The Fantasy Baseball Forecaster has been updated as of Monday, Sept. 11, at 12:30 p.m. ET.
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On tap: Week 23 of the fantasy baseball season concludes the semifinal matchups of head-to-head playoffs on ESPN.com, and it has a later start, with games not getting underway until 7:07 p.m. ET Monday. The teams that win head-to-head matchups concluding this week will square off in the championship round, which is a two-week matchup that encompasses Weeks 24-25 -- the final two of the regular season.
ESPN will broadcast three games this week: Oakland Athletics at Boston Red Sox at 7 p.m. ET on Wednesday, with a projected matchup of Jharel Cotton and Doug Fister, Los Angeles Dodgers at San Francisco Giants at 10 p.m. ET Wednesday, with a projected matchup of Yu Darvish and Matt Moore, and Dodgers at Washington Nationals at 8 p.m. ET Sunday, with a projected matchup of Hyun-Jin Ryu (or possibly Kenta Maeda) and Gio Gonzalez.
Since the beginning of August, the Kansas City Royals (6.13 team ERA, 1.51 WHIP) and Detroit Tigers (5.99 and 1.58) have been baseball's two worst pitching staffs (using those categories as measuring sticks), and two of their American League Central competitors benefit from schedules facing only those two teams this week. Let's start with the Cleveland Indians, the more prominent of the two from a fantasy angle and the one also helped by playing all seven games at Progressive Field. There's some wiggle room as to lefty/righty starters -- Danny Duffy's progress influences the Royals' weekend series -- so keep tabs right here as those situations settle themselves. Jay Bruce, a .252/.308/.486 hitter against right-handers since the All-Star break, would get a boost if the Indians' matchups remain as they are with five righty starters on the Week 23 schedule. Austin Jackson, a .370/.442/.609 hitter against lefties in the second half, and available in more than 95 percent of ESPN leagues, would benefit most if two of those opposing-starter assignments swing around to the left-handed side. Both are worthwhile pickups/starts for the week.
Digging deeper for Week 23 plug-ins, the Chicago White Sox are the other AL Central team to draw both the Royals and Tigers as opponents. Despite spending the entire week on the road, away from homer-friendly Guaranteed Rate Field, the White Sox grade the more hitting-friendly schedule than the Indians, thanks in large part to a significantly lesser chance of drawing Duffy as an opponent in their week-opening series against the Royals. If you play in a deeper-than-standard league, consider adding and starting Yolmer Sanchez (roughly 10 percent rostered), a .273/.327/.434 hitter in the past month who has made nine of his past 10 starts as either the team's leadoff or No. 2 hitter; Nicky Delmonico (roughly 5 percent), a .284/.408/.531 hitter in 24 games since his call-up; and Matt Davidson (roughly 5 percent), a .130 hitter in 12 games since being activated from the disabled list but also the owner of .152 isolated power and a 4.2 percent home run rate during that time span, usually slotting in between fifth and seventh in the lineup.
The San Diego Padres suffer the misfortune of the week's only five-game schedule, in a week where 11 other teams play seven times. It's one of the stronger hitting schedules for a team on a short week, however, as San Diego picks up an additional lineup spot thanks to the designated hitter during its two-game series at Minnesota's Target Field, then plays its three weekend contests at Colorado's Coors Field. Wil Myers' fantasy owners might be somewhat disappointed with his seasonal performance, but he's the seventh-best first baseman on our Player Rater's last-30-days split as well as a lifetime .353/.414/.706 hitter in 22 games at Coors, making him well worth your lineup spot. It's also worth keeping usual leadoff man Manuel Margot (roughly 80 percent available in ESPN leagues) and usual No. 3 hitter Jose Pirela (roughly 85 percent available) in your anything-larger-than-standard lineups.
Speaking of which, nine of the 11 teams with seven-game schedules hail from the American League, meaning your close lineup decisions should swing to the Junior Circuit where possible. There is one clear exception: The Tampa Bay Rays, an ice-cold-since-the-All-Star-break offense, must tangle with the game's Nos. 3 (New York Yankees, 3.33 ERA) and 4 (Boston Red Sox, 3.58) pitching staffs since the All-Star break (using ERA as the measuring stick).
The Oakland Athletics have been a top-10 offense since the beginning of August, averaging 4.88 runs per game (10th) with a .347 team wOBA (eighth). Unfortunately, they face a bit of a lineup crunch to conclude Week 23, with three games at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park where they won't have the DH available. As the team's five currently most-appealing fantasy options -- Khris Davis, Ryon Healy, Matt Olson, Matt Joyce and Matt Chapman -- all play first base/corner outfield/DH, prepare for the loss of a handful of at-bats from this quintet. Davis is the best bet to play all six Athletics games during Week 23. Also, be aware that because the Phillies have an exclusively right-handed rotation, Joyce and Olson have the strongest odds of not being affected by the absence of the DH. Healy, a .247/.280/.416 hitter against righties this season, has the greatest chance of losing starts.
Though they'll play only three games there, the Colorado Rockies' Week 23 schedule has a "Coors Field" feel to it. Their four week-opening road games will be played at Arizona's Chase Field, one of the game's most hitting-friendly environments and also the one with the second-highest altitude. The Rockies' runs-per-game average (5.33) and wOBA (.353) at Chase since the beginning of 2016 aren't a far cry from their Coors Field numbers during that same time span (6.08 and .378). Trevor Story, who is somehow available in roughly one-third of ESPN leagues, has thrived at Chase Field during his young career, batting .271/.352/.833, with home runs in seven of his 12 games there (eight homers total).
If you picked up and started Giants players for their extremely favorable Week 22 schedule, it's time to hop off that bandwagon for Week 23. They'll face the Nos. 4 (Kershaw, Tuesday), 5 (Zack Greinke, Sept. 16), 11 (Robbie Ray, Sept. 15) and 29 (Kenta Maeda, Monday) starting pitchers on the Player Rater, plus Yu Darvish, doing so at their home, AT&T Park, the most extreme pitchers' park in baseball. Joe Panik's hot streak has been so scorching that he can freely stick in your lineup, but besides him and Buster Posey, there isn't a single Giants hitter who can be considered a safe, "automatic" play facing this schedule.
Keep leaning on those left-handed Chicago Cubs, however, as the team once again gets all six of its games at home in Wrigley Field, as well as all six against right-handed starting pitchers. Since the beginning of August, Alex Avila (roughly 50 percent rostered) is a .255/.406/.510 hitter against righties, Ian Happ (rostered in roughly one-third of ESPN leagues) is a .306/.400/.714 hitter against righties and Kyle Schwarber (roughly 50 percent rostered) is a .244/.337/.512 hitter against righties.
Among two-start pitching values, the Miami Marlins' Dillon Peters had back-to-back solid starts to begin his big league career and is widely available in ESPN leagues. He'll battle a Philadelphia Phillies team that ranks 28th in runs per game this season (4.13) and a Milwaukee Brewers squad that ranks last in the category since the All-Star break (3.61). The Brewers could also grant Brandon Woodruff (available in nearly 95 percent of leagues) a pair of starts. He'd face the Pittsburgh Pirates, who rank 26th in runs per game since the All-Star break (4.06), and the Marlins, who rank 22nd (4.40) during that same timespan.