Fantasy Forecaster: Week 18

Plenty of teams playing only five or six games in somewhat light week

Updated: August 4, 2013, 5:11 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Fantasy Forecaster updated Sunday, April 4, at 5:11 p.m. ET.

On tap: It's another one of our lighter weeks, with only 92 total games scheduled, and it would have been 91 if not for a Minnesota Twins at Chicago White Sox doubleheader on Friday, that the product of a makeup of their April 19 postponement. That said, there isn't any 8-versus-5 split in team games; seven games are the maximum anyone plays (10 teams), but six teams have five-game schedules. Included in that group are two American League East contenders: the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays, who both visit National League West cities. In other words, there's a slight quantitative advantage for those 10 teams with seven and disadvantage for those six with five … but it's slight.

Fantasy Forecaster

A rare matchup of the two hottest teams in either league results, as those Rays battle the Los Angeles Dodgers for a three-game weekend series. Sadly, we'll miss a premier pitching matchup by a day, as David Price pitches for the Rays on Friday, while Zack Greinke pitches for the Dodgers on Saturday and Clayton Kershaw on Sunday. Nevertheless, it's a series surprisingly intriguing to watch, considering the Rays have the game's best record (21-5, .808 winning percentage) and the Dodgers second (20-6, .769) since July 1.

Speaking of the AL East, it's a week during which the Boston Red Sox can fatten up, despite all seven of their games being played on the road. The Houston Astros (three games, Monday-Wednesday) are coming off another sellers' trade-deadline stance, not to mention rank as the game's most strikeout-prone squad in history thus far; while the Kansas City Royals (four games, Thursday-Sunday) rank 20th in team wOBA (weighted on-base average) since July 1. The Red Sox just got a major boost with the acquisition of Jake Peavy, who will make his second start as a member of the Red Sox on Friday in Kansas City.

One compelling pitching matchup that we will get is between two of Keith Law's preseason top 100 prospects: No. 2 Gerrit Cole and the Pittsburgh Pirates will host No. 6 Jose Fernandez and the Miami Marlins on Thursday.

Quick click by section, if you're seeking advice in a specific area:
ESPN lineup deadlines | Interleague impact | Projected starting pitchers
Pitching scuttlebutt | Week 18 pitcher rankings | Pitching advantages
Hitting ratings | Hitting advantages

ESPN leagues: Lineup deadlines

Fantasy owners get the benefit of another late Monday to set their lineups; the first game of the week is ESPN's "Monday Night Baseball" contest, Los Angeles Dodgers at St. Louis Cardinals at 7 p.m. ET.

Monday and Tuesday are the only days, however, with only night contests, if you play in a league with daily transactions.

Wednesday's and Thursday's action gets started especially early: Oakland Athletics at Cincinnati Reds begins at 12:35 p.m. ET on Wednesday, while Colorado Rockies at New York Mets has a 12:10 p.m. ET scheduled first pitch on Thursday.

Interleague impact

This week's interleague series:
• Baltimore Orioles at San Diego Padres (2 games, Tuesday-Wednesday)
• Oakland Athletics at Cincinnati Reds (2 games, Tuesday-Wednesday)
• Tampa Bay Rays at Arizona Diamondbacks (2 games, Tuesday-Wednesday)
• Baltimore Orioles at San Francisco Giants (3 games, Friday-Sunday)
Milwaukee Brewers at Seattle Mariners (3 games, Friday-Sunday)
• Tampa Bay Rays at Los Angeles Dodgers (3 games, Friday-Sunday)

Five-game weekly schedules are bad enough, but when they involve American League teams visiting National League parks, as is the case with the Orioles and Rays this week, they're especially unappealing. Now, no one's going to flee from teams that rank fourth (.326) and sixth (.323) in the majors in wOBA (weighted on-base average), sitting even their fantasy studs, but at-bats will be tougher to come by without the benefit of the designated hitter. In the Orioles' case, that means Henry Urrutia and Steve Pearce, members of their DH rotation, should be benched in all formats, even AL-only. In the Rays' case, that means primary DH Luke Scott will serve a glorified pinch hitter and also should be benched.

The Athletics have a similar five-game problem, though only two of their contests will be played in NL parks. As always with them, the lack of the DH means five outfielders -- Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, Seth Smith and Chris Young -- will have to squeeze into three spots. Bear in mind that in all six of the Athletics' past eight interleague games in NL parks against a right-handed starter, Cespedes started in left field, with Crisp in center, and Reddick made three starts to Smith's two in right field. Young is the player who suffers the most this week.

The Brewers, meanwhile, are in a more curious situation gaining the DH this week, being that Aramis Ramirez, who started four of their previous five games at DH, is on the disabled list, while Ryan Braun's suspension thins out the outfield ranks from which the team might draw at DH. Yuniesky Betancourt might make a natural DH, freeing up shortstop for Jeff Bianchi, or Khris Davis or Logan Schafer might benefit from an additional start or three. None of this has any fantasy relevance, however, outside of the deepest NL-only leagues.

Projected starting pitchers

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.

Pitching scuttlebutt

• Expect the Chicago White Sox to use Thursday's doubleheader to stick with only five starters this week. They'd next need a spot starter on Aug. 13 (Tuesday of Week 19), but they could always choose to promote one instead this week, in which case Chris Sale would lose his second start.
• The Houston Astros have announced their Week 18 rotation only through Wednesday's game, and with Brad Peacock recalled for an Aug. 4 start, they'll have several options for the Friday-Sunday weekend series, including Dallas Keuchel and Lucas Harrell, who aren't listed among the projected starters above.
Wade Davis was placed on the family emergency leave list by the Kansas City Royals on Saturday, but he's likely to return to the team in time for Wednesday's start. Will Smith is a candidate to fill in if necessary.
• The Oakland Athletics will go with four starters this week, thanks to Monday's and Thursday's off days, after demoting Tommy Milone to the minors.
• With Matt Moore (elbow) on the disabled list, the Tampa Bay Rays seem likely to use Monday's and Thursday's off days to use only four starters this week.
• The Toronto Blue Jays are reportedly considering skipping Josh Johnson's turn in the rotation on Tuesday, but that doesn't seem a plausible scenario considering that they need a Wednesday fill-in following Todd Redmond's demotion. J.A. Happ is expected to be recalled for that Wednesday start.
• There is an outside chance that Trevor Cahill (hip) could be ready to rejoin the Arizona Diamondbacks' rotation by late in the week, though all indications are that he'll make two, not one, more rehabilitation starts and return in Week 19.
Paul Maholm (wrist) is expected to throw a light bullpen session during the Aug. 3-4 weekend, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the earliest he would rejoin the Atlanta Braves' rotation is in Alex Wood's spot on Saturday.
• The Los Angeles Dodgers are considering activating Stephen Fife to start their Aug. 4 game, a move that would push back their entire rotation by a day each. In that arrangement, it's unclear whether Fife would make one start before being sent to the minors, replace someone currently in the starting five or the team would go to a six-man rotation. The most likely scenario has a five-man rotation, with Zack Greinke replacing Ricky Nolasco as one of the team's two-start pitchers.
Tom Gorzelanny (elbow) seems unlikely to make his Wednesday start, forcing the Milwaukee Brewers to either recall a fill-in from the minors or activate Marco Estrada from the disabled list.

Tristan's Week 18 pitcher rankings: Top 75

1. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Tue-@STL (Kelly), Sun-TB (Hellickson)
2. Mike Minor (ATL) -- Mon-@WSH (Strasburg), Sun-MIA (Alvarez)
3. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- Tue-TOR (Johnson)
4. Max Scherzer (DET) -- Thu-@CLE (McAllister)
5. Matt Harvey (NYM) -- Wed-COL (Bettis)
6. Adam Wainwright (STL) -- Mon-LAD (Greinke), Sat-CHC (Villanueva)
7. Madison Bumgarner (SF) -- Wed-MIL (Gorzelanny)
8. Zack Greinke (LAD) -- Mon-@STL (Wainwright), Sat-TB (Hernandez)
9. Chris Sale (CWS) -- Tue-NYY (Kuroda), Sun-MIN (Albers)
10. David Price (TB) -- Fri-@LAD (Capuano)
11. Yu Darvish (TEX) -- Tue-@LAA (Richards)
12. Jose Fernandez (MIA) -- Thu-@PIT (Cole)
13. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Fri-@CLE (Jimenez)
14. Matt Garza (TEX) -- Fri-@HOU (Bedard)
15. Patrick Corbin (ARI) -- Sat-NYM (Wheeler)
16. Stephen Strasburg (WSH) -- Mon-ATL (Minor), Sun-PHI (Kendrick)
17. Hiroki Kuroda (NYY) -- Tue-@CWS (Sale)
18. Anibal Sanchez (DET) -- Mon-@CLE (Kluber), Sat-@NYY (Hughes)
19. Francisco Liriano (PIT) -- Fri-@COL (De La Rosa)
20. Jake Peavy (BOS) -- Fri-@KC (Santana)
21. Hisashi Iwakuma (SEA) -- Mon-TOR (Dickey), Sun-MIL (Peralta)
22. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Wed-CHC (Rusin)
23. Homer Bailey (CIN) -- Wed-OAK (Colon)
24. Chris Archer (TB) -- Wed-@ARI (Spruill)
25. Mat Latos (CIN) -- Tue-OAK (Straily)
26. Tony Cingrani (CIN) -- Sat-SD (Ross)
27. James Shields (KC) -- Tue-MIN (Albers), Sun-BOS (Lackey)
28. Kyle Lohse (MIL) -- Fri-@SEA (Ramirez)
29. Justin Verlander (DET) -- Tue-@CLE (Masterson), Sun-@NYY (Pettitte)
30. Julio Teheran (ATL) -- Tue-@WSH (Gonzalez)
31. Jeremy Hellickson (TB) -- Tue-@ARI (Miley), Sun-@LAD (Kershaw)
32. John Lackey (BOS) -- Mon-@HOU (Oberholtzer), Sun-@KC (Shields)
33. Derek Holland (TEX) -- Sat-@HOU (Peacock)
34. Edwin Jackson (CHC) -- Tue-@PHI (Kendrick), Sun-@STL (Kelly)
35. Gio Gonzalez (WSH) -- Tue-ATL (Teheran)
36. Ervin Santana (KC) -- Fri-BOS (Peavy)
37. R.A. Dickey (TOR) -- Mon-@SEA (Iwakuma), Sun-OAK (Straily)
38. Gerrit Cole (PIT) -- Thu-MIA (Fernandez)
39. Shelby Miller (STL) -- Wed-LAD (Nolasco)
40. Justin Masterson (CLE) -- Tue-DET (Verlander)
41. Jeff Locke (PIT) -- Tue-MIA (Alvarez), Sun-@COL (Chatwood)
42. Bartolo Colon (OAK) -- Wed-@CIN (Bailey)
43. Matt Cain (SF) -- Tue-MIL (Peralta), Sun-BAL (Chen)
44. A.J. Burnett (PIT) -- Sat-@COL (Nicasio)
45. Lance Lynn (STL) -- Fri-CHC (Samardzija)
46. Jon Lester (BOS) -- Thu-@KC (Chen)
47. C.J. Wilson (LAA) -- Sat-@CLE (Kazmir)
48. Doug Fister (DET) -- Wed-@CLE (Salazar)
49. Cliff Lee (PHI) -- Sat-@WSH (Jordan)
50. Wade Miley (ARI) -- Tue-TB (Hellickson)
51. Wily Peralta (MIL) -- Tue-@SF (Cain), Sun-@SEA (Iwakuma)
52. Hyun-Jin Ryu (LAD) -- Thu-@STL (Westbrook)
53. Zack Wheeler (NYM) -- Sat-@ARI (Corbin)
54. Jordan Zimmermann (WSH) -- Wed-ATL (Medlen)
55. Randall Delgado (ARI) -- Fri-NYM (Hefner)
56. Corey Kluber (CLE) -- Mon-DET (Sanchez), Sun-LAA (Williams)
57. Jarrod Parker (OAK) -- Fri-@TOR (Rogers)
58. Jhoulys Chacin (COL) -- Thu-@NYM (Gee)
59. Chris Tillman (BAL) -- Fri-@SF (Moscoso)
60. Travis Wood (CHC) -- Thu-@PHI (Martin)
61. Scott Kazmir (CLE) -- Sat-LAA (Wilson)
62. Chad Gaudin (SF) -- Mon-MIL (Thornburg), Sat-BAL (Feldman)
63. CC Sabathia (NYY) -- Wed-@CWS (Santiago)
64. Tim Lincecum (SF) -- Thu-MIL (Hand)
65. Jeff Samardzija (CHC) -- Fri-@STL (Lynn)
66. Felix Doubront (BOS) -- Sat-@KC (Guthrie)
67. Ricky Nolasco (LAD) -- Wed-@STL (Miller)
68. Dan Haren (WSH) -- Fri-PHI (Lannan)
69. Mike Leake (CIN) -- Sun-SD (Kennedy)
70. Alex Wood (ATL) -- Sat-MIA (Eovaldi)
71. Jose Quintana (CWS) -- Mon-NYY (Pettitte), Sat-MIN (Correia)
72. Jacob Turner (MIA) -- Fri-@ATL (Beachy)
73. Ivan Nova (NYY) -- Fri-DET (Porcello)
74. Mark Buehrle (TOR) -- Sat-OAK (Griffin)
75. A.J. Griffin (OAK) -- Sat-@TOR (Buehrle)

Two-start options for AL-/NL-only leagues:
Henderson Alvarez (MIA) -- Tue-@PIT (Locke), Sun-@ATL (Minor)
Joe Kelly (STL) -- Tue-LAD (Kershaw), Sun-CHC (Jackson)
Kyle Kendrick (PHI) -- Tue-CHC (Jackson), Sun-@WSH (Strasburg)
Jenrry Mejia (NYM) -- Tue-COL (Chatwood), Sun-@ARI (McCarthy)
Brett Oberholtzer (HOU) -- Mon-BOS (Lackey), Sun-TEX (Perez)
Dan Straily (OAK) -- Tue-@CIN (Latos), Sun-@TOR (Dickey)

No-thank-yous, among two-start pitchers:
Andrew Albers (MIN) -- Tue-@KC (Shields), Sun-@CWS (Sale)
Tyler Chatwood (COL) -- Tue-@NYM (Mejia), Sun-PIT (Locke)
Kevin Correia (MIN) -- Mon-@KC (Guthrie), Sat-@CWS (Quintana)
Jeremy Guthrie (KC) -- Mon-MIN (Correia), Sat-BOS (Doubront)
Martin Perez (TEX) -- Mon-@LAA (Williams), Sun-@HOU (Oberholtzer)
Andy Pettitte (NYY) -- Mon-@CWS (Quintana), Sun-DET (Verlander)
Tyler Thornburg (MIL) -- Mon-@SF (Gaudin), Sat-@SEA (Saunders)
Jerome Williams (LAA) -- Mon-TEX (Perez), Sun-@CLE (Kluber)

Pitching advantages

• Not one single member of the aforementioned Boston Red Sox rotation is owned in 100 percent of ESPN leagues -- though Jon Lester is owned in 99.6 percent -- so it seems that there are some matchup opportunities to be had on their staff. John Lackey (owned in 79.9 percent) and Ryan Dempster (41.9) will pitch in the Houston series, and coincidentally, they're two of the four Red Sox starters to boast a strikeout rate -- going by percentage of total batters faced -- of greater than 20 percent (Lackey 21.7, Dempster 20.8, Lester 20.1).

• Can the upstart Pittsburgh Pirates -- or their pitchers, in this case -- handle an assignment at hitter-friendly Colorado's Coors Field? We'll find out this week, as the team makes its first trek of the season to Coors. Pirates starters have had five quality starts in 19 tries there since 2008. The difference this time is that they'll throw their three best starters, at least going by full-season statistics, in Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett and Jeff Locke. Burnett is the only one who has ever pitched there, but he hasn't since May 15, 2002 (6 2/3 IP, 5 ER in a loss), so there's little in the sense of data from which to draw. The ratings like all three, but with understandably slight hesitation. In the Pirates' defense, the Rockies have been a middling squad in 13 home games since July 1; their .309 wOBA there ranks 15th during that span.

• The Philadelphia Phillies have been in quite a funk of late -- their .288 wOBA since July 1 ranks them 24th in the majors -- which presents some useful matchups opportunities for widely available free agents: Edwin Jackson (Tuesday, owned in 23.4 percent of ESPN leagues), Chris Rusin (Wednesday, 2.2) and Dan Haren (Friday, 27.6) are three who stand out in particular. In addition, this could be a bounce-back opportunity for Cubs left-hander Travis Wood, Thursday's Phillies opponent, and one who has only one quality start in his past three tries. Be aware that Wood is 2-for-2 in his career in quality starts at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park, though, including a one-hit, eight-strikeout shutout there on July 10, 2010, his third career big league start.

• Here are this week's Streamer's Delight picks -- players need to be available in at least 75 percent of ESPN leagues as of our publishing time (Fridays):
1. Bud Norris (@SD, Wednesday): Lefties hit him much better than righties, but Petco Park's expansive right-field territory props up his matchup.
2. Alex Wood (MIA, Saturday): He's coming off a solid July 30 start of 99 pitches, and the Miami Marlins have the majors' worst wOBA (.275).
3. Jenrry Mejia (COL, Tuesday): In four starts between Double-A and the bigs, he has a 1.50 ERA, and he'll be facing a bottom-10 team in road wOBA (.301, 21st).
4. John Lannan (@WSH, Friday): Consider that the Washington Nationals have the majors' worst wOBA against left-handers this season (.267).
5. Wily Peralta (@SF, Tuesday): He has a 2.13 ERA in six starts since July 1, and the San Francisco Giants have the majors' third-worst wOBA (.281) since that date.

Hitting ratings

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.

Hitting advantages

• Here are this week's "volume plays" -- defined as the teams that play the most home games, or games against left- or right-handed starters:
Home games: Chicago White Sox 7, Cleveland Indians 7, Kansas City Royals 7, St. Louis Cardinals 7, San Francisco Giants 7
Versus LH: Chicago White Sox 3, Kansas City Royals 3, Minnesota Twins 3, New York Yankees 3, Tampa Bay Rays 3, Miami Marlins 3, Washington Nationals 3
Versus RH: Cleveland Indians 6, Detroit Tigers 6, Toronto Blue Jays 6, Los Angeles Dodgers 6

• The Mariners have been one of the better-hitting teams in the past month, sporting .265/.334/.443 rates and a .337 wOBA that ranks third in the majors since July 1. In addition, they're a significantly better team against right- than left-handed pitching, exhibited below:

Versus LH: .228/.290/.366, .288 wOBA, 22.5 K%, 7.7 BB%
Versus RH: .251/.319/.415, .319 wOBA, 21.3 K%, 8.5 BB%

That's especially good news for both Raul Ibanez and Justin Smoak, both of whom have a greater history of success against right-handers than left-handers. Both, plus the Mariners as a team, will be facing the back end of the Toronto Blue Jays' rotation, as well as the Milwaukee Brewers' injury-ravaged starting five. And in Ibanez's case, consider that he's a lifetime .367 hitter with three home runs against Monday opponent R.A. Dickey, who is one of the better pitchers he'll face.

• The Los Angeles Angels, meanwhile, made a pair of trades that hinted at a "throwing in the towel" strategy going forward, and this isn't the kind of week that might ignite any comebacks. They'll face a pair of red-hot aces in Yu Darvish and Justin Masterson, and a pair of hard throwers in Alexi Ogando and Scott Kazmir, whittling down their operation -- fantasy-speaking on the hitting side -- to effectively Mike Trout. After Trout, the only other Angels hitter with significantly better wOBA than the major league average of .308 since July 1 is Mark Trumbo (.323). Josh Hamilton (.312) and Erick Aybar (.310) are the only ones higher.

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