- Tristan H. Cockcroft, Fantasy
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Fantasy Forecaster updated Sunday, March 31, at 10:11 a.m. ET.
On tap: The 2013 Major League Baseball season begins with an 8 p.m. ET broadcast of ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball" on March 31, as the Texas Rangers, winners of 279 games the past three seasons combined, host the Houston Astros in the latter's American League debut. From there, we get baseball's traditional "Opening Day" on Monday, April 1, and ESPN's quadruple-header beginning with a Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees contest (1 p.m. ET) and including the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants' opener at the Los Angeles Dodgers (4 p.m. ET), the Philadelphia Phillies at the Atlanta Braves (7 p.m. ET) and the St. Louis Cardinals at the Arizona Diamondbacks (10 p.m. ET).
The Astros' move to the AL gives us interleague play year-round, with the first such series of 2013 beginning with the traditional Cincinnati Reds home opener, the Reds hosting the Los Angeles Angels. These World Series hopefuls will battle under National League rules -- that means no designated hitter, Mark Trumbo owners -- on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, and then the Kansas City Royals will visit the Philadelphia Phillies for a Friday-Sunday three-game weekend set. As interleague play spans the entire 2013 calendar, this year's "Forecaster" adds a new section addressing these games' impact. You'll see it a little further down.
Quick click by section, if you're seeking advice in a specific area:
ESPN league deadlines | Interleague impact | Projected starting pitchers
Pitching scuttlebutt | Week 1 pitcher rankings | Pitching advantages
Hitting ratings | Hitting advantages
In ESPN leagues, "Week 1" extends from the first pitch of the Sunday, March 31, game, through the Angels at Rangers "Sunday Night Baseball" game on April 7. In head-to-head or custom leagues that use weekly lineup changes, those eight days will represent your first scoring period of the 2013 season.
Lineup deadlines differ depending upon your league format. In standard or daily leagues, players will lock individually at their scheduled game times by day, meaning that Astros and Rangers players, for example, will lock at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 31, then at 8:10 p.m. ET on Tuesday, April, 2, and so on. In custom leagues with weekly lineup changes, lineups will lock either with the first game of the scoring period -- so 8 p.m. ET on Sunday -- or individually, depending upon what your commissioner has set up.
This week's interleague series:
Los Angeles Angels at Cincinnati Reds (3 games, Mon, Wed-Thu)
Kansas City Royals at Philadelphia Phillies (3 games, Fri-Sun)
With only American League teams heading to National League parks in Week 1, the loss of the designated hitter is a significant loss for these two teams, who possess Mark Trumbo and Billy Butler at those positions. But don't assume either DH simply serves a glorified pinch-hitter. Trumbo might play left field for all three games, shifting Mike Trout to center field and Peter Bourjos to the bench, meaning Bourjos' owners should be the ones bracing for impact. Butler, meanwhile, has the advantage of his Royals facing left-handers John Lannan and Cole Hamels, making it highly likely he'd start at first base both Saturday and Sunday. The Royals were experimenting with usual first baseman Eric Hosmer in right field the past week, so it's possible Jeff Francoeur will be the one to lose the most at-bats. If Hosmer sits those two days, though, don't be shocked.
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 at least twice this week are in gold/beige 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.
• Chris Tillman (15-day DL, abdominal) is tentatively scheduled for activation for a Saturday start, projected above.
• The Dodgers, despite their rotation depth, are expected to go with only four starters in Week 1 thanks to Thursday's off day.
• Kyle Lohse will join the Brewers' rotation on either Friday or Saturday, with Mike Fiers starting the other game.
• Shaun Marcum (neck pain) is tentatively scheduled to start on April 7, so long as he gets through a 75-pitch session on Tuesday without incident.
• The Cardinals might skip fifth starter Shelby Miller due to Thursday's off day, in which case Jaime Garcia would get two starts in Week 1.
• The San Diego Padres are expected to name Tyson Ross their No. 5 starter ahead of Andrew Cashner.
1. Justin Verlander (DET) -- Mon-@MIN (Worley), Sun-NYY (Sabathia)
2. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Mon-SF (Cain), Sat-PIT (Burnett)
3. David Price (TB) -- Tue-BAL (Hammel), Sun-CLE (Masterson)
4. Stephen Strasburg (WSH) -- Mon-MIA (Nolasco), Sun-@CIN (Cueto)
5. Matt Cain (SF) -- Mon-@LAD (Kershaw), Sun-STL (Wainwright)
6. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- Mon-@OAK (Anderson), Sat-@CWS (Axelrod)
7. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Mon-@ATL (Hudson), Sun-KC (Shields)
8. R.A. Dickey (TOR) -- Tue-CLE (Masterson), Sun-BOS (Lester)
9. Yu Darvish (TEX) -- Tue-@HOU (Harrell), Sun-LAA (Weaver)
10. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Mon-@CIN (Cueto), Sun-@TEX (Darvish)
11. Adam Wainwright (STL) -- Mon-@ARI (Kennedy), Sun-@SF (Cain)
12. Chris Sale (CWS) -- Mon-KC (Shields), Sun-SEA (Iwakuma)
13. Johnny Cueto (CIN) -- Mon-LAA (Weaver), Sun-WSH (Strasburg)
14. CC Sabathia (NYY) -- Mon-BOS (Lester), Sun-@DET (Verlander)
15. Gio Gonzalez (WSH) -- Wed-MIA (Slowey)
16. James Shields (KC) -- Mon-@CWS (Sale), Sun-@PHI (Hamels)
17. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- Mon-COL (Chacin), Sun-ARI (Kennedy)
18. Cliff Lee (PHI) -- Thu-@ATL (Medlen)
19. Jarrod Parker (OAK) -- Tue-SEA (Iwakuma), Sun-@HOU (Norris)
20. Zack Greinke (LAD) -- Fri-PIT (Sanchez)
21. Brett Anderson (OAK) -- Mon-SEA (Hernandez), Sat-@HOU (Bedard)
22. Kris Medlen (ATL) -- Thu-PHI (Lee)
23. Jon Lester (BOS) -- Mon-@NYY (Sabathia), Sun-@TOR (Dickey)
24. Madison Bumgarner (SF) -- Tue-@LAD (Ryu)
25. Jonathon Niese (NYM) -- Mon-SD (Volquez), Sat-MIA (Nolasco)
26. Ian Kennedy (ARI) -- Mon-STL (Wainwright), Sun-@MIL (Gallardo)
27. Mat Latos (CIN) -- Wed-LAA (Wilson)
28. Jeff Samardzija (CHC) -- Mon-@PIT (Burnett), Sun-@ATL (Hudson)
29. Jordan Zimmermann (WSH) -- Thu-MIA (LeBlanc)
30. Brandon Morrow (TOR) -- Wed-CLE (Jimenez)
31. Josh Johnson (TOR) -- Fri-BOS (Doubront)
32. Matt Harrison (TEX) -- Mon-@HOU (Norris), Sat-LAA (Hanson)
33. Matt Moore (TB) -- Fri-CLE (McAllister)
34. Jake Peavy (CWS) -- Wed-KC (Santana)
35. Jeremy Hellickson (TB) -- Wed-BAL (Chen)
36. Doug Fister (DET) -- Fri-NYY (Nova)
37. A.J. Burnett (PIT) -- Mon-CHC (Samardzija), Sat-@LAD (Kershaw)
38. Anibal Sanchez (DET) -- Wed-@MIN (Correia)
39. Alexi Ogando (TEX) -- Wed-@HOU (Humber)
40. Hiroki Kuroda (NYY) -- Wed-BOS (Buchholz)
41. Tim Hudson (ATL) -- Mon-PHI (Hamels), Sun-CHC (Samardzija)
42. Matt Harvey (NYM) -- Wed-SD (Richard)
43. Max Scherzer (DET) -- Sat-NYY (Phelps)
44. Alex Cobb (TB) -- Sat-CLE (Kazmir)
45. Homer Bailey (CIN) -- Fri-WSH (Haren)
46. C.J. Wilson (LAA) -- Wed-@CIN (Latos)
47. Hisashi Iwakuma (SEA) -- Tue-@OAK (Parker), Sun-@CWS (Sale)
48. Ryan Vogelsong (SF) -- Sat-STL (Miller)
49. Jaime Garcia (STL) -- Tue-@ARI (Cahill)
50. Mike Minor (ATL) -- Fri-CHC (Feldman)
51. Trevor Cahill (ARI) -- Tue-STL (Garcia)
52. Jason Hammel (BAL) -- Tue-@TB (Price), Sun-MIN (Worley)
53. Marco Estrada (MIL) -- Tue-COL (De La Rosa)
54. Roy Halladay (PHI) -- Wed-@ATL (Maholm)
55. Brandon McCarthy (ARI) -- Wed-STL (Lynn)
56. Wandy Rodriguez (PIT) -- Wed-CHC (Jackson)
57. Hyun-Jin Ryu (LAD) -- Tue-SF (Bumgarner), Sun-PIT (Locke)
58. Lance Lynn (STL) -- Wed-@ARI (McCarthy)
59. Josh Beckett (LAD) -- Wed-SF (Lincecum)
60. Andy Pettitte (NYY) -- Thu-BOS (Dempster)
61. Dan Haren (WSH) -- Fri-@CIN (Bailey)
62. Tim Lincecum (SF) -- Wed-@LAD (Beckett)
63. Tommy Milone (OAK) -- Wed-SEA (Saunders)
64. Paul Maholm (ATL) -- Wed-PHI (Halladay)
65. Wily Peralta (MIL) -- Wed-COL (Nicasio)
66. Kyle Lohse (MIL) -- Fri-ARI (Miley)
67. Justin Masterson (CLE) -- Tue-@TOR (Dickey), Sun-@TB (Price)
68. Wade Miley (ARI) -- Fri-@MIL (Lohse)
69. Clay Buchholz (BOS) -- Wed-@NYY (Kuroda)
70. Dillon Gee (NYM) -- Thu-SD (Stults)
71. Miguel Gonzalez (BAL) -- Thu-@TB (Carmona)
72. Bud Norris (HOU) -- Mon-TEX (Harrison), Sun-OAK (Parker)
73. Edwin Jackson (CHC) -- Wed-@PIT (Rodriguez)
74. Julio Teheran (ATL) -- Sat-CHC (Villanueva)
75. Gavin Floyd (CWS) -- Thu-KC (Guthrie)
Two-start options for AL-/NL-only leagues:
Vance Worley (MIN) -- Mon-DET (Verlander), Sun-@BAL (Hammel)
No-thank-yous, among two-start pitchers:
Jhoulys Chacin (COL) -- Mon-@MIL (Gallardo), Sun-SD (Volquez)
Ricky Nolasco (MIA) -- Mon-@WSH (Strasburg), Sun-@NYM (Marcum)
Edinson Volquez (SD) -- Mon-@NYM (Niese), Sun-@COL (Chacin)
• Welcome to baseball in Minnesota in April. As of March 29, the projected game-time temperature for the Twins' Opening Day contest at Target Field was 32 degrees, and for their entire three-game series versus the Detroit Tigers the temperature wasn't scheduled to be higher than 50. I don't envy those Twins hitters, having to face Justin Verlander, who averages higher than 94 mph with his fastball. Between that and a Comerica Park series versus the injury-riddled Yankees in which Verlander pitches again, along with fellow 94-plus-mph fastball thrower Max Scherzer, the Tigers match up brilliantly on the pitching side this week. That's good, because this is a team with a bullpen entirely up for grabs, meaning we might get instant clarity on the Tigers' closer picture, thanks to the possibility of 3-4 save chances. Those cold Minnesota temperatures could grant Al Alburquerque (95.2 mph career average fastball) an advantage, and the fact that both Tigers foes -- the Twins with Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau and the Yankees with Robinson Cano -- have left-handed lineup threats means that Phil Coke might also warrant a look. Certainly in AL-only leagues I'd activate Alburquerque and Coke for Week 1.
• What an opening week for New York Mets pitching: This team plays all six of its games at Citi Field, where the team has a 3.74 ERA in four seasons since the venue opened, 11th best in the majors during that time, three apiece against the Chase Headley-less Padres and Quadruple-A-caliber Miami Marlins. Jonathan Niese and Matt Harvey might barely have been drafted No. 4 fantasy starters in the preseason, but for Week 1, at least, they'll have the look of top-25 options. (Harvey falls outside that group in my rankings only because of the mathematical advantage of a two-start week in leagues with weekly transactions.) Dillon Gee, too, warrants a look even in ESPN 10-team standard mixed, as the kind of can't-hurt-you type facing a can't-hurt-him offense (Padres, Thursday).
• How about some sleepers beneath my top-75 cutoff? Take a look at: Jake Arrieta, who actually performed well in the 2012 home opener and faces a more favorable Twins matchup this time around. Wei-Yin Chen, who gave the Tampa Bay Rays fits in five starts (2.97 ERA) and who had a sparkling 2.70 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in four dome starts in 2012. A.J. Griffin, who defeated the Seattle Mariners in both his starts against them in 2012 and who had a sparkling 1.02 WHIP at home. Travis Wood, who has a 2.20 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in four career games (three starts) at PNC Park. Shaun Marcum, whose only real reason for rankings exclusion was the risk that a setback takes him out of the running for that assignment. And Clayton Richard, who should feel similarly at home in the pitching-friendly Citi Field against a light-hitting Mets lineup.
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.
Some of the data used to generate this chart is derived from Baseball Musings' Day-by-day database.
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.
• Week 1 is perhaps the worst time to exploit platoon-arrangement players, because of the increased likelihood of multiple games against opponents' ace starters. To bring up specific examples: The Yankees' Vernon Wells-Brennan Boesch possible left-field platoon stacks the deck in Boesch's favor (5 games versus righties), except that this team then faces Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander in Detroit; neither hitter is to be trusted. The Braves' Juan Francisco-Chris Johnson third-base partnership makes for a bad play in all but deep NL-only formats, thanks to a 2-and-4 (2 versus lefties, 4 versus righties) schedule in which Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Jeff Samardzija are three of those six opposing starters; Francisco is the clear choice if you must opt for one in NL-only leagues. And the Chicago Cubs' Scott Hairston-Nate Schierholtz right-field platoon shapes up with the same 2-and-4 arrangement, which is a poor one considering Hairston is on the weaker side but he's the one with the more attractive power of the two.
The Oakland Athletics' catcher platoon might be the only obviously appealing one for Week 1, with the team scheduled for seven games -- that's an advantage -- and five against right-handed starters including rookies Brandon Maurer and Brad Peacock. John Jaso is well worth using in AL-only and two-catcher mixed leagues.
• Speaking of the Athletics as a team, there might not a greater source of mixed-league sleeper plug-ins for Week 1. Look at their infield: Three-fourths of it (Brandon Moss, Jed Lowrie and Josh Donaldson) can be found in more than 50 percent of ESPN leagues, and all three players enjoyed a productive spring heading into a seven-game week facing Astros pitching for three. The most questionable circumstance on the team right now is second base, where Eric Sogard and Scott Sizemore appear set to platoon. Sizemore's higher-upside bat might neutralize Sogard's left-handed advantage -- remember that the Athletics face five right-handed starters -- but this might be a 50/50 split of the chores for now.
• Not to lean too heavily upon spring stats, but the performances of Franklin Gutierrez (1.095 OPS), Michael Morse (1.379) and Jesus Montero (1.109) warrant particular attention entering a week like this. Like the Athletics, the Mariners play seven games -- they are the only two teams to do so -- and four of them will come against left-handed starters. Unfortunately, we won't get a chance to see what Safeco Field's fence adjustments might do for these three in the power department until Week 2, but oddly enough, their final three games of Week 1 come at a park that possesses similar dimensions to what's now in Safeco: U.S. Cellular Field. Morse is especially interesting during that White Sox series, as he's a 2000 third-round pick of the White Sox who was traded in 2004. Revenge, perhaps?
Tristan H. Cockcroft breaks down the schedule and offers helpful tips for Week 1 of the fantasy baseball season, including the initial interleague games.