Fantasy Forecaster updated Sunday, Sept. 5 at 10:52 a.m. ET.
On tap: Many of you might have Labor Day off, but Major League Baseball sure doesn't. It's actually one of the busiest days on the baseball calendar so far this year, including a doubleheader between the Florida Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, and every one of the 30 teams is scheduled for a game. It's also an early-start Monday; that refers to the fact that the first pitch of the day is set for 1:05 p.m. ET, and in fact, four games begin that early and 12 of the 16 are day games. Owners in leagues with weekly deadlines should keep that in mind when planning around their weekend barbeques.
The early portion of the week includes several "last-ditch series," games between playoff hopefuls where the team trailing in the standings is effectively in a must-win situation. The American League wild card-leading -- and within 1½ games of the East lead -- Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox tangle for three games at Fenway Park, with the Red Sox in the must-win situation being 6½ games behind the Rays. The National League Central-leading Cincinnati Reds and Colorado Rockies play three at Coors Field, with the Rockies 6½ games in back of the wild card-leading Phillies and 7½ games back in the West. And the NL West-leading San Diego Padres host the Los Angeles Dodgers for three, with the Dodgers trailing their division rivals by nine games in the standings.
With rosters now expanded to as many as 40 players and teams beginning to consider shutting down their young starters bumping up against innings caps, expect rotations to be in a bit more flux than usual. Remember that the Forecaster only projects rotations for the upcoming weeks, rather than provides you with a guarantee, and you should be prepared for the occasional midweek shuffling; the Texas Rangers' recent bumping back of Cliff Lee is a prime example.
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.
P: The starting pitcher's matchup rating, which accounts for past history (three years' worth as well as past 21 days), opponent and ballpark. Ratings range from 1-10, with 10 representing the best possible matchup, statistically speaking, and 1 representing the worst.
• If you're looking for the standout set of team pitching matchups for Week 22, it belongs to the Dodgers. Yes, those are seven road games for the Dodgers, a team whose ERA on the road (4.29) is noticeably higher than at home (3.77), but stops at San Diego's Petco Park (three games, Monday-Wednesday) and Houston's Minute Maid Park (four, Thursday-Sunday) can't be considered remotely unfavorable. The Dodgers' road pitching statistics have been adversely impacted by games in Boston, Philadelphia and St. Louis, where they were 1-9 with a 6.34 ERA in 10 games combined; at Petco Park, by comparison, they have won four of six games with a 2.24 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. The Dodgers will throw Chad Billingsley (Wednesday) and Clayton Kershaw (Tuesday) in that series, and this Padres team has lost seven in a row with .221/.262/.311 (AVG/OBP/SLG) team offensive rates.
• "Across town" -- that phrase depending upon whether you believe the Los Angeles Angels hail from L.A. or Anaheim -- the Angels also stack up nicely in a six-home-game week, playing three apiece versus the Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners. Those two opponents rank among the bottom 10 in baseball in both runs per game and OPS on the road, while the Angels have an ERA more than a run lower at home (3.81) than on the road (4.82). Scott Kazmir is the only Angels pitcher who should be avoided across the board, primarily because he's 2-7 with a 6.36 ERA and 1.59 WHIP in nine starts at home this season and 1-2 with a 7.07 ERA and 2.25 WHIP in six career starts versus the Indians.
• Though the Minnesota Twins were facing a bit of a rotation conundrum heading into the week, having used eight different pitchers -- including two starters in relief -- in a 13-inning loss on Sept. 2, but it seems they're aligning their rotation just right for the coming week. The opposing Kansas City Royals and Indians shouldn't pose significant threats to their staff, and if you look at the three-game series at Cleveland's Jacobs Field, the Twins are throwing the right three starters: Carl Pavano (Friday), Brian Duensing (Saturday) and Francisco Liriano (Sunday) are a combined 5-0 with a 2.45 ERA in nine games (six starts) against the Indians in 2010.
• The Oakland Athletics sport baseball's best home ERA (2.86) and WHIP (1.12), so even though three of their games will be played against the Red Sox's potent lineup, don't be afraid to keep their starters active. The best way to play things with A's pitchers this week is to avoid the Friday (Trevor Cahill) and Saturday (Vin Mazzaro) starters, but ride the three others. Cahill, unfortunately, is coming off a poor outing versus the New York Yankees, not to mention lost both of his starts versus the Red Sox last season with an 8.71 ERA and 1.84 WHIP. But don't sweat the second of Brett Anderson's two turns; he's 2-1 with a 2.62 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in four career starts versus the Red Sox, and has a 2.92 ERA at home this season.
• Just because the opposing Dodgers stack up well on the mound doesn't mean the Padres can't as well in that series. The Dodgers have only .235/.296/.329 offensive rates versus Padres pitching this season, and look at the Padres' 2010 pitching numbers versus the division-rival San Francisco Giants, whom they host for four during the weekend: 9 wins, 10 quality starts, 1.99 ERA, 1.04 WHIP in 11 games. Getting back to Petco should serve the Padres well, especially Jon Garland, Wade LeBlanc and Clayton Richard, each of whom has an ERA at Petco more than a run lower than on the road this season.
• The Atlanta Braves might very well coast into the playoffs riding what is one of the game's best pitching staffs, even though Derek Lowe is battling elbow soreness and Tommy Hanson has been a tad more unpredictable than anticipated. The Braves are substantially stronger at home than on the road, but a three-game series in Pittsburgh's PNC Park is no tough pitching assignment, and if the four-game series versus the St. Louis Cardinals troubles you, consider this: The Braves are 49-19 with a 3.02 ERA at Turner Field, while the Cardinals have lost eight of their past nine facing the Pittsburgh Pirates, Washington Nationals and Houston Astros, managing .222/.279/.343 team offensive rates during that nine-game cold spell.
For more insight into Week 22 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.
H: Hitters' matchup rating, which accounts for the opposing starting pitcher's past history (three years' worth as well as past 21 days) as well as ballpark factors. L: Hitters' matchup rating accounting only for left-handed hitters. R: Hitters' matchup rating accounting for only right-handed hitters. S: Base stealing matchup rating, which accounts for the opponent's catchers' ability to gun down opposing base stealers. Ratings range from 1-10, with 10 representing the best possible matchup, statistically speaking, and 1 representing the worst.
• If the Chicago White Sox are going to make up the 3& #189; games they trail in the AL Central race, it's probably going to be behind the strength of their offense. Though the White Sox are just 20-16 in their past 36 games, they have .303/.359/.483 team rates and 49 home runs during that span. They've also stood out offensively in past games at Detroit's Comerica Park, where they had .304/.357/.464 rates in five games previously this year, and home games versus the Royals, against whom they have .335/.396/.614 rates in six games at U.S. Cellular Field previously this year. Manny Ramirez, getting his first taste of life with the White Sox, should feast upon those staffs, and hot-hitting A.J. Pierzynski, who has hit safely in 14 of his past 15 games and has nine multi-hit efforts and a .403 batting average during that time, warrants a look in shallow formats.
• They'll face two (judging by current standings) playoff teams, but the Toronto Blue Jays play all seven games at home, and that's what makes all the difference. Look at the Blue Jays' numbers at Rogers Centre: 112 home runs (most of any team at home), 251 extra-base hits (first), .493 slugging percentage (second), .814 OPS (third) and 1,028 total bases (sixth). This team also scorches right-handed pitching, ranking first in the majors against that side in home runs (169, 46 more than anyone else) and OPS (.797), and they're facing the Rangers and Rays at perhaps the perfect time. Rangers ace Cliff Lee, the Blue Jays' Tuesday opponent, is in a bit of a funk and will be working on six days' rest, while the Rays will be throwing Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann, who have only one quality start in four tries combined since their activation from the disabled list, posting an 8.86 ERA between them.
• Expect fireworks -- hitting numbers, not fisticuffs -- during the Reds-Rockies showdown in Coors Field, as we're talking about the Nos. 3 (Reds, .778) and 8 (Rockies, .761) offenses in terms of team OPS for the season. Both teams stand out offensively this week -- both rate perfect 10s -- and it's because once their head-to-head series is completed, the Reds return home to host the pitching-starved Pirates, while the Rockies remain at Coors to host the Arizona Diamondbacks and their beleaguered bullpen. Let's talk Reds first: Scott Rolen is a .455 hitter (10-for-22) with two home runs in six games at Coors since 2007; Jonny Gomes is a .409 hitter (9-for-22) with three homers in six career games at Coors; Jay Bruce has three homers and a .524 slugging percentage in 13 games versus the Pirates this season; and Chris Heisey, for those of you in deep NL-only leagues, is a .476/.542/.952 hitter in eight games versus the Pirates this season.
• Now let's talk Rockies. Carlos Gonzalez is the team's leading hitter in all three "triple-slash" categories both at home (.391/.436/.790) and versus the Diamondbacks this season (.444/.500/1.000 in 11 games). Dexter Fowler is a .310/.408/.563 at Coors, while Todd Helton is a .311/.380/.556 hitter in his past 12 games. And if you look at those stolen-base ratings, things stack up well for a speedster like Eric Young Jr., he of the nine steals in his past 18 games. To the point about steals, the Rockies are already 15-for-17 on stolen base attempts versus the Diamondbacks in 12 meetings this season.
Now, let's take a look at some Week 22 sleepers:
Daric Barton, 1B, Oakland Athletics: You'd think that a week played entirely at pitcher-friendly Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, as opposed to on the road, as well as against three left-handed starters in six games wouldn't suit Barton well, except that he's in a sense a "bizarro" kind of hitter. Did you know he's a .295/.396/.448 hitter against southpaws since 2008? How about that he's a .302/.415/.422 hitter in home games this season? By the way, Barton is also a .408/.559/.673 hitter in his past 16 games.
Ryan Doumit, C/OF, Pittsburgh Pirates: He's finally beginning to pick up the pace at the plate, with .238/.373/.476 offensive rates in his past 13 games, and is sneaking in just enough starts between catcher and right field to matter in NL-only and deeper mixed formats. Doumit also leads the Pirates in OPS versus right-handers; he has an .859 number against them.
Mike Morse, 1B/OF, Washington Nationals: With Josh Willingham injured and Nyjer Morgan facing a lengthy suspension, Morse has a tremendous opportunity to play regularly in September. Morse is a .298/.348/.536 hitter in 36 home games this season, and he's hitting .542 (13-for-24) in his past six games overall.
Ryan Raburn, OF/2B, Detroit Tigers: You might not need us to tell you he's well worth starting at this point, but we'll do it anyway. He's a .318/.364/.627 hitter with 23 RBIs in 30 games since Aug. 1, and has three home runs in 10 games versus the division-rival White Sox this season.
Danny Valencia, 3B, Minnesota Twins: He's a bit of an "empty batting average" hitter, but players like that facing matchups like these are worth plugging into the back slots of your lineup. He has also terrorized the Royals in six games so far this year; he has .542/.577/.792 rates against them.
Neil Walker, 2B/3B, Pittsburgh Pirates: Doumit paces the Pirates in OPS versus right-handers, but Walker ranks second with an .843 mark. He's also hitting .425 (17-for-40) with four homers and 14 RBIs in his past nine games, numbers that make him worth a look in any format this week.
The forecast looks remarkably good this week, coming off a weekend where Hurricane Earl presented some issues for the east coast. Labor Day, in particular, has a fantastic outlook; Royals-Twins in Minnesota is the only game with greater than a 20 percent chance of rain on Monday (it's 40 percent). There also isn't a single game with greater than a 20 percent chance before Thursday.
Weatherproof games: Dodgers at Astros (4, Thu-Sun); Rangers at Blue Jays (4, Mon-Thu); Rays at Blue Jays (3, Fri-Sun); Cardinals at Brewers (3, Mon-Wed); Cubs at Brewers (3, Fri-Sun); Giants at Diamondbacks (3, Mon-Wed).
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. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Tue-@SD (Correia), Sun-@HOU (Figueroa)
2. Roy Oswalt (PHI) -- Mon-FLA, Gm. 1 (Mendez), Sun-@NYM (Pelfrey)
3. Mat Latos (SD) -- Mon-LAD (Monasterios), Sat-SF (Bumgarner)
4. Tim Hudson (ATL) -- Tue-@PIT (McDonald), Sun-STL (Lohse)
5. Tim Lincecum (SF) -- Tue-@ARI (Enright), Sun-@SD (Correia)
6. Dan Haren (LAA) -- Mon-CLE (Carrasco), Sun-SEA (Vargas)
7. Tommy Hanson (ATL) -- Mon-@PIT (Karstens), Sat-STL (Westbrook)
8. Jon Lester (BOS) -- Mon-TB (Niemann), Sun-@OAK (Anderson)
9. Max Scherzer (DET) -- Mon-CHW (Jackson), Sat-BAL (Guthrie)
10. Justin Verlander (DET) -- Tue-CHW (Garcia), Sun-BAL (Tillman)
11. Ubaldo Jimenez (COL) -- Mon-CIN (Harang), Sat-ARI (Lopez)
12. CC Sabathia (NYY) -- Tue-BAL (Arrieta)
13. Roy Halladay (PHI) -- Fri-@NYM (Mejia)
14. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- Sat-@LAA (Santana)
15. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Fri-SEA (Pauley)
16. Matt Cain (SF) -- Thu-@SD (Garland)
17. Brett Anderson (OAK) -- Mon-SEA (Vargas), Sun-BOS (Lester)
18. Adam Wainwright (STL) -- Thu-@ATL (Jurrjens)
19. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Wed-FLA (Miller)
20. Chad Billingsley (LAD) -- Wed-@SD (Luebke)
21. Chris Carpenter (STL) -- Fri-@ATL (Minor)
22. Jhoulys Chacin (COL) -- Tue-CIN (Cueto), Sun-ARI (Kennedy)
23. Josh Johnson (FLA) -- Fri-@WAS (Lannan)
24. Hiroki Kuroda (LAD) -- Fri-@HOU (Happ)
25. Johan Santana (NYM) -- Tue-@WAS (Olsen)
26. Wandy Rodriguez (HOU) -- Mon-@CHC (Coleman), Sat-LAD (Monasterios)
27. Ted Lilly (LAD) -- Thu-@HOU (Norris)
28. Francisco Liriano (MIN) -- Tue-KC (Bannister)
29. Dallas Braden (OAK) -- Tue-SEA (Fister)
30. Jaime Garcia (STL) -- Wed-@MIL (Capuano)
31. Clay Buchholz (BOS) -- Wed-TB (Garza)
32. Edwin Jackson (CHW) -- Mon-@DET (Scherzer), Sat-KC (Davies)
33. Jonathan Sanchez (SF) -- Fri-@SD (Richard)
34. Gio Gonzalez (OAK) -- Wed-SEA (French)
35. Zack Greinke (KC) -- Wed-@MIN (Duensing)
36. Anibal Sanchez (FLA) -- Mon-@PHI, Gm. 2 (Worley), Sun-@WAS (Zimmermann)
37. Brian Duensing (MIN) -- Wed-KC (Greinke)
38. Daniel Hudson (ARI) -- Wed-SF (Zito)
39. Matt Garza (TB) -- Wed-@BOS (Buchholz)
40. Rick Porcello (DET) -- Thu-CHW (Floyd)
41. Cliff Lee (TEX) -- Tue-@TOR (Marcum), Sun-NYY (Burnett)
42. Jordan Zimmermann (WAS) -- Mon-NYM (Pelfrey), Sun-FLA (Sanchez)
43. J.A. Happ (HOU) -- Fri-LAD (Kuroda)
44. Clayton Richard (SD) -- Fri-SF (Sanchez)
45. Ervin Santana (LAA) -- Sat-SEA (Hernandez)
46. Ricky Romero (TOR) -- Mon-TEX (Hunter), Sat-TB (Davis)
47. Josh Beckett (BOS) -- Sat-@OAK (Mazzaro)
48. Ryan Dempster (CHC) -- Sat-@MIL (Wolf)
49. Daisuke Matsuzaka (BOS) -- Tue-TB (Price)
50. Shaun Marcum (TOR) -- Tue-TEX (Lee), Sun-TB (Niemann)
51. Homer Bailey (CIN) -- Fri-PIT (Maholm)
52. David Price (TB) -- Tue-@BOS (Matsuzaka)
53. Jorge De La Rosa (COL) -- Fri-ARI (Saunders)
54. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- Mon-STL (Westbrook), Sun-CHC (Coleman)
55. C.J. Wilson (TEX) -- Fri-NYY (Vazquez)
56. Mike Pelfrey (NYM) -- Mon-@WAS (Zimmermann), Sun-PHI (Oswalt)
57. Carlos Zambrano (CHC) -- Fri-@MIL (Bush)
58. Doug Fister (SEA) -- Tue-@OAK (Braden)
59. Jon Garland (SD) -- Thu-SF (Cain)
60. Ian Kennedy (ARI) -- Mon-SF (Bumgarner), Sun-@COL (Chacin)
61. R.A. Dickey (NYM) -- Wed-@WAS (Hernandez)
62. Jair Jurrjens (ATL) -- Thu-STL (Wainwright)
63. Randy Wells (CHC) -- Wed-HOU (Myers)
64. John Lackey (BOS) -- Fri-@OAK (Cahill)
65. Jake Westbrook (STL) -- Mon-@MIL (Gallardo), Sat-@ATL (Hanson)
66. Mark Buehrle (CHW) -- Fri-KC (Chen)
67. John Danks (CHW) -- Wed-@DET (Bonderman)
68. Freddy Garcia (CHW) -- Tue-@DET (Verlander), Sun-KC (O'Sullivan)
69. Armando Galarraga (DET) -- Fri-BAL (Millwood)
70. Phil Hughes (NYY) -- Sat-@TEX (Hunter)
71. Mike Minor (ATL) -- Fri-STL (Carpenter)
72. Jason Vargas (SEA) -- Mon-@OAK (Anderson), Sun-@LAA (Haren)
73. Colby Lewis (TEX) -- Thu-@TOR (Rzepczynski)
74. Bud Norris (HOU) -- Thu-LAD (Lilly)
75. Madison Bumgarner (SF) -- Mon-@ARI (Kennedy), Sat-@SD (Latos)
Two-start pitchers for deep leagues:
A.J. Burnett (NYY) -- Mon-BAL (Matusz), Sun-@TEX (Lee)
Kevin Correia (SD) -- Tue-LAD (Kershaw), Sun-SF (Lincecum)
Johnny Cueto (CIN) -- Tue-@COL (Chacin), Sun-PIT (Karstens)
Nelson Figueroa (HOU) -- Tue-@CHC (Silva), Sun-LAD (Kershaw)
Carlos Monasterios (LAD) -- Mon-@SD (Latos), Sat-@HOU (Rodriguez)
Trevor Bell (LAA) -- Tue-CLE (Tomlin)
Joe Blanton (PHI) -- Tue-FLA (Volstad)
Barry Enright (ARI) -- Tue-SF (Lincecum)
Luke French (SEA) -- Wed-@OAK (Gonzalez)
Ivan Nova (NYY) -- Wed-BAL (Bergesen)
Alex Sanabia (FLA) -- Sat-@WAS (Marquis)
Randy Wolf (MIL) -- Sat-CHC (Dempster)
No-thank-yous, among two-starts:
Carlos Carrasco (CLE) -- Mon-@LAA (Haren), Sun-MIN (Slowey)
Aaron Harang (CIN) -- Mon-@COL (Jimenez), Sat-PIT (Morton)
Tommy Hunter (TEX) -- Mon-@TOR (Romero), Sat-NYY (Hughes)
Jeff Karstens (PIT) -- Mon-ATL (Hanson), Sun-@CIN (Cueto)
Kyle Lohse (STL) -- Tue-@MIL (Narveson), Sun-@ATL (Hudson)
Jeff Niemann (TB) -- Mon-@BOS (Lester), Sun-@TOR (Marcum)
Sean O'Sullivan (KC) -- Mon-@MIN (Slowey), Sun-@CHW (Garcia)
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.