Fantasy baseball forecaster for Week 23 -- Sept. 10-16

Michael Conforto is one of the big Mets bats who has an opportunity to feast on right-handed pitching this week. Harry How/Getty Images

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'The Nine' for Week 23

  • It's the second week of the two-week semifinal matchups in ESPN standard head-to-head leagues, with the winners at week's end facing off in the two-week championship round that runs from Sept. 17 to 30. If you're in a custom league, check your league's playoff settings, but most every head-to-head league will have entered its playoffs by Week 23. If you find yourself playing the "catch-up" game in a playoff matchup during the weekend, bear in mind that the biggest mismatches from the Sept. 14-16 weekend series (think wins) are the Chicago Cubs (versus Cincinnati Reds) and Cleveland Indians (versus Detroit Tigers), the teams with the best home run ratings are the Chicago White Sox (at Baltimore's Camden Yards) and Philadelphia Phillies (versus Miami Marlins) and the teams with the best stolen base matchups are the Boston Red Sox (versus New York Mets) and Colorado Rockies (at San Francisco Giants).

  • Clinching scenarios can influence teams' planning, as teams often rest veterans and heavily used pitchers once they've either locked in their playoff positioning or are eliminated from contention. The Indians, up 15 ½ games in the American League Central, are the closest to locking in their playoff seed, with a magic number of five to clinch the division title, but the team is eight games back of the Houston Astros for what would be the league's No. 2 playoff seed (entering play on Sept. 10). Eight teams have been mathematically eliminated from contention: The Baltimore Orioles, White Sox, Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Marlins, San Diego Padres, Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays. The Twins (5), Los Angeles Angels (4) and Reds (1) all have elimination numbers of five or less.

  • The six-man rotation has been in vogue during the past half-decade and has made an increasing number of appearances lately, with the Atlanta Braves, Royals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Marlins, New York Yankees, Padres, Seattle Mariners, Rangers and Blue Jays all either moving to or planning six-man rotations during Week 23. The "opener" -- a relief pitcher starting the game with a long reliever set to follow -- has been increasingly utilized around the majors since May, with the Minnesota Twins, Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays most often using the strategy. Meanwhile, the Astros have used the occasional spot starter during recent, lengthy stretches without a day off, a strategy that could continue during their less-critical-to-the-playoff-picture week-opening series. The upshot is to be cautious expecting your projected two-start pitchers to actually make both scheduled Week 23 starts, with Kyle Gibson the currently-scheduled-for-two-starts pitcher at greatest risk of having his weekend start moved.

  • The Athletics head east for Week 23, but they get a week's worth of exceptionally favorable hitting matchups in exchange for the tougher travel assignments. They'll face a trio of below-average Orioles starters -- and scheduled Wednesday starter Dylan Bundy has been one of the five worst starting pitchers in fantasy during the past month -- followed by a weekend's worth of "opener" pitchers during the series at Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field. Stephen Piscotty (still available in roughly one-third of ESPN leagues) has been one of the game's hottest hitters during the past month, hitting .310/.340/.600 in 26 games, while Ramon Laureano (available in more than 85 percent) has batted .327/.433/.633 in his past 17 games.

  • While the Padres have been capturing more attention in fantasy of late, thanks in large part to the scorching hitting of Hunter Renfroe (.294/.311/.627 with 12 home runs in 32 games since Aug. 1), the beneath-the-radar power of Franmil Reyes (six homers in his past 11 games) and recent promotion of top catching prospect Francisco Mejia, the team's Week 23 schedule is the poorest for hitters of any team. They're the only team to play just five times during the week, minimizing the advantage of gaining the designated hitter for two games at Seattle's Safeco Field. Their scheduled opponents aren't scary enough to consider benching players like Renfroe or Reyes, but the rest of the team isn't hitting nearly well enough to warrant mixed-league attention. Mejia, incidentally, remains DH-only in ESPN leagues until he catches 10 games.

  • No Mets hitter is rostered in greater than 48.1 percent of ESPN leagues (that's Michael Conforto's percentage), and considering the team's Week 23 schedule, the Mets should provide quite a lift to contending fantasy teams. This offense has the fourth-largest team wOBA split favoring success against right-handed starters -- 27 points, .318 against righties compared to .291 against lefties -- and four of its regulars bat from the left-handed side: Conforto, a .261/.366/.491 hitter against righties; Brandon Nimmo (available in more than 75 percent of ESPN leagues), a .285/.410/.551 hitter against righties this season; Jeff McNeil (available in more than 85 percent), a .317/.378/.455 hitter against righties this year; and Jay Bruce (available in more than 90 percent), a .257/.333/.485 hitter against righties since the beginning of 2017. All four should be in your lineups, as should Amed Rosario (available in nearly 70 percent) and Todd Frazier (available in more than 75 percent).

  • Think Luke Voit (still available in more than 70 percent of ESPN leagues) can't keep up his scorching hitting? The New York Yankees' Week 23 matchups say he can. The team plays three at Minnesota's Target Field, against the Twins' pitching staff, which is 27th in team ERA since Aug. 1 (5.08), followed by three more back home against the Blue Jays, who are 29th in ERA during the same span (5.50). As to the point that the Yankees are scheduled to face at least five right-handed starters during the week, consider that Voit has lifetime .262/.340/.508 slash rates and a 5.7 percent home run rate against righties and has started seven of the team's past 10 games against a right-handed starter. Keep him in your lineups.

  • The White Sox are another team with widely available hitters with a schedule worth exploiting, as they'll battle Royals and Orioles staffs that have struggled all season. The team should battle at least four right-handed starters, and Matt Davidson (available in more than 80 percent of ESPN leagues) and Daniel Palka (available in more than 95 percent) have good pop against that side, with .215 and .263 isolated power.

  • Here are some hitters with favorable righty/lefty matchups to consider: Tucker Barnhart (available in more than 50 percent of ESPN leagues), a .306/.416/.424 hitter against left-handers this season, whose Reds are scheduled to face at least five lefty starters; Ji-Man Choi (available in more than 99 percent), a .290/.365/.534 hitter against right-handers this season, whose Rays are scheduled to face nothing but righty starters; Yan Gomes (available in roughly two-thirds), a .295/.368/.516 hitter against left-handers this season, whose Indians are scheduled to face three lefty starters; Cedric Mullins (available in nearly 95 percent), a .297/.357/.547 hitter against right-handers this season, whose Orioles are scheduled to face nothing but righty starters; Tyler O'Neill (available in more than 90 percent), a .571 slugger against left-handers this season, whose St. Louis Cardinals are scheduled to face three lefty starters; Jorge Polanco (available in nearly 95 percent), a .316/.397/.459 hitter against right-handers this season, whose Twins are scheduled to face six righty starters; Tyler White (available in more than 45 percent), a .333/.423/.667 hitter against left-handers this season, whose Astros are scheduled to face three lefty starters.