An eventful holiday weekend lies ahead.
Baseball's two winningest teams since the beginning of the 2020 season, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays, square off for a three-game series at Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field from Friday through Sunday, in what is a rematch of the 2020 World Series. The series carries great significance for fantasy, in that it will feature the 2023 debut of Rays ace Tyler Glasnow, scheduled to pitch on Saturday. An added feature: the "Sunday brunch" game, that starts at 11:35 a.m. ET, is a "scout, but don't start 'em" opportunity for Kiley McDaniel's Nos. 15 (Gavin Stone) and 16 (Taj Bradley) prospects entering the year.
The talented-but-underperforming New York Mets offense makes a three-game trip to Colorado's Coors Field, hoping to fuel a hot streak. The Houston Astros, fresh off being shut out in back-to-back games in Milwaukee but nonetheless winners of 11 of their last 14, get a soft landing spot with a three-game road series against the abysmal Oakland Athletics. The Astros' 2023 World Series opponents, the struggling Philadelphia Phillies, hope to ride the momentum of their 6-5, extra-inning comeback win on Wednesday into a critical upcoming seven days of their schedule, which begins with this weekend's four-game road series against the Atlanta Braves.
With all of these great Memorial Day weekend storylines, what are our fantasy analysts looking to in terms of lineup advantages? Tristan H. Cockcroft and Eric Karabell weigh in.
Cockcroft: Glasnow can be so tough to gauge, because of his probably limited pitch count (57 and 67 pitches in his final two rehab starts) and the Rays' tendency to lean on the bullpen, but he's oh-so-good and effectively matchup-proof. In his last 23 big league starts, he has scored 25-plus fantasy points six times, 15-plus 16 times and in only three of those turns was he held beneath 10. Oh, and by the way, the Rays afforded him 90 or more pitches in only 16 of those 23 outings. He'll be active for me, "bad matchup" be damned.
Speaking of pitching prowess, can you name the only staff in baseball that, since Mother's Day, has held its opponents to three runs or fewer in every game?
Karabell: Well, I know it is not the Phillies! I will guess it is Michael Kopech and those Chicago White Sox, who have enjoyed the luxury of pitching against the terrible offenses of the Guardians and Royals in that span. This weekend, they go to Detroit to face Riley Greene's Tigers. I want to believe in Kopech, Lance Lynn & Co., but I need to see these fellows and Dylan Cease perform versus better offenses. To me, the big story surrounding the White Sox is the potential return of cancer-free closer Liam Hendriks this weekend. People come first.
By the way, my eyes will be on that other Chicago team because I need to see more of Cubs slugger Christopher Morel, the most-added player in ESPN standard leagues, and he's not exactly facing top pitching this weekend at home against the Cincinnati Reds. Morel sadly failed to blast a home run on Wednesday, ending a five-game streak of playing long ball. He swings so hard at everything, and he sure misses a lot, but there is undeniable and surprising power to all fields, with nine home runs in 13 games. I have no shares.
I feel like this one is obvious, but perhaps this is all an elaborate ruse. What say you?
Cockcroft: Well done, sir! I'm with you on the long-term approach to those White Sox, but I'm all in on their pitching for this weekend, at least, since the Forecaster grades the Detroit Tigers as the best matchup for opposing righty pitchers. And, hey, as you said with Hendriks, he's going to provide an obvious boost, which could build some long-range momentum.
I've got three shares of Morel, two of which were preseason stashes, because the end-of-spring demotion was a positively absurd decision. He's not this good nor did I expect him to be anything close to this, but what stood out was his positional flexibility (OF/2B for now on ESPN, but he potentially adds 3B and/or SS offsite depending upon your league's games threshold) as well as his probability of year-ending 80th percentile Barrel and 75th percentile sprint speed Statcast grades, meaning he's a high-floor, fits-all-formats type.
There isn't truly a comp for this kind of player, but in terms of fantasy impact, this is our modern Tony Phillips or Ben Zobrist -- and those guys would have stuck around on any of our rosters. And I'm with you that the Cubs' matchups this weekend, especially for righties, remain excellent (a 10-grade, in fact, particularly when including Thursday's game against the looking-done Carlos Carrasco).
Oh, and while we're on the topic of nerve-wracking Mets starters, the quandary during that Coors series is, do we start Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, universally top-10 drafted starting pitchers who haven't been even top-30 SP performers since their respective returns (Scherzer from suspension and Verlander from injury) during the Mets' early-May trip to Detroit?
Karabell: My general opinion on the top starting pitchers and road games in Denver is that I keep them active and hope for the best. And yes, I still view Scherzer and Verlander as top starters. While it is a terribly small sample size, Verlander has a 1.20 ERA in his two starts at Coors Field, while Scherzer has a 6.39 ERA there in six starts, but with more whiffs than innings.
The Rockies, by the way, are hardly an offensive juggernaut, even at home, hitting .274 there (fifth among MLB teams in home games) but tied for 22nd in home runs at home and ninth in runs. I understand the potential for ERA/WHIP damage, but who scares us, Elias Diaz? Jurickson Profar? I say stick with Mets pitching this weekend and hope the sputtering Starling Marte enjoys Chase Anderson and Austin Gomber. Marte looks dreadful, and if not for the stolen bases, he would be free-agent fodder in most leagues.
I think the 1998 World Series rematch series in Gotham is pretty interesting, because the San Diego Padres could get 3B Manny Machado back from the IL, and don't we all believe this team is about to get hot soon? Why not start things up against your Yankees? Sunday's matchup between Yu Darvish and Gerrit Cole is a winner, but I am also quite intrigued by RHPs Joe Musgrove and Michael Wacha to open the series. Musgrove still lacks a "quality start" through five opportunities, and right-handed bats are hitting .400 and slugging .771 off him. Batter up, Harrison Bader! That can't continue, right? Wacha, meanwhile, has permitted just one run in his past four starts. Have these guys switched places? LOL!
Manny Machado could come off the injured list soon, and fantasy managers are running out of time if they want to trade for him before he turns his season around.
Cockcroft: I'm also starting both Scherzer and Verlander, after they looked so good in their doubleheader turns this past Sunday, but each fantasy manager's league settings heavily influence the answer (think: starts caps, league depth/alternatives, etc.) Also, to the stats: these two have combined for just one start from those earlier noted Coors stats since the beginning of 2018.
As for the Padres-Yankees series, do you mean Juan Soto's Yankees audition? I kid, I kid ... or maybe I don't?
All this Musgrove fretting is nonsense. Can I interest you in a bright, shiny Wacha for your Java Joe? I'll even cover your "Saturdays Are For The Bacon" Lehigh Valley IronPigs game to sweeten the deal. Musgrove's whole ramp-up got derailed by that broken toe, and when I watch him, he simply looks like a pitcher working back to peak form, especially going heavier with the (admittedly underperforming) fastball and lighter with his signature slider.
I know my Yankees well and this has all the potential of the "monster bounceback performance" that seems to come out of nowhere, and while I can't totally endorse Musgrove considering what the stats say, I'm sure going to be watching closely and making my trade pitches beforehand.
Karabell: Agreed. All will be well. Plus, what can go wrong this weekend as you turn 29 years old for the whatever-consecutive year? Happy Birthday, Turkey Leg.
Cockcroft: Haha, thank you! I guess I'll accept that I was 25 during the Tony Phillips and Ben Zobrist years, but I'll be 29 for the "Age of Morel."