This weekend, the undefeated Tampa Bay Rays get their biggest test to date, with a three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays in what appears to be a more HR-friendly venue for 2023 at the Rogers Centre. Meanwhile, it’ll be a matchup of possible playoff combatants as the Milwaukee Brewers head west to face the San Diego Padres. Plus, the AL Central-leading Minnesota Twins head east to visit the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium, where they are a mere 3-25, including the postseason, since the beginning of 2015.
What are our fantasy analysts looking forward to and what lineup advantages do they see heading into the weekend? Tristan H. Cockcroft and Eric Karabell tee up what’s ahead for the April 13-16 weekend series.
Cockcroft: In a particularly peculiar scheduling twist, a whopping 12 of last season’s 15 best starting pitchers (in fantasy terms) are scheduled to start on Sunday — Sandy Alcantara, Shane Bieber, Dylan Cease, Gerrit Cole, Yu Darvish, Zac Gallen, Alek Manoah, Shane McClanahan, Aaron Nola, Max Scherzer, Julio Urias and Framber Valdez — while not a single other member of that group is aligned to pitch on Thursday, Friday or Saturday.
For us longtime head-to-head players, Sunday therefore shouldn’t be a “catch up via streamers” day due to the elite level of talent on the mound. The ESPN Forecaster, in fact, has all 12 of the weekend’s highest-projected starting pitching point totals coming from pitchers working Sunday. You’ll need to be selective and calculated — always bear in mind the 12-start cap that you can blow past with Sunday aces, if you conclude Saturday’s action having spent no more than 11 — earlier in the weekend.
Among my favorite streaming choices are the Atlanta’s Bryce Elder (Saturday at the Royals), Arizona’s Ryne Nelson (Saturday at the Marlins) and Patrick Sandoval of the Angels (Friday at the Red Sox).
Karabell: You bring up a great point, that waiting until the last minute — or Sunday! — to make moves in head-to-head play is often too late. I am a bit surprised by an omission to your list of streamers, however. Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN this week features the battle of Texas and the road team sends lefty Andrew Heaney out there against the defending champs, who aren’t exactly pounding the baseball. Heaney tied an AL record with nine consecutive strikeouts against the Royals on Monday. Granted, he is hardly consistent from year to year or even start to start, but he’s a high-upside option for sure.
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Speaking of high upside, Orioles RHP Grayson Rodriguez is scheduled for his third outing on Sunday at the White Sox and against ace Dylan Cease. I see Gray-Rod as a future ace, but he struggled in his most recent outing against the beleaguered Athletics. Rodriguez is still so raw. While the baseball world loves so many rookie hitters right now, such as the Cardinals’ Jordan Walker, Diamondbacks’ Corbin Carroll and Yankees’ Anthony Volpe, it seems tougher for rookie hurlers. Are you trusting Rodriguez or any other rookie pitchers (Hunter Brown, perhaps) this weekend?
Cockcroft: You’re right, as I was deliberately excluding Sunday streamer candidates from that list, in that Sunday does have an unusually large number of them as well. I whiffed on my Rodriguez call (which was part of a two-week pick) on Tuesday, but I still like the road start at the White Sox. And, yes, Heaney is a worthwhile play for strikeouts, though a road start at the Astros leans risk/reward generally (contact-oriented, good against lefties).
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One of the Sunday streaming candidates who stands out on the matchups front is Miles Mikolas of the Cardinals in what I deem to be a pretty important series for the team to make a push upwards in the standings, even though he hasn’t pitched especially well. Call him another risk/reward, I suppose, but where do you stand on that series? The Forecaster says to go heavy on Cardinals, but the Pirates have played better than expected.
In terms of rookie starters, I’d say yes to Brown, since Corey Seager’s IL placement drops the Texas lineup production down a notch. It’s also a yes on Kodai Senga, since a visit to Oakland is a slam-dunk matchup. Yes to Jhony Brito, if only because I’m impressed by what I’ve seen — and note that he’s back to pitching on Thursday after the Yankees went relief-heavy on Wednesday. They originally had wanted to use that as a bullpen day).
It’s a no on both Michael Grove and Shintaro Fujinami, although I am watching them closely for future starts. I simply need to see some production before giving them a go.
Karabell: Yes, I’m definitely keeping an eye on the Cardinals, and not merely their rookie Jordan Walker. Several of their hitters, whom I like, are on our most-dropped list. Tyler O’Neill was a five-category fantasy option in 2021, and after he and the manager didn’t see eye-to-eye about his recent base running, O’Neill didn’t start in a road game in Denver. Fantasy managers weren’t pleased! O’Neill has hit (and run) better recently. Keep him rostered.
The same goes for the multipositional Brendan Donovan, who will continue to lead off, hit and score runs. Also, OF Lars Nootbaar could return from his thumb injury this weekend. Watch the Pirates, too, as new SS Rodolfo Castro hit 23 home runs and stole 12 bases between the minors and majors last season, and he is going to play. They’ll be in need of a leadoff hitter of their own with Oneil Cruz out.
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Another thing I am watching this weekend, though for deeper leagues is that the Angels are scheduled to start three left-handers at Boston. Fantasy managers may think rostering Bobby Dalbec is silly, but he hits lefties, and he will play this weekend, perhaps at shortstop. The Dodgers should also face several lefties against the Cubs. Trayce Thompson and Miguel Vargas will see a bump in value. Fantasy managers should look into streaming hitters more than they do, especially with teams that load their rotation with left-handers. Are there any readily available hitters you’re watching this weekend?
Cockcroft: How about some Phillies lefties? I bet you know them! Bryson Stott has been sneaking in some leadoff assignments, while Brandon Marsh has inched up the batting order, as the team works around injuries and shakes things up a bit. The team makes a four-game visit to the extreme hitters’ environment at Great American Ball Park, facing 3-of-4 righties in the process. Phillies righties also get a 10-grade from the Forecaster, so Alec Bohm should keep up his hot hitting.
I’d also lean on the Guardians, who get three games against poor Nationals pitching, meaning this could be the weekend when both Amed Rosario and Josh Naylor begin to get a little hot. Plus, you know I love what the Orioles are doing on the basepaths this season, with them set to face a trio of catchers who struggle to rein in the running game (Shea Langeliers, Yasmani Grandal, Seby Zavala in some order). Jorge Mateo is a classic “juice the orange” play, but this might be a good weekend for slow-starting Gunnar Henderson, too.
On my watch list, incidentally, is the Blue Jays’ four home games, being that they’ve already seen eight home runs clear the shortened fences in two games at the adjusted Rodgers Centre. Yes, they get the Rays for three. That’s quite the test, but I think it’s going to tell us some things we can use in future days/weeks. Your usual five (Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, George Springer, Daulton Varsho and Matt Chapman) are mainstays, but would you trust anyone else from that lineup?
Karabell: I think we can throw Jays C Alejandro Kirk on the list of reliable hitters there, although he is off to a rough start. Kirk hit .285 with power last season. He walks as much as he whiffs, even so far. I did take a look at the BABIP leaderboard — and Kirk (.227) currently doesn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify — but here are the guys who currently are having the worst luck in the league: Marcell Ozuna (.048 BABIP!), Eduardo Escobar, Rowdy Tellez, Enrique Hernandez, Javier Baez, Triston Casas, Kolten Wong and Josh Bell. Some of these hitters were popular on draft day, and fantasy managers are moving on. Wait. Be patient. Let some of the luck even out. And, hey, you all have a lucky weekend yourselves.