Fantasy Forecaster updated Sunday, April 21, at 6:39 p.m. ET.
On tap: The Atlanta Braves, baseball's best team through the season's first 19 days, get tested this week, with three-game series at both Colorado's Coors Field and Detroit's Comerica Park. The former locale lands Atlanta's starters in one of the game's worst pitching environments; the latter pits the Braves in a possible World Series preview against one of the American League's best teams. There's some good news for the Braves, however: They expect to get Freddie Freeman back from the disabled list in time for Monday's series opener at Coors.
Their rivals, the Washington Nationals, will get their own series of tests, albeit at home (Nationals Park). They'll host the St. Louis Cardinals for three games, then the Cincinnati Reds for four, though their top three starters will work just once apiece, as Dan Haren and Ross Detwiler are lined up as their two-start pitchers. There might actually be more pitching intrigue on the visitors' side; the Cardinals will pitch Shelby Miller (Monday) and Adam Wainwright (Tuesday), while the Reds will pitch Homer Bailey (Friday) and Tony Cingrani (Sunday).
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Leagues with weekly transactions can sit back a little longer on Monday, as the first game of Week 4 is scheduled at 6:35 p.m. ET, Oakland Athletics at Boston Red Sox. For those in daily leagues, however, be aware that Monday and Friday represent the only days with entirely night games; Friday's first games begin at 7:05 p.m. ET. The Miami Marlins-Minnesota Twins' week-opening two-game interleague series concludes with a 1:10 p.m. ET Tuesday start time, so be prepared.
This is the first week of 2013 without an interleague game in a National League park; that means we'll see designated hitters added to NL lineups, while AL DHs will be unaffected by interleague rules.
It's the Braves who benefit most from this additional lineup spot, because of their bevy of options. Should either (or both) of Freddie Freeman or Brian McCann return from the disabled list by Friday, the DH could be a place to help ease them back into the lineup. Evan Gattis, Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson are three others; consider it an additional way that any of the three could pick up additional starts. That the Tigers have nothing but right-handers in their rotation plays most in Francisco's favor; he has started all nine Braves games against righties this year.
As for the Marlins, the addition of the DH scarcely even matters for two games out of a six-game week for an offense as weak in fantasy options as theirs. Austin Kearns earned two starts as a DH in 2012 and might get a start (or both), but even if this just means Greg Dobbs and Joe Mahoney can both play, the only owners who should take notice are those in deep NL-only leagues.
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.
• The Baltimore Orioles will need a spot starter on Wednesday due to their April 20 doubleheader, with Zach Britton the likeliest candidate.
• John Lackey (biceps) is scheduled to make a rehabilitation start for Double-A Portland on Monday, and it's possible he could be cleared to recapture his rotation spot from Alfredo Aceves as early as Saturday; Felix Doubront might move back a day to Sunday.
• Though the Kansas City Royals haven't recently confirmed their plans, they initially indicated that Luis Mendoza, who was skipped during their three-open-dates-in-eight-days stretch, would return to the rotation Wednesday.
• The Tacoma News Tribune reported April 19 that Hisashi Iwakuma (blister) should be able to make his next scheduled start Tuesday.
• The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin reports that Ted Lilly will take Chris Capuano's spot in the Los Angeles Dodgers' rotation, beginning Wednesday.
• The New York Mets are pushing back their fifth-starter spot until Saturday, at which point Shaun Marcum (neck) is expected to be ready for activation.
• The San Diego Padres haven't confirmed that Clayton Richard (flu) would be ready to pitch on Tuesday, but he's expected to. Andrew Cashner also is only tentatively scheduled to pitch Friday.
1. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Tue-@NYM (Niese), Sun-MIL (Lohse)
2. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- Mon-@HOU (Peacock), Sat-LAA (Blanton)
3. CC Sabathia (NYY) -- Mon-@TB (Moore), Sat-TOR (Happ)
4. Justin Verlander (DET) -- Wed-KC (Mendoza)
5. Matt Moore (TB) -- Mon-NYY (Sabathia), Sat-@CWS (Axelrod)
6. Cliff Lee (PHI) -- Thu-PIT (McDonald)
7. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Tue-PIT (Locke), Sun-@NYM (Niese)
8. Yu Darvish (TEX) -- Wed-@LAA (Hanson)
9. Max Scherzer (DET) -- Tue-KC (Davis), Sun-ATL (Minor)
10. Stephen Strasburg (WSH) -- Wed-STL (Garcia)
11. Matt Harvey (NYM) -- Wed-LAD (Lilly)
12. David Price (TB) -- Tue-NYY (Hughes), Sun-@CWS (Quintana)
13. Madison Bumgarner (SF) -- Wed-ARI (Kennedy)
14. Mat Latos (CIN) -- Wed-CHC (Samardzija)
15. R.A. Dickey (TOR) -- Tue-@BAL (Gonzalez), Sun-@NYY (Hughes)
16. Adam Wainwright (STL) -- Tue-@WSH (Detwiler)
17. Jon Lester (BOS) -- Wed-OAK (Anderson)
18. Alexi Ogando (TEX) -- Tue-@LAA (Vargas), Sun-@MIN (Correia)
19. Gio Gonzalez (WSH) -- Thu-CIN (Arroyo)
20. Jeff Samardzija (CHC) -- Wed-@CIN (Latos)
21. Derek Holland (TEX) -- Mon-@LAA (Blanton), Sat-@MIN (Diamond)
22. Jordan Zimmermann (WSH) -- Fri-CIN (Bailey)
23. Hisashi Iwakuma (SEA) -- Tue-@HOU (Norris), Sun-LAA (Vargas)
24. Anibal Sanchez (DET) -- Thu-KC (Shields)
25. Chris Sale (CWS) -- Wed-CLE (Kluber)
26. Kris Medlen (ATL) -- Sat-@DET (Fister)
27. Jonathon Niese (NYM) -- Tue-LAD (Kershaw), Sun-PHI (Hamels)
28. Jake Peavy (CWS) -- Thu-TB (Hellickson)
29. Shelby Miller (STL) -- Mon-@WSH (Haren), Sun-PIT (Locke)
30. Clay Buchholz (BOS) -- Thu-HOU (Humber)
31. Wade Miley (ARI) -- Mon-@SF (Vogelsong), Sat-COL (Francis)
32. Doug Fister (DET) -- Sat-ATL (Medlen)
33. Kyle Lohse (MIL) -- Mon-@SD (Marquis), Sun-@LAD (Kershaw)
34. Matt Cain (SF) -- Tue-ARI (Corbin)
35. A.J. Burnett (PIT) -- Mon-@PHI (Pettibone), Sat-@STL (Westbrook)
36. Ross Detwiler (WSH) -- Tue-STL (Wainwright), Sun-CIN (Cingrani)
37. Hiroki Kuroda (NYY) -- Thu-TOR (Buehrle)
38. Justin Masterson (CLE) -- Mon-@CWS (Axelrod), Sun-@KC (Davis)
39. Ryan Vogelsong (SF) -- Mon-ARI (Miley), Sun-@SD (Marquis)
40. C.J. Wilson (LAA) -- Fri-@SEA (Harang)
41. Mike Minor (ATL) -- Mon-@COL (Francis), Sun-@DET (Scherzer)
42. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- Tue-@SD (Richard)
43. A.J. Griffin (OAK) -- Mon-@BOS (Doubront), Sat-BAL (Arrieta)
44. James Shields (KC) -- Thu-@DET (Sanchez)
45. Patrick Corbin (ARI) -- Tue-@SF (Cain), Sun-COL (Garland)
46. Alex Cobb (TB) -- Wed-NYY (Pettitte)
47. Ian Kennedy (ARI) -- Wed-@SF (Bumgarner)
48. Jose Quintana (CWS) -- Tue-CLE (McAllister), Sun-TB (Price)
49. Lance Lynn (STL) -- Fri-PIT (Sanchez)
50. Brett Anderson (OAK) -- Wed-@BOS (Lester)
51. Jaime Garcia (STL) -- Wed-@WSH (Strasburg)
52. Bartolo Colon (OAK) -- Tue-@BOS (Aceves), Sun-BAL (Tillman)
53. Tim Hudson (ATL) -- Wed-@COL (TBD)
54. Carlos Villanueva (CHC) -- Tue-@CIN (Cingrani), Sun-@MIA (Nolasco)
55. Josh Johnson (TOR) -- Fri-@NYY (Nova)
56. Wandy Rodriguez (PIT) -- Wed-@PHI (Halladay)
57. Travis Wood (CHC) -- Mon-@CIN (Leake), Sat-@MIA (Sanabia)
58. Hyun-Jin Ryu (LAD) -- Thu-@NYM (Hefner)
59. Paul Maholm (ATL) -- Fri-@DET (Porcello)
60. Jon Garland (COL) -- Tue-ATL (Teheran), Sun-@ARI (Corbin)
61. Roy Halladay (PHI) -- Wed-PIT (Rodriguez)
62. Tim Lincecum (SF) -- Fri-@SD (Cashner)
63. Andy Pettitte (NYY) -- Wed-@TB (Cobb)
64. Jeremy Hellickson (TB) -- Thu-@CWS (Peavy)
65. Wade Davis (KC) -- Tue-@DET (Scherzer), Sun-CLE (Masterson)
66. Ryan Dempster (BOS) -- Fri-HOU (Bedard)
67. Homer Bailey (CIN) -- Fri-@WSH (Zimmermann)
68. Tommy Milone (OAK) -- Fri-BAL (Chen)
69. Marco Estrada (MIL) -- Wed-@SD (Volquez)
70. Bud Norris (HOU) -- Tue-SEA (Iwakuma), Sun-@BOS (Aceves)
71. Ervin Santana (KC) -- Fri-CLE (Kazmir)
72. Tony Cingrani (CIN) -- Tue-CHC (Villanueva), Sun-@WSH (Detwiler)
73. Trevor Cahill (ARI) -- Thu-COL (De La Rosa)
74. Jose Fernandez (MIA) -- Tue-@MIN (Pelfrey)
75. Garrett Richards (LAA) -- Thu-@SEA (Maurer)
Two-start options for AL-/NL-only leagues:
Alfredo Aceves (BOS) -- Tue-OAK (Colon), Sun-HOU (Norris)
Felix Doubront (BOS) -- Mon-OAK (Griffin), Sat-HOU (Peacock)
Phil Hughes (NYY) -- Tue-@TB (Price), Sun-TOR (Dickey)
Jason Marquis (SD) -- Mon-MIL (Lohse), Sun-SF (Vogelsong)
Ricky Nolasco (MIA) -- Mon-@MIN (Correia), Sun-CHC (Villanueva)
Jonathan Pettibone (PHI) -- Mon-PIT (Burnett), Sat-@NYM (TBD)
Jason Vargas (LAA) -- Tue-TEX (Ogando), Sun-@SEA (Iwakuma)
No-thank-yous, among two-start pitchers:
Dylan Axelrod (CWS) -- Mon-CLE (Masterson), Sat-TB (Moore)
Joe Blanton (LAA) -- Mon-TEX (Holland), Sat-@SEA (Hernandez)
Kevin Correia (MIN) -- Mon-MIA (Nolasco), Sun-TEX (Ogando)
Jeff Francis (COL) -- Mon-ATL (Minor), Sat-@ARI (Miley)
J.A. Happ (TOR) -- Mon-@BAL (Tillman), Sat-@NYY (Sabathia)
Dan Haren (WSH) -- Mon-STL (Miller), Sat-CIN (Leake)
Mike Leake (CIN) -- Mon-CHC (Wood), Sat-@WSH (Haren)
Jeff Locke (PIT) -- Tue-@PHI (Hamels), Sun-@STL (Miller)
Brad Peacock (HOU) -- Mon-SEA (Hernandez), Sat-@BOS (Doubront)
Chris Tillman (BAL) -- Mon-TOR (Happ), Sun-@OAK (Colon)
Returning to the Atlanta Braves, they face one of their most challenging weeks all season on the pitching side: They play three at Colorado's Coors Field, against the National League's highest-scoring offense, then three on the road against the Detroit Tigers, the American League's second-highest scoring offense (and arguably a top contender to finish No. 1). Though three members of the Braves' staff ranked among the top 40 starting pitchers on our Player Rater as of April 19 -- Paul Maholm (second), Mike Minor (19th) and Tim Hudson (33rd) -- keep the matchups in mind as you plan around the team. Minor (Monday) and Hudson (Wednesday) combined have never won in six starts at Coors, only one a quality start (by Hudson, on July 20, 2011), with a 9.00 ERA and 1.91 WHIP.
Maholm is a challenging call. He has limited exposure against the Tigers and is a different pitcher today than the one who has accrued his lifetime 4.67 ERA during interleague play. But cleanup hitter Prince Fielder is a player he has faced -- with great success -- many times. Fielder is 7-for-51 (.137 AVG) with zero extra-base hits and 15 strikeouts in his career against Maholm.
• The hot-starting Boston Red Sox have a standout set of pitching matchups; they play all seven games at Fenway Park and get four against the Houston Astros. Here's why that matters: The Red Sox sport the majors' best strikeout rate (27.5 percent of batters faced), and the Astros are the most strikeout-prone offense (26.4 percent). Felix Doubront is a sneaky two-start option for Week 4 -- in deeper leagues, that is -- and the case could be made that every one of the Red Sox's starters this week warrants consideration even in 10-team mixed leagues, even John Lackey, should he be activated by the weekend. It'd be breaking my bench-a-pitcher-coming-off-the-DL rule, but should his rehab reports be glowing, an Astros matchup is the one kind that might warrant a rare exception.
Fill-in closer Andrew Bailey should see meaningful work this week, too, and it's also worth considering ratio-helping middle relievers like Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara based upon the strength of the matchups.
• Back by popular demand, beginning this week, are my Streamer's Delight picks. This year's will be more freeform (to ease the updating process) and will run only in Forecaster. As always, players need to be available in at least 75 percent of ESPN leagues as of our publishing time (Fridays). Here are this week's five picks:
1. Patrick Corbin (@SF, Tuesday): Velocity up, curveball outstanding, and he has a 3.09 K-to-walk ratio in his 25 career big league games.
2. Jose Quintana (CLE, Tuesday): He already tossed seven shutout innings of one-hit ball against these Indians this year, on the road on April 12.
3. Kyle Kendrick (@NYM, Friday): He had a quality start against the Mets on April 10; he has a 3.52 ERA in his career against them.
4. Phil Hughes (@TB, Tuesday): Gets to follow up a strong April 18 outing with a game against the light-hitting Rays.
5. Joe Saunders (@HOU, Wednesday): A matchups guy, and he has a plus matchup; he threw 6 1/3 shutout innings versus the Astros on April 8.
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.
• 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:
• The Philadelphia Phillies are tentatively slated to face three left-handed starters. Despite the "9" rating -- largely driven by the "TBD" Saturday starter, Jeff Locke and Dillon Gee -- that's bad news for the team; at .131/.180/.190 in the triple-slash departments, they're the worst in baseball. Plan accordingly, but don't forget that, in a week loaded with lefty starters, Michael Young could be an attractive option. He is a .331/.370/.414 hitter against left-handers since the beginning of 2012. Oh, if only Carlos Ruiz could've returned sooner than Sunday
• Is this the week for a Salvador Perez breakthrough? He starts the week off with a favorable matchup: He's 5-for-7 (.714 AVG) with one double and two home runs in his career against Max Scherzer, the Detroit Tigers' scheduled Tuesday starter. Sometimes one big hit is all it takes to kick-start a streak, and he'll have other games that might help. He's 3-for-8 (.375 AVG) with two doubles and no strikeouts in his career against Wednesday starter Justin Verlander, and he'll also get matchups against Scott Kazmir (Friday) and Ubaldo Jimenez (Saturday).
• Anthony Rizzo should also enjoy one of his better weeks, which is good, considering he was a sub-.200 hitter as play began on April 19. Welington Castillo and Nate Schierholtz were two of the Chicago Cubs' hotter hitters in the season's early weeks, putting them on the mixed-league radar. What tilts things in the Cubs' favor: They'll get a game against Mike Leake, the Cincinnati Reds' No. 5 starter, as one of their three in hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park, and they'll avoid rookie Jose Fernandez during their four-game, weekend series at Miami's Marlins Park.