- Looking at the best matchups of the coming week, plus hitters and pitchers you need to keep your eye on over the next seven days.
I spent much of Sunday driving from Cleveland to Chicago, giving me a good look at the part of the country where six MLB games were postponed on Sunday. The last time six games were postponed on the same day was in September 2008 when Hurricane Ike forced the cancellation of games near the Gulf Coast. Thankfully, we don’t have any crisis weather like the residents of the Gulf Coast area had to deal with then. Instead, we have a winter that does not want to give way to spring, and it doesn’t seem to be showing mercy any time soon. On Monday, I woke up in Chicago, where the Cubs were later supposed to host the Cardinals for the first game of a three-game series, to snow. That game was postponed, as was the Red Sox traditional Patriots’ Day game. Including the games in Chicago and Boston Monday, there have already been 23 postponements this season. The April record is 26, set in 2007.
Enough already, winter. There’s baseball to be played.
Let’s take a look at the week ahead in the Table Setter.
Hitters to Watch this Week
Joey Votto, 1B, Reds
The extended “What’s up with Votto?” watch continues this week. In the Reds’ 15 games, he’s 13-for-60 with zero extra-base hits. He has four more strikeouts (seven) than walks (three). He got a routine day off for the first time since September 2016. This is not the Votto we’ve come to expect to see dominate the league. Chances are it’s only a matter of time before he breaks out of his malaise, and April has been his worst month historically. In fact, in that same 2016 season, he hit just .229/.327/.313 in the first month of the year. He finished that season slashing .326/.434/.550 with 34 home runs. Again, he should be fine, but his owners would like to see him be fine sooner rather than later.
Tommy Pham, OF, Cardinals
Pham picked up this year right where he left off last year, filling up the box score in ways few other players in the majors can. He enters this week hitting .322/.429/.475 with two homers, five steals, 15 runs and five RBI. The only question on Pham coming into the season was whether his vision would hold up, and it seems he has answered that emphatically over his first 16 games. His average draft position drove him into the fourth and fifth rounds in all fantasy leagues, but he’s proving to be worth every penny.
Jose Pirela, OF, Padres
Pirela has been one of the bright surprises of April, hitting .324/.351/.473 with seven doubles, two triples and two steals in 77 plate appearances. He leads the majors with 24 hits and is one of just 21 players already into double-digits in both runs (12) and RBI (10). Pirela is 28 years old, but he got his first real shot in the majors last year, when he hit .288/.347/.490 with 10 homers in 344 plate appearances. If the start of this season is any indication, last year was no fluke.
Nelson Cruz, DH, Mariners
Cruz returned from the DL over the weekend, going 1-for-9 in the final two games of the Mariners’ series with the A’s. We can certainly forgive him for needing a few days to shake off the rust. Remember, he homered in his first two games of the season before heading to the DL with an ankle injury. The Mariners play every day this week, so Cruz has plenty of opportunity to get back into the swing of things.
Carlos Correa, SS, Astros
Correa has two homers and five doubles in his first 60 plate appearances. He has driven in 12 runs and scored 12 more. His fantasy owners likely aren’t crying over his performance. Still, it’s worth noting that he’s just 14-for-53 and has drawn only four walks compared with 15 strikeouts. And yet, we know there’s nothing to worry about here. I wouldn’t want a pitcher on the Mariners or White Sox, the two teams that play the Astros this week.
Pitchers to Watch this Week
Jon Lester, Cubs
Lester didn’t throw the ball all that well in his last start, allowing four runs on seven hits and three walks in five innings. He surrendered a three-run homer to Sean Rodriguez in the first, and while he mitigated the damage after that, he was in and out of trouble all night. That makes two bad starts and one good one for Lester on the year. In reality, he’s likely the fourth-best pitcher on his own team, and he may be no better than that for the typical fantasy team, as well. His velocity is down again this year, which isn’t a surprise for a pitcher in his age-34 season, but is something to keep an eye on whenever he takes the mound. He’ll oppose the Cardinals on Tuesday for his only start of the week.
Jacob deGrom, Mets
It’s a two-start week for deGrom, starting with a matchup against the Nationals on Monday. He’s coming off his worst start of the year, in which he allowed four runs on seven hits in six innings against the Marlins. Given deGrom’s high ceiling, it has been a slow start, but not a bad one, for the 29-year-old righty. He caps his week with a start against the Braves on Saturday.
Aaron Sanchez, Blue Jays
Sanchez was dominant in his last trip to the mound, holding the Orioles to one run on three hits in eight innings, earning his first win of the season. The lone issue, however, was his control. Sanchez issued five walks in that game and is up to 11 free passes in 19 2/3 innings. Walks have always been a bugaboo for Sanchez, and without elite swing-and-miss stuff, they can cause him more headaches than the average pitcher. He can pitch around them from time to time, but ultimately they will catch up to him if he keeps on walking one out of every 10 batters he faces. He’s slated for one start this week, taking on the Royals on Wednesday.
Carlos Carrasco, Indians
Carrasco’s first three starts of the year were a perfect upward trajectory. He had a bad outing to begin the campaign, a decent one his next time out, and an electric start his third time to the mound. Carrasco picked up the ninth complete game of his career in that outing, allowing one run on three hits and two walks, striking out six in a win over the Tigers. That’s the Carrasco we’re used to seeing, the one who is a legitimate Cy Young candidate. The Indians play just five games this week, with Carrasco taking the ball in Baltimore on Friday.
Kevin Gausman, Orioles
Speaking of the Orioles, they’re still waiting for Gausman to break through and become the top-of-the-rotation starter they’ve always believed he could be. Even they might be ready to admit that it’s not going to happen at this point. Gausman'a 2018 season has been ugly, totaling a 6.60 ERA and 1.60 WHIP with 15 strikeouts against six walks in 15 innings. He has already surrendered four homers on the year, though, in his defense, three of those came in one start against the Twins. Still, consistency has dodged Gausman for his entire career, and he has done little in the early portion of this season to suggest he’s going to finally find it. His lone start this week is scheduled for Wednesday against the Tigers.
Matchups to Watch this Week
The best pitcher vs. pitcher, pitcher vs. hitter, and pitcher vs. offense matchups over the next seven days.
Clayton Kershaw vs. Stephen Strasburg, Saturday
Before I put virtual pen to paper for this section, I put literal pen to paper, writing down every matchup that catches my eye. From there, I eliminate a handful to narrow it down to the very best matchups for the coming week. When I this looming matchup, I wrote it down and put an exclamation point after it. This is a matchup fit for Game 7 of the NLCS, so we’ll happily and greedily take it in the third week of April. This matchup checks all three boxes in the Matchups of the Week section, too. Not only do we get Kershaw vs. Strasburg, but we also get Kershaw vs. Bryce Harper, and Kershaw against the entire Washington offense. If I could only watch one baseball game this week, this would be it. In reality, I’ll watch many, many more, but if, for some reason, I could only watch one, Kershaw-Strasburg would be the winner.
James Paxton vs. Dallas Keuchel, Monday
Just a couple of lefties with completely different, yet equally dominant, styles taking the mound in Houston to kick off the week. This one gets bonus points for the pitcher-offense matchups, as well, with both the Mariners and Astros both in the top seven in the majors in weighted runs created plus. Paxton is off to a rough start this year, owning a 5.74 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in 15 2/3 innings, and his power game will get a great test against the Astros’ loaded lineup. Keuchel, too, has started the year on an uncharacteristic foot, totaling a 4.20 ERA and 1.80 WHIP in 15 frames. Even with the tough offenses both face, the bet here is they get untracked on Monday.
Corey Kluber vs. Brian Dozier, Tuesday
Kluber just might be the best pitcher in baseball, and he is in fine form. His numbers in his three starts this season: 23 innings, 1.57 ERA, 0.65 WHIP, 27 strikeouts, four walks. Meanwhile, Dozier is enjoying the another excellent April, hitting .289/.385/.600 with four homers in 52 plate appearances. These two have shared a division since 2012, and thus have seen quite a bit of one another. The only pitcher Dozier has faced more often is Jose Quintana, and Kluber will almost certainly take him over this season. In Kluber’s case, he has faced just five batters more than the 50 times he has seen Dozier in the box. Kluber is the undisputed winner of their meetings, holding Dozier to a .140/.224/.302 line with two homers and 13 strikeouts.
Aaron Nola vs. Freddie Freeman, Monday
Just like Kluber and Dozier in the AL Central, this should be one of the premier NL East pitcher-hitter battles for years to come. Nola is taking off before our eyes, amassing a 1.96 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 13 strikeouts in his first 18 1/3 innings this year. Freeman, meanwhile, just might be the best hitter in the National League, a league that includes Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant, Nolan Arenado, Joey Votto and Paul Goldschmidt, just to name five. He’s in the midst of another torrid April, hitting .320/.493/.560 with two homers, six doubles and 12 RBI in 67 plate appearances. These two have faced one another 20 times, and it has been all Freeman. The Braves star first baseman is 6-for-17 with a homer, two doubles and three walks against Nola.
Sean Manaea vs. Red Sox, Saturday
Manaea was a popular breakout pick heading into this season, and he has done nothing to lose anyone on his bandwagon. He has made four starts this year, pitching to a 1.63 ERA and 0.72 WHIP with 20 strikeouts against four walks in 27 2/3 innings. He has given up two or fewer runs in all of his starts, and has completed at least seven innings in three of them. He’ll get his toughest test of the year on Saturday with the Red Sox in Oakland for a weekend series.
Jose Quintana vs. Rockies, Saturday
Quintana had his worst start as a Cub in his last trip to the mound, allowing seven runs in 2 1/3 innings against the Braves. In his defense, though, the game was played in comically terrible conditions, and likely never should have been started. Still, he has now surrendered at least six runs in two of his three starts this season and is the owner of an 8.16 ERA and 1.81 WHIP. The Cubs visit Coors Field this weekend, and Nolan Arenado will be back in the lineup by time Quintana takes the ball on Saturday. The last thing a struggling pitcher wants to see is a date with the Rockies offense in Denver.
Ronald Acuña Watch
Now that teams can call up prospects without losing a year of team control, baseball’s most majors-ready prospect since Kris Bryant (as determined by me) should arrive any day. Let’s see what Ronald Acuña is up to at Triple-A Gwinnett.
Believe it or not, Acuña is actually off to a terrible start this season. Through Gwinnett’s first eight games, he’s hitting just .152/.222/.182. His lone extra-base hit is a double, and he has struck out 12 times in 33 plate appearances. The Braves insist that they won’t call him up until his performance improves, and if we take that at face value, it could be the middle of May before we see him in the majors. The fact remains, however, that he will be in the show sooner rather than later, and that he’ll be an immediate impact player.
GIF of the Week
This one comes to us from Max Scherzer, who struck out 21 batters in 16 innings across two starts last week. He fanned 11 in his “lesser” start of the week, a 7-inning, 1-run, 2-hit mastery of the Rockies. Here’s Charlie Blackmon looking hopelessly overmatched.
Not bad, right?