The red-hot Cincinnati Reds, the talk of baseball while winning five in a row and 7-of-9 since they promoted top prospect Elly De La Cruz, continue what is a somewhat challenging 22-day stretch to conclude the month of June.

This weekend, the Reds travel to Minute Maid Park to take on the defending champion Houston Astros, winners of 12 of their past 15 games at home and 22 of their last 33 overall. The Reds are scheduled to start two of the Forecaster‘s 20 highest-projected starting pitchers for the weekend during the series, 11.7-point projected Andrew Abbott on Friday and 11.2-point projected Hunter Greene on Saturday, meaning this team has more of a fighting chance than you might suspect.

Abbott is the challenge play of the bunch, a lefty making only his third career start while going up against an offense with a wOBA 26 points better against lefties (.334) than righties (.308), albeit one who has pitched exceptionally in his first two outings to earn our trust. The risk here centers upon his control (14.9% walk rate) and fly-ball leaning (36.7% rate), which can be problematic when facing the Astros lineup. Abbott remains available in 75% of ESPN leagues.

It would be better for Reds hitters to draw lefty- rather than righty-heavy matchups as they’re 13 points better in wOBA against lefties (.329) than righties (.316) for the season — and the Forecaster concurs in evaluating their current lineup. That said, it shouldn’t be overlooked that since May 24, a date since when the Reds are 14-7, they place three hitters within the top 25 in fantasy points: Spencer Steer (77 points, eighth-best), Jonathan India (68, 10th) and Matt McLain (58, tied for 21st). All three plus the sizzling De La Cruz, the most exciting recent arrival for rotisserie play, are available in at least 13.9% of ESPN leagues, and all but India are out there in more than 25%. That demands immediate correction, despite the on-paper look of a tricky rest-of-June schedule that, beyond this Astros series, involves the Atlanta Braves (home, June 23-25), Baltimore Orioles (road, June 26-28) and San Diego Padres (home, June 30-July 2).

Passing the Snell test

Would you believe that, two years and eight months after the infamous pitch-count debacle of the 2020 World Series, soon after which he was traded to the Padres, Blake Snell will finally face his former mates for the first time? Yes, the improving Padres, winners of 8-of-12 in June, host the MLB-best Tampa Bay Rays for three weekend games, with Snell pitching on Saturday.

Snell is another of the weekend’s biggest challenge plays, a pitch-inefficient hurler with tremendous raw stuff who is riding a streak of three consecutive quality starts, the last of which was a 12-strikeout gem at Colorado’s Coors Field. He is, however, going up against an offense that the Forecaster grades as the scariest for a left-handed pitcher, one with second-best seasonal numbers in wOBA (.375) and hard-hit rate (46.2%). It’s another case of “streak over matchup” in what’s more likely to be a pitching- than hitting-rich series besides. That said, Joe Musgrove, the Padres’ Sunday starter, most warrants bench-and-evaluate status, considering the admission that he has been dealing with elbow bursitis in recent weeks.

Fortune favors the Braves

The Braves are the team best aligned for fantasy success this weekend, with a four-game series at home against the third-worst road record of the Colorado Rockies (13-22) concluding what has been an extremely soft portion of their schedule. This weekend continues to be a favorable time to keep Eddie Rosario, 94% available in ESPN leagues and a .283/.327/.609 hitter with four home runs in 11 June games, Orlando Arcia, 73% available and a .378/.417/.467 hitter in 12 June games, and Bryce Elder, who is 19% available and is coming off consecutive so-so outings but has a 3.00 ERA in eight starts since the beginning of May, in your lineups.

Incidentally, as the Braves have progressed through this light portion of their schedule, both Raisel Iglesias and A.J. Minter have returned start-worthy fantasy value. Minter (three saves, three holds, a 1.50 ERA in June and 86% available) has outpitched Iglesias (four saves, a 5.14 ERA in June and 28% available) of late.

The rest of the NL East

The Braves’ division rivals, the Miami Marlins, aren’t in much worse a spot, with a three-game road series against the third-worst home record of the Washington Nationals (12-21). These teams will meet for the first time in 2023 after the Marlins took 15-of-19 last season. The Marlins seem to have finally settled on a regular outfield, consisting of Bryan De La Cruz, Jesus Sanchez and Jorge Soler, all of whom are available in more than 35% of ESPN leagues. All three should find their way into your lineups.

What might have been one of this weekend’s most highly anticipated matchups at the onset of the season has become a matchup of severely underperforming teams, as the fourth-place, four-games-under-.500 New York Mets host the National League’s worst team, the St. Louis Cardinals (27-42), for three. Neither Max Scherzer (scheduled for Monday) nor Justin Verlander (Tuesday) is aligned for this series, so these games could be more hitting- than pitching-oriented. Rookies Francisco Alvarez, who has hit four home runs while starting each of the Mets’ past seven games and is 74% available, and Jordan Walker, who has hit safely in eight straight games and is 63% available, are well worth adding and starting.

Hot in Cleveland?

Finally, the NL West-leading Arizona Diamondbacks could be in for a tougher weekend than expected, despite being the home team for their three-game series against the Cleveland Guardians. After ace Zac Gallen starts the opener, the Diamondbacks are scheduled to roll out their two weakest starters, Tommy Henry (Saturday) and Zach Davies (Sunday), which boosts the matchups for Josh Bell, Andres Gimenez and Josh Naylor, all of whom are available in at least 34% of ESPN leagues. As Guardians right-handed hitters enjoy 10-grade ratings for the series, this might also be the weekend during which Amed Rosario breaks through.

Meanwhile, Guardians starters Triston McKenzie (scheduled for Friday), Shane Bieber (Saturday) and Tanner Bibee (Sunday) face among their stiffer recent tests. Bibee, who hasn’t exceeded five innings in any of his past three starts and struggled in his most recent turn in San Diego, is the one most deserving of a seat on your bench.