Fantasy Forecaster updated Monday, Aug. 23 at 10:39 a.m. ET.
On tap: Playoff finagling in the American League is the story of Week 20, as the Central-leading Minnesota Twins head south to battle the Texas Rangers for four games Monday-Thursday, the East-leading New York Yankees travel to the Windy City to take on the Chicago White Sox for three Friday-Sunday, and the Boston Red Sox visit the Sun Belt to challenge the Tampa Bay Rays for three Friday-Sunday. It's the latter series that might bring the greatest intensity; the Red Sox desperately need a series win, or better, a sweep, to make up the 5½ games between these teams in the wild-card race. Unfortunately, the Rays have had the Red Sox's number in recent meetings, winning eight of 12 this season, including all three most recently at Tropicana Field from July 5 to July 7, and 31-of-55 since 2008 (postseason included). Those recent 55 battles have been somewhat hitting-friendly; the two teams have combined to average 9.2 runs per game.
The Philadelphia Phillies, now the National League's wild-card leaders thanks to a 12-4 start to August, have star slugger Ryan Howard back in the lineup, in time for the start of their four-game series versus the Houston Astros. He's a lifetime .302/.406/.633 (AVG/OBP/SLG) hitter after the All-Star break, and .314/.426/.686 after Sept. 1, numbers that support his case as an instant activation in all formats.
Another subplot in that Astros-Phillies series is the revenge factor: Houston Astros right-hander Brett Myers, who recently signed a two-year, $21 million contract extension, returns to Philadelphia to face his former team for the first time since they let him depart as a free agent last winter. Myers, if you recall, promised to "stick it" to his former team every time he faces them. For those wondering whether Roy Oswalt, the former Astro, might get a chance to face his former team, don't count on it; he's currently scheduled to miss that series. However, J.A. Happ, who was in the Oswalt deal, will battle the Phillies on Wednesday.
Speaking of playoff finagling, over in the NL, the Phillies also make a three-game stop at Petco Park to face the NL-leading San Diego Padres from Friday to Sunday, while the Central-leading Cincinnati Reds travel west to AT&T Park to take on the wild card-hopeful San Francisco Giants for three Monday to Wednesday.
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 twice this week are in color-coded boxes.
P: The starting pitcher's matchup rating, which accounts for past history (three years' worth as well as past 21 days), opponent and ballpark. Ratings range from 1-10, with 10 representing the best possible matchup, statistically speaking, and 1 representing the worst.
• One of the most notable schedule oddities that pertains to fantasy baseball is what I like to call the "yin/yang" schedule. It's when a team's two series in a given week are polar opposites in terms of good-versus-bad matchups. In a system like ours, where full-week performance is being projected, the result of such schedules is usually a middle-of-the-road rating, except that doesn't really identify the short-term advantages (or disadvantages, as the case may be) for owners in daily formats. Two AL teams have the "yin/yang" schedule this week: the Red Sox, who host the light-hitting Seattle Mariners for three before heading to Tampa Bay; and the Twins, who play four at bandbox Rangers Ballpark before traveling to Seattle for three. Daily league owners, you know what to do.
• Prepare to be shocked: The Cleveland Indians have the sleeper schedule of the week. That's right, I'm advising you to look at a team that ranks 24th in baseball in team ERA (4.46), and one in which four-fifths of its rotation has only 81 starts of big league experience. What you might not realize: This team is one game under .500 since the All-Star break with a team ERA of 3.99, and that's in spite of its having played 17 of 33 games versus the Red Sox, Twins, Yankees and Rays during that span. No Indians starter -- other than, depending upon your opinion of him, two-start pitcher Fausto Carmona -- is a fantasy standout, but you'd be silly to cast this team aside without examining its schedule. After all, the visiting Oakland Athletics and Kansas City Royals have combined to average just 4.06 runs per game overall this season, and only 3.80 per game on the road.
• Be cautious about the Yankees' schedule for once. They do travel to both Toronto's Rogers Centre and Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field, two homer-friendly venues, but their rotation isn't entirely aligned in their favor. Consider that the Toronto Blue Jays (103) and White Sox (87) rank one-two in home runs at home, and have combined to average one homer per 24.3 at-bats versus right-handers (one per 27.9 at-bats versus left-handers), and the Yankees' rotation is four-fifths right-handed. Keep that in mind if you're tempted to term spot starter and Triple-A standout Ivan Nova or current No. 5 starter Dustin Moseley a sleeper or expect big things from Javier Vazquez on Friday at Chicago.
• Two NL playoff hopefuls have stacked pitching matchups: Both the Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals play seven-game schedules, and both teams will face nothing but opponents that rank among the bottom 10 in baseball in terms of team OPS. Don't sweat too much that the Cardinals are in a mini funk and will play all seven on the road, or that they're a staff that traditionally capitalizes upon games at its pitching-friendly home venue; they do still have a 3.95 road ERA, seventh-best in baseball. Their current starting five also has an 11-2 record, 3.40 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 25 career games at PNC Park, and their only two starters who've ever pitched at Nationals Park, Kyle Lohse and Adam Wainwright, each won their only career starts there.
• If you saw the note about strength of schedule in my most recent "60 Feet 6 Inches," you might recall that the New York Mets got the thumbs-up on the good side, and this week is a perfect example why. The Mets' Citi Field advantage is significant; their minus-1.40 ERA differential between home and road games is fifth-best in baseball and second best in the NL. Also, three of their games are against the Astros, who have a .648 OPS and have hit just 28 home runs in 55 road games. Every one of the Mets' current starting five has an ERA at Citi Field under 4.00, and so does their new closer (by all accounts), Hisanori Takahashi.
For more insight into Week 20 pitching matchups, see my rankings for every scheduled starter at column's end.
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 versus left- and right-handed pitchers and base stealing. Matchup ratings for each individual game are listed under the corresponding date.
H: Hitters' matchup rating, which accounts for the opposing starting pitcher's past history (three years' worth as well as past 21 days) as well as ballpark factors. L: Hitters' matchup rating accounting only for left-handed hitters. R: Hitters' matchup rating accounting for only right-handed hitters. S: Base stealing matchup rating, which accounts for the opponent's catchers' ability to gun down opposing base stealers. Ratings range from 1-10, with 10 representing the best possible matchup, statistically speaking, and 1 representing the worst.
• If the Yankees, as mentioned above, don't stack up well on the pitching side in a series at Toronto, surely that means things favor Blue Jays hitters. Yes indeed, the Blue Jays benefit this week, not only from that three-game set but also a four-game series versus the Detroit Tigers' all-right-handed rotation during the weekend. This team has clubbed more home runs at home (103) than any other team in baseball -- they've averaged 1.87 per contest at Rogers Centre -- and more homers versus righties (153) than anyone, and look at that schedule: Entirely at home, entirely versus right-handed starters. Better yet: With slow starters Aaron Hill (.279/.297/.525 rates in August) and Adam Lind (.352/.417/.648) finally starting to hit, this lineup is suddenly deeper top to bottom.
• Pick the other half of that Tigers-Blue Jays series for fantasy success, too, as Rogers Centre is every bit as likely to help the visitors' hitters as it is the home team's. Games versus the Royals to begin the week also suit Tigers hitters well. You might think that the Tigers, Miguel Cabrera aside, are a fantasy wasteland with Magglio Ordonez on the sidelines, but consider that in their recent seven-game road trip to Chicago and New York, they managed .264/.332/.512 team rates, including 17 homers in seven games. There might yet be some life in lesser-known Tigers bats such as Alex Avila, Brennan Boesch and Ryan Raburn.
• The Cardinals rate as baseball's only perfect 10 for Week 20, and it's thanks to them facing Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals teams that rank 29th (5.04) and 19th (4.15), respectively, in terms of team ERA for the season. Yes, there might be a Stephen Strasburg matchup in there, on Thursday, but here's a news flash: Strasburg is human! You know all about Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, but young outfielders Colby Rasmus (.319/.389/.607) and Jon Jay (.391/.424/.554) have exceptional road rates, while slow-starting Yadier Molina is batting .306 so far in August.
• You want no part whatsoever of the Arizona Diamondbacks this week, or at least not their hitters. They make three-game stops at both San Diego's Petco Park and San Francisco's AT&T Park, and remember, this is a team that has an OPS nearly 100 points lower on the road than at home. A particularly damning fact: The Diamondbacks as a team have .214/.287/.326 rates at those two venues between this and last season.
Now, let's take a look at some Week 20 sleepers:
Wilson Betemit, 1B/3B, Royals: A fresh opportunity has treated him well, as since the Alberto Callaspo trade, Betemit is a .322/.406/.448 hitter in 25 games. He's also a .347/.412/.525 hitter versus right-handers this season.
Jack Cust, OF, Athletics: Though he has only .189/.358/.365 rates in 23 career games at Rangers Ballpark, it's hard to imagine that ballpark presenting poor matchups for a hitter with his power. Cust is a .282/.416/.469 hitter versus right-handers. Expect a bounce-back week.
Ian Desmond, SS, Nationals: His performance has picked up of late; he has posted .345/.406/.517 numbers in 17 games in August. Desmond has also hit for good power at Nationals Park; 10 of his 13 career homers have been hit there.
Alex Gonzalez, SS, Braves: He has been a pretty decent pickup for the Braves, with .262/.324/.462 hitting rates and 13 RBIs in 18 games in August alone. Coors Field games have always agreed with him; he's a .333/.385/.610 hitter in 29 career games there.
Omar Infante, 2B/3B/SS/OF, Braves: Since taking over at second base for the injured Martin Prado on July 31, Infante is a .366/.395/.488 hitter in 19 games, playing every inning of every Braves game during that span. He doesn't have to sweat losing his job now that Prado is healthy, either; Prado has shifted to third base since his recent return from the disabled list.
Chris Johnson, 3B, Astros: He just keeps on hitting, with .323/.352/.477 numbers and 14 RBIs in 17 games in August, and this week gets the benefit of four games at hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park.
Be mindful of the weather reports in those northeastern cities: Boston, New York and Philadelphia, to be specific. Astros-Phillies faces at least a 30 percent chance of rain in each of the first three games of the series; Mariners-Red Sox faces a 40 percent chance on Monday and 30 percent on Wednesday; and Marlins-Mets faces a 30 percent chance in each of the first two games.
Weatherproof games: Yankees at Blue Jays (3, Mon-Wed); Tigers at Blue Jays (4, Thu-Sun); Dodgers at Brewers (3, Tue-Thu); Pirates at Brewers (3, Fri-Sun); Twins at Mariners (3, Fri-Sun); Red Sox at Rays (3, Fri-Sun).
Rankings take into account several factors: The pitcher's raw talent, historical and recent performance; number of starts; strength of opponent(s); and ballpark factors. Be aware that different leagues might emphasize different pitching statistics that could change these rankings slightly. These are based upon a fairly standard Rotisserie scoring system, like ESPN's.
1. Adam Wainwright (STL) -- Tue-@PIT (Maholm), Sun-@WAS (Lannan)
2. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Tue-HOU (Norris), Sun-@SD (Richard)
3. Josh Johnson (FLA) -- Tue-@NYM (Dickey), Sun-@ATL (Hudson)
4. Tim Hudson (ATL) -- Mon-@COL (Hammel), Sun-FLA (Johnson)
5. Matt Cain (SF) -- Mon-CIN (Volquez), Sun-ARI (Lopez)
6. Roy Halladay (PHI) -- Wed-HOU (Happ)
7. Tommy Hanson (ATL) -- Fri-FLA (Volstad)
8. Johan Santana (NYM) -- Sat-HOU (Myers)
9. Chris Carpenter (STL) -- Thu-@WAS (Strasburg)
10. Jon Lester (BOS) -- Wed-SEA (Hernandez)
11. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- Thu-LAD (Monasterios)
12. Mat Latos (SD) -- Fri-PHI (Oswalt)
13. Ubaldo Jimenez (COL) -- Fri-LAD (Billingsley)
14. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Sat-BAL (Millwood)
15. Roy Oswalt (PHI) -- Fri-@SD (Latos)
16. CC Sabathia (NYY) -- Sun-@CHW (Floyd)
17. Tim Lincecum (SF) -- Fri-ARI (Enright)
18. Colby Lewis (TEX) -- Tue-MIN (Pavano), Sun-OAK (Gonzalez)
19. Trevor Cahill (OAK) -- Wed-@CLE (Talbot)
20. Cliff Lee (TEX) -- Thu-MIN (Liriano)
21. Clay Buchholz (BOS) -- Sat-@TB (Garza)
22. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- Wed-@BOS (Lester)
23. David Price (TB) -- Fri-BOS (Matsuzaka)
24. Gavin Floyd (CHW) -- Tue-BAL (Guthrie), Sun-NYY (Sabathia)
25. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Sat-@COL (Chacin)
26. Brett Myers (HOU) -- Mon-@PHI (Blanton), Sat-@NYM (Santana)
27. Jonathon Niese (NYM) -- Fri-HOU (Figueroa)
28. Jaime Garcia (STL) -- Fri-@WAS (Olsen)
29. Ted Lilly (LAD) -- Wed-@MIL (Wolf)
30. Zack Greinke (KC) -- Sat-@CLE (Gomez)
31. Dan Haren (LAA) -- Wed-TB (Niemann)
32. Hiroki Kuroda (LAD) -- Tue-@MIL (Bush), Sun-@COL (Hammel)
33. Anibal Sanchez (FLA) -- Thu-@NYM (Pelfrey)
34. Ryan Dempster (CHC) -- Wed-@WAS (Marquis)
35. Justin Verlander (DET) -- Fri-@TOR (Marcum)
36. Ricky Nolasco (FLA) -- Sat-@ATL (Minor)
37. Matt Garza (TB) -- Sat-BOS (Buchholz)
38. Jonathan Sanchez (SF) -- Tue-CIN (Wood)
39. John Danks (CHW) -- Sat-NYY (Vazquez)
40. R.A. Dickey (NYM) -- Tue-FLA (Johnson), Sun-HOU (Norris)
41. Jake Westbrook (STL) -- Wed-@PIT (Karstens)
42. Scott Baker (MIN) -- Fri-@SEA (Vargas)
43. Mark Buehrle (CHW) -- Wed-BAL (Matusz)
44. Josh Beckett (BOS) -- Tue-SEA (Pauley)
45. Phil Hughes (NYY) -- Wed-@TOR (Cecil)
46. Fausto Carmona (CLE) -- Tue-OAK (Gonzalez), Sun-KC (Chen)
47. Francisco Liriano (MIN) -- Thu-@TEX (Lee)
48. Randy Wolf (MIL) -- Wed-LAD (Lilly)
49. Travis Wood (CIN) -- Tue-@SF (Sanchez)
50. Daniel Hudson (ARI) -- Sat-@SF (Zito)
51. Brandon Morrow (TOR) -- Mon-NYY (Nova), Sat-DET (Bonderman)
52. Mike Minor (ATL) -- Sat-FLA (Nolasco)
53. Chad Billingsley (LAD) -- Fri-@COL (Jimenez)
54. Jair Jurrjens (ATL) -- Wed-@COL (Rogers)
55. Daisuke Matsuzaka (BOS) -- Fri-@TB (Price)
56. Edinson Volquez (CIN) -- Mon-@SF (Cain), Sun-CHC (Coleman)
57. Edwin Jackson (CHW) -- Thu-BAL (Arrieta)
58. Brett Anderson (OAK) -- Fri-@TEX (Hunter)
59. Joe Blanton (PHI) -- Mon-HOU (Myers), Sat-@SD (Garland)
60. Jon Garland (SD) -- Sat-PHI (Blanton)
61. Jason Hammel (COL) -- Mon-ATL (Hudson), Sun-LAD (Kuroda)
62. Shaun Marcum (TOR) -- Fri-DET (Verlander)
63. Carlos Zambrano (CHC) -- Tue-@WAS (Lannan)
64. John Lackey (BOS) -- Mon-SEA (Fister), Sun-@TB (Shields)
65. Brian Duensing (MIN) -- Wed-@TEX (Wilson)
66. Max Scherzer (DET) -- Thu-@TOR (Romero)
67. Johnny Cueto (CIN) -- Fri-CHC (Gorzelanny)
68. Clayton Richard (SD) -- Tue-ARI (Lopez), Sun-PHI (Hamels)
69. Wade LeBlanc (SD) -- Wed-ARI (Saunders)
70. Rich Harden (TEX) -- Mon-MIN (Blackburn), Sat-OAK (Braden)
71. Mike Pelfrey (NYM) -- Thu-FLA (Sanchez)
72. Gio Gonzalez (OAK) -- Tue-@CLE (Carmona), Sun-@TEX (Lewis)
73. Jhoulys Chacin (COL) -- Sat-LAD (Kershaw)
74. Barry Zito (SF) -- Sat-ARI (Hudson)
75. Bronson Arroyo (CIN) -- Sat-CHC (Wells)
Two-start pitchers for deep leagues:
Dave Bush (MIL) -- Tue-LAD (Kuroda), Sun-PIT (Ohlendorf)
Livan Hernandez (WAS) -- Mon-CHC (Coleman), Sat-STL (Lohse)
Kyle Lohse (STL) -- Mon-@PIT (Ohlendorf), Sat-@WAS (Hernandez)
Bud Norris (HOU) -- Tue-@PHI (Hamels), Sun-@NYM (Dickey)
Carl Pavano (MIN) -- Tue-@TEX (Lewis), Sun-@SEA (Fister)
James Shields (TB) -- Mon-@LAA (Kazmir), Sun-BOS (Lackey)
Armando Galarraga (DET) -- Wed-KC (O'Sullivan)
Jeanmar Gomez (CLE) -- Sat-KC (Greinke)
Tommy Hunter (TEX) -- Fri-OAK (Anderson)
Justin Masterson (CLE) -- Thu-OAK (Mazzaro)
Joe Saunders (ARI) -- Wed-@SD (LeBlanc)
Mitch Talbot (CLE) -- Wed-OAK (Cahill)
Josh Tomlin (CLE) -- Fri-KC (Bullington)
No-thank-yous, among two-starts:
Nick Blackburn (MIN) -- Mon-@TEX (Harden), Sat-@SEA (French)
Jeremy Bonderman (DET) -- Mon-KC (Chen), Sat-@TOR (Morrow)
Bruce Chen (KC) -- Mon-@DET (Bonderman), Sun-@CLE (Carmona)
Casey Coleman (CHC) -- Mon-@WAS (Hernandez), Sun-@CIN (Volquez)
Doug Fister (SEA) -- Mon-@BOS (Lackey), Sun-MIN (Pavano)
Jeremy Guthrie (BAL) -- Tue-@CHW (Floyd), Sun-@LAA (Kazmir)
Scott Kazmir (LAA) -- Mon-TB (Shields), Sun-BAL (Guthrie)
John Lannan (WAS) -- Tue-CHC (Zambrano), Sun-STL (Wainwright)
Rodrigo Lopez (ARI) -- Tue-@SD (Richard), Sun-@SF (Cain)
Ross Ohlendorf (PIT) -- Mon-STL (Lohse), Sun-@MIL (Bush)
Rick Porcello (DET) -- Tue-KC (Davies), Sun-@TOR (Rzepczynski)
Marc Rzepczynski (TOR) -- Tue-NYY (Moseley), Sun-DET (Porcello)
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.