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Fantasy baseball forecaster for Week 24: Sept. 16-22

Robinson Cano is on a hot streak since returning from the Injured List. AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

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  • The penultimate week of the fantasy baseball season is also the first of the two-week championship matchup in ESPN standard head-to-head leagues. League championships will be decided by the results of Weeks 24 and 25, with the winners of the two-week (Week 22-23) matchups that preceded it squaring off in the finals. Week 24 has a slightly earlier-than-usual start, with the finale of the four-game, weekend wrap-around series between the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park having a 4:10 p.m. ET scheduled first pitch on Monday. Reminder: Weather does occasionally become an issue in the month of September, especially later in the month, and with the minimal amount of time remaining on the schedule, expect that any game that can be rescheduled will probably be made a doubleheader on the subsequent day, if not cancelled altogether. Be prepared!

  • Playoff-clinching scenarios become increasingly important with each passing day, as teams already eliminated from contention often turn roles over to younger players or to those auditioning for 2020 roles, while teams that lock in their playoff positioning often try to get their veteran players well-deserved rest. Expect an increasing amount of rotation shuffling in this and the season-concluding Week 25. As of Friday's publication date, the following 11 teams have been mathematically eliminated from postseason contention: Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, Colorado Rockies, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels, Miami Marlins, Pittsburgh Pirates, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays. The Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants, meanwhile, have elimination numbers (the combination of their losses and the lowest-placing wild card seed's wins) of five or fewer. Conversely, the Los Angeles Dodgers have already clinched the National League West title. The New York Yankees have a magic number (the combination of their wins and their next-closest competitor's losses) of three to clinch the American League East title and two to clinch a playoff spot, and the Atlanta Braves have clinched a playoff spot and have a magic number of four to clinch the National League East title.

  • To the point about fluid rotations, there are a lot of injury-driven, uncertain assignments on the Week 24 schedule. For further details on key starters: Two-start pitcher Robbie Ray has been dealing with blister issues, but is tentatively on schedule to make his two starts for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Rich Hill re-injured his knee during his return to the Los Angeles Dodgers' rotation on Sept. 12, and is unlikely to be ready for what would have been his next scheduled turn on Sept. 18, forcing Tony Gonsolin back into their rotation. Brandon Woodruff (oblique, IL) should rejoin the Milwaukee Brewers during Week 24, either as a reliever or limited-innings starter. Blake Snell (elbow, IL) pitched another successful rehabilitation start for Triple-A Durham on Sept. 12, and will join the Tampa Bay Rays for a start on an abbreviated pitch count on Tuesday.

  • The Minnesota Twins, a team that has been struggling through injuries and poorly timed absences by their starting pitchers, have a great schedule with which they could take command of their likely American League Central championship, not to mention significantly help contending fantasy teams. Games against Chicago White Sox (three week-opening home games) and Kansas City Royals (four week-ending home games), teams that rank 22nd (4.85) and 26th (5.61) in ERA since Aug. 1, not to mention have both averaged beneath the league average in runs per game on offense during that same time span, suit the Twins well, especially considering they're a combined 20-8 with a plus-70 run differential against those two opponents in 2019. As the Twins are slated to face six right-handed starters in their seven games, Max Kepler's (chest) return to the lineup during the Sept. 14-15 weekend came at a most fortuitous time. Luis Arraez (available in 80% of ESPN leagues), a .371/.416/.505 hitter against righties, should shuffle between leadoff and the No. 6 spot in the lineup depending upon Kepler's daily availability, and the rookie is worth a look in deep-mixed and AL-only leagues.

  • This week's team that reaps the benefit of a Coors Field visit is the New York Mets, who also spend time during Week 24 in a hitting-friendly venue when they travel to Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park for a three-game, week-ending series. The Mets are scheduled to face nothing but right-handed starting pitching, and are likely to be locked into that considering how right-handed both the Colorado Rockies' and Cincinnati Reds' pitching staffs, which most benefits the four left handed-hitting Mets who typically reside in their lineup against righties. Robinson Cano (51% available in ESPN leagues), a .287/.326/.510 hitter against righties, and Brandon Nimmo (66%), a lifetime, .255/.396/.441 hitter against righties, are the two lefty Mets you'll find out there in a majority of leagues.

  • If you're trying to cobble together a lineup in an AL- or NL-only or 15-plus-team mixed league, don't sleep on either the Baltimore Orioles or Detroit Tigers offenses, even though neither team is populated with a good number of fantasy stars. Both teams face favorable hitting matchups, thanks to seven scheduled games apiece, the majority against bottom-half opponents in terms of team ERA, and in the Tigers' case, their three-game series at the Cleveland Indians won't include games against either Shane Bieber or Mike Clevinger. The Orioles are scheduled to face four left-handed starters, which is great news for Hanser Alberto (78% available in ESPN leagues), a .416/.433/.564 hitter against lefties who typically leads off against them, Anthony Santander (77%), a .280/.316/.528 hitter against lefties who has been batting third regularly. The Tigers are scheduled to face six right-handed starters, so Victor Reyes (95%), a .310/.349/.432 hitter against righties who has been serving the team's leadoff hitter, and Christin Stewart (97%), who has career .181 isolated power against righties and has often batted fourth through six of late, are worth the add-and-start.

  • Four teams play the short, five-game week: The Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers, Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers, and in the case of the first three, the multiple days off might do enough on their own to provide those teams any necessary rest. The Rays are the concern: They're a matchups-driven team set to face three righty starters and two unknowns, they'll lose the designated hitter for their two games at Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium and they haven't been getting consistent mixed league-worthy fantasy production out of their hitters not named Austin Meadows or Tommy Pham. Limit your exposure to Rays bats.

  • The New York Yankees' injury situation clouds their Week 24 roster, but whomever suits up for the team on any given night stands out on the matchups front, whether pitcher or hitter. Luis Severino (shoulder, IL) is scheduled to rejoin the rotation and throw 70-75 pitches on Tuesday, and Jordan Montgomery (elbow, IL) was activated Sept. 15. Their impending returns coupled with Domingo German's uncertain role as the Yankees attempt to keep his workload in check makes the entire rotation TBD from Wednesday forward. Don't count on a two-start pitcher from the Yankees in Week 24 -- though Severino has the best odds -- and sit J.A. Happ (biceps).. Giancarlo Stanton (knee, IL) could rejoin the lineup during Week 24, which might come at the perfect time considering the recent loss of Edwin Encarnacion (oblique). Stanton's status at publishing time was too uncertain to warrant activating him in shallow mixed leagues, but either he or Clint Frazier is probably going to be aligned for a fantasy-friendly Week 24 depending upon how the weekend plays out.

  • If you're looking for righty/lefty matchup advantages amongst players more suited for deep-mixed (think 14-plus-team) or "only" leagues, consider: Phillip Ervin (more than 99% available), a .355/.410/.671 hitter against lefties, whose Cincinnati Reds face three left-handed starters; Trent Grisham (98%), a .289/.388/.575 hitter against righties combined between the majors and minors this season, and Eric Thames (95%), a .262/.358/.530 hitter against righties, whose Milwaukee Brewers face six right-handed starters; Jordan Luplow (more than 99% available), a .313/.425/.688 hitter against lefties, whose Cleveland Indians face three left-handed starters; James McCann (69%), a .289/.367/.491 hitter against lefties, whose Chicago White Sox face three left-handed starters; and Jacob Stallings (more than 99%), a .333/.364/.595 hitter against lefties, whose Pittsburgh Pirates face three left-handed starters.