As we head into the MLB season's fourth weekend, there isn't much around the league that is settled. Injuries have been a constant so far, with especially big names impacted, and we're seemingly in the midst of yet another change in the league's offensive environment. 

Entering play Thursday, the league as a whole is hitting .246/.322/.402, and while those numbers might not jump off the page at you, it's a marked improvement over the .243/.312/.395 line from last season. But that doesn't actually capture the extent to which offense is inflated right now because April is typically the worst month of the season for hitters, thanks to the colder weather keeping the ball in the park more. 

No, we need a like-for-like comparison to really capture the picture. At the same point in the calendar a year ago, the league-wide line was just .231/.307/.369. That's a 48-point improvement in league-wide OPS, and the impacts have been felt all over the place. Runs up 15.9%. BABIP is up from .282 to .297, likely in large part thanks to rules limiting how aggressive teams can get with shifts, while changes in how many times pitchers can attempt to pick runners off have played a big part in the whopping 55% increase in steals through the league's first three weeks. 

Those impacts were at least somewhat expected, since we knew those rule changes were coming. The change that we couldn't have predicted is the increase in homers we've seen. Home runs are up 26.2% in just 4.8% more plate appearances year over year, with league-wide HR/FB rates jumping from 9.9%  to 12.0%. Whether it's because the pitch clock has made pitchers less effective overall -- an explanation I'm skeptical of, personally -- or there has been yet another change in the nature of the baseballs being used this season -- a seemingly more reasonable holistic explanation -- we're left dealing with what looks to be a radically different offensive environment for Fantasy.

The sample sizes are still relatively small, and we've seen fluctuations in-season before in these kinds of factors, so you don't need to overreact and make wholesale changes to your team or anything. But it's a macro trend we'll continue to observe as we reach the end of the season's first month. 

As I've done every week this season, I have a viewer's guide for the upcoming weekend's action here for you, with a bunch of waiver-wire targets to keep an eye on before Sunday's runs, plus the latest bullpen and injury news you need to now about: 

Waiver-wire starting pitchers to watch

These players are listed roughly in order of how interested I am in adding them: 

  • Tyler Mahle (73%) vs. WAS, Friday -- Mahle's 4.11 ERA doesn't do him enough credit for how well he's actually pitched so far, with a 27.7% strikeout rate and 7.7% walk rate plus solid quality-of-contact metrics across the board. His past two starts haven't been great, but they've been against tough matchups -- the Nationals should help make his numbers more attractive. 
  • Garrett Whitlock (63%) @MIL, Saturday -- Whitlock's most recent start was a lot more like what I expect to see from him; he went seven innings, allowing one run with five strikeouts. It's still not clear he can thrive in the rotation the same way he did out of the bullpen, but I'm going to be on a guy with a 26.2% strikeout rate and 2.86 ERA over his MLB career. 
  • Yusei Kikuchi (56%) @NYY, Friday -- When Kikuchi looks good, he tends to look really, really good. He's consistently a good source of strikeouts, and that means he's always going to have enticing upside. Of course, when he doesn't get strikeouts, he tends to get hit really, really hard -- 92.7 mph average exit velocity so far this season, for example. The Yankees are well suited to crush him, but if he thrives in this one, it'll be hard to ignore. 
  • Domingo German (46%) vs. TOR, Friday -- German might've gotten a little bit of help in his last start, but he's still had eight or more strikeouts in two of his three starts so far. Funny enough, he has zero in the other, so it's been a land of contrasts for German to date. Still, the upside he's shown so far is interesting enough to make him worth watching. 
  • Seth Lugo (64%) @ARI, Friday -- Lugo is another pitcher who has some questions about how much of his bullpen success will translate to a full-time starter's role, but so far, he's looked pretty good. He remains pretty tough to square up and is getting solid strikeout numbers. I remain intrigued. 
  • Drey Jameson (61%) vs. STL, Sunday -- Jameson's one great pitch in his slider, and then a couple of fastballs he probably needs to figure out how to control better. It's an interesting skill set, one I have some faith in, though I'd admittedly feel better if he was willing to throw his slider as his primary pitch. Until we see that, he'll probably remain more "interesting" than "useful." 
  • Brayan Bello (35%) @MIL, Sunday -- Bello's first start off the IL earlier this week was a disaster, the kind of start -- five earned runs on eight hits in 2.2 innings of work -- that might just scare you off completely. I'm not giving up on the talented 23-year-old just yet, but after a tough first taste of the majors last season, he has to start showing us something. He could start this weekend. 
  • Braxton Garrett (12%) @CLE, Friday -- I think Garrett is probably a bit unfairly overlooked. OK, fine, at this point in the season, it makes sense to chase upside, and I'll grant he probably doesn't have a ton of that. But I think he deserves to be rostered in more than 13% of leagues, at least. 

Waiver-wire hitters to watch

These players are listed roughly in order of how interested in adding them I am: 

  • Vaughn Grissom (74%) -- Grissom  hasn't done much yet to live up to the hype, but let's remember, he hit .291/.353/.440 with a near 20-20 pace as a rookie last season, so there's plenty of upside still here. The first sign of life is going to send his roster rate close to universal. 
  • Edouard Julien (35%) -- Julien has only walked once so far, which is a pretty significant surprise given his minor-league track record. That'll come, I bet, because he has shown pretty strong plate discipline, with just an 11.1% chase rate while swinging at 76.5% of pitches in the strike zone. That seems like a pretty good mixture for a guy with pop. 
  • Zachary Neto (44%) -- Another prospect who hasn't quite proven himself yet, Neto's roster rate will spike once he gives us any reason to get excited. You'll need to keep an eye on him. 
  • Jorge Soler (52%) -- I don't get the hesitance to buy into Soler. We've seen him play at a high level before, just like he is right now, with the quality-of-contact metrics to back it up -- his .446 expected wOBA is actually slightly better than his .408 actual mark. I'm buying in. 
  • Trent Grisham (52%) -- Grisham was hit with unreasonable expectations early on in his career, and his inability to live up to them has seemingly hurt him in many Fantasy players' eyes. But he's off to a pretty good start, with just a bit of bad luck on balls in play the only thing really holding him back. I don't think Grisham will sustain his massive 94 mph average exit velocity, but it's not unreasonable to think he can be a starting-caliber option moving forward, assuming he doesn't start to lose playing time with Fernando Tatis back. Seeing as how he was in the lineup and had a big game Thursday in Tatis' return, that doesn't seem like much of a concern. 
  • Joey Gallo (42%) -- Like Soler, I think Gallo probably deserves more love than he's gotten so far. We're dealing with small sample sizes because of his IL stint, but his average exit velocity is 99 mph right now -- he's absolutely crushing it. Yes, we all know his limitations as a source of average, but when Gallo is locked in, he's a rare source of power, and I think last year's struggles are behind him. 
  • Francisco Alvarez (54%) -- When they called him up, the Mets made it clear Alvarez would have to force his way into the lineup regularly, but they did make it clear he could. We haven't seen it from him yet, and he'll remain the smaller side of the catcher split until he does. But a hot weekend could always change that. 
  • Joshua Lowe (60%) -- Lowe has been terrific so far, hitting the ball with authority while making a lot of contact. The question now is whether he can hit enough to force the Rays to play him every day. Given his team, that's asking a lot, but there's a potential 20-20 guy here even if they don't increase his playing time. 

The cut watchlist

We're not necessarily dropping these guys yet, but we're certainly putting them on notice. 

  • Grayson Rodriguez (85%) -- The key here is going to be the changeup. It was supposed to be Rodriguez's best pitch, but for his first two starts, it was a pretty mediocre pitch for him. He seemed to find his feel for it after a slow start against the White Sox on Sunday, ultimately racking up eight swings and misses with it. I'm more encouraged than not, and I wouldn't drop him even with a bad start here, but I just wanted an excuse to write about Rodriguez and this was my best one.
  • Kyle Wright (96%) -- To be clear, there's probably nothing that could happen that would lead me to drop Wright this weekend. But I want to highlight him here to note that I won't have a super-long leash with him, given his lack of track record. He was terrific last season, but his control has looked shaky coming back from a shoulder issue this offseason, and his velocity is down nearly 2 mph on his fastball so far. I'm concerned. 
  • Lance Lynn (95%) -- As with Wright, this one is more about noting that my concern level is certainly higher than zero with Lynn. It's worth noting that he had a 7.50 ERA through his first five starts before turning things around with a 2.52 mark over his final 14 last season, so he's earned the benefit of the doubt. But he's on notice.  
  • Andrew Benintendi (79%) -- What would you say you do here? He hits for basically no power and doesn't steal bases anymore, so Benintendi basically doesn't have any value for Fantasy if he isn't hitting for a high batting average. I just don't know why his roster rate is so high at this point.
  • Miles Mikolas (78%) -- Mikolas relies on command and weak contact, which means he's supposed to have a relatively high floor to make up for what he lacks in upside. Well, he has an 8.10 ERA that is somehow better than his 8.36 expected ERA right now, so he's not giving you that. Even if you end up regretting dropping Mikolas, it probably isn't the level of regret you'll sit and stew with.  
  • Jake McCarthy (64%) -- Prior to starting (and going hitless) Thursday against the Padres, McCarthy had started just three of the prior six games for the Diamondbacks. With so many players running wild these days, suddenly McCarthy's skill set doesn't look so impressive. He might just be a marginal bat who may not be a difference maker in steals in this environment. 
  • Tyler Anderson (63%) -- The case for Anderson is a lot like the case for Mikolas, and since he too has an ugly ERA with worse underlying metrics, the case against him is a lot like the case against Mikolas, too.  
  • Triston Casas (63%) -- I still have faith in Casas, but admittedly, this has been a pretty horrendous start to the season for him. The 23-year-old has struck out in 31.7% of his plate appearances and has an ugly .177 xBA. He's hitting the ball relatively hard, with a 90.8 mph average exit velocity, but there's a lot of inconsistency there too, as evidenced by his pedestrian 34.3% hard-hit rate. If you've got the roster space to play with, hang on to him, but I can't say he's a must-roster player. 
  • Brandon Drury (57%)/Joey Meneses (56%) -- It's fitting that Drury and Meneses have similar roster rates, because they carry similar profiles. Both were electric in relatively small sample sizes last season, and it made some sense to take a shot on them in the mid-to-late rounds in drafts when they cost relatively little. However, both also had to prove themselves and neither has so far, to say the least. Both are completely droppable. 

Closer situations to watch

 Here are the most uncertain ninth inning situations in the game right now and what we've seen the past few days. 

  • Royals: Scott Barlow pitched the ninth inning Wednesday down six runs, which we wouldn't normally care about, except that Barlow was awful again, this time giving up three runs. His ERA is up to 9.45 and he has six walks in 6.2 innings of work, while Aroldis Chapman has yet to give up a run with 13 strikeouts and only two walks in seven innings. The Royals haven't made it official, but Chapman has to be the guy moving forward, right? 
  • Phillies: We thought the Phillies might be a tough bullpen to figure out, but at this point, it feels like another situation where one guy has to be the closer. Jose Alvarado has been unhittable, with 18 strikeouts to four hits and no walks through 8.1 innings. He has two saves, while Gregory Soto, Craig Kimbrel, and Seranthony Dominguez have all ranged from hit-or-miss to downright dreadful. I'd bet on Alvarado getting the next few opportunities.
  • Mets: Early on, it looked like David Robertson was going to be the clear favorite for saves in Edwin Diaz's absence, but suddenly Adam Ottavino has the last two saves for them. In at least one instance, Wednesday, Robertson pitched the eighth inning against the top of the Dodgers lineup, so I don't think that was a case of them losing faith in him. But this might be more like a 60-40 split. 
  • Cubs: It sure seems like the Cubs want Fulmer to be the closer, but he's just been shaky, allowing a grand slam to James Outman on Thursday while recording just one out in the ninth. Brandon Hughes, who got eight saves for them last season, made his season debut Monday and has five strikeouts in three innings, though I'd bet on Brad Boxberger getting the next save here. 

Injury Report

Here's what you need to know from the latest injury/news updates around the league: 

  • Max Scherzer has been suspended 10 games due to the use of a foreign substance during his most recent start. Scherzer had the right to appeal, but has opted not to, so we won't see him until next week. Make sure to get him out of your lineups for Week 5. 
  • Corbin Burnes (pectoral) and Hunter Greene (leg) will face off Sunday, as both have gotten past their respective minor issues. Both are worth starting, obviously. 
  • Liam Hendriks announced Thursday he is cancer free. The White Sox opted not to put him on the 60-day IL to open the season, so there's a chance he'll ramp up shortly and could be back with the team within the next month. Make sure he's not on the waiver-wire in your league, because if he gets up to speed, he can be one of the best closers in baseball. 
  • Jameson Taillon was placed on the IL with what's being called a "mild to moderate" groin strain. He will likely miss more than the minimum 15 days, I would guess, and is droppable if you don't have a spare IL spot.
  • Bryce Harper (elbow) took live batting practice for the first time this week and has been throwing from 60 feet. Phillies manager Rob Thompson told reporters Thursday that Harper could return without needing a minor-league rehab assignment, and he could play first base before he gets into the outfield. Getting 1B eligibility wouldn't be a bad thing, and at this point, I'm kind of expecting Harper back before the end of May. 
  • Tony Gonsolin (ankle) made his first rehab appearance at Triple-A this week, and could be a week or two away from being cleared to make his season debut.
  • Carlos Rodon (forearm/back) will not throw for a few days and is set to have a CT scan of his back taken. At this point, it sounds like the back is a non-issue, but it has certainly delayed his hoped for return, and I'm not expecting him back until well into May. 
  • Starling Marte sat out Thursday's game with a stiff neck, but could be back in the lineup Friday.
  • Dodgers catcher Will Smith remains on the concussion IL and is not expected back this weekend. It's impossible to put a timetable on this kind of situation, so check back in before lineups lock for next week.
  • Logan O'Hoppe left Thursday's game with a left shoulder injury and will be re-evaluated in the coming days. Let's hope it's not a serious issue. 
  • Jorge Polanco (knee) has been on his rehab assignment playing full games in the field and could be back to the Twins lineup soon. What that means for Julien's status remains to be seen. 
  • Alex Wood will miss at least several weeks with a hamstring strain. Ross Stripling will likely return to the Giants rotation while Wood is out.
  • Joey Lucchesi will make his return from Tommy John surgery Friday against the Mets, who have placed Carlos Carrasco (elbow) on the IL. Lucchesi has allowed four runs with 16 strikeouts in 15.2 innings across three minor-league rehab appearances, getting up over 80 pitches in his last two outings. He could be stretched out enough to remain in the rotation, though he hasn't shown enough over the years to think he'll be much more than a deep-league option for Fantasy.