Fantasy Forecaster: Week 23

Which teams are motivated to play their stars with playoff spots up for grabs?

Updated: September 8, 2013, 11:09 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Fantasy Forecaster updated Sunday, Sept. 8, at 11:09 p.m. ET.

On tap: Three weeks remain in the 2013 regular season, and with that, playoff races come into play when making fantasy baseball lineup decisions. Consider the National League East and West and American League Central races: The Atlanta Braves, up 13 games in the NL East on the morning of Sept. 8, have a magic number (combination of their wins and their next-closest opponent's losses needed to clinch that playoff spot) of nine. The Los Angeles Dodgers, up 11 games in the NL West, have a magic number of 10. And the Detroit Tigers, up 5 1/2 games in the AL Central on the morning of Sept. 5, have a magic number of 16.

Fantasy Forecaster

All three teams might increasingly rest regulars, plus shuffle and/or shorten their starters' remaining assignments, knowing that the playoffs are a virtual guarantee. This is why the Braves pushed Julio Teheran back in their rotation to Tuesday; he is on pace for 185 1/3 regular-season innings, or 48 innings more than he amassed in 2012, or 21 more than in any other previous professional season (164 1/3 in 2011). It is why the Tigers face a difficult decision on how much to play Miguel Cabrera, who has missed 11 games combined since July 3 with back, hip and abdominal injuries, and might be able to use additional rest. And it is why the Dodgers skipped Hyun-Jin Ryu's Sept. 6 start as he deals with a back injury, plus why they might take it easy on outfielders Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig, all of whom either have or are currently dealing with ailments, going forward.

Fantasy owners must brace for the unexpected at this time of year, and it's why the best sources of production are often the teams with the greatest motivation. Looking at the standings and the week's schedule, here are three top Week 23 candidates:

New York Yankees (@BAL-4, @BOS-3): They have won 18 of their past 29 games, have outscored their opponents by 17 runs total during that span, remain within 2 1/2 games of an AL wild-card spot and play nothing but teams that either are in or within range of a playoff spot.
Oakland Athletics (@MIN-3, @TEX-3): They entered play on Sept. 8 1 1/2 games ahead of the Texas Rangers, whom they'll play during the weekend, and seven games up on the Yankees and the rest of their wild-card competition.
Cincinnati Reds (CHC-3, @MIL-3): Their NL wild-card status isn't in serious jeopardy -- they have an eight-game lead on the competition -- but they still have a realistic shot of taking the division title and with it avoiding the wild card play-in game. This is soft competition for the Reds to make up ground.

That's not to say these are the only three teams with motivation. The Baltimore Orioles (NYY-4, @TOR-3), Cleveland Indians (KC-3, @CWS-4), Kansas City Royals (@CLE-3, @DET-3), Tampa Bay Rays (BOS-3, @MIN-3), Texas Rangers (PIT-3, OAK-3), Pittsburgh Pirates (@TEX-3, CHC-4) and St. Louis Cardinals (MIL-3, SEA-3) are also fighting for playoff spots and/or positioning. When making close-in-player-valuation lineup decisions, consider the importance of their teams' games in addition to either volume or quality of their matchups.

Quick click by section, if you're seeking advice in a specific area:
ESPN lineup deadlines | Interleague impact | Projected starting pitchers
Pitching scuttlebutt | Week 23 pitcher rankings | Pitching advantages
Hitting ratings | Hitting advantages

ESPN leagues: Lineup deadlines

Later lineup deadlines return this week, as Monday's first games (and the opening games of fantasy's Week 23) have a 7:05 p.m. ET start time: New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals at Cleveland Indians are the first two. Fantasy owners in leagues with daily transactions will also have additional time to set their lineups; games don't begin until 7:05 p.m. ET that day either.

This is the second and final week of Round 1 of the playoffs in ESPN standard leagues. The winners this week will advance to the finals, which will be played during the two-week span of fantasy's Weeks 24-25. The playoff structure and rules for our standard leagues can be seen right here.

Interleague impact

This week's interleague series:
• Pittsburgh Pirates at Texas Rangers (3 games, Monday-Wednesday)
Seattle Mariners at St. Louis Cardinals (3 games, Friday-Sunday)

Justin Morneau has played all but one inning of six Pirates games at first base since his acquisition, rendering former platoon mates Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez bench bats. Gaining the designated hitter during their trip to Texas' Rangers Ballpark gives Jones and Sanchez a place to play again; Sanchez will probably start Tuesday's game against left-hander Martin Perez, with Jones starting Monday and Wednesday against right-handers Yu Darvish and Matt Garza. NL-only owners might squeeze some value out of either player with the small increase in plate appearances.

Losing the DH, meanwhile, has always been a problem for the Mariners, who have a bevy of natural DH candidates on their roster. The trade of Michael Morse decreased that list by one, but Kendrys Morales and Justin Smoak, both of whom have struggled of late, must now fight for PAs at first base, while Raul Ibanez must move to left field to steal PAs from Dustin Ackley and/or Abraham Almonte. As all three Cardinals scheduled starters are right-handed, Ibanez probably won't lose much, if any playing time, but Smoak's owners might want to brace for him sitting 2-3 games.

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

• Just as they did last September, the Baltimore Orioles are announcing their starters on a day-by-day basis, meaning what's listed above is a projection, assuming Chris Tillman returns to their rotation on Monday in the place of the demoted Zach Britton. Britton and Jason Hammel are candidates to make spot starts and/or bump any of the above five to the bullpen at any time.
Clay Buchholz (shoulder), who threw 3 2/3 innings and 71 pitches in a rehabilitation start for Triple-A Pawtucket on Sept. 5, will return to the Boston Red Sox rotation Tuesday. Felix Doubront will have his start skipped for at least this week to clear room for Buchholz.
• The Chicago White Sox are currently using a six-man rotation, with no hint of reverting to five for the week.
Justin Masterson (oblique) was scheduled to miss at least one start -- that'd have come Sept. 8 -- and it's unclear whether he'll be ready to rejoin the Cleveland Indians' rotation this week or at all this season.
• With the Seattle Mariners pushing back Felix Hernandez's (back) next start to Wednesday, it's highly likely they'll use a six-man rotation again this week. Monday's start will also be Taijuan Walker's final one of 2013.
• The Texas Rangers announced Nick Tepesch as their starter for Sept. 8, as well as the three starters for their week-opening series versus Pittsburgh. With Yu Darvish being pushed up a day to Monday, it seems highly likely that the team will use Thursday's off day and go with four starters this week, using a Derek Holland-Martin Perez-Darvish trio for that key weekend series against Oakland.
• The Toronto Blue Jays will use Monday's off day to push Todd Redmond's next start back to Saturday.
• The Atlanta Braves, in an attempt to keep his innings down, pushed Julio Teheran's next start back to Tuesday. It's unclear whether they'll do so again with his following start on Sunday, but with the team up 14 games in the division, Kameron Loe or another pitcher could always make an unannounced spot start.
Scott Baker (Tommy John surgery) is expected to rejoin the Chicago Cubs' rotation on Sept. 8, but it is unclear whether he's replacing someone or the team is going to six starters. Jake Arrieta or Chris Rusin could be bumped, or the struggling Jeff Samardzija could be shut down early, but for now it's smartest to expect a six-man rotation for the coming week.
• The Los Angeles Dodgers scratched Hyun-Jin Ryu (back) from his scheduled Sept. 6 start, and are likely to use him on either Tuesday or Wednesday. Much of their plans for those two days (plus Sunday) depend on Chris Capuano's (groin) health, and it seems probable that Edinson Volquez will make another start for the team.
• The Miami Marlins pushed Jose Fernandez's most recent start back to Sept. 6, and he'll make a final start of 2013 on Wednesday. With an extra game on the schedule, the team will need six starters; what's projected above seems like a fairly likely scenario.
• The Milwaukee Brewers have made no announcements regarding their rotation beyond Thursday, though manager Ron Roenicke told the team's official website that he has a rough outline of it (he didn't reveal it). What's listed above is entirely a projection, and it seems smart for fantasy owners to assume the team will go with six starters this week.
• With a doubleheader Friday, the New York Mets will need a sixth/spot starter this week. Aaron Harang is the most likely candidate for one of those Saturday doubleheader starts.
Tyler Cloyd will replace Ethan Martin in the Philadelphia Phillies' rotation beginning on Wednesday, but with scheduled Tuesday starter Roy Halladay battling a cold, Halladay and Cloyd could trade spots in the rotation. Cloyd would become the team's two-start pitcher in that event.

Tristan's Week 23 pitcher rankings: Top 75

1. Max Scherzer (DET) -- Mon-@CWS (Sale), Sun-KC (Santana)
2. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Fri-SF (Bumgarner)
3. Yu Darvish (TEX) -- Mon-PIT (Cole), Sat-OAK (Colon)
4. Zack Greinke (LAD) -- Thu-SF (Cain)
5. Chris Sale (CWS) -- Mon-DET (Scherzer), Sun-CLE (McAllister)
6. Stephen Strasburg (WSH) -- Fri-PHI (Kendrick)
7. Jarrod Parker (OAK) -- Tue-@MIN (Hendriks), Sun-@TEX (Perez)
8. Homer Bailey (CIN) -- Sat-@MIL (Hellweg)
9. Cliff Lee (PHI) -- Thu-SD (Smith)
10. Mat Latos (CIN) -- Fri-@MIL (Lohse)
11. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Mon-@MIN (Hernandez), Sat-@HOU (Oberholtzer)
12. Jose Fernandez (MIA) -- Wed-ATL (Minor)
13. Anibal Sanchez (DET) -- Wed-@CWS (Quintana)
14. David Price (TB) -- Tue-BOS (Buchholz), Sun-@MIN (Hendriks)
15. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Sat-@WSH (Gonzalez)
16. Ricky Nolasco (LAD) -- Mon-ARI (Delgado), Sat-SF (Lincecum)
17. Adam Wainwright (STL) -- Fri-SEA (Iwakuma)
18. Kris Medlen (ATL) -- Mon-@MIA (Alvarez), Sat-SD (Kennedy)
19. Justin Verlander (DET) -- Fri-KC (Duffy)
20. Julio Teheran (ATL) -- Tue-@MIA (Koehler), Sun-SD (Cashner)
21. Gio Gonzalez (WSH) -- Mon-@NYM (Torres), Sat-PHI (Hamels)
22. Madison Bumgarner (SF) -- Fri-@LAD (Kershaw)
23. Jordan Zimmermann (WSH) -- Tue-@NYM (Gee), Sun-PHI (Halladay)
24. Jake Peavy (BOS) -- Thu-@TB (Hellickson)
25. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- Wed-HOU (Peacock)
26. Mike Minor (ATL) -- Wed-@MIA (Fernandez)
27. Hyun-Jin Ryu (LAD) -- Wed-ARI (Corbin)
28. Francisco Liriano (PIT) -- Tue-@TEX (Perez), Sun-CHC (Wood)
29. James Shields (KC) -- Wed-@CLE (Kazmir)
30. Travis Wood (CHC) -- Mon-@CIN (Arroyo), Sun-@PIT (Liriano)
31. Jon Lester (BOS) -- Sat-NYY (Sabathia)
32. Jhoulys Chacin (COL) -- Mon-@SF (Lincecum), Sun-@ARI (Delgado)
33. Chris Tillman (BAL) -- Mon-NYY (Sabathia), Sat-@TOR (Redmond)
34. Dillon Gee (NYM) -- Tue-WSH (Zimmermann), Sun-MIA (Koehler)
35. Sonny Gray (OAK) -- Wed-@MIN (Pelfrey)
36. Zack Wheeler (NYM) -- Wed-WSH (Haren)
37. Matt Garza (TEX) -- Wed-PIT (Burnett)
38. Hisashi Iwakuma (SEA) -- Fri-@STL (Wainwright)
39. Tony Cingrani (CIN) -- Tue-CHC (Jackson)
40. Jonathon Niese (NYM) -- Thu-WSH (Roark)
41. Shelby Miller (STL) -- Tue-MIL (Peralta), Sun-SEA (Ramirez)
42. John Lackey (BOS) -- Fri-NYY (Kuroda)
43. Alex Cobb (TB) -- Wed-BOS (Dempster)
44. A.J. Burnett (PIT) -- Wed-@TEX (Garza)
45. Ubaldo Jimenez (CLE) -- Mon-KC (Santana), Sat-@CWS (Rienzo)
46. Ivan Nova (NYY) -- Tue-@BAL (Gonzalez), Sun-@BOS (Buchholz)
47. Randall Delgado (ARI) -- Mon-@LAD (Nolasco), Sun-COL (Chacin)
48. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- Sun-CIN (Arroyo)
49. Matt Moore (TB) -- Sat-@MIN (Hernandez)
50. Martin Perez (TEX) -- Tue-PIT (Liriano), Sun-OAK (Parker)
51. Michael Wacha (STL) -- Sat-SEA (Paxton)
52. Mark Buehrle (TOR) -- Tue-LAA (Williams), Sun-BAL (Gonzalez)
53. Patrick Corbin (ARI) -- Wed-@LAD (Ryu)
54. Andrew Cashner (SD) -- Tue-@PHI (Halladay), Sun-@ATL (Teheran)
55. Gerrit Cole (PIT) -- Mon-@TEX (Darvish), Sat-CHC (Baker)
56. R.A. Dickey (TOR) -- Wed-LAA (Wilson)
57. C.J. Wilson (LAA) -- Wed-@TOR (Dickey)
58. Chris Archer (TB) -- Fri-@MIN (Albers)
59. Danny Salazar (CLE) -- Fri-@CWS (Santiago)
60. Alex Wood (ATL) -- Thu-@MIA (Eovaldi)
61. Doug Fister (DET) -- Sat-KC (Chen)
62. Bronson Arroyo (CIN) -- Mon-CHC (Wood), Sun-@MIL (Gallardo)
63. Andy Pettitte (NYY) -- Wed-@BAL (Feldman)
64. Carlos Torres (NYM) -- Mon-WSH (Gonzalez), Sat-MIA, Gm. 1 (Alvarez)
65. Derek Holland (TEX) -- Fri-OAK (Straily)
66. Charlie Morton (PIT) -- Fri-CHC (Arrieta)
67. Ryan Vogelsong (SF) -- Tue-COL (De La Rosa), Sun-@LAD (Volquez)
68. Taijuan Walker (SEA) -- Mon-HOU (Cosart)
69. Matt Cain (SF) -- Thu-@LAD (Greinke)
70. Hiroki Kuroda (NYY) -- Fri-@BOS (Lackey)
71. Paul Maholm (ATL) -- Fri-SD (Ross)
72. A.J. Griffin (OAK) -- Thu-@MIN (Correia)
73. Tyson Ross (SD) -- Fri-@ATL (Maholm)
74. Jeff Samardzija (CHC) -- Wed-@CIN (Leake)
75. Marco Estrada (MIL) -- Wed-@STL (Lynn)

Two-start options for AL-/NL-only leagues:
Roy Halladay (PHI) -- Tue-SD (Cashner), Sun-@WSH (Zimmermann)
Tim Lincecum (SF) -- Mon-COL (Chacin), Sat-@LAD (Nolasco)
Zach McAllister (CLE) -- Tue-KC (Guthrie), Sun-@CWS (Sale)
CC Sabathia (NYY) -- Mon-@BAL (Tillman), Sat-@BOS (Lester)
Ervin Santana (KC) -- Mon-@CLE (Jimenez), Sun-@DET (Scherzer)
Jerome Williams (LAA) -- Tue-@TOR (Buehrle), Sun-@HOU (Clemens)

No-thank-yous, among two-start pitchers:
Henderson Alvarez (MIA) -- Mon-ATL (Medlen), Sat-@NYM, Gm. 1 (Torres)
Miguel Gonzalez (BAL) -- Tue-NYY (Nova), Sun-@TOR (Buehrle)
Liam Hendriks (MIN) -- Tue-OAK (Parker), Sun-TB (Price)
Pedro Hernandez (MIN) -- Mon-LAA (Weaver), Sat-TB (Moore)
Tom Koehler (MIA) -- Tue-ATL (Teheran), Sun-@NYM (Gee)
Edinson Volquez (LAD) -- Tue-ARI (Cahill), Sun-SF (Vogelsong)

Pitching advantages

• We'll witness first-year fantasy sensation and probable National League Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez's final start of 2013, as the Miami Marlins will cap him at 170 innings pitched. He had 165 2/3 innings entering the week, but the team announced that he won't have any in-game restrictions as a result of that 170 number; it'll be a start with normal restrictions. Fernandez has 11 quality starts, a 1.44 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and 32.1 percent strikeout rate (that going by percentage of total batters faced) in 12 starts since July 1, and he tossed six innings of two-run, three-hit, eight-K baseball against the Atlanta Braves on Aug. 30. Keep him in there, then prepare to cut him in all redraft leagues.

• The New York Mets, who will in all likelihood have been eliminated from NL East contention by week's start, have quite a set of pitching matchups in Week 23. They play eight games, tied with the Miami Marlins for the most in the majors, all at Citi Field, where they have a 3.53 ERA and 1.24 WHIP as a team (compared to 4.13 and 1.36 on the road). As you'll see among the "Streamer's Delight" picks below, two-start pitcher Dillon Gee, available in 83.5 percent of ESPN leagues, warrants a pickup in any format for the week. But every member of the Mets' rotation is available in a significant percentage of ESPN leagues -- Zack Wheeler's 63.7 percent ownership is tops among their current starting five -- and that means streaming opportunities. Jonathon Niese, Thursday's starter against the Washington Nationals, might be the standout. After all, the Nationals have the majors' third-worst wOBA (weighted on-base average) against left-handed pitchers this season (.289).

• At least on the pitching side, the Cleveland Indians' matchups suit them well in their quest to fight back into either the AL Central or wild-card races. The opposing Kansas City Royals (17th, .309) and Chicago White Sox (27th, .296) rank among the majors' bottom half in wOBA since the All-Star break, and all five current Indians starters -- assuming that Justin Masterson (owned in 77.9 percent of ESPN leagues) doesn't pitch this week -- remain available in more than 75 percent of leagues. Two-start pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez (24.8 percent owned) is the intriguing play of the bunch. He's riding a streak of three consecutive quality starts, two of which were 10-strikeout efforts, and during those games he experienced a marked increase in fastball velocity, averaging 92.9 mph with it compared to 91.3 during his first 24 starts of the season.

• 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. Dillon Gee (MIA, Sunday): He has a 65.8 quality start percentage, 3.16 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 40 career games at Citi Field, and the Miami Marlins have the majors' worst wOBA both since the All-Star break (.276) and for the season (.277).
2. Dillon Gee (WSH, Tuesday): Oh, and Gee is 6-for-11 in quality starts with a 2.80 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in his career against the Washington Nationals.
3. Randall Delgado (COL, Sunday): He's 7-for-9 in quality starts with a 3.36 ERA and 1.07 WHIP at home this season, and the Colorado Rockies' .295 wOBA and 3.41 runs-per-game average on the road both rank among the majors' 10 worst.
4. Michael Wacha (SEA, Saturday): Hope he leans on his changeup (.210 wOBA allowed, 19 of his 40 K's), because the Seattle Mariners have the majors' second-worst wOBA (.254) and fourth-highest K rate (24.5 percent) against that pitch.
5. Taijuan Walker (HOU, Monday): He'll probably be on a pitch count, but you can't ask a more favorable matchup for K's than the Houston Astros.

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: New York Mets 8, Chicago White Sox 7, Minnesota Twins 7, Los Angeles Dodgers 7
Versus LH: Los Angeles Angels 5, Baltimore Orioles 4, Detroit Tigers 4
Versus RH: Chicago White Sox 7, Atlanta Braves 7, Seattle Mariners 6, Miami Marlins 6, Milwaukee Brewers 6, New York Mets 6

• Consider this a "last gasp" kind of week for Los Angeles Angels hitters, who will play 10 of their final 13 games of the season against hungry, motivated Oakland Athletics and Texas Rangers pitchers in the two weeks following this. Though this team has a wOBA 14 points higher against right-handed pitchers (.326) than left-handers (.312), all that means is that this is a team that does more scraping lineups together against lefties than rolls out many fantasy studs. That's a plus for those seeking fill-ins, as Erick Aybar (owned in 79.5 percent of ESPN leagues), Peter Bourjos (2.1 percent), Grant Green (0.2), Hank Conger (0.1) and Luis Jimenez (0.0) are all right-handed (or switch-hitting) hitters who are widely available.

Green stands out in particular, as he has started 25 of the team's past 30 games at second base, batting .292 with a .354 on-base percentage during that span.

• Two Cincinnati Reds hitters remain available in a significant number of ESPN leagues and should benefit from their hitting-friendly set of matchups this week: Todd Frazier (owned in 58.3 percent) and Ryan Ludwick (7.6 percent).

Frazier, who hit two home runs on Sept. 5, is a .271 hitter with a .518 slugging percentage, five home runs and 16 RBIs in his past 22 games. Ludwick, meanwhile, is a .297/.328/.438 hitter in his past 19 contests.

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