the video above -- but the Angels gain the benefit of missing both Collin McHugh and Derek Holland in their respective Houston Astros and Texas Rangers series in the final six days. The six pitchers currently expected to pitch in those six games combined have a 5.11 ERA and 1.46 WHIP in their careers against the Angels, in 73 games (42 starts), and the group combined is just 6-for-13 in quality starts against them this year.
Seven Angels hitters have at least a .300 batting average and .800 OPS in at least 20 trips to the plate against the Rangers this season, while five have at least .288/.799 numbers against the Astros, making this a "load up" week on their side. Erick Aybar is the one Angels batter with awful numbers against both teams -- he has batted .241/.281/.333 against the Rangers and .246/.299/.344 against the Astros -- but even he warrants a spot in your lineup facing these pitchers. He has, after all, batted .458 (22-for-48) with eight runs and two stolen bases in his past 13 games.
• The surging St. Louis Cardinals also warrant across-the-board starts, as only two other National League teams have a higher team wOBA than their .321 since Aug. 1: The San Francisco Giants (.339) and Washington Nationals (.324). A healthy Yadier Molina only deepens the Cardinals' lineup and Matt Holliday ranks as one of the game's hottest hitters, so expect their good run to extend into Week 23.
Molina, in particular, has outstanding career stats at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park, batting .325/.360/.518 in 67 games there. Meanwhile, Matt Adams -- assuming his oblique injury heals in time -- is a .341/.357/.659 hitter in 12 games there, plus the Reds have an entirely right-handed rotation. Matt Carpenter is a .321/.363/.420 hitter in 22 games at Great American; and Jon Jay is a .304/.370/.435 hitter in 34 games there.