Forecaster: Sept. 17-23

Updated: September 17, 2012, 10:46 AM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Fantasy Forecaster updated Monday, Sept. 17 at 10:46 a.m. ET.

On tap: The head-to-head championships are here, as Week 23 marks the first of two "weeks" -- be aware that Week 24 runs 10 days long (plus any potential Thursday, Oct. 4, real-game tiebreakers) in weekly formats -- that determine the champions in ESPN standard leagues. The stakes are high, just as they are in the real games. Through the games of Sept. 13, all three American League division races have two teams within three games of one another for first place, the AL wild card has five teams within 5 1/2 games (and that's excluding the current division leaders), and the National League wild card -- the Senior Circuit's division races are runaways -- has seven teams within 4 1/2 games of the second spot. Do the math: That means 18 of the 30 major league teams have something to play for, and motivation matters in the fantasy game. It means at-bats, at-bats, innings, innings, for your best players.

Fantasy Forecaster

Week 23 puts a wrinkle in the AL East race, which through Sept. 13 had the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees in a tie, and the Tampa Bay Rays four games back. Both leaders will be fresh off critical weekend series -- the Orioles spending Sept. 14-16 at Oakland, battling the AL West/wild card-hopeful Oakland Athletics and the Yankees spending those days hosting the Rays. The Orioles complete their West Coast swing, described as a "major test" by many analysts, with a week-opening series at Seattle's Safeco Field, offering up favorable pitching matchups for this red-hot team. The Yankees, meanwhile, host those Athletics for a three-game weekend set, potentially facing three rookie starters: Jarrod Parker (Friday), Dan Straily (Saturday) and A.J. Griffin (Sunday). We know about the Yankees' frequent issues facing pitchers they've rarely seen before; at the same time, we know the pressures a young starter faces pitching at Yankee Stadium. In this instance, all three Athletics rookies will be making their first career appearances there.

The National League, however, is not without its share of excitement. Two of the hotter wild-card combatants, the Milwaukee Brewers (winners of 18 of their past 23 games) and Philadelphia Phillies (winners of 18 of their past 25) will get a crack at some of the higher-ranked teams in the playoff races. The Brewers play three games apiece at Pittsburgh and Washington, while the Phillies host the division rival Atlanta Braves for three during the weekend. Meanwhile, the struggling Los Angeles Dodgers face perhaps their most critical test: They play three road games apiece against the Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds, the top two teams in baseball in terms of winning percentage. One plus for the Dodgers, if you're sweating their recent hitting funk: They'll avoid Gio Gonzalez, on an inevitable path to 20-plus wins, during their week-opening series.

ESPN leagues: Week 23

ESPN standard head-to-head leagues pit first-round (Weeks 21-22, Sept. 3-16) winners against each other for their league championships, and if you've advanced this far, congratulations! This is the first week of championship matchups, but the full matchup extends 17 days (plus potentially those aforementioned tiebreakers), concluding on Wednesday, Oct. 3.

A Sept. 13 postponement shifts the finale of the past week's Detroit Tigers at Chicago White Sox series to Monday, with a 2:10 p.m. ET start time. That pushes the lineup deadline in weekly formats approximately five hours earlier, so plan accordingly. Here are the scheduled start times of the first games each day:

Quick click by section, if you're seeking advice in a specific area:
Probable starting pitchers | Week 23 pitcher rankings | Pitching notes
Streamer's delight | Hitting ratings | Hitting notes

Projected starting pitchers

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 at least twice this week are in gold/beige boxes.

Tristan's Week 23 pitcher rankings: Top 75

1. Cliff Lee (PHI) -- Mon-@NYM (Dickey), Sun-ATL (Hudson)
2. R.A. Dickey (NYM) -- Mon-PHI (Lee), Sun-MIA (Nolasco)
3. Max Scherzer (DET) -- Tue-OAK (Griffin), Sun-MIN (Walters)
4. Justin Verlander (DET) -- Wed-OAK (Anderson)
5. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Tue-TEX (Dempster), Sun-CHW (Floyd)
6. Ryan Dempster (TEX) -- Tue-@LAA (Weaver), Sun-@SEA (Beavan)
7. Gio Gonzalez (WAS) -- Sat-MIL (Peralta)
8. Doug Fister (DET) -- Mon-@CHW (Quintana), Sat-MIN (Diamond)
9. Kris Medlen (ATL) -- Wed-@MIA (Johnson)
10. Madison Bumgarner (SF) -- Mon-COL (Chacin), Sat-SD (Kelly)
11. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Wed-@NYM (Niese)
12. Josh Johnson (MIA) -- Wed-ATL (Medlen)
13. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- Tue-@PIT (Burnett), Sun-@WAS (Zimmermann)
14. Mat Latos (CIN) -- Sat-LAD (Fife)
15. Kyle Lohse (STL) -- Tue-HOU (Abad), Sun-@CHC (Germano)
16. Ian Kennedy (ARI) -- Tue-SD (Stults), Sun-@COL (Francis)
17. Matt Cain (SF) -- Wed-COL (Chatwood)
18. Jeremy Hellickson (TB) -- Tue-BOS (Doubront), Sun-TOR (Romero)
19. Tim Hudson (ATL) -- Mon-@MIA (LeBlanc), Sun-@PHI (Lee)
20. David Price (TB) -- Wed-BOS (Matsuzaka)
21. Tim Lincecum (SF) -- Tue-COL (Francis), Sun-SD (Werner)
22. Roy Halladay (PHI) -- Sat-ATL (Minor)
23. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- Wed-BAL (Saunders)
24. Zack Greinke (LAA) -- Thu-TEX (Darvish)
25. Jordan Zimmermann (WAS) -- Tue-LAD (Harang), Sun-MIL (Gallardo)
26. James Shields (TB) -- Thu-BOS (Buchholz)
27. Homer Bailey (CIN) -- Tue-@CHC (Germano), Sun-LAD (Harang)
28. CC Sabathia (NYY) -- Thu-TOR (Laffey)
29. Yu Darvish (TEX) -- Thu-@LAA (Greinke)
30. Johnny Cueto (CIN) -- Thu-@CHC (Berken)
31. A.J. Griffin (OAK) -- Tue-@DET (Scherzer), Sun-@NYY (Pettitte)
32. A.J. Burnett (PIT) -- Tue-MIL (Gallardo), Sun-@HOU (Lyles)
33. Brett Anderson (OAK) -- Wed-@DET (Verlander)
34. Hiroki Kuroda (NYY) -- Sat-OAK (Straily)
35. C.J. Wilson (LAA) -- Wed-TEX (Holland)
36. Chris Sale (CHW) -- Wed-@KC (Mendoza)
37. Adam Wainwright (STL) -- Sat-@CHC (Wood)
38. Matt Moore (TB) -- Fri-TOR (Villanueva)
39. Dan Haren (LAA) -- Sat-CHW (Quintana)
40. Clay Buchholz (BOS) -- Thu-@TB (Shields)
41. Wandy Rodriguez (PIT) -- Thu-MIL (Fiers)
42. Travis Wood (CHC) -- Mon-PIT (Correia), Sat-STL (Wainwright)
43. Alex Cobb (TB) -- Mon-BOS (Cook), Sat-TOR (Morrow)
44. Brandon Morrow (TOR) -- Sat-@TB (Cobb)
45. Marco Estrada (MIL) -- Wed-@PIT (McPherson)
46. Trevor Cahill (ARI) -- Wed-SD (Volquez)
47. Jhoulys Chacin (COL) -- Mon-@SF (Bumgarner), Sat-ARI (Corbin)
48. Matt Harrison (TEX) -- Sat-@SEA (Vargas)
49. Ross Detwiler (WAS) -- Thu-LAD (Capuano)
50. Anibal Sanchez (DET) -- Thu-OAK (Milone)
51. Mike Minor (ATL) -- Sat-@PHI (Halladay)
52. Hisashi Iwakuma (SEA) -- Fri-TEX (Perez)
53. Mike Fiers (MIL) -- Thu-@PIT (Rodriguez)
54. Phil Hughes (NYY) -- Wed-TOR (Alvarez)
55. Edwin Jackson (WAS) -- Fri-MIL (Marcum)
56. Jake Peavy (CHW) -- Fri-@LAA (Santana)
57. Jaime Garcia (STL) -- Thu-HOU (Norris)
58. Derek Holland (TEX) -- Wed-@LAA (Wilson)
59. Jonathon Niese (NYM) -- Wed-PHI (Hamels)
60. Jon Lester (BOS) -- Fri-BAL (Britton)
61. Zach Britton (BAL) -- Fri-@BOS (Lester)
62. Tommy Hanson (ATL) -- Fri-@PHI (Kendrick)
63. Ricky Nolasco (MIA) -- Sun-@NYM (Dickey)
64. Ervin Santana (LAA) -- Fri-CHW (Peavy)
65. Ryan Vogelsong (SF) -- Fri-SD (Cashner)
66. Jarrod Parker (OAK) -- Fri-@NYY (Nova)
67. Mark Buehrle (MIA) -- Sat-@NYM (Young)
68. Carlos Villanueva (TOR) -- Fri-@TB (Moore)
69. Bronson Arroyo (CIN) -- Fri-LAD (Blanton)
70. Kyle Kendrick (PHI) -- Fri-ATL (Hanson)
71. Matt Harvey (NYM) -- Tue-PHI (Cloyd)
72. Jeremy Guthrie (KC) -- Fri-CLE (Masterson)
73. Joe Saunders (BAL) -- Wed-@SEA (Hernandez)
74. Josh Beckett (LAD) -- Wed-@WAS (Lannan)
75. Lance Lynn (STL) -- Wed-HOU (Harrell)

Two-start options for AL-/NL-only leagues:
Kevin Correia (PIT) -- Mon-@CHC (Wood), Sat-@HOU (Keuchel)
Gavin Floyd (CHW) -- Tue-@KC (Hochevar), Sun-@LAA (Weaver)
Luke Hochevar (KC) -- Tue-CHW (Floyd), Sun-CLE (Huff)
David Huff (CLE) -- Tue-MIN (Walters), Sun-@KC (Hochevar)
Andy Pettitte (NYY) -- Tue-TOR (Romero), Sun-OAK (Griffin)
Jose Quintana (CHW) -- Mon-DET (Fister), Sat-@LAA (Haren)
Chris Tillman (BAL) -- Mon-@SEA (Noesi), Sun-@BOS (Doubront)

"No, thank yous," among two-start pitchers:
Aaron Cook (BOS) -- Mon-@TB (Cobb), Sat-BAL (Gonzalez)
Felix Doubront (BOS) -- Tue-@TB (Hellickson), Sun-BAL (Tillman)
Jeff Francis (COL) -- Tue-@SF (Lincecum), Sun-ARI (Kennedy)
Justin Germano (CHC) -- Tue-CIN (Bailey), Sun-STL (Lohse)
Aaron Harang (LAD) -- Tue-@WAS (Zimmermann), Sun-@CIN (Bailey)
Ricky Romero (TOR) -- Tue-@NYY (Pettitte), Sun-@TB (Hellickson)
P.J. Walters (MIN) -- Tue-@CLE (Huff), Sun-@DET (Scherzer)

Pitching notes

• This could be the week that the San Francisco Giants clinch the National League West -- their magic number to do that was 12 entering play on Sept. 14 -- and they'll be counting upon their pitchers to lead the way. My Baseball Challenge pitching staff pick of Week 23, the Giants play a full seven games, all at home, at an AT&T Park that ranks 29th in terms of runs scored and 30th in home runs on our Park Factor page, four of those against a Colorado Rockies team sporting .238/.288/.370 team rates and a 3.40 runs-per-game average on the road this season, their team OPS in road games 200 points lower than in home games. You could not ask for much better bounce-back matchups for two-start pitchers Madison Bumgarner, who has gone four straight without a quality start, or 2012 disappointment Tim Lincecum, whose 5.09 ERA is sixth-worst among qualifiers. If the Giants' rotation as a whole could be deemed in a funk, and their five quality starts and 5.43 ERA in 11 games so far in September support the claim, this is the ideal matchups set for a rebound. Among other recommended BBC pitching staffs: Philadelphia Phillies (@NYM-3, ATL-3), Detroit Tigers (OAK-3, MIN-3), Baltimore Orioles (@SEA-3, @BOS-3), St. Louis Cardinals (HOU-3, @CHC-3).

The following visiting pitchers are scheduled for starts at Coors Field, No. 1 in runs scored on our Park Factor page and home to the Colorado Rockies, baseball's No. 1 team in terms of runs scored per game and OPS in home games:
Wade Miley (Friday): Won only career GS at Coors, 7 IP, 2 ER (9/5/11). Had 3 shutout IP in relief at Coors (4/14/12). Sit, except in NL-only formats. He's coming off a poor outing at Petco.
Patrick Corbin (Saturday): Lost only career GS at Coors, 6 IP, 9 H, 6 ER (5/16/12). Sit. He has one quality start in his past five outings, despite facing mostly soft competition.
Ian Kennedy (Sunday): 4 career GS at Coors, 2.52 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 3 QS. Start. That's a solid Coors track record, and he has seven quality starts in his past 10 turns to boot.

There are no games scheduled at Petco Park, No. 26 in runs scored on our Park Factor page and home to the San Diego Padres, No. 26 in terms of runs scored per game and No. 27 in terms of OPS in home games.

The following visiting pitchers are scheduled for starts at Safeco Field, No. 30 in runs scored on our Park Factor page and home to the Seattle Mariners, baseball's worst team in terms of runs scored per game and OPS in home games.
Chris Tillman (Monday): 1 career GS at Safeco, 8 1/3 IP, 2 ER, 7 K (7/4/12). Start. He certainly seems to have the Mariners' number, 3-for-3 in quality starts with a 0.83 ERA against them in his career.
Wei-Yin Chen (Tuesday): 1 career GS at Safeco, 7 1/3 IP, 2 ER, 9 K (7/3/12). Start. He tends to follow matchups patterns, his worst recent outings against tougher offenses. This one is quite favorable.
Joe Saunders (Wednesday): 8 career GS at Safeco, 2.30 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 5 QS. Start. Besides that track record, Saunders' repertoire is best suited for a venue like Safeco.
Martin Perez (Friday): Has never started at Petco. Start, though only in AL-only leagues or if you don't face a starts cap. He might be on a pitch count.
Matt Harrison (Saturday): 5-for-5 in QS at Safeco, 0.96 ERA in 7 career G there. Start. Harrison owns the Mariners.
Ryan Dempster (Sunday): 1 career GS at Safeco, 8 IP, 5 H, 2 ER (6/22/10). Start. He has feasted upon the meaty portion of his schedule, and this one's another gem.

• Only three days after welcoming Ivan Nova back to their rotation, the New York Yankees will restore veteran Andy Pettitte to their starting five Tuesday. In no way, however, should he be regarded a "safe" fantasy play in a home game against the Toronto Blue Jays, being that he'll have gone 82 days between starts due to a fractured bone above his left ankle, not to mention he has thrown only a 55-pitch simulated game on Sept. 12 as a tuneup for his first start back. The Yankees' aim here is to get Nova and Pettitte ready for their playoffs, not yours, so while Pettitte might be able to contribute in larger leagues facing a Blue Jays team averaging 4.27 runs per game with .226/.291/.364 rates and Oakland Athletics team averaging 3.92 runs with .226/.295/.395 rates in the month of September, understand that he might do so in a limited number of innings. And considering win potential is a big part of Pettitte's fantasy game, that's not a good thing.

R.A. Dickey's quest for a 20-win season finally nets him a two-start week, and his second turn is a particularly outstanding matchup: He's 7-0 with seven quality starts, a 0.71 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in seven starts versus the Miami Marlins since the beginning of 2011. In what has been a breakout season for the knuckleballer, it's nice to see him sustaining a high-level fantasy performance into these waning weeks of the season, the most critical for our purposes.

• Don't cast the Brewers aside so casually; The Phillies might have gotten some attention for their rally back into the wild-card race, but the Brewers deserve equal, if not greater, respect. This is a big week for the Brew Crew, which is why they moved up Yovani Gallardo in their rotation to start twice, once apiece at Pittsburgh and Washington. Gallardo is 7-0 with eight quality starts and a 2.98 ERA in his past nine turns, and in his career, he's 3-2 with a 2.48 ERA and 9.64 K's-per-nine ratio in six career games (five starts) at Pittsburgh's PNC Park. Incidentally, even though he's no longer the team's two-start pitcher, Marco Estrada has a favorable single matchup of his own at PNC. He has a 1.76 ERA and 0.72 WHIP in seven games (four starts) in his career against the Pirates and the only game he previously pitched at PNC Park was a quality start.

Matt Harvey is expected to make his final start of the season versus the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday, and while the Phillies' matchups are promising from a pitching perspective, their hitting isn't quite scary enough to detract from the rookie's matchups appeal. (Think of the Phillies' "favorable" overall schedule as a signal they might play a lot of close, low-scoring games.) Harvey has struck out seven or more hitters in five of his nine starts thus far, and he tossed a quality start on the road against these same Phillies on Aug. 29. Just be prepared to drop him a la Stephen Strasburg in re-draft leagues afterward.

Streamer's delight

Among streaming starters -- something I define as single-start options in daily leagues among pitchers owned in 25 percent of ESPN leagues or fewer -- for Week 23, here are my picks by day. At this critical stage of season, I'm picking two per day, listed in order of preference.

Monday, Sept. 17: Travis Wood versus Pittsburgh Pirates, Chris Tillman at Seattle Mariners
Tuesday, Sept. 18: Tyler Cloyd at New York Mets, Gavin Floyd at Kansas City Royals
Wednesday, Sept. 19: Trevor Cahill versus San Diego Padres, Marco Estrada at Pittsburgh Pirates
Thursday, Sept. 20: Joe Kelly versus Houston Astros, Francisco Liriano at Kansas City Royals
Friday, Sept. 21: Jeremy Guthrie versus Cleveland Indians, Martin Perez at Seattle Mariners
Saturday, Sept. 22: Alex Cobb versus Toronto Blue Jays, Kevin Correia at Houston Astros
Sunday, Sept. 23: Andy Pettitte versus Oakland Athletics, Luke Hochevar versus Cleveland Indians

Past picks
Friday, Sept. 7: Francisco Liriano -- 5 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 4 K
Saturday, Sept. 8: Bronson Arroyo -- W, QS, 7 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K
Sunday, Sept. 9: Jeremy Guthrie -- QS, 8 IP, 6 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K
Monday, Sept. 10: Eric Stults -- W, 5 1/3 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K
Tuesday, Sept. 11: Jhoulys Chacin -- 4 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 1 K
Wednesday, Sept. 12: Trevor Cahill -- W, QS, 7 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 7 K
Thursday, Sept. 13: Lucas Harrell -- 5 2/3 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 5 BB, 4 K

Week's total: 7 GS, 3 W (42.9%), 3 QS (42.9%), 42 IP, 41 H, 18 ER, 13 BB, 30 K, 3.86 ERA, 1.29 WHIP
Season total: 149 GS, 65 W (43.6%), 77 QS (51.7%), 893 1/3 IP, 871 H, 387 ER, 292 BB, 655 K, 3.90 ERA, 1.30 WHIP

Hitting ratings

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.

Hitting notes

• A full slate of Wrigley Field games is a plus for the Chicago Cubs. Be aware, this is a team with an OPS 54 points higher in home (.709) than road (.655) contests. Anthony Rizzo, injured in a nasty collision in the past week, returned to the lineup on Sept. 14, right in time for a week in which the Cubs will face six right-handed starters. He's a .344/.400/.536 hitter against righties this season, so it's fortuitous timing. David DeJesus also warrants consideration facing such a righty-heavy schedule, being that he's a .297/.373/.465 hitter against that side. In deep NL-only leagues -- stress deeeeeep -- there might even be more opportunity for left-handed hitting Bryan LaHair, a .292/.367/.506 hitter against righties himself.

• Though that lofty Cleveland Indians team hitting rating might not catch many fantasy owners' eyes -- this team isn't chock-full of viable starters -- there's one beneath-the-radar gem who might surprise: Lonnie Chisenhall. The left-handed hitter is a .324/.352/.559 hitter in his 68 at-bats versus right-handers, has started two of four games since returning to the team and the Indians, looking toward 2013, would be well served to take a longer look at him in these concluding weeks.

• How many people have noticed that, through their first 11 games of September, the Giants are batting .292/.344/.444 as a team? Small sample, sure, but that's encouraging nevertheless when describing an offense that routinely is cast aside in fantasy … not to mention lost a key contributor in Melky Cabrera to suspension a few short weeks ago. The Giants sport a few gems who could plug lineup holes in fantasy: Marco Scutaro is a .375/.377/.479 so far in the month (11 games), and Brandon Belt a .343/.378/.600 hitter in his 11 contests. If you play in an uberdeep NL-only league, Xavier Nady's health also bears watching. He has an OPS 240 points higher versus left-handers -- granted that OPS against lefties is merely .672 -- and could sneak in a couple starts if healthy.

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