A weekend of storylines surrounding big baseball stars taking notable road trips absorbed a substantial hit with the news early Thursday morning that Shohei Ohtani has a torn UCL and will not pitch again this season.
The two-way star and his Los Angeles Angels will be in New York for a three-game series against the Mets, a team that has been widely favored to secure his services as a free agent this winter. Unfortunately, Ohtani's injury and his plan to seek a second opinion before deciding exactly how to address it has a bearing on his role as a hitter, too. Will he end up missing the entirety of this weekend's series? If he does decide to have Tommy John surgery, could that impact the rest of his 2023?
There's a lot of uncertainty here and, if your reaction this morning is simply, "This is why we can't have nice things," believe us, we sympathize.
That doesn't mean this weekend is entirely clouded by bad news. We'll still have Los Angeles Dodgers star Mookie Betts making his first trip back to Boston since his February 2020 trade by the Red Sox, as well as San Diego Padres closer Josh Hader returning to Milwaukee for the first time since his 2022 deadline trade by the Brewers. These are critical series -- particularly for the hosting Red Sox, currently four games behind in the AL wild-card race, and the visiting Padres, who stand six games back of the NL's final playoff berth.
Who stands out from a fantasy baseball perspective this weekend? Our analysts, Tristan H. Cockcroft and Eric Karabell, have those answers for you.
Cockcroft: I hate to open with the down note, but that's where we're at with pitcher fatigue (and injuries) at this stage of the season, and how teams piece together their rotations for these remaining 35-or-so games is something I'm watching closely. The Baltimore Orioles just scratched Jack Flaherty, causing their entire rotation to become uncertain for what would have been an attractive matchups opportunity at home against the Colorado Rockies, so now we've all got homework to do checking in on who might be pitching each of those games (Cole Irvin-Kyle Bradish-Grayson Rodriguez?).
The Houston Astros seem to be giving Cristian Javier as much rest as possible, so Justin Verlander at least gets a more appealing matchup on Sunday in Detroit. The Dodgers, whose pitching staff will be taxed by Thursday's resumption of Wednesday's suspended game (not to mention that they've just lost Tony Gonsolin, probably for the season) have an additional rotation spot to fill beyond simply Thursday call-up Ryan Pepiot. I'll be watching Pepiot's performance closely. The Miami Marlins pushed back Eury Perez by a day to Saturday, presumably to keep his workload in check.
The Minnesota Twins are considering a six-man rotation with Joe Ryan returning on Saturday, and he's a pitcher I very much will be tracking for fantasy purposes. Tyler Glasnow was pushed back to Saturday by the Tampa Bay Rays, which concerns me based on his injury struggles all month. And speaking of those six-man rotations, by my count, we've currently got seven of the 30 teams utilizing them (assuming the Twins join the fray), with a handful more headed in that direction.
Pitching matchups homework is never an easy task by the time our head-to-head playoffs arrive!
Karabell: It is indeed getting tougher to find clarity on which pitchers are pitching which days, and by this part of the season, I just go day to day and rely on healthy, reliable pitchers and hope they have positive matchups. You know, Tristan, we are all day-to-day anyway. By the way, I think Giants manager Gabe Kapler brought in another relief pitcher while I was typing this.
Lean on your best pitchers in fantasy and, by the way, be careful when streaming on weekends in your weekly leagues. We focus so much on upside than we often forget about the downside. Cincinnati Reds RHP Hunter Greene, for example, cost many a fantasy manager their weekly matchup with his homer-laden return to the mound. Points can be lost just as quickly as gained in points formats.
I think Ohtani will keep on hitting, but those relying on Mike Trout probably just saw the last of him for this season. It was 82 games. That's all we got from Trout in 2023. We don't do pointless victory laps around here, but my placing Trout on the annual "Do Not Draft" list continues to be a safe, though sad, bet. It may be a bit early for this angle, but other high-profile teams may start shutting down big-name veterans, too. The Mets and Cardinals are both done. The White Sox are done. What if Aaron Judge feels a toe tweak this weekend?
I hope September baseball doesn't become the equivalent to football's Week 18, with tons of star players sitting on the bench.
Cockcroft: Hmmm, come to think of it, I've had this nagging soreness in my left ankle, probably from sitting on it awkwardly while TV binging. Can I take the rest of the column off?
You've got a valid point on pitching downsides, and that's especially true for those of us in weekly-transaction leagues. I'm finding it tougher than ever to go the two-start pitcher route -- hello, Touki Toussaint and his disaster on Monday, forcing me to hope he has a huge recovery on Saturday against the Oakland Athletics -- and that's not going to get any easier down the stretch.
You mentioned Greene, and while I'm cautiously optimistic he'll have something to offer in later starts (but bench him for now!), his Cincinnati Reds look like a staff to exploit on the hitting side. The opposing Arizona Diamondbacks face three righty starters in that series at Chase Field, and they're getting great production of late from right-handed Gabriel Moreno and Tommy Pham. Both of them typically hit lefties better, but this looks like an opportunity nevertheless.
Maybe it borders on the obvious, but I'd also load up on your own Philadelphia Phillies and the Seattle Mariners, both of which are top-five offenses in runs per game in August. Both teams are at home, both face weak pitching staffs (St. Louis Cardinals, Kansas City Royals), and both have slow-starting performers who have really turned it on of late -- Trea Turner for your Phillies, Teoscar Hernandez for the Mariners.
How about the Rojases - Josh Rojas, a .395/.439/.605 hitter for Seattle in his last 11 games and a lefty who should play a decent share against three projected righty starters, and Johan Rojas, a .292/.359/.458 hitter for Philadelphia in his last 16 who brings some sneaky speed, as weekend sleepers? (We're talking NL-only and 15-team mixed for the latter, since Brandon Marsh is back.)
Karabell: Two of the most-added players in ESPN standard leagues are Detroit Tigers hitters, as OF Kerry Carpenter and Spencer Torkelson supply big power and will face tough Astros pitching this weekend. It should be interesting to see if they continue hitting. The Astros may start Hunter Brown on Saturday, but he has looked dreadful lately. We all liked Brown entering the season, but his struggles are a reminder that young pitching is often anything but reliable. Astros hitters Yainer Diaz and Chas McCormick are also among the most-added players in ESPN leagues.
Finally, this is not such a fun topic, but Rays SS Wander Franco is among the most-dropped players -- and he should be, since there is no timetable for his return to active duty. The Rays host the Yankees and I certainly want to see more of new SS Osleivis Basabe, who is hitting .303 after nine games. Basabe could become a fantasy fixture soon. Also, keep an eye on Rays OF Randy Arozarena. Yes, he's been awful since the All-Star break, but he has homered twice this week. Perhaps he is fine now!