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Saturday, April 14, 2007
Challenge Week 3: Martin, Upton are must-plays

By Tristan Cockcroft
ESPN.com

Each week, Tristan H. Cockcroft offers his strategies for the Baseball Challenge game. Look for his best bargains, busts and daily specials every Sunday.

Bargains

CATCHER: It's a fine week for the Dodgers and Russell Martin (5.1 price tag), as they play two games at Colorado's Coors Field, sandwiched by two against the Diamondbacks' fourth and fifth starters and three against the Pirates' shaky staff. Two of the Pittsburgh games, incidentally, come against left-handers (Tom Gorzelanny and Paul Maholm).
Others to consider: Joe Mauer (5.8), Carlos Ruiz (4.4).

FIRST BASE: Pay the big money for the Astros' Lance Berkman (5.9) this week. He mashes right-handers, with a .314 batting average and 1.037 OPS against them for his career, and he'll face six of them in seven games. Don't worry about Aaron Harang or Ben Sheets, either; Berkman has hit them well in his career.
Others to consider: Ryan Howard (6.2), Justin Morneau (6.2), Nomar Garciaparra (4.7).

SECOND BASE: The Twins' Luis Castillo (4.9) isn't a flashy player in this format, but remember, the Baseball Challenge is about earning bases, not merely hitting for power. With three games against Seattle and three against Kansas City, neither of which boasts stellar, deep pitching staffs, he could rack up the hits, runs scored and stolen bases.
Others to consider: Chase Utley (6.2), Jeff Kent (5.4), Placido Polanco (4.6).

THIRD BASE: Until he cools off, the Devil Rays' B.J. Upton (4.8) is too good a bargain to bench. He's batting .379 with a 1.006 OPS through eight games. This week, he faces three left-handers, and don't overlook that he's a .371/.924 career hitter against them.
Others to consider: Wes Helms (5.1), Nick Punto (4.9), Andy Marte (4.7).

SHORTSTOP: The Padres' Khalil Greene (5.0) absolutely loves to hit at Colorado's Coors Field, and where does he finish the week? That's right, with three weekend games at Coors. Sure, his pairs of games at Chicago and against Arizona aren't anything special, but it's worth using him at this price based on the Colorado contests alone.
Others to consider: Jimmy Rollins (6.3), Rafael Furcal (5.9), Carlos Guillen (5.5).

LEFT FIELD: The Dodgers' Luis Gonzalez (5.3) has gotten off to a nice start, batting .323 with two homers in nine games. With a player of his age, it's best to enjoy his streaks while they last. He returns to Arizona for two games to begin the week, then has two more in Colorado, with all four contests against right-handers; then he comes home to face the Pirates' so-so staff.
Others to consider: Carlos Lee (6.1), Pat Burrell (5.4).

CENTER FIELD: Open up the wallet and get the Indians' Grady Sizemore (6.4). He's averaging 7.2 points per game, second only to Alex Rodriguez among regulars, and he'll face the tattered Yankees staff for three games before finishing with three against Devil Rays right-handers. At this rate, he should become the priciest player in the game in no time!
Others to consider: Torii Hunter (5.2), Curtis Granderson (5.1).

RIGHT FIELD: Right field is a deep enough position that you can save some money and still get decent value, and the Phillies' Shane Victorino (4.8) fits the bill. Sure, Philadelphia is off to a slow start, but two games at Washington and three at Cincinnati should cure what ails the team, and the No. 2 hitter in that stacked order should surely benefit.
Others to consider: Michael Cuddyer (5.1), Andre Ethier (4.6).

DESIGNATED HITTER: Really, the only reason the Indians' Travis Hafner (5.9) slipped below 6.0 in price tag was that Cleveland had so many games postponed; anytime he dips below that cutoff, pounce. He's a monster point producer in this system, and the Cleveland schedule is a great one.
Also consider: Luke Scott (4.6).

PITCHING STAFF: The Milwaukee Brewers' staff shapes up as one of the league's best when healthy, and right now, it's healthy. It's the fourth-ranked staff in the majors in WHIP through Friday (1.119), and eighth in BAA (.239). Two games at Cincinnati could prove a challenge, but at least Chris Capuano and Dave Bush get those starts, then the team faces the sluggish Pittsburgh and Houston offenses to complete the week.
Others to consider: Minnesota Twins (5.9), Houston Astros (5.4).

Busts

CATCHER: The Braves' Brian McCann (5.7) isn't as lethal a hitter against left-handers (.282/.832) as right-handers (.326/.920), and he'll face three lefties this week, as well as the Cubs' Carlos Zambrano. Don't be fooled by those two games in Washington; his schedule is tough.
Others to avoid: Damian Miller (5.3), Ronny Paulino (4.5).

FIRST BASE: The Mets' Carlos Delgado (5.6) is another ordinary hitter against left-handers, having batted .226 with a .752 OPS against them in 2006. He'll face four of them in seven games this week, including three in a row Tuesday through Thursday.
Others to avoid: Adam LaRoche (5.0), Conor Jackson (4.9).

SECOND BASE: The Mariners face the Twins and Angels for three games apiece this week, and both of those are solid staffs backed by two of the best bullpens in the game. It's a good week to avoid Jose Lopez (4.7) and many of his teammates.
Others to avoid: Ron Belliard (5.6), Felipe Lopez (5.4).

THIRD BASE: The Mariners' Adrian Beltre (4.7) is historically a second-half standout who gets off to terrible starts, and 2007 has been no different. He's 3-for-22 (.136 AVG) with a .427 OPS to date, and, as mentioned before, he faces a treacherous schedule.
Others to avoid: Ryan Zimmerman (5.7), Chipper Jones (5.4).

SHORTSTOP: The Diamondbacks face nothing but the pitching-rich staffs of the Dodgers, Padres and Giants, and five of their games will come at pitching-friendly ballparks Petco Park and AT&T Park. As such, Stephen Drew (5.0) should take a seat on your bench.
Others to avoid: Jason Bartlett (4.7), Jack Wilson (4.7).

LEFT FIELD: The Pirates' Jason Bay (6.1) plays all seven games against teams that rank in the upper half of the league in ERA and WHIP, and among his individual opponents are Anthony Reyes, Adam Wainwright, Jason Schmidt and Brad Penny.
Others to avoid: Raul Ibanez (5.1), Chris B. Young (5.0).

CENTER FIELD: Again, the Diamondbacks battle three pitching-rich division rivals this week, but what makes Eric Byrnes (5.2) less appealing is that he'll have to face three power right-handers in the process: the Dodgers' Brad Penny, the Padres' Jake Peavy and the Giants' Matt Cain.
Others to avoid: Bill Hall (5.5), Juan Pierre (5.5).

RIGHT FIELD: Though the Mets' Shawn Green (5.2) has better job security now that Lastings Milledge is back in the minors, he shouldn't get too cozy. His four left-handed opponents should slow him down, and he did have only .277/.776 rates in 2006, after all.
Others to avoid: Sammy Sosa (5.3), Jose Guillen (4.9).

DESIGNATED HITTER: The Royals play three games at pitching-friendly Comerica Park, battling both Justin Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman, before finishing against the Twins. Keep Mike Sweeney (4.2) and most of his teammates on the sidelines in Week 3.
Also avoid: Jonny Gomes (4.8).

PITCHING STAFF: The Boston Red Sox (5.5) play seven games, but three of those come against the Blue Jays and three against the Yankees, and those are teams that can score runs. Boston's staff shouldn't be terrible, but it won't be worth the price tag this week.
Others to avoid: Toronto Blue Jays (4.8), New York Yankees (4.7).

Daily Specials

MONDAY: Phillies left fielder Pat Burrell (5.4 price tag) might annoy the home crowd with his strikeout ways, and Oliver Perez can be a K guy, but Burrell's 4-for-12 (.333 AVG), 3-HR lifetime record against O.P. is encouraging. Plus, he's a .305 hitter with a 1.004 OPS against lefties since 2005, and .282/.929 career at Citizens Bank Park.

TUESDAY: Brewers left fielder Geoff Jenkins (4.8) can be a spot-starting money saver, so long as you use him right, and Tuesday is one of those times. He's great against right-handers (.440 AVG, 3 HR, 25 AB in 2007), great against Matt Belisle (4-for-10, 2 RBI career) and, well, great at Great American Ballpark (.341 AVG, 10 HR, 123 AB career).

WEDNESDAY: Dodgers second baseman Jeff Kent (5.4) has always loved Coors Field; he hit .571 (8-for-14) with two homers there in 2006 and is a .354 career hitter (91-for-257) with 20 homers and a 1.120 OPS there. He's also particularly fond of the Rockies' Josh Fogg; he's a lifetime .481 hitter (13-for-27) with five homers against the right-hander.

THURSDAY: Reds center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. (5.0) has become rather fond of Houston veteran Woody Williams over the course of their careers, hitting .419 (13-for-31) with five homers against the right-hander. Also, since the opening of Great American Ballpark in 2003, Griffey has .280/.902 rates there and .287/.932 numbers against right-handers.

FRIDAY: Royals center fielder David DeJesus (4.7) is off to a nice start, fourth in the majors in total bases (26) through Thursday, and now he faces Sidney Ponson, who has a 6.39 ERA and .327 BAA since 2005. For his career, DeJesus has been an underrated hitter at home -- .302/.826 -- and these Royals should be apt to plate him often in this one.

SATURDAY: Padres shortstop Khalil Greene (5.0) would make the perfect Rockie. He has superstar-caliber numbers in his career at Coors Field, batting .358 with 11 homers, 29 RBI and a 1.229 OPS in 28 games. He hits Jeff Francis well, too: .353 AVG, 3 HR in 17 at-bats.

SUNDAY: Rangers third baseman Hank Blalock (4.8) might be overrated, but as a matchups type, there's a lot of value in him. He's great at home -- .302/.885 career rates -- and against right-handers -- .290/.851 -- and this is a home game that should come against a right-hander (Chad Gaudin). If Joe Kennedy starts, though, I'll take Michael Young (5.7) instead.

Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.