Another eventful weekend is ahead for fantasy baseball.
Thursday's slate is two games heftier, after a pair of postponements due to air-quality concerns created rescheduled games in New York and Philadelphia. The New York Yankees host the Chicago White Sox in a straight doubleheader, Game 1 beginning at 4:05 p.m. ET, while the Philadelphia Phillies host the Detroit Tigers in the finale of their week-opening series with a start time of 6:05 p.m. ET. Keep the changes in mind if you're playing the Thursday slate or planning for the four days ahead.
Speaking of those Yankees, they face their rivals, the Boston Red Sox, for the first time in 2023 this weekend, their three-game series played at Yankee Stadium. Aaron Judge, unfortunately, will miss the contests after landing on the 10-day IL on Wednesday due to his toe injury. The San Diego Padres visit Colorado's Coors Field, a stadium at which they have inexplicably lost 14 of their past 17 games, for three games. And we'll get a showdown between baseball's two best teams, the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers, in a three-game series at Tropicana Field.
What fantasy nuggets can our analysts extract from the schedule that lies immediately ahead? Tristan H. Cockcroft and Eric Karabell weigh in.
Cockcroft: I jinxed Judge last week. Clearly. I hang my head in shame and shall turn in my extensive Yankees cap collection. Eric, what cap size are you? The Yankee bandwagon welcomes new riders.
But seriously, the Forecaster now grades the Yankees as the sixth-most-favorable matchup for an opposing right-handed pitcher, which matters because all three visiting Red Sox starters are -- ta-dah! -- right-handed. Our standard game is a somewhat different beast when it comes to streaming, but in anything deeper (and even there if playing catch-up), Brayan Bello (2.89 ERA over his past five starts), and perhaps even Garrett Whitlock or Tanner Houck, is no longer an outrageous option -- other than that Yankee Stadium's park factor hinders top-shelf fantasy point totals.
On the topic of park factors, this needs to be the weekend the Padres break out of their hitting funk. They've scored two runs or fewer in five of their past 10. Granted I can't make the "start him" case for any of their starters in Colorado besides Yu Darvish, but Padres hitters have mighty histories there over the years -- even Trent Grisham, with six homers in his past 20 games at Coors! It's Coors, you know what to do.
Which means, because baseball, will all this "Costanza it" with opposite results? Hey, we must set our optimal lineups and let the batted balls land where they may.
Karabell: I agree that Darvish is the lone starting pitcher I would feel safe starting in Denver this weekend, though I do have erratic LHP Blake Snell active in a league with no bench. Not much I could do there! Live by the ERA/WHIP roller coaster, die by it. I'm hoping for his fourth consecutive game of no more than four hits, runs and walks. What an interesting player.
As for intriguing hitters in Denver this weekend, I never expected to be discussing Padres C Gary Sanchez and Rockies OF Nolan Jones, but here we are. Sanchez, 30, and with his fourth organization since leaving the Yankees roughly 20 months ago, has four home runs and nine RBI in his first nine Padres games -- because of course he does. I'm skeptical it lasts, but then again, Coors Field this weekend. Jones, 25, the former Guardians "three true outcomes" prospect, looks impressive, with two home runs and two steals, but has been lacking one of the "outcomes." He has drawn only one walk through 11 games. He's playing, at least. We need to see how he develops.
The biggest story in baseball is, of course, Elly De La Cruz and the most exciting young infield in baseball. De La Cruz and his hard-hitting Reds mates head to St. Louis, facing the last-place Cardinals. De La Cruz and 3B/1B Spencer Steer are the two most-added players in ESPN leagues, yet still available in nearly 50% of them. Yeah, make room. The Reds face some hittable pitchers this weekend (Jordan Montgomery, Miles Mikolas, Adam Wainwright). Cardinals OF Jordan Walker is also on the added list, but honestly, for this season I'll take De La Cruz and Steer. Do you concur?
Cockcroft: Gosh is that an interesting choice, and many of us spring to Walker (well, over Steer, maybe, but certainly not De La Cruz) because of the prospect rankings, but the Reds really are building up to big things offensively. I think Steer is one of the most underrated rookies in the league, and Walker is a free swinger on a team that thinks outfield is the only position on the lineup card. Not that it's a bad stretch in the matchup department, by any means, but the Reds offense isn't exactly in a soft-matchup stretch, either. The fact that they're doing this -- seven games of eight or more runs in their last 11! -- is a really good sign.
While we're at it, hey Reds, please call up Christian Encarnacion-Strand? I like the Steer-in-the-outfield idea to accommodate everyone.
You know I love my pitching, and Saturday's the day that catches my eye. Atlanta's AJ Smith-Shawver, a 2021 seventh-rounder who tore through three minor league levels to the tune of a 1.09 ERA and 35.2% strikeout rate in seven starts, makes his first big league start in a great home matchup against the Nationals. (Just bank on possibly an 80-85 pitch count.) Cincinnati's Andrew Abbott makes his second start in the aforementioned Cardinals series -- and St. Louis is a touch more K-prone against lefties. Cleveland's Triston McKenzie, fresh off a brilliant 2023 debut, makes start No. 2 in a challenging home matchup against the Astros, one in which another solid stat line cements his status once again as a prospective top-20, locked-in starter.
Plus (and keeping him on the free agent list for now, granted) I'll keep an eye on Toronto's Bowden Francis, their Alek Manoa fill-in. He's lacking in prospect buzz but, he has the minor league command numbers to potentially matter in AL-only/deeper mixed.
Karabell: Saturday is indeed an intriguing day for young starting pitchers, as you deftly covered, but I have my eyes on Sunday when quite a few young arms should see their fantasy value rebound after rough outings earlier in the week.
Let's start with Seattle's Bryce Miller, for he dominated big league hitters through his first five starts, but has permitted 19 hits and 15 earned runs over his last two, covering only seven innings. Yeah, it was the Rangers and Yankees, but Miller needs to improve against the Angels, or his next outing may be back in the minors. Fantasy managers are watching!
In addition, keep an eye on Pirates RHP Mitch Keller versus the Mets (five earned runs and only one strikeout against Oakland), Twins RHP Louie Varland at Toronto (seven earned runs earlier this week) and Marlins LHP Braxton Garrett at the White Sox (four runs against the Royals). Keller is universally rostered, and he should be unless his struggles continue, but Varland and Garrett should have value as well.
Finally, will Reds fireballer Hunter Greene make the start? He missed his most recent one due to hip stiffness, opening the door for Abbott to debut, and Greene has struck out eight-plus hitters in four consecutive outings, so we're always watching him. You know, the Reds could be NL playoff contenders right now, if they just got a little pitching. It would be quite the story if they made it!
Cockcroft: Sigh, if only Nick Lodolo weren't sidelined with a leg injury ...
The Braves and Orioles should feast with the bats this week, the former a loaded offense and the latter one in a bit of a recent funk, considering they face the Nationals and Royals, staffs that rank among baseball's 10 worst since May 22 (start of Week 8). Outside of those Padres, they both have the Forecaster's best hitting grades (9 apiece overall, 10-grades for lefties). The Braves have another of those "you know what to do" lineups, though Eddie Rosario appears to have picked up the pace, batting .267 with five homers while securing the No. 5 lineup spot over his last 17 games.
With the Orioles, it's more about boosting our confidence in their already-rostered hitters, but Cedric Mullins fill-in Aaron Hicks has snuck in back-to-back No. 5 lineup starts and has already delivered five batted balls of over 100-mph and is 6-for-15 as an O. Boog's tasty BBQ must have helped.