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Fantasy Forecaster updated Sunday, Aug. 24, at 11:55 a.m. ET.
On tap: The month of August draws to a conclusion, and with it the regular season in ESPN standard head-to-head leagues. It's time for your final push for a playoff spot, right at the time that major-league teams are making their final adjustments to their playoff rosters -- the deadline for those arrives on Sunday, Aug. 31, so that's the most probable final day we'll see any major waiver trades -- and don't forget that major league rosters then expand on Sept. 1 (Monday of Week 22). There's a chance that, entering Labor Day weekend, teams might make some unexpected roster adjustments, so don't be surprised if this is a week of more rotation juggling than usual.
The Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels, two teams whose rotations have fallen into tougher times -- the Athletics due to some of their starters' recent struggles, the Angels due to the loss of Garrett Richards (knee) due to injury -- battle for American League West supremacy during a four-game, Labor Day weekend set at Los Angeles' Angel Stadium. Entering play on Aug. 22, the Angels led the Athletics in the division by two games, and the Athletics had a 5 1/2 game lead on their wild-card competition.
Quick click by section, if you're seeking advice in a specific area:
ESPN lineup deadlines | Interleague impact | Projected starting pitchers
Pitching scuttlebutt | Week 21 pitcher rankings | Pitching advantages
Hitting ratings | Hitting advantages
It's a later-Monday-deadline week, as Week 21 kicks off with New York Yankees at Kansas City Royals on ESPN's Monday Night Baseball at 7 p.m. ET. Fantasy owners in leagues with weekly transactions get additional time to set their lineups; those in leagues with daily transactions also get additional time on Tuesday and Friday, as there are only night games on those days as well.
More importantly, however, this is the final regular-season week in ESPN standard head-to-head leagues. At the conclusion of Week 21, the top four seeds advance to their league's playoffs, with the remaining teams headed to the consolation bracket. Custom leagues might have differing playoff formats, so check your league's rules.
Here are the other earliest start times by day: Wednesday, 12:35 p.m. ET (St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates, one of two day games); Thursday, 12:35 p.m. ET (Chicago Cubs at Cincinnati Reds, one of three day games); Saturday, 1:07 p.m. ET (New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays, one of four day games); and Sunday, 1:07 p.m. ET (Yankees at Blue Jays, 14 of 15 games are day games).
This is the lightest week of interleague play thus far this season, and it's the easiest for fantasy owners to navigate, being that only National League teams visit American League parks, meaning the addition of the designated hitter in all games.
The Marlins used Giancarlo Stanton as their DH in their two most recent interleague games, freeing up right field for some of their bench bats like Reed Johnson and Jordany Valdespin, and with the makeup of the roster similar today to that July 25-27 series at Houston's Minute Maid Park, expect more of the same in L.A. Neither Johnson nor Valdespin, though, has been receiving enough at-bats for 1-2 starts to matter, so only consider them in a desperate spot in a daily league.
The Nationals, meanwhile, might regard the series at Seattle's Safeco Field as a prime time to give right fielder Jayson Werth some "rest," so expect him to shift there and clear his field position for current fourth outfielder Michael Taylor. Taylor has five starts in the past 10 Nationals games and was a 22-homer, 34-steal performer for Double-A Harrisburg (plus an additional steal in his four games for Triple-A Syracuse) before his recall, so he could be a useful one-week plug-in for NL-only owners.
The chart below lists each of the 30 MLB teams' schedules and projected starting pitchers, and provides a projected Bill James Game Score for each day's starter. Pitchers scheduled to start at least twice this week are in gold/beige boxes.
• The Chicago White Sox will require a sixth starter for one of the games of their Saturday doubleheader, but they haven't yet hinted who it will be.
• The Boston Red Sox demoted Brandon Workman to Triple-A Pawtucket following his Aug. 23 start, and while they might recall someone to take his place on Friday, the team could also merely go with four starters for Week 21 due to Thursday's off day.
• The Detroit Tigers demoted Robbie Ray to Triple-A Toledo following his Aug. 22 start, leaving them in need of two spot starters during Week 21, due to a Saturday doubleheader. Ray could be recalled for one of those games thanks to the 26th-man rule, and Buck Farmer could be recalled to start the other game. Anibal Sanchez (pectoral) isn't close enough to being ready to pitch this week.
• Wade LeBlanc is expected to assume the injured Garrett Richards' (knee) spot in the Los Angeles Angels' rotation, beginning on Monday.
• The Minnesota Twins could choose to keep Yohan Pino, one of their scheduled starters in their Aug. 23 doubleheader, in their rotation. In all likelihood the team would choose between him and Trevor May, who is also scheduled for that day.
• The Oakland Athletics used their multiple off days during Week 20 to push back Jason Hammel in their rotation to Tuesday of Week 21, and now they say they might consider Jesse Chavez or Drew Pomeranz for that spot. Whomever gets the assignment would be aligned for two starts.
• The Texas Rangers originally hinted that Yu Darvish (elbow) could come off the disabled list to start Monday's game, lining him up for two starts, but manager Ron Washington backtracked from those earlier statements. It is unclear when Darvish will return.
• Jacob Turner will replace Edwin Jackson (lat) in the Chicago Cubs' rotation beginning on Wednesday. The team will also need a spot starter for Saturday's doubleheader; Felix Doubront is considered the leading candidate for one of those games.
• The Cincinnati Reds can push back their fifth-starter spot back to Saturday, after which point Dylan Axelrod appears the most likely candidate to be recalled. If the team instead chooses to keep everyone on regular schedule, however, Axelrod could start as early as Wednesday.
• Christian Bergman (hand) will be activated to rejoin the Colorado Rockies' rotation on Aug. 24, lining him up for a Friday start during Week 21.
• Hyun-Jin Ryu (gluteal) is eligible to rejoin the Los Angeles Dodgers' rotation on Saturday, and manager Don Mattingly hinted that the left-hander indeed might within a day or two of that. However, it makes a lot of sense for the team to merely wait until Sept. 1, when rosters expand, to activate him.
• Kyle Lohse (ankle) is expected to rejoin the Milwaukee Brewers' rotation on Monday, setting him up for a two-start week. Jimmy Nelson will move back to Tuesday and lose his second start.
• The New York Mets expected to get Bartolo Colon (personal) back into their rotation on Aug. 24, lining him up for a Saturday start during Week 21.
• The St. Louis Cardinals might need a sixth starter this week due to their Saturday doubleheader, or they could use Thursday's off day to push such a decision back as late as Sept. 2. They haven't yet hinted at their plans.
• San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy said following Tim Lincecum's Aug. 23 start that the right-hander might have his next start skipped. Yusmeiro Petit would be the most likely fill-in if the Giants choose to go in that direction.
1. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Wed-@ARI (Miley)
2. Max Scherzer (DET) -- Fri-@CWS (Carroll)
3. Chris Sale (CWS) -- Sat-DET, Gm. 1 (TBD)
4. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- Wed-TEX (Lewis)
5. Madison Bumgarner (SF) -- Tue-COL (De La Rosa), Sun-MIL (Lohse)
6. Stephen Strasburg (WSH) -- Sat-@SEA (Iwakuma)
7. Johnny Cueto (CIN) -- Tue-CHC (Wood), Sun-@PIT (Liriano)
8. David Price (DET) -- Wed-NYY (Greene)
9. Alex Cobb (TB) -- Tue-@BAL (Chen), Sun-BOS (De La Rosa)
10. Alex Wood (ATL) -- Tue-@NYM (Gee), Sun-MIA (Cosart)
11. Corey Kluber (CLE) -- Wed-@CWS (Noesi)
12. Jake Odorizzi (TB) -- Mon-@BAL (Tillman), Sat-BOS (Buchholz)
13. Francisco Liriano (PIT) -- Mon-STL (Lackey), Sun-CIN (Cueto)
14. Zack Greinke (LAD) -- Sat-@SD (Kennedy)
15. Hisashi Iwakuma (SEA) -- Sat-WSH (Strasburg)
16. Jeff Samardzija (OAK) -- Mon-@HOU (Feldman), Sat-@LAA (LeBlanc)
17. James Shields (KC) -- Mon-NYY (Pineda), Sat-CLE (Bauer)
18. Tyson Ross (SD) -- Tue-MIL (Nelson)
19. Tanner Roark (WSH) -- Mon-@PHI (Burnett), Sun-@SEA (Elias)
20. A.J. Burnett (PHI) -- Mon-WSH (Roark), Sun-@NYM (Gee)
21. Gio Gonzalez (WSH) -- Tue-@PHI (Hamels)
22. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Tue-WSH (Gonzalez)
23. Adam Wainwright (STL) -- Wed-@PIT (Locke)
24. John Lackey (STL) -- Mon-@PIT (Liriano), Sun-CHC (Wood)
25. Sonny Gray (OAK) -- Wed-@HOU (Peacock)
26. Chris Tillman (BAL) -- Mon-TB (Odorizzi), Sat-MIN (Gibson)
27. Jake Arrieta (CHC) -- Thu-@CIN (Leake)
28. Mike Fiers (MIL) -- Sat-@SF (Peavy)
29. Drew Smyly (TB) -- Wed-@BAL (Gausman)
30. Julio Teheran (ATL) -- Wed-@NYM (Wheeler)
31. Danny Salazar (CLE) -- Fri-@KC (Vargas)
32. Brandon McCarthy (NYY) -- Tue-@DET (Porcello), Sun-@TOR (Happ)
33. Jacob deGrom (NYM) -- Fri-PHI (Buchanan)
34. Jon Lester (OAK) -- Thu-@LAA (Wilson)
35. Chris Archer (TB) -- Fri-BOS (Webster)
36. Kyle Lohse (MIL) -- Mon-@SD (Stults), Sun-@SF (Bumgarner)
37. Dallas Keuchel (HOU) -- Tue-OAK (Hammel), Sun-TEX (Martinez)
38. Danny Duffy (KC) -- Tue-MIN (Nolasco), Sun-CLE (House)
39. Mat Latos (CIN) -- Wed-CHC (Turner)
40. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- Wed-@SD (Despaigne)
41. Matt Shoemaker (LAA) -- Tue-MIA (Eovaldi), Sun-OAK (Hammel)
42. Lance Lynn (STL) -- Tue-@PIT (Cole)
43. Carlos Carrasco (CLE) -- Thu-@CWS (Danks)
44. Roenis Elias (SEA) -- Mon-TEX (Mikolas), Sun-WSH (Roark)
45. Scott Kazmir (OAK) -- Fri-@LAA (Weaver)
46. Wei-Yin Chen (BAL) -- Tue-TB (Cobb), Sun-MIN (Nolasco)
47. Rick Porcello (DET) -- Tue-NYY (McCarthy), Sun-@CWS (Quintana)
48. Chris Young (SEA) -- Fri-WSH (Zimmermann)
49. Mike Minor (ATL) -- Thu-@NYM (Niese)
50. Kyle Hendricks (CHC) -- Fri-@STL (Miller)
51. Clay Buchholz (BOS) -- Mon-@TOR (Happ), Sat-@TB (Odorizzi)
52. Gerrit Cole (PIT) -- Tue-STL (Lynn)
53. Jake Peavy (SF) -- Mon-COL (Matzek), Sat-MIL (Fiers)
54. Ervin Santana (ATL) -- Fri-MIA (Koehler)
55. Ian Kennedy (SD) -- Sat-LAD (Greinke)
56. Jose Quintana (CWS) -- Tue-CLE (House), Sun-DET (Porcello)
57. Jordan Zimmermann (WSH) -- Fri-@SEA (Young)
58. Justin Verlander (DET) -- Thu-NYY (Kuroda)
59. Michael Pineda (NYY) -- Mon-@KC (Shields), Sat-@TOR (Hutchison)
60. Hector Santiago (LAA) -- Wed-MIA (Alvarez)
61. Doug Fister (WSH) -- Wed-@PHI (Kendrick)
62. Zack Wheeler (NYM) -- Wed-ATL (Teheran)
63. Andrew Cashner (SD) -- Fri-LAD (Haren)
64. Josh Collmenter (ARI) -- Fri-COL (Bergman)
65. Bartolo Colon (NYM) -- Sat-PHI (Williams)
66. Collin McHugh (HOU) -- Thu-TEX (Tepesch)
67. Tim Lincecum (SF) -- Thu-COL (Lyles)
68. Dillon Gee (NYM) -- Tue-ATL (Wood), Sun-PHI (Burnett)
69. James Paxton (SEA) -- Tue-TEX (Martinez)
70. Phil Hughes (MIN) -- Wed-@KC (Ventura)
71. T.J. House (CLE) -- Tue-@CWS (Quintana), Sun-@KC (Duffy)
72. R.A. Dickey (TOR) -- Tue-BOS (De La Rosa)
73. Marcus Stroman (TOR) -- Wed-BOS (Kelly)
74. Wily Peralta (MIL) -- Fri-@SF (Vogelsong)
74. Jason Vargas (KC) -- Fri-CLE (Salazar)
75. Yordano Ventura (KC) -- Wed-MIN (Hughes)
Two-start options for AL-/NL-only leagues:
Jorge De La Rosa (COL) -- Tue-@SF (Bumgarner), Sun-@ARI (Anderson)
Rubby De La Rosa (BOS) -- Tue-@TOR (Dickey), Sun-@TB (Cobb)
Scott Feldman (HOU) -- Mon-OAK (Samardzija), Sat-TEX (Mikolas)
Eric Stults (SD) -- Mon-MIL (Lohse), Sun-LAD (Correia)
Travis Wood (CHC) -- Tue-@CIN (Cueto), Sun-@STL (Lackey)
No-thank-yous, among two-start pitchers:
Jason Hammel (OAK) -- Tue-@HOU (Keuchel), Sun-@LAA (Shoemaker)
J.A. Happ (TOR) -- Mon-BOS (Buchholz), Sun-NYY (McCarthy)
Wade LeBlanc (LAA) -- Mon-MIA (Cosart), Sat-OAK (Samardzija)
Nick Martinez (TEX) -- Tue-@SEA (Paxton), Sun-@HOU (Keuchel)
Tyler Matzek (COL) -- Mon-@SF (Peavy), Sat-@ARI (Nuno)
Miles Mikolas (TEX) -- Mon-@SEA (Elias), Sat-@HOU (Feldman)
Ricky Nolasco (MIN) -- Tue-@KC (Duffy), Sun-@BAL (Chen)
• Two months ago, who'd have though anyone would ever say that the Houston Astros' pitching staff would be the source of fantasy value, especially with a week's worth of games ahead against the Oakland Athletics (three games) and Texas Rangers (four)? Flash forward to today and you'll see how things have changed: Three-fifths of the Astros' rotation has ERAs beneath 3.25 since the All-Star break, while the Athletics and Rangers rank 22nd (.288) and 26th (.282) in terms of team weighted on-base average.
Not a single Astros pitcher is owned in more than 55.1 percent of ESPN leagues -- that's Dallas Keuchel's percentage -- but Keuchel (2.94 ERA in seven second-half starts), Collin McHugh (2.27 ERA, 1.07 WHIP in five such starts) and Brett Oberholtzer (3.15 ERA, 1.13 WHIP in six such starts) are well worth your while if you're leaning upon a streaming strategy, and even Scott Feldman (four quality starts in his past five games) warrants a look as you'll see below. That the Astros' bullpen remains shaky -- their 4.52 relief ERA since the All-Star break is fifth-worst -- is what keeps this team beneath the radar in team-based games like our Baseball Challenge, but this could be a sneaky-good source of individual matchup plays in Week 21.
• This is a week where the Atlanta Braves need to make some serious headway in their playoff chase; they entered play on Aug. 22 seven games back in the National League East and one game back in the wild-card race. Still, a week of games against the light-hitting New York Mets, at Citi Field at that, followed by three back home against a Miami Marlins team with the majors' fifth-worst road wOBA (.290) represents a schedule that should thrust the Braves to the top of team-based play.
Two-start pitcher Alex Wood might have oddly mediocre career statistics against his two projected foes -- he has a 4.19 ERA in his career against the Mets and 5.26 against the Marlins -- but bear in mind how small his career samples due to only 29 big-league starts. He's a lefty battling a Mets team with the third-worst wOBA against southpaws (.289) and a Marlins team that has swung and missed a lot since the All-Star break (23.9 percent K rate, second-highest during that time). It's understandable, then, that he's ranked highly for the week, and perhaps the favorable set of matchups will also inspire Mike Minor to extend his active streak to three consecutive quality starts (though he does pitch Aug. 22 in between publishing time and his Week 21 assignment).
• Here are this week's Streamer's Delight picks (pitchers must be available in at least 75 percent of ESPN leagues as of our publishing time on Friday):
1. Tsuyoshi Wada (@STL, Saturday): It's difficult to bet against Wada, as he has a 2.31 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in the month of August, and will be facing a St. Louis Cardinals team that has never before faced him while working at pitching-friendly Busch Stadium.
2. Jimmy Nelson (@SD, Tuesday): Even with the San Diego Padres hitting better -- .267/.340/.389 since the All-Star break, for a second-ranked .318 team wOBA -- Petco Park remains an advantageous venue for a pitcher, as opposing starters are 6-for-12 in quality starts with a 4.50 ERA there during that time with five of the ones who failed to qualify shaky fantasy types anyway (Tyler Matzek, Mike Minor, etc.). Nelson is 5-for-6 in quality starts since the All-Star break.
3. Hector Santiago (MIA, Wednesday): He has a 2.08 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in three starts since moving back into the Los Angeles Angels' rotation, and while his walks are a concern -- he had seven in 17 1/3 innings during that same stretch -- he is also a pitcher with swing-and-miss stuff facing a Miami Marlins team that has the majors' highest strikeout rate versus left-handed pitchers in August (31.4 percent).
4. Bud Norris (TB, Thursday): He has been quite good at Camden Yards this year, with a 2.86 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in nine starts, and he has limited current Tampa Bay Rays to lifetime .267/.364/.360 rates with a 20.5 percent strikeout rate.
5. Scott Feldman (TEX, Saturday): He's 2-for-3 in quality starts with a 3.44 ERA against the Texas Rangers this season, and current Rangers combined are lifetime .248/.295/.391 hitters against him.
6. Chase Anderson (COL, Sunday): He sure likes the home cooking, going 6-for-9 in quality starts with a 3.27 ERA and 1.28 WHIP at Chase Field thus far this season. What's more, he's 2-for-2 in quality starts versus the Colorado Rockies in 2014.
7. Jorge De La Rosa (@SF, Tuesday): On a weak day for streaming starters, go with the left-hander with seven quality starts in his past nine games who is facing a San Francisco Giants team with mere .258/.302/.373 rates and an average of 4.7 K's per walk against left-handers since the All-Star break.
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.
• 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:
Home games: Baltimore Orioles 7, Chicago White Sox 7, Houston Astros 7, Kansas City Royals 7, Los Angeles Angels 7, San Francisco Giants 7, Seattle Mariners 6, Toronto Blue Jays 6, New York Mets 6, Pittsburgh Pirates 6, San Diego Padres 6. No other team plays more than five home games.
Versus RH: Houston Astros 7, Baltimore Orioles 6, Seattle Mariners 6, Tampa Bay Rays 6, Chicago Cubs 6, Pittsburgh Pirates 6, San Diego Padres 6. Six teams face five right-handed starters.
Versus LH: St. Louis Cardinals 5, Cleveland Indians 4, Texas Rangers 4. Five teams face three left-handed starters.
• The San Francisco Giants' offense has run cold for much of the summer months, but in their defense, their bats have awoken somewhat during the month of August: They have the majors' 12th-best team wOBA (.312, MLB average .300) behind .271/.319/.397 rates albeit largely fueled by the majors' best BABIP during that time (.332). But if you want to cast Giants hitters aside as "lucky," their good fortunes should continue facing a schedule like this: With the exception of Mike Fiers on Saturday, they don't face a single pitcher with a projected Game Score greater than 50; and on raw talent six of their seven foes might be looking at barely-quality-start-minimum stat lines.
The Giants have enjoyed better success versus lefties (.305 wOBA) than righties (.294) this season, so a three-lefty-starter week is a plus for them, even (strangely) for a left-handed bat like Brandon Crawford, a .295/.378/.475 hitter against his "weaker" side whose glove is too valuable to keep out of the lineup exploiting matchups. But it's the seven-games-at-home week that favors a powerful Giant: Michael Morse is a .317/.374/.507 hitter in 62 games at AT&T Park this season.
Incidentally, the Giants have a couple of other lower-tier hitters to consider: Starting second baseman Joe Panik is a .397/.426/.466 hitter in 16 games in August, while Angel Pagan should capitalize upon a favorable schedule for base stealers.
• The Houston Astros don't merely benefit on the pitching side; they also draw softer potential schedules against the Oakland Athletics and Texas Rangers if only because the Athletics deliberately slotted the fifth spot in their rotation into their week-opening series, while the Rangers might not yet have noted Astro-killer Yu Darvish back by their weekend four-game set. Monday and Wednesday foes Jeff Samardzija and Sonny Gray, meanwhile, have struggled of late, which is good timing for the Astros.
Super-human slugger Chris Carter -- he's a .308 hitter with nine home runs and a .679 slugging percentage in 19 games in August -- should keep up the week-winning fantasy play, despite the righty-heavy week. That righty-loaded schedule, however, should be good news for some other Astros: Dexter Fowler has a .368 on-base percentage against righties, helping him set up some stolen-base opportunities, while lefty-hitting Jason Castro and Jon Singleton will have a chance to improve what have been terribly disappointing 2014 statistics against their theoretical "strong" sides.
2hESPN Fantasy staff
3dFantasy Football Insiders
10hBrando Simeo Starkey, The Undefeated staff writer