Weekend fantasy baseball preview: Paul Skenes’ second start

A pair of individual pitching storylines headline the weekend schedule.

Pittsburgh Pirates rookie Paul Skenes, who averaged 100.1 mph with his fastball while totaling seven strikeouts in his MLB debut last Saturday (putting aside the fact that he lasted only four innings while allowing three runs), makes his second career start against the very team he faced the first time out, the Chicago Cubs.

Meanwhile, Joe Musgrove is aligned to rejoin the San Diego Padres on Sunday, after missing two rotation turns due to elbow inflammation. That sets him up to pitch ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” game (at 7 p.m. ET) against baseball’s winningest team, the Atlanta Braves.

Additionally, the AL’s winningest team, the New York Yankees, gets a chance to fatten its record with a three-game home series against the league’s worst team, the Chicago White Sox, at the same time that a pair of hot-starting AL squads, the Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Mariners, play a three-game series at Baltimore’s Camden Yards.

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: Allow me to be a homer for a minute. Everyone wants to talk about Juan Soto and Aaron Judge — and, everyone, please do! — but those Yankees pitching matchups look great, and all three aligned starters are available in more than 30% of ESPN leagues. Nestor Cortes (44.5% rostered, Friday’s starter), Luis Gil (38.0%, Saturday) and Carlos Rodon (69.9%, Sunday) have all pitched effectively enough this season to warrant streaming appeal. Gil, the least familiar name of the three, is riding a streak of three quality starts, and facing the White Sox is the A-number-one matchup.

Funny, the one rotation that (as a group) stands clearly above the Yankees as far as their weekend series in total is the Philadelphia Phillies, as Zack Wheeler (Friday), Cristopher Sanchez (Saturday) and Aaron Nola (Sunday) get to face the rebuilding Washington Nationals at home. However, other than Sanchez (11.9% rostered), they’re all rostered already in fantasy leagues.

OK, the homerism is now out of the way, even if I stole your scorching-hot Phillies in order to do so. Sorry! On an aside, if they’re this good with Trea Turner sidelined, how will they look after he returns, especially considering his history of stronger finishes than starts?

Karabell: The Phillies are playing well, using their depth on offense and awesome starting pitching — and I am loving it, of course. Then again, look at the Braves over the last two seasons. It means nothing until October. You gotta win games then. I do think we can speculate about whether Turner returns to shortstop or if Bryson Stott takes over there, but that has little impact in fantasy.

A series I am intrigued by this weekend is the Milwaukee Brewers and the Houston Astros because I still think the Astros win the AL West. How will they do this with their starting pitching situation? We will see RHPs Hunter Brown, Justin Verlander and rookie Spencer Arrighetti this weekend, and they are each interesting. Brown still has top-20 fantasy SP upside. It is in there. Verlander feels underrated by fantasy managers to me, though I know you disagree. He is old, thus he must be done, as the saying goes. Arrighetti also has upside. Do not overlook this team — and try not to dump Ronel Blanco, as he will miss only one start with his suspension.

Milwaukee’s lineup is more interesting than their rotation for fantasy, as 2B/SS Brice Turang keeps running. OF Sal Frelick is hitting lately, OF/1B Jake Bauers should play more with Rhys Hoskins out. Hyped rookie OF Jackson Chourio is so much better than his numbers, if we can be patient. Well, if the Brewers can be patient, then I can be patient.

Cockcroft: So, which is it then: Astros starters or Brewers hitters who succeed this weekend? It’s also one of my most pressing questions for future projection, and I’ll point out that the Brewers are again hitting righties better than lefties (plus-14 points of wOBA and a 1.9% lower strikeout rate) and that’s with Christian Yelich having been in the lineup for only 17 out of the team’s 43 games against right-handed starters.

Verlander’s fastball is averaging 93.7 mph, his lowest rate since 2015, which concluded a two-year span during which his ERA was 4.08 with only a 19.0% strikeout rate. Just sayin’. Ah, if only these guys could stay as forever young as I.

Hey, pop quiz … What has been the top-scoring AL offense in the month of May (and second overall, behind your Phillies)?

Karabell: I am guessing it’s not your Yankees, or you wouldn’t ask.

How about Brent Rooker‘s surprising Oakland Athletics, who scored 20 in one game against the Miami Marlins and did some nice work more recently against the Texas Rangers. Rooker wasn’t supposed to be among the leaders in OPS, but here we are, and he is absolutely worth a spot on your fantasy teams. Abraham Toro can play three infield spots for fantasy and he is leading off and scoring runs. C Shea Langeliers has legit power. 2B Zack Gelof is healthy and a legit 20/20 threat. This is an interesting lineup facing some interesting Royals pitchers this weekend, although you say to cut bait on Seth Lugo.

Cockcroft: Ding ding ding! I shouldn’t bother trying to sneak one past the “Mookie Betts of Trivia.” Yes, the A’s have averaged 5.43 runs per game with a second-best 20 homers and I’m scratching my head over that one as I look at those Kansas City Royals pitchers who would otherwise look good on paper.

I actually don’t say to rid yourself of Lugo, which is an important clarification I’m glad you brought up. That’s because, outside of the deeper leagues in which you and I often play, you can’t expect a return that exceeds the potential performance of a top-40 fantasy starter. Lugo is doing this “hey, look at me” dance right now that establishes him as fantasy-relevant where he wasn’t thought of like that before. Even a regressed, rest-of-year version of himself is probably a 3.50 ERA, 190-total IP pitcher.

I am starting him, Cole Ragans and Brady Singer with confidence this weekend — Oakland’s May stats notwithstanding — because I think this is the Royals’ series. Maybe they even sneak into first place in the AL Central in the process, if the Minnesota Twins take a few against the currently-in-first Cleveland Guardians.

Karabell: We usually discuss starting pitchers, but here are three hitters I am watching for this weekend. The Mariners are giving Luke Raley a chance to play, and let us remember he hit 19 home runs and stole 14 bases just one season ago. White Sox 1B Andrew Vaughn is finally starting to hit, with his first three home runs of the season (unbelievable!) in the past week. And Twins 1B Carlos Santana — spoiler alert, Tristan, he is old — has seven home runs over the past three weeks. Who are you watching?

Cockcroft: We’ll see how the Orioles align their rotation since there’s some question about when Cole Irvin next starts after Wednesday’s rainout — but, yes, their series with the Mariners is in my sights too. I see it as more pitcher-oriented and no fun for the hitters. Bryce Miller-Luis Castillo-George Kirby with a possibility of Corbin Burnes for the Orioles on Sunday? Yes, please. I’d love to get some clarity on who is closing for the Orioles, since these might be three tight games.

And, yes, Santana is hitting, which is something I wasn’t expecting given how he looked just a month ago (.141 average and no homers over the first three weeks). It has been quite the turnaround by the Twins, though I’m more of a Max Kepler/Ryan Jeffers guy.

Some might say the recovery of Santana’s smooth swing has been quite supernatural, don’t you think? Wait. Did I just make a reference to music from 1999? Spoiler alert — it’s me who’s old. Enjoy the weekend, everybody!


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