Weekend fantasy baseball preview: Judge vs. Giants on Lou Gehrig Day

MLB’s annual Lou Gehrig Day, which arrives Sunday, highlights the weekend schedule, and Gehrig’s team for all 17 years of his big league career, the New York Yankees, will face the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park for three weekend games. It will be the Yankees’ first games in San Francisco since 2019, and just their seventh, eighth and ninth there ever. The series will also feature the first visit by Aaron Judge, who nearly signed with the Giants as a free agent after the 2022 season.

That’s one of what will be seven interleague series during this weekend, a larger-than-usual number, yet not a season-high. There have already been nine days this year in which at least seven interleague games were played (and eight apiece on both April 21 and 30), but it’s still an elevated number of less-familiar matchups.

What can fantasy managers expect from those matchups and others that lie ahead? Our analysts, Tristan H. Cockcroft and Eric Karabell, tee up the weekend action.

Cockcroft: Aaron (Arson?) Judge’s trip to San Francisco is a fun baseball storyline, but that’s not what has my eye this weekend. Would you believe that the Cleveland Guardians are baseball’s third-best team in terms of winning percentage, just 1.5 games behind the league-leading Philadelphia Phillies and 0.5 games/one win behind Judge’s Yankees? The Guardians host the rebuilding Washington Nationals for three, which is one of the more favorable matchups for the coming weekend.

The Nationals are slated to throw a pair of lefties (Patrick Corbin and Mitchell Parker), and the Guardians have one of the wider platoon splits reflecting greater success against that side (+28 points of wOBA). How? Catcher-eligible and big-time fantasy find David Fry (.419/.594/.791 against lefties this season) has played a significant role and, because of said eligibility, he’s a name we all must know (and start).

The Guardians might also get back leadoff man Steven Kwan — and before anyone worries about the lefty-pitching thing, Kwan’s game is largely platoon-proof. He typically leads off, despite the lefty-righty matchups. From a pitching perspective, it’s a bit unclear who will be starting for the Guardians, but Xzavion Curry‘s demotion earlier this week signals the team will likely use a four-man rotation due to upcoming off days. That means Triston McKenzie should draw the Sunday start.

Karabell: Fry is indeed no small contributor these days, though it seems relevant to point out his bloated .403 BABIP plays a rather key role. His expected batting average is at just .263, or 90 points below what he is hitting. Enjoy it while it lasts, and it will be interesting to see how Kwan’s return adjusts this lineup. Meanwhile, Jose Ramirez leads everyone in fantasy points over the past 30 days, including Judge, with 1B Josh Naylor and 2B Andres Gimenez joining Fry among the top 20 scorers. This is not a one-man offense and, as I wrote about this week, Emmanuel Clase is hardly the lone, valuable relief pitcher.

While Fry finally has risen to better than 50% rostered in ESPN standard leagues, I cannot help but notice some of the readily available hitters among the top scorers for May, including Athletics OF JJ Bleday, Angels OF Kevin Pillar, Athletics 3B/1B/2B Abraham Toro, Mariners OF/2B/SS Dylan Moore, Rockies OF Charlie Blackmon and Tigers OF/3B Matt Vierling. Bleday has more fantasy points than Shohei Ohtani this month. Vierling has hit four home runs since Sunday. Add the hot players until they are no longer hot.

Back to Yankees-Giants: LHP Blake Snell starts on Sunday. The defending NL Cy Young Award winner is one of the most-dropped starting pitchers in ESPN leagues, now available in more than 30% of them. Would you add him? Not necessarily versus the Yankees, of course, but just in general? Snell has a 10.42 ERA after five starts. This is his extreme, inefficient form, but we know what excellence he is capable of. Snell is the ultimate pitching difference-maker. Would you invest right now, before the good stuff, because we have to assume it is coming, right?

Cockcroft: I’m not a big Snell backer, which we’ve debated in the past. I’ve written this about him before, that he’s a “momentum” guy, where when Snell’s going good, he’s one of the very best pitchers in all of baseball. It’s how he claimed 2018 and 2023 Cy Young awards, for different teams in different leagues. It’s also how he was a top-15 scoring pitcher over the final three months of 2022, the No. 2-scoring pitcher over a seven-start span late in 2021, and a top-12 scoring pitcher over the final six months of 2017.

The problem? Outside of those stretches, Snell has been largely unusable in fantasy (with a few small exceptions) and I tend to fade late-signing pitchers after the Jake Arrieta/Lance Lynn 2018 tales. It messes with momentum!

Mixed leagues demand nearly immediate success, so Snell is more of a “get him while he’s hot, release him while he’s not” type, though I’d surely use a free bench spot — we’re talking 12-plus teams mixed and five-plus bench, so definitively larger than the ESPN standard — to speculate on a mid-2023 hot spell. He’s in a good pitchers’ park and does miss bats, but needs that momentum as far as feel for his potentially elite swing-and-miss stuff.

In fairness, the projections do like Snell (10.9 fantasy points), mostly because the park factor gives him a hefty boost relative to the average pitcher. That probably most props him up, for the foreseeable future.

By the way, there’s a common thread among all those widely available hitters you mentioned. All of them, except Pillar, have been batting 1-2-3 in their respective teams’ lineups more often than not over the past 10 days, and Pillar has generally settled into the Angels’ cleanup spot during that time. Lineup spot matters! It fuels plate appearances and, especially the deeper your league runs, opportunity does drive fantasy success.

I’ll add the Joey Ortiz of the Milwaukee Brewers to this mix, since he nabbed a leadoff start against a lefty on Wednesday and has been sneaking up the lineup in recent weeks due to his elite batting eye. The Brewers have been a better-than-expected offense (fourth-ranked 5.02 runs per game, more than the Dodgers!), and they get the Chicago White Sox pitching staff this weekend.

Karabell: The Brewers are a fun, overachieving team and Ortiz is absolutely worth watching closer. Rookie LHP Robert Gasser has a 1.96 ERA and an 0.96 WHIP through four starts, his fifth expected on Saturday. He seems like a smart streaming option. The offense may also get 1B Rhys Hoskins back by Monday in his return to Philadelphia, and Hoskins is a productive fantasy option who hits for power and draws walks. Watch the bullpen, too. Closer Trevor Megill left a recent outing when a batted ball struck his pitching elbow, and we should get clarity on whether he closes out weekend wins or hits the IL. I’m hoping he is healthy.

As for other pitchers I am watching this weekend, let’s go in order. For Friday, Cubs RHP Javier Assad gets the afternoon start at Wrigley versus the Reds. Assad has walked eight over his past two outings, covering only 9⅔ innings. Is this the end of the ride? Is it the beginning for Mariners RHP Bryan Woo, who faces the Angels and has been terrific through four starts? Saturday features Tigers RHP Reese Olson against Red Sox RHP Cooper Criswell. Olson continues to thrive and is seriously underrated. Criswell comes off his worst outing, against the Orioles. It seems like Boston’s pitching is returning to expected levels.

Sunday isn’t about only Snell. Chicago Cubs RHP Ben Brown tossed seven no-hit innings in his earlier start this week, at Milwaukee. In fact, Brown has permitted only two hits over his past three outings, covering 13 innings! He sure looks legit. Phillies RHP Taijuan Walker gets the Sunday night start against the Cardinals, and while it makes sense why Walker is in the rotation over Spencer Turnbull, Walker must pitch better to warrant the spot. He has a 5.51 ERA and a 1.59 WHIP, with a below-average whiff rate. The Phillies still have the best record, but they come off a troubling road trip. I may preemptively add Turnbull in a league or two.

Cockcroft: Agreed on those pitchers, with the Cubs, whose offense is reeling, particularly under the spotlight. Brown is pitching for a more permanent rotation spot, with Jordan Wicks on the mend, and the team needs its starters to be on point with guys like Ian Happ, Christopher Morel and Dansby Swanson all underperforming.

The opposing Hunter Greene, on Saturday, is beginning to look like a superstar. Back-to-back quality starts against the lofty Dodgers, and now the Cubs’ struggling offense? Yes, please. Woo versus Jose Soriano (95%-plus available!) might be the sleeper starting pitching matchup of the entire weekend, if it’s not Gasser versus Garrett Crochet. Both guys should universally be in lineups for that one. Chris Bassitt has straightened his season out and gets the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday.

Let’s see just how hot things get!

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