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On tap: As the new fantasy football season dawns, the fantasy baseball season enters the twilight, and by this point, you're most likely in the playoff stages of your head-to-head league or are counting categories in your Rotisserie race.
Innings-cap/pitching-workload concerns are reaching their apex; we've already seen the Toronto Blue Jays shut down Brandon Morrow for the season, and in the past week we've seen the San Diego Padres (with Mat Latos), Los Angeles Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw) and New York Yankees (Phil Hughes) do some creative rotation shuffling of their own. Projected rotations below are just that, projections, and if you own a pitcher facing workload concerns, be prepared for some mid-week changes. This time of year, nothing is set in stone for young starters.
We've got a few more instances of last-gasp efforts by teams hoping to make valiant runs toward postseason spots: The Chicago White Sox, who trail the Minnesota Twins by six games in the American League Central entering play on Sept. 10, host those Twins for three games Tuesday-Thursday, the final time those teams will battle head-to-head in 2010. The Colorado Rockies, who trail the Padres by 3 1/2 in the National League West and the Atlanta Braves by 3 1/2 in the NL wild-card race, host the Padres for three games Monday-Wednesday in what is their final head-to-head meeting. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals, trailing by five games in the NL Central and 5 1/2 in the wild-card race, also host the Padres for four games Thursday-Sunday.
Among individual storylines, two pitchers will be making starts in familiar places: Philadelphia Phillies ace Roy Halladay will pitch at Florida's Sun Life Stadium, where he threw a perfect game on May 29 and won as recently as Aug. 3, on Wednesday; and Texas Rangers ace Cliff Lee will make his first start at Seattle's Safeco Field since the Mariners traded him in early July on Sunday.
Quick click by section, if you're seeking advice in a specific area:
Projected starting pitchers | Pitching strategies
Team advantages | Hitting strategies
Weather report | Week 23 pitcher rankings
The chart below lists each of the 30 MLB teams' schedules and projected starting pitchers, and provides a matchup rating for each day's starter. Pitchers scheduled to start twice this week are in color-coded boxes.
• It's a National League-heavy week in terms of favorable matchups, and part of the reason is that the Senior Circuit is the one with six teams playing full seven-game slates, with two teams that call pitching-friendly venues their homes playing all of their games at home. The first is the Cardinals, perhaps making their last-ditch effort for a playoff spot, getting three games against their rivals the Chicago Cubs before that four-game weekend set with the Padres. The Cardinals sport baseball's second-best home ERA (2.90), fourth-best home WHIP (1.18) and have limited opponents to three runs or fewer in 16 of 25 home games since the All-Star break. It's that Padres series that might worry you, but consider this: The Padres have lost 11 of their past 14 games, primarily because of their hitting; they have .215/.268/.316 (AVG/OBP/SLG) team rates during their slump. Kyle Lohse, who has a 10.31 ERA in his past four starts, is the only Cardinals starter to avoid.
• The other team with a seven-home-game schedule is the New York Mets, whose home ballpark, Citi Field, ranks even lower on our Park Factors page in terms of runs scored and home runs than St. Louis' Busch Stadium. The Mets haven't quite capitalized to the level that the Cardinals have at Busch, ranking fourth in ERA (3.04) but only 17th in WHIP (1.31) at home, but it's the individuals the Mets are currently slotting into their rotation who benefit: R.A. Dickey is 6-1 with a 1.85 ERA in eight home starts and Mike Pelfrey is 8-3 with a 2.93 ERA in 15 home starts. Even Dillon Gee, fresh off a standout big-league debut, might warrant a look in NL-only leagues. The other substantial advantage is that the Mets host the Pittsburgh Pirates, who rank last in road runs per game (3.07) and second-to-last in road OPS (.650), for four games to begin the week.
• Look for the Rockies, who have won 25 of their past 39 games behind a pitching staff that has a better-than-expected 3.93 ERA during that time, to extend their streak in home games versus the Padres, followed by a three-game series at pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium. The Rockies have already won each of their past five series versus the Padres, taking 11 of 15 games overall, with Monday starter Jeff Francis the only Rockies starter to have lost to that team all season; Rockies starters are a combined 9-1 against the Padres. In addition, check out the career ERAs of the Rockies' current starting five at Dodger Stadium: Jorge De La Rosa 2.05 (7 games, 4 starts), Jason Hammel 1.50 (4 games, 2 starts), Jhoulys Chacin 3.55 (3 games, 2 starts), Francis 2.34 (8 starts). Ubaldo Jimenez, meanwhile, has a 6.31 ERA in seven career starts there, but are you really going to sit him? (Answer: No way.)
• I said it was an NL-heavy week and the fourth team, naturally, also hails from the NL, and it's the Braves, who might be fighting for their playoff lives after ceding the NL East lead to the Philadelphia Phillies and dropping back to a mere one-game lead in the wild-card race. Pitching is ultimately going to decide the Braves' fate, as it's no coincidence that, during the team's six-losses-in-their-past-eight-games slump, their team ERA is 4.83. Still, a three-game series at home versus the Washington Nationals, who are significantly better at home than on the road, as well as a three-game trip to New York's Citi Field, presents them strong pitching matchups. Friday starter Tommy Hanson has a 1.69 ERA in two career starts at Citi Field, while Saturday starter Tim Hudson is 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two career starts there.
For more insight into Week 23 pitching matchups, see my rankings for every scheduled starter at column's end.
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 versus left- and right-handed pitchers and base stealing. Matchup ratings for each individual game are listed under the corresponding date.
• In leagues with weekly lineup deadlines, you don't generally want to populate your lineup with players facing five-game weeks, as the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers do, and focusing on the Rangers specifically here, you don't want players from teams who will spend three of those five at a pitching-friendly venue like Seattle's Safeco Field, will be facing potential Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez in one and might be without star slugger Josh Hamilton for the entire week. That's not to say that the Rangers' lineup is devoid of fantasy talent in Week 23 -- and naturally it's not the case in daily formats -- but lesser options should be avoided if possible. Speedsters Elvis Andrus (.280/.346/.314 rates since Aug. 1) and Julio Borbon (.288/.316/.329) in particular match up poorly this week.
• The Arizona Diamondbacks score the week's only perfect-10, which might take many fantasy owners aback considering they have the sixth-greatest OPS differential between home and road games (.069 worse on the road). Still, this team packed decent punch during its past three road trips, scoring seven or more runs in eight of 19 games and managing .261/.341/.457 rates overall. Four games at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park presents the Diamondbacks with a ballpark advantage, and three games at Pittsburgh gives the team three soft matchups, two of them versus left-handers, against whom the Diamondbacks have a .773 team OPS.
• Don't write off these Baltimore Orioles as dead; under new manager Buck Showalter they have won 21 of 35 games, have averaged 4.20 runs per contest and registered .260/.309/.397 offensive rates. Granted, those might not sound like terribly exciting statistics, but compare them to the Orioles' team performance before Showalter's arrival: 32-73 record, 3.61 runs per game, .256/.315/.384 offensive rates. Showalter's Orioles are clearly not writing off the season and are clearly motivated, and it'll help that they're facing two weaker Blue Jays starters (Mark Rzepczynski and spot starter Shawn Hill) and two struggling Yankee right-handers (Javier Vazquez and A.J. Burnett). Adam Jones (.302/.375/.465 rates under Showalter), Felix Pie (.285/.307/.431), Brian Roberts (.294/.366/.437), Luke Scott (.287/.371/.548) and Matt Wieters (.281/.345/.469) are all well worth starting in the majority of leagues.
Now, let's take a look at some Week 23 sleepers:
Michael Brantley, OF, Cleveland Indians: The Indians' hitting ranking is high, and the primary reason is that Scott Kazmir is one of their Angels opponents, while they'll avoid Zack Greinke during the weekend Royals series. Brantley has the speed to capitalize upon the Angels' catchers, who aren't adept at gunning down opposing base stealers, and his .299 batting average in 27 games since his most recent recall suggests he might offer a bit of offensive punch, too.
Jon Jay, OF, St. Louis Cardinals: If there's an ideal time to use Jay, it's at home and when his team faces a slew of right-handed pitchers. The rookie is a .318/.362/.494 hitter against righties, and .326/.398/.500 at home, this season.
Ryan Ludwick, OF, San Diego Padres: There's a bit of the revenge factor at play, as he'll be making his first trip back to St. Louis' Busch Stadium since the Cardinals traded him on July 31, and don't overlook that he has .290/.363/.507 career rates there. But this pick is very much about the three games at Colorado's Coors Field; Ludwick has five homers in 11 career games there.
Ryan Raburn, OF/2B, Detroit Tigers: Though the Tigers do play just five games, the advantage they have over the Rangers is that their games come entirely at hitter-friendly venues, Texas' Rangers Ballpark (2) and Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field (3). It's for that reason you should still keep your hotter Tigers hitters active, like Raburn, a .345/.386/.664 hitter with 27 RBIs in his past 32 games.
Skip Schumaker, 2B/OF, St. Louis Cardinals: He has started all but two of the Cardinals' games versus right-handers this season, traditionally leads off when he does, and has a .342 on-base percentage against that side that should keep him a productive enough option in terms of runs scored.
Danny Valencia, 3B, Minnesota Twins: Check his health before Monday, because Valencia has been battling some hamstring trouble recently, but if he's cleared to play, he's coming back at a perfect time matchups-wise. The Twins face five left-handed starters in their six games, and Valencia has .419/.488/.541 rates against that side.
Keep an eye on the weather reports all along the Mississippi and the Great Lakes region, as it's the Midwest cities that face the greatest threat of rain this week. There's a 40-percent chance of rain on Tuesday and 50-percent on Wednesday during the Athletics-Royals series, while Thursday games in both Cincinnati and St. Louis face 40-percent chances of rain. Chicago, Miami and Cleveland also bear watching, each game in the early week facing 30-percent chances of rain.
Weatherproof games: Brewers at Astros (3, Mon-Wed); Reds at Astros (3, Fri-Sun); Red Sox at Mariners (3, Mon-Wed); Rangers at Mariners (3, Fri-Sun); Yankees at Rays (3, Mon-Wed); Angels at Rays (3, Fri-Sun).
Rankings take into account several factors: The pitcher's raw talent, historical and recent performance; number of starts; strength of opponent(s); and ballpark factors. Be aware that different leagues might emphasize different pitching statistics that could change these rankings slightly. These are based upon a fairly standard Rotisserie scoring system, like ESPN's.
1. Adam Wainwright (STL) -- Tue-CHC (Wells), Sun-SD (Garland)
2. CC Sabathia (NYY) -- Mon-@TB (Price), Sun-@BAL (Tillman)
3. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Tue-@SF (Zito), Sun-COL (Francis)
4. Jaime Garcia (STL) -- Mon-CHC (Silva), Sat-SD (Luebke)
5. David Price (TB) -- Mon-NYY (Sabathia), Sun-LAA (Bell)
6. Jon Lester (BOS) -- Mon-@SEA (Fister), Sun-TOR (Rzepczynski)
7. Francisco Liriano (MIN) -- Tue-@CHW (Danks), Sun-OAK (Gonzalez)
8. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- Fri-TEX (Wilson)
9. Roy Halladay (PHI) -- Wed-@FLA (TBD)
10. John Danks (CHW) -- Tue-MIN (Liriano), Sun-DET (Verlander)
11. Chris Carpenter (STL) -- Wed-CHC (Zambrano)
12. Mat Latos (SD) -- Fri-@STL (Lohse)
13. Tim Hudson (ATL) -- Sat-@NYM (Gee)
14. Roy Oswalt (PHI) -- Sat-WAS (Zimmermann)
15. Daniel Hudson (ARI) -- Tue-@CIN (Wood), Sun-@PIT (Duke)
16. Tim Lincecum (SF) -- Sat-MIL (Gallardo)
17. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Tue-@FLA (Mendez)
18. R.A. Dickey (NYM) -- Tue-PIT (Duke), Sun-ATL (Lowe)
19. C.J. Wilson (TEX) -- Fri-@SEA (Hernandez)
20. Zack Greinke (KC) -- Tue-OAK (TBD)
21. Matt Cain (SF) -- Wed-LAD (Billingsley)
22. Clay Buchholz (BOS) -- Wed-@SEA (Pauley)
23. Brett Myers (HOU) -- Mon-MIL (Narveson), Sun-CIN (Wood)
24. Ubaldo Jimenez (COL) -- Fri-@LAD (Kuroda)
25. Tommy Hanson (ATL) -- Fri-@NYM (Niese)
26. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Thu-@CLE (Carmona)
27. Gio Gonzalez (OAK) -- Mon-@KC (Bannister), Sun-@MIN (Liriano)
28. Justin Verlander (DET) -- Sun-@CHW (Danks)
29. Cliff Lee (TEX) -- Sun-@SEA (Fister)
30. Hiroki Kuroda (LAD) -- Fri-COL (Jimenez)
31. Jhoulys Chacin (COL) -- Sat-@LAD (Padilla)
32. Travis Wood (CIN) -- Tue-ARI (Hudson), Sun-@HOU (Myers)
33. Jonathan Sanchez (SF) -- Thu-LAD (Lilly)
34. Chad Billingsley (LAD) -- Wed-@SF (Cain)
35. Wandy Rodriguez (HOU) -- Fri-CIN (Cueto)
36. Max Scherzer (DET) -- Sat-@CHW (Garcia)
37. Jorge De La Rosa (COL) -- Wed-SD (Richard)
38. J.A. Happ (HOU) -- Wed-MIL (Bush)
39. Bronson Arroyo (CIN) -- Mon-ARI (Enright), Sat-@HOU (Figueroa)
40. Ian Kennedy (ARI) -- Fri-@PIT (Burres)
41. Daisuke Matsuzaka (BOS) -- Tue-@SEA (French)
42. Rick Porcello (DET) -- Wed-@TEX (Lewis)
43. Ryan Dempster (CHC) -- Fri-@FLA (Sanchez)
44. Carlos Zambrano (CHC) -- Wed-@STL (Carpenter)
45. Dan Haren (LAA) -- Sat-@TB (Niemann)
46. Ted Lilly (LAD) -- Thu-@SF (Sanchez)
47. Brett Anderson (OAK) -- Fri-@MIN (Blackburn)
48. Justin Masterson (CLE) -- Tue-LAA (Bell), Sun-@KC (Bannister)
49. Jake Westbrook (STL) -- Thu-SD (Correia)
50. Wade Davis (TB) -- Fri-LAA (Santana)
51. Matt Garza (TB) -- Tue-NYY (Nova)
52. Brett Cecil (TOR) -- Wed-@BAL (Bergesen)
53. Dallas Braden (OAK) -- Sat-@MIN (Slowey)
54. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- Sat-@SF (Lincecum)
55. Brian Duensing (MIN) -- Wed-@CHW (Floyd)
56. Anibal Sanchez (FLA) -- Fri-CHC (Dempster)
57. Edwin Jackson (CHW) -- Fri-DET (Galarraga)
58. Brian Matusz (BAL) -- Mon-TOR (Rzepczynski)
59. Derek Lowe (ATL) -- Mon-WAS (Maya), Sun-@NYM (Dickey)
60. Jair Jurrjens (ATL) -- Tue-WAS (Hernandez)
61. Jason Hammel (COL) -- Tue-SD (Garland)
62. Trevor Cahill (OAK) -- Wed-@KC (Chen)
63. Gavin Floyd (CHW) -- Wed-MIN (Duensing)
64. Josh Beckett (BOS) -- Sat-TOR (Marcum)
65. John Lackey (BOS) -- Fri-TOR (Romero)
66. Doug Fister (SEA) -- Mon-BOS (Lester), Sun-TEX (Lee)
67. Mike Pelfrey (NYM) -- Thu-PIT (Morton)
68. Fausto Carmona (CLE) -- Thu-LAA (Weaver)
69. Johnny Cueto (CIN) -- Fri-@HOU (Rodriguez)
70. Shaun Marcum (TOR) -- Sat-@BOS (Beckett)
71. Ricky Romero (TOR) -- Fri-@BOS (Lackey)
72. James Shields (TB) -- Wed-NYY (Hughes)
73. Joe Blanton (PHI) -- Mon-@FLA (Miller), Sun-WAS (Maya)
74. Javier Vazquez (NYY) -- Fri-@BAL (Millwood)
75. Nick Blackburn (MIN) -- Fri-OAK (Anderson)
Two-start pitchers for deep leagues:
Trevor Bell (LAA) -- Tue-@CLE (Masterson), Sun-@TB (Price)
Dillon Gee (NYM) -- Mon-PIT (McDonald), Sat-ATL (Hudson)
Cory Luebke (SD) -- Mon-@COL (Francis), Sat-@STL (Garcia)
James McDonald (PIT) -- Mon-@NYM (Gee), Sat-ARI (Enright)
Chris Narveson (MIL) -- Mon-@HOU (Myers), Sun-@SF (Zito)
Barry Zito (SF) -- Tue-LAD (Kershaw), Sun-MIL (Narveson)
Kyle Davies (KC) -- Fri-CLE (Carrasco)
Derek Holland (TEX) -- Tue-DET (Bonderman)
Tommy Hunter (TEX) -- Sat-@SEA (Vargas)
Jenrry Mejia (NYM) -- Wed-PIT (Maholm)
Mike Minor (ATL) -- Wed-WAS (Lannan)
Bud Norris (HOU) -- Tue-MIL (Capuano)
Kevin Slowey (MIN) -- Sat-OAK (Braden)
Randy Wolf (MIL) -- Fri-@SF (Bumgarner)
No-thank-yous, among two-starts:
Brian Bannister (KC) -- Mon-OAK (Gonzalez), Sun-CLE (Masterson)
Zach Duke (PIT) -- Tue-@NYM (Dickey), Sun-ARI (Hudson)
Barry Enright (ARI) -- Mon-@CIN (Arroyo), Sat-@PIT (McDonald)
Jeff Francis (COL) -- Mon-SD (Luebke), Sun-@LAD (Kershaw)
Jon Garland (SD) -- Tue-@COL (Hammel), Sun-@STL (Wainwright)
Yunesky Maya (WAS) -- Mon-@ATL (Lowe), Sun-@PHI (Blanton)
Andrew Miller (FLA) -- Mon-PHI (Blanton), Sun-CHC (Silva)
Marc Rzepczynski (TOR) -- Mon-@BAL (Matusz), Sun-@BOS (Lester)
Carlos Silva (CHC) -- Mon-@STL (Garcia), Sun-@FLA (Miller)
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.