Weekend preview: April 18-21

The weekend brings us a matchup of the 2021 (Atlanta Braves) and 2023 (Texas Rangers) World Series champions at Atlanta’s Truist Park. Entering play on Thursday, both teams were in first place in their respective divisions.

We’ll also see a pair of 2024 debuts: Jordan Montgomery makes his first start for the Arizona Diamondbacks after agreeing to terms late during spring training, while Justin Verlander rejoins the Houston Astros rotation after missing the season’s first three weeks due to a shoulder injury. Both pitchers endured rocky rehab starts, with Montgomery serving up seven runs on nine hits, two of them home runs, over 3 2/3 innings of an April 13 start for Triple-A Reno. Meanwhile, Verlander was touched up in each of his turns for Double-A Sugar Land and Triple-A Corpus Christi, posting a 14.14 ERA combined between them.

Can fantasy managers be confident in starting either pitcher? And what else should they expect during the upcoming weekend? Our fantasy baseball analysts, Tristan H. Cockcroft and Eric Karabell, have the scoop.

cockcroft tristan m Cockcroft: As far as Montgomery and Verlander are concerned, I’m wary of either pitcher from a seasonal perspective, but they threw 71 and 78 pitches in those most recent minor league outings, so they should be in the mid-80s in terms of pitch count in what are two favorable matchups (@SF for the former, @WSH the latter). That Washington Nationals matchup, at least until guys like James Wood, Dylan Crews and Brady House are in the big league lineup, grades as one of the very best, so there’s probably enough there to start either pitcher.

Still, I’m typically wary of late-signing pitchers. Jake Arrieta’s and Lance Lynn’s 2018 tales remain stuck in my mind. And, in Verlander’s case, his age seemed to creep up on him last season. Especially with the surefire Hall of Famer, any hot start should fuel an immediate “sell high” strategy. Yeah, I know, don’t tell Kate.

The struggling, strikeout-prone Seattle Mariners reap the benefits of a trip to Colorado’s Coors Field, but so much more important than what the offense could do is that I’m saddened to see that two of my favorite starting pitchers in fantasy this season, Luis Castillo and George Kirby, will have to pitch there (on Saturday and Sunday). Their performances have been about as lackluster as the offense that supports either, and I can’t believe I’m typing it, but I think both Montgomery and Verlander will have better fantasy point totals this weekend (and the Forecaster projections concur).

Castillo got rocked the last time he pitched at Coors, serving up eight runs on 10 hits over just 3 2/3 IP in 2021. I know that was three years ago, but it remains true that, when it comes to pitchers, Coors is undefeated.

Any chance you’d start either in a shallow mixed?

karabell eric m Karabell: Who’s Kate? Beckinsale? Hmmm. Solid in “Underworld.”

No, I am not relying on Seattle starting pitchers in Denver. I sat Castillo in a weekly league already. It isn’t as if he was pitching at a Cy Young level anyway, but no, I have little confidence here. Of course, I will put him right back in the lineup for next week, though. Is it weird that I like the Rockies offense more now that Kris Bryant is on the IL? I have shares of Nolan Jones, Ryan McMahon and the recently promoted Sean Bouchard and want to see offense!

I did activate Verlander in one key league and I believe he is just different than most everyone else. He has proven it during his stellar career. Confidence? Yeah, I have confidence in his ability to overachieve — even at his age — and I think now is a wise time to invest in most Astros. They are better than this. The big hitters have mostly hit, but OF Chas McCormick is a smart fantasy addition.

You mentioned the Nationals. OF/DH Jesse Winker is one of the most-added hitters in leagues and I have always been a fan of his approach and skills. Health, obviously, has been an issue. It feels like an important weekend for Winker in fantasy, for investors to become confident, and perhaps for other most-added hitters such as Cubs 3B/1B Michael Busch, Orioles OF Colton Cowser, Angels OF Taylor Ward and Twins C Ryan Jeffers.

cockcroft tristan m Cockcroft: I’m glad you brought up Nolan Jones. DON’T CUT HIM! I can’t stress that enough, that a player like him, coming off a big 2023 and showing at least decent plate discipline and hard-contact metrics despite his so-so stats, warrants much more patience than managers are giving him. The Coors games alone are automatic with Jones.

You know who else warrants patience? Francisco Lindor of New York Mets. In his four seasons with the team, he’s a .211/.312/.357 hitter who averages 18 homers and nine stolen bases per 162 games in March/April. He’s a classic slow starter, like both Teoscar Hernandez and Kyle Schwarber.

Where do you stand on the Kansas City Royals? They’ve also got a few names on the most-added lists, as Seth Lugo, James McArthur, Vinnie Pasquantino, Brady Singer and Michael Wacha have all been added in at least 4% of leagues over the past week. I’m warming to their rotation and I guess I was wrong on Cole Ragans, though I will continue to remind his managers that it’s the workload, not his raw stuff, that remains my biggest question for him over the full 162. However, I wonder whether they have the depth to hang in this race without making some trades.

The Royals have a challenging series at home against the Baltimore Orioles, and that’s an important watch as far as evaluating what the team might provide in future weeks. Ragans (Saturday) and Lugo (Sunday) are going to earn my starts, and Bobby Witt Jr. and Salvador Perez should be mainstays in your fantasy lineup, with Pasquantino, MJ Melendez and Maikel Garcia being the three who “teeter on the brink” in standard formats.

karabell eric m Karabell: I think we may have underrated several AL Central teams, and perhaps overrated a few others. OK, the Chicago White Sox are horrible. I can’t make a case for too many White Sox. The Minnesota Twins should improve when they closer Jhoan Duran back, but that offense without Royce Lewis isn’t great, and while everyone focuses on Byron Buxton and his health, can we talk about how he is hitting .214 since the start of 2022? He has one home run and one walk in 17 games. I’ve had enough.

I like the Royals and thought they could be at least a .500 team, along with the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Guardians. Yes, the pitching is legit, I have Wacha in a league and feel confident. I am running out of patience with leadoff hitter Garcia in a league, and I do not want to. I think a 30-steal fellow lurks, but his hitting .164 is a big problem. Start thinking about stashing 2B Michael Massey.

Finally, here are some pitchers I am watching closely this weekend. On Friday, it is Guardians RHP Triston McKenzie and Blue Jays RHP Yariel Rodriguez. McKenzie isn’t missing many bats, and the logical assumption is something is awry physically. Rodriguez showed promise in his debut. On Saturday, watch Cubs RHP Javier Assad and Brewers LHP DL Hall. Assad has a 2.16 ERA. He looks legit. Hall has a 2.13 WHIP. This may be the end for him in fantasy leagues, and I don’t know if that is wrong.

On Sunday, I at least want to see what White Sox rookie RHP Nick Nastrini does in his second start. His minor league numbers never inspired much confidence, but he looks promising on the mound, and features a four-pitch mix. I am a little intrigued. And I am losing intrigue in Twins RHP Louie Varland, who has good stuff, with velocity and spin rate, but is a mess through three outings. I don’t want to give up yet, so c’mon Louie, turn things around!

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