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'The Nine' for Week 15
Fantasy baseball's Week 15 is the final week of baseball's traditional "first half," despite the fact that, at the conclusion of play on July 15, 59.4 percent (or 1,443 of 2,430 scheduled games) of the season will be in the books (barring any postponements between now and then). Baseball's All-Star break runs from Monday, July 16, through Wednesday, July 18, so this is a week where rotations are somewhat in flux as teams use the break to shuffle their rotations or get younger pitchers some much-needed rest. This could be a week where the Atlanta Braves' Sean Newcomb, Cincinnati Reds' Luis Castillo or St. Louis Cardinals' Luke Weaver or John Gant could have their single scheduled starts skipped for maintenance purposes, or the Cleveland Indians' Shane Bieber or San Francisco Giants' Andrew Suarez could have their second scheduled starts skipped. Prepare accordingly, as it's a week where sudden change is a little more commonplace on the pitching side.
ESPN leagues include the four-day period of Thursday, July 19, through Sunday, July 22, as part of "Week 15," but the pitching matchups for those games will mostly not be known until just before the All-Star break, if not during it. It's a reasonable guess that the veterans -- like Madison Bumgarner, Jacob deGrom, Zack Greinke and Chris Sale -- will be the ones aligned to start soonest after the All-Star break, while pitchers facing possible innings caps -- like Marco Gonzales, Nick Kingham, Lance McCullers Jr., Frankie Montas and Ross Stripling -- will be the ones least likely to make early starts after the break, their first turns of the second half perhaps waiting until the July 23-29 week. As for game advantages during the 14-day ESPN scoring period, the Chicago Cubs and Cardinals play a five-game series July 19-22, thanks to their playing the lone game on Thursday, July 19, as well as a doubleheader on July 21 (making up their April 16 postponement). That gives the Cubs one of the seven 11-game scoring periods, with the other six teams playing eight-game schedules from July 9 to 15. Among the teams that benefit most in terms of 14-day hitting matchups are the Seattle Mariners (additional three versus the Chicago White Sox), Boston Red Sox (additional three at Detroit's Comerica Park) and Tampa Bay Rays (additional three versus the Miami Marlins).
The remainder of these notes address only the seven-day, July 9-15 scoring period:
A quartet of makeup games results in six teams enjoying eight-game schedules, a substantial advantage in a week where three other teams play only five times and an additional 12 play six times. The Baltimore Orioles, baseball's second-worst run-scoring team (3.60 per game), play eight home games thanks to makeup games against the New York Yankees on Monday (rescheduling their May 31 postponement and creating a doubleheader) and Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday (rescheduling their May 15 postponement). Hey, at least it's an extra game for this light-hitting offense. The Phillies play eight on the road thanks to the aforementioned game as well as a makeup game at the New York Mets on Monday (rescheduling their April 2 postponement). The Mets play eight home games and the Yankees eight on the road thanks to their aforementioned games, and the Milwaukee Brewers play eight on the road and the Pittsburgh Pirates eight at home thanks to a Saturday makeup game (rescheduling their June 20 postponement and creating a doubleheader). Load up where you can from these six offenses.
Conversely, the three teams to play five times are the Atlanta Braves, Chicago White Sox and Cardinals, limiting their appeal in fantasy. They don't have the week's worst set of hitting matchups, however. That "honor" belongs to the Oakland Athletics, who play their seven games on the road at Houston's Minute Maid Park and San Francisco's AT&T Park while facing scheduled starters Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, Lance McCullers Jr., Charlie Morton, Jeff Samardzija and Madison Bumgarner. It's difficult to make the case for any Athletics hitter besides Khris Davis and Matt Olson, especially since the team will lose the designated hitter for its weekend series, diminishing the lineup and costing some of its platoon pieces at-bats.
Though 11 of the week's 17 interleague games involve American League teams visiting National League venues, the top designated hitter-related story involves the Cincinnati Reds' gaining the DH during their three-game series at Cleveland's Progressive Field. It means Jesse Winker, a .298/.398/.420 hitter against right-handers this season who has started 11 of the team's past 12 games against a righty, has a place to play all week as his Reds face nothing but right-handed starting pitching. The team's overall matchups grade isn't great, but Winker's keen eye at the plate makes him a worthy addition in the more than 85 percent of ESPN leagues in which he's available. Conversely, the Seattle Mariners haven't played Nelson Cruz in the field at all this season, so he might be limited to pinch-hitting duty during the team's three-game series at Colorado's Coors Field. Among the other DH-related implications: Jose Martinez should DH with Matt Carpenter at first base for the Cardinals in their two games at Chicago's Guaranteed Rate Field, clearing infield room for Jedd Gyorko; Kendrys Morales might be limited to pinch-hitting duty in the Toronto Blue Jays' two games at Atlanta's SunTrust Park; and Shohei Ohtani will be limited to pinch-hitting duty in the Los Angeles Angels' three games at Dodger Stadium.
It's rare that the Rays garner a "start" recommendation in fantasy, but their hitting matchups lead the pack this week, mainly because their toughest individual pitching matchup is against Minnesota Twins ace Jose Berrios on Saturday. The team's lineup top four of Kevin Kiermaier (available in more than 90 percent of ESPN leagues), Matt Duffy (available in roughly two-thirds), Jake Bauers (available in just over 70 percent) and Wilson Ramos (available in roughly 15 percent) all warrant a look.
Load up on Milwaukee Brewers pitchers, as they'll spend the entirety of their week on the road at pitching-friendly venues (Miami's Marlins Park and Pittsburgh's PNC Park), providing them a huge park factor boost, while facing a Marlins offense that ranks 27th in runs per game for the season (3.76) and a Pirates offense that has run ice cold (3.13 runs per game since June 18, second worst in baseball). Every currently scheduled Brewers starter grades as at least an above-average weekly play and is available in at least one-third of ESPN leagues, and two-start pitchers Chase Anderson and Jhoulys Chacin are top-50 fantasy starters (using the Player Rater's past 30 split) who are available in more than 50 percent of leagues.
Coors Field games are always desirable for hitters, and the Colorado Rockies do play all six of their games there, boosting their weekly ratings. The two visiting teams, meanwhile, are the Arizona Diamondbacks and Mariners. Among players from all three teams to consider adding and starting as a result: Ryon Healy (available in more than 60 percent of ESPN leagues), who has slugged .479 since June 1; Chris Iannetta (available in nearly 95 percent of ESPN leagues), a .252/.378/.461 career hitter against lefties who should benefit from the Rockies' facing three left-handed starters; and Ketel Marte (available in roughly 75 percent), a .292/.333/.613 hitter since June 1.
For those seeking righty/lefty matchup advantages, consider: Albert Almora Jr. (available in roughly 75 percent of ESPN leagues), a lifetime .323/.375/.496 hitter against left-handers whose Cubs face three lefty starters; Tim Beckham (available in more than 97 percent), a .288/.358/.521 hitter against left-handers during his Orioles career whose Orioles face three lefty starters; Enrique Hernandez (available in roughly 60 percent), a lifetime .264/.357/.509 hitter against left-handers whose Los Angeles Dodgers face three lefty starters; and Brad Miller (available in more than 96 percent), a .278/.355/.477 hitter against right-handers this season whose Milwaukee Brewers face seven righty starters.