The first-ever games in Mexico City take place this weekend, with the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants playing a two-game series on Saturday and Sunday at Alfredo Harp Helú Stadium, the Padres serving as the “home team.” Joe Musgrove, making only his second start of the season, and Yu Darvish are set to pitch for the Padres, while Ross Stripling and Alex Cobb are aligned to start for the Giants.
Considering the altitude (7,320 feet, or 2,048 higher than Colorado’s Coors Field, the highest among the 30 major-league stadiums) and the smaller dimensions, featuring closer-than-the-MLB-average measurements of 325 feet down the foul lines and 400 feet to center field, much offensive firepower might be expected in those two games. How should fantasy managers prepare, and what other compelling storylines stand out from the coming weekend’s action?
Tristan H. Cockcroft and Eric Karabell have the answers on that, as well as the coming weekend’s other big fantasy baseball stories.
Cockcroft: Park factors can be awfully tough to gauge, but worse, their impact upon the statistics are often greatly exaggerated. Sure, we remember other examples of unusual venues significantly inflating offensive numbers — there were 239 runs scored and 75 home runs hit in 22 games at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in 2003, the first year the Montreal Expos called it their alternate “home” — but, generally speaking, it’s tough to predict the benefactors from within a single game at an unusually shaped venue.
Going by the elevation as well as the smaller outfield dimensions — and even then, 325 feet represents just a 2% shorter distance than the average park — I’d estimate something within the range of a Coors Field park factor, which in Forecaster terms is roughly a 30% boost in offense. With no historical data for that particular ballpark, though, I’d hedge a bit and say I’d boost the offense by 20% for those two games.
That makes Stripling a clear “sit,” and I’d bench Cobb, too, considering he has a shaky history at Coors for a comparison point. I’d keep Darvish active, and probably Musgrove, too, but otherwise would load up on my Padres hitters, especially the lefties. Matt Carpenter for the win!
Bear in mind, though, that due to the travel, neither the Padres nor Giants play Friday, which is a competitive disadvantage when the other 28 teams are all scheduled. NFBC players get to reload their lineups on Fridays, hoping to capitalize upon that park boost, but having just two games compared to three for most others neutralizes that advantage somewhat.
Karabell: Ah, the Expos. Such fond memories — Tim Raines, Steve Rogers, Pepe Frias! You say load up on Padres hitters, which makes sense, but I am also paying attention to Los Gigantes. (Two years of high school Spanish!) OF Mitch Haniger just debuted on Monday and this seems like the perfect weekend for him and his outfield pals to launch a few home runs and return to the hearts of fantasy managers. The Giants roster four outfielders who have hit at least 25 home runs in a season since 2019, with Michael Conforto, Joc Pederson and Mike Yastrzemski joining Haniger in that group. Not one of them is rostered in even close to 25% of ESPN standard leagues. I think that changes this weekend.
You mentioned the altitude and potential for boosted offense and, voila, we have another Coors Field weekend, with the Arizona Diamondbacks visiting Denver for three fun games. It seems like a wise time for Arizona’s right-handed power hitters, facing several Rockies lefties, to start showing that power. Christian Walker and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. have combined for only four home runs, and those in daily formats may want to preemptively add Evan Longoria and Emmanuel Rivera. They should play and everyone hits in Denver!
Cockcroft: Longoria in Coors? C’est magnifique! (Five years of high school French, and yet I still can’t order “la pizza” in Montreal. Sigh.) Even better than Longoria, though, the Diamondbacks have been going Ketel Marte-Rivera-Gurriel-Walker-Longoria against the lefties, and you know I love those leadoff men when the overall lineup grades are good. Marte, by the way, has a whopping 103 point wOBA split favoring performance against lefties since 2020. I guess I know how he once hit 56 homers for me in a sim league.
I’m all in on the Twins offense, after their devilish 6-6-6 run totals from that early-week Yankees series, and now playing four at home against the weak-pitching Royals. All four Forecaster hitting grades are eight or better, and all four projected starters are right-handed. Neither of these guys has Marte-like, outrageous wOBA platoon splits, but Max Kepler has been a leadoff man (five times) and cleanup man (once) in Minnesota’s last six against righties, while Trevor Larnach has six cleanup starts as well as one apiece at Nos. 3, 5 and 6 in the last nine against a righty. Opportunity!
Jorge Polanco has also been on a tear since returning from the IL, hitting in five straight with an active three-game multihit streak. All in all, this could be a very, very good weekend for the home team in Minnesota.
Karabell: We have a World Series rematch in Houston this weekend, and fantasy managers may be wondering why there are four Phillies hurlers among the top-125 pitchers on the ESPN Player Rater — yet none are named Aaron Nola or Zack Wheeler. Yeah, a combined 5.07 ERA between these potential top-10 fantasy starters is not exactly getting it done, and things may not improve in Houston. Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN features Phillies LHP Bailey Falter and Astros RHP Jose Urquidy. Keep an eye on Urquidy, for if his struggles continue (5.64 ERA), it will be easier for the franchise to remove him for Lance McCullers Jr. or former top prospect Forrest Whitley, who seems to be back on track at Triple-A.
There’s also an interesting Cardinals-Dodgers series in Los Angeles with 2022 playoff teams that are not exactly thriving. The Cardinals, much to the chagrin of many a fantasy manager, demoted prospect Jordan Walker, even though he seemed to be performing just fine. Perhaps it will signal fantasy managers to gravitate toward Lars Nootbaar and Alec Burleson. On the Dodgers side, I can’t stop paying attention to Mookie Betts playing shortstop. As you noted earlier this week, positional eligibility is definitely something to watch in ESPN leagues. I’m just amazed at how versatile Betts is!
Cockcroft: Speaking of the broadcast schedule, ESPN+ has games from two of the series I’m interested in for fantasy. The Cubs-Marlins series has the Chicago’s high-achieving pitching staff visiting a notorious pitcher’s park and, while I suggested on Wednesday to cash in Justin Steele‘s chip, I don’t see him or Marcus Stroman faltering while facing that matchup, buying you a little more shopping time.
Stroman-Jesus Luzardo is the Friday ESPN+ game, and Saturday’s is Orioles-Tigers, where the visitor again stands out from a matchups perspective. Dean Kremer starts that one, making him a deeeeeep streaming option, though I’ve got my eyes on the “Rodriguez Rematch” with Grayson facing Eduardo on Friday after the two worked that great pitchers’ duel in their last turns. You almost always want a right-handed starter — heck, any starter will do, but especially the righties — against the Tigers, so make sure Grayson Rodriguez and Kyle Gibson are both in your lineups. I’d also load up on Orioles relievers where I can. A little birdie told me that Yennier Cano is a worthy pickup, and I’m on board most especially this weekend. Felix Bautista might still be the closer, but holds are worth two points!
I’m also watching to what degree Zach Eflin steps things up in his second turn since returning from the IL, and he’ll pitch a road game against a seriously slumping White Sox team. The Rays certainly need Eflin to pad out their pitching depth, and I think he’ll be up to the task.
Karabell: I’m just here to talk about birdies and Expos. Remember Warren Cromartie? Anyway, this is the final weekend of April and, while we preach to fantasy managers that they should not look at their league standings until Memorial Day, who are we kidding? We all do. (Except me.) It’s certainly not panic time, but I do get the feeling when the calendar turns to May many of us will pay closer attention to some of the hitters we liked so much who aren’t hitting their weight. You know, circling back to Mexico City, check out that ghastly Juan Soto batting average, for example. He ranks No. 174 out of 179 batting average qualifiers. Are you confident in trading for Soto in roto formats?
There’s more. Boston 1B Triston Casas isn’t hitting. Royals C/OF MJ Melendez — eligibility watch! — isn’t hitting. What’s up with Marlins 2B/OF Jazz Chisholm Jr., Blue Jays OF Daulton Varsho and Orioles SS/3B Gunnar Henderson? They aren’t Soto, of course, but fantasy managers are moving on. I know you never panic, but you have to look at low batting averages at some point, right?
Cockcroft: Even you look at your standings. C’mon, you know you do. My addendum to that advice is always, “Just make sure your categories are OK and balanced.” It’s as simple as that. Stuff like “Jazz Chisholm Jr. is struggling?” Nah. Hard pass. He’s only down 6% in rostership since draft day because people don’t understand his awkward fit to points-based scoring. (In other words, he whiffs a lot.) But, if you rostered him, more than most he’s one with whom you need patience.
Soto? I’m not worried. The Padres haven’t really hit their momentum, and all of his underlying metrics look pretty clean. He’s on pace for a career-best hard-hit rate! Maybe this is the weekend in which he’ll break through.
Beyond that, there are too many names to get specific. (Maybe I need two more buy low/sell high columns to cover them all.) I get it, it’s tougher this year because you can’t stand by bad stats. Still, I’m with you, generally preaching patience. I’ll throw a hitter sleeper to wrap up my takes for the weekend: Spencer Steer, available in 95%-plus of leagues, and his Reds face the terrible Athletics, two of the three starters are left-handed, and he’s a career .275/.396/.475 hitter against that side. Who’ve you got?
Karabell: The Pittsburgh Pirates are fun! They should score many runs in Washington this weekend, with outfielders Jack Suwinski, Connor Joe and Ji Hwan Bae each available in more than 85% of ESPN standard leagues. Suwinski offers power and patience. Joe is proving he can hit outside of Coors Field. Bae is running wild. The Nationals do not throw good pitching this weekend. Enjoy!