Fantasy baseball forecaster for Week 9: Sept. 21-27

Kevin Pillar sports a little extra fantasy baseball upside during the final week of the season, thanks to some promising pitching matchups. Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

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  • So it has come to this: The final week of the 2020 Major League Baseball regular season, and with it, the fantasy baseball season. It's another busy week, 102 games in total, and it begins with a 4:10 p.m. ET Monday game between the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels at Los Angeles' Angel Stadium, and ends with that playoff-race-heightening gimmick of all 15 teams beginning their games within 10 minutes of one another (3:05 p.m.-3:15 p.m.). As MLB teams learn their playoff fates on Sunday, so shall we in real time on Sunday mid-afternoon.

  • Week 9 includes five rescheduled games: Philadelphia Phillies at Washington Nationals, Tuesday doubleheader (one game makes up Aug. 27 postponement); Colorado Rockies at Arizona Diamondbacks, Friday doubleheader (one game makes up Aug. 27 postponement); Milwaukee Brewers-St. Louis Cardinals at St. Louis' Busch Stadium, Friday doubleheader (one game makes up Aug. 2 postponement, each team will play as home team once); San Diego Padres-San Francisco Giants at San Francisco's Oracle Park, Friday doubleheader (one game makes up Sept. 12 postponement, each team will play as home team once); and Seattle Mariners-Oakland Athletics at the Oakland Coliseum, Saturday doubleheader (one game makes up Sept. 3 postponement, each team will play as home team once). As things currently stand, the Detroit Tigers and Cardinals also still have a pair of games, originally postponed Aug. 4-5, that haven't formally been announced on the schedule. As the Cardinals don't have an open date remaining on their calendar, the games will be made up as a doubleheader at Detroit's Comerica Park on Sept. 28, only if they are relevant to either team's standing in the postseason (including for seeding purposes).

  • As MLB has not yet announced specific plans for those Cardinals-Tigers games or any other makeup game necessary to determine playoff races, including whether they'll be made up at all, stay tuned to your league announcements as far as how ESPN will handle those games. MLB has, however, said that there will be no tiebreaker games to decide any spots or seeding, as any ties will be worked out mathematically, so keep that in mind with your planning.

  • Having playoff-motivated players is a key part of your final-week fantasy baseball strategy. The Los Angeles Dodgers were the first team to clinch a postseason berth, and they have a magic number of two to clinch both the National League West title as well as the league's No. 1 overall seed, so it's no surprise then that they've already begun resting regulars and tinkering with their playoff rotation. Similarly, the Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, Tampa Bay Rays have all punched their tickets to the postseason and might be more concerned now about getting aligned for the Wild Card Series than specific playoff seeding. The Rays, Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs are all close to clinching their divisions as well. Near-eliminated teams such as the Diamondbacks, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Rangers might shut down players with injuries and/or audition youngsters for 2021 roles. Ultimately you'll want the teams most in the thick of the playoff race. This year, that list appears to include the Cincinnati Reds, Houston Astros, Miami Marlins, Brewers, New York Mets, Phillies, Cardinals, Giants and Mariners, all of whom enter Sept. 21 within three games of a playoff spot.

  • Take careful note of the MLB postseason schedule, because in addition to the playoff races themselves, as mentioned above, they'll have a bearing on teams' Week 9 planning, particularly their rotations. With the AL wild-card series set to begin Tuesday, Sept. 29, and the NL wild-card series beginning on Wednesday, Sept. 30, and all games within those series being played on consecutive days (i.e., no days off), teams will almost assuredly shorten or skip the starts of prospective members of their playoff rotations during the Week 9 weekend series. Keep this in mind, especially if your league has innings minimums, as it's risky to count on those second starts from some two-start pitchers. As things currently stand, these pitchers are scheduled to make starts between Friday and Sunday that almost assuredly will either be rescheduled, shortened or skipped altogether: Jose Berrios, Shane Bieber, Carlos Carrasco, Aaron Civale, Mike Clevinger, Yu Darvish, Zach Davies, Cole Hamels, Clayton Kershaw, Dinelson Lamet, Jon Lester, Jesus Luzardo, Charlie Morton, Aaron Nola and Michael Pineda.

  • A pair of virtual playoff locks -- that adversely influencing their likelihood of playing their "A" teams during the Week 9 weekend -- have among the best schedules: The Atlanta Braves, the likely NL East champions, play seven home games, four against the Marlins and three against the Red Sox, who have baseball's second-worst team ERA (5.62). The New York Yankees, who are likely to be the AL's No. 4 or 5 seed but have an outside chance at the AL East title, play four games at homer-friendly Buffalo's Sahlen Field against the Toronto Blue Jays and three back home against the same Marlins, missing Sixto Sanchez in the process. Those hitting-friendly schedules alleviate worry that either team could significantly rest regulars, and keep in mind that the Yankees are trying to work recently activated outfielders Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton up to full speed in advance of the playoffs.

  • The Minnesota Twins play the majors' only five-game week, and they might begin it with the knowledge that they're locked into a 4-5 seed, diminishing any chance that they'd want to push any regulars. Their rotation isn't set up especially well for the playoffs, but their Monday and Thursday off days afford them the luxury to do that, but it'd also mess with fantasy managers' planning.

  • Speaking of players working their way back from injuries in time for the postseason, the Dodgers' Walker Buehler (blister) threw a simulated game during Week 8 and is expected to be ready to make a final regular-season start on Thursday.

  • Among the teams scheduled to face a greater-than-usual number of left- or right-handed starting pitchers are the Athletics, who are scheduled to face four left-handers; Rockies, Royals, Marlins, Mariners, Rangers and Blue Jays, who are scheduled to face three left-handers; and Braves, Cubs, Cleveland Indians, Brewers, Giants and Nationals, who are scheduled to face six right-handers. Among the hitters you should activate accordingly: Luis Garcia (96% available in ESPN leagues), a .333/.362/.485 hitter against righties this season; Teoscar Hernandez (27% available), a .302/.362/.698 hitter against lefties; Matt Kemp (97%), a .289/.360/.489 hitter against lefties; Tyler Naquin (97%), a .304/.323/.543 hitter against righties; Kevin Pillar (69%), a .313/.361/.567 hitter against lefties; and Daniel Vogelbach (97%), a career .223/.349/.441 hitter against righties.