Fantasy baseball weekend watch: Can Blanco do it again?

Can Ronel Blanco of the Houston Astros catch lightning in a bottle again this weekend? Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The season's second weekend features another nine home openers, including seven on Friday. The Atlanta Braves, Colorado Rockies, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants all take their bows for the first time in 2024 in front of the home crowd.

Ah, among the teams on that list is the one that plays in the ballpark fantasy managers love -- the Rockies and their beloved Coors Field! Yes, we get our first Coors games, as Colorado plays host to the Tampa Bay Rays for three games.

Meanwhile, the Arizona Diamondbacks, last year's NL champs, visit the Braves for three games. Atlanta is a popular pick to be this year's NL champion. Additionally, the Texas Rangers, the defending World Series champion, host the cross-state rival Houston Astros for three games, the team they dispatched in last season's ALCS. That latter series wraps up the weekend with a Sunday Night Baseball contest that features the second start by the Astros' Ronel Blanco, who twirled a no-hitter on Monday.

What can fantasy managers expect from these series, as well as the rest of the weekend slate? Our fantasy baseball analysts, Tristan H. Cockcroft and Eric Karabell, have the scoop.

Karabell: Well, the first thing I look for in any schedule is where the Rockies are playing, to exploit their home field or invest in pitchers facing them for Colorado's road games. Perhaps games at altitude will get Rays hitters (and Kris Bryant) going!

Blanco at Texas feels dangerous and I admit that matchup was why I sat Blanco in a key weekly league. Obviously, that one seems to have backfired! Oh well! He's already among the most-added pitchers so if he can tame the Rangers, yeah, I guess I'm all-in. Although, it is likely he faces the Rangers again on April 12. More danger!

What do you think about Blanco? We have ample, recent evidence that one awesomely pitched game by an unexpected source is hardly a precursor of more excellence or a Cy Young-type season (see: Michael Lorenzen, Domingo German, Reid Detmers).

Cockcroft: Oh man, you're asking me to do math this early? Checking my notes, pitchers who threw recent no-hitters typically followed them up with ... um ... lotsa really ordinary* results!

*By "really ordinary," our Happy columnist meant to say that, over the past 10 seasons (2014-23), 28 pitchers threw no-hitters during that time that were not season-enders (Jordan Zimmermann's in 2014 and Max Scherzer's in 2015 were their final outings of those year), and that group saw an average decline of 20 pitches thrown and 24.6 fantasy points in their follow-up starts, with only one (Josh Beckett, 2014) finishing within even 10 points. More than half (15, to be exact) averaged fewer than 12 points per start in those seasons -- that's an average that 33 starters exceeded in 2023.

**Said columnist subsequently had his coffee IV drip reinserted.

Late bloomer or no, Blanco is certainly an interesting starter, with a solid slider that misses bats, and his changeup looked great in his no-hitter (seven K's, nine swinging strikes). He just needs to maintain the control he had in that game and during spring training. But, I'm with you, the Rangers on the road is a challenging matchup -- patient enough offense, park plays slightly hitter friendly -- for the follow-up. He's a mixed-league pickup for me, but not more than that ... yet.

Speaking of those Rockies, if they're going to surrender 78 hits, 58 runs and 12 home runs in seven road games to begin their year, imagine how things are going to translate for them back at Coors? Note that the visiting Rays are treating Jose Caballero, Isaac Paredes, Harold Ramirez and Jose Siri as near-everyday players thus far.

Karabell: Oh, I have noted. I roster Caballero in a 5x5 roto format and I love the stolen bases. Siri is running, too, and I anxiously await the return of Josh Lowe. Of course, I also roster SPs Zack Littell and Ryan Pepiot along with RP Pete Fairbanks in at least one league. Yeah, I/we play in far deeper formats than ESPN standard. May you remind our fair readers of your policy on non-ace pitchers on the road at Coors? I'm listening. You win leagues!

Cockcroft: Best to resist policies in fantasy ... wait, except for that one! The projections say it all, as unless you've got a compelling reason to play your starting pitcher at Coors, or you're in a league that nearly scrapes the Patrick Corbin/Marco Gonzales tier of the player pool, it's a blanket "no."

Take the Forecaster numbers: The three Rockies scheduled for the weekend -- Austin Gomber, Ryan Feltner and Dakota Hudson -- are the bottom three in the projections. Inching upward, Tyler Alexander (Tampa Bay's Saturday starter) is the next-worst projected pitcher, Littell (Friday) is only a tick better and Pepiot (Sunday) is about 20 spots (out of 86 total pitchers projected Friday through Sunday) above that. And I like Littell and Pepiot for what they generally are, but the Rays are meticulous with pitch counts, even before factoring in the ballpark. They won't be out there for long.

As for relievers/Fairbanks? Well, that's a little different, being that in most of our leagues (correct me if I'm wrong) a save carries more single-day weight than ERA. A picket-fence closer line (1-1-1-1-1-1) with a save attached is plenty welcome.

Karabell: Speaking of saves, there are (always) closer situations to watch, and this weekend is no different. The Royals, Marlins, Athletics and perhaps the Rangers jump to mind. Will Smith just shouldn't be handling leverage spots anymore. It's not like he dominates lefties. I'm not sure what the Royals do, because James McArthur isn't proven, but Smith is not the answer, and Wednesday's loss was bad.

The other teams aren't good, but Miami LHP Tanner Scott is back to his wild, walking ways after a brilliant 2023 campaign, so if the Marlins get a late lead this weekend, watch how the ninth inning is treated. LHP Andrew Nardi is struggling too. They all are! Perhaps it will be Sixto Sanchez! Bullpen thoughts?

Cockcroft: From those bullpens at least, Josh Sborz (Rangers) is the one who most intrigues me, at least from a "most saves come the season's end" standpoint. I'd also stash Anthony Bender, who has the raw stuff to close, and to add one more team to your list, Michael Kopech looks like he indeed can handle the Chicago White Sox's closer duties. He's throwing nearly as hard as he did pre-surgery in his new relief role.

Shifting to the start of the game, three track-'em starters stand out for me this weekend, all of whom draw fantasy-worthy matchups. Kutter Crawford faces the Angels in a stronger matchup for a right- than left-hander (and the fourth-best K-matchup for righties in the Forecaster projections) on the road on Friday. Brady Singer, on the same day, gets a home start against arguably baseball's worst offense against righties in the White Sox. Plus, Cristopher Sanchez visits the Washington Nationals, arguably the worst against lefties, on Sunday.

All three enjoyed solid first starts, and each displayed a distinct change in their pitch repertoires while doing so. These aren't just streaming candidates. They're pickups with a decent chance at staying power.

Who's your starter worth speculating on this weekend?

Karabell: I guess Tommy Henry versus Spencer Strider fails to qualify. I do think using the Cardinals' Steven Matz and Kyle Gibson against the Marlins works. I'm not sure when I would be excited about Cardinals starters otherwise, but this weekend, sure.

I am also watching Guardians RHP Triston McKenzie at the Twins. Great first name, right? Why don't you spell your name like that? It's never too late. Triston's first outing went poorly, as did his brief work last season, but we know he can be great. I don't know how much patience we should have.

Cockcroft: Sure, "Erik." Sure.