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For even more statistics and advice to help you set your Baseball Challenge lineup, check out Tristan's Week 18 Fantasy Forecaster!
They say pitching wins ballgames. And they'd be right.
If you're a faithful reader of my weekly Baseball Challenge strategy column, you might remember one reader's comment about the presence of a "Cockcroft Curse," regarding the selection of my weekly pitching staff. At the time, I had run into a bit of hard luck at that particular position, an Ervin Santana start that generated an unsightly minus-44 points for the Angels' staff that still has me reeling.
I look at my current BBC full-year standing -- 1,290th and in the 97.8th percentile -- and can't help wondering where have things been going wrong? Last year, I rarely slipped below the 99.8th percentile and spent the vast majority at around 100.0 percent, so it has certainly been a bit of a frustrating season.
Breaking down the numbers, pitching has been the problem, and at this point, I suppose the threat of a "Cockcroft Curse" has to be taken somewhat seriously. Consider this: Since Memorial Day (Monday of Week 8) -- coincidentally the day of that miserable Santana start -- my pitching-staff selections have generated a total of 758 BBC points in 62 games, a disappointing 12.2 per contest.
A good example of that frustration: My past-week pick, the Red Sox, a top-10 BBC staff, were routed in three of four games by the Athletics, who even with those outbursts rank 27th in the majors in team OPS (.702).
Can't say I saw a 22-points-in-four-games performance coming, and if you did, you're lying. It just goes to show you how important it is not only to pick the right matchups, but to also get a bit of luck doing so. I'll continue to trust the numbers, the trends and most importantly my gut instinct, but my best advice to you is to do the same. Do you believe in curses? I wouldn't fault you if you did, but there's a darned good reason I like the pitching staffs I do, and I still stand by the picks.
With that, let's roll right into the weekly pitching picks:
1. San Francisco Giants (@HOU-3, CIN-3 -- two-start pitcher Matt Cain), 6.5 price tag: I love this staff, love these matchups and love that two-start pitcher. Here's a shocker: Can you name the staff with the most points thus far in the BBC this season? Nope, it's not the Dodgers; it's the Giants and their major league-leading 3.50 ERA. Even with Randy Johnson done for the year and perhaps his career, this staff is in fine shape with two untouchable aces in Cain and Tim Lincecum, and pretty much anytime this staff gets two starts out of either, it's BBC-worthy.
2. New York Mets (ARI-1, STL-2, @SD-4 -- two-start pitcher Johan Santana), 5.3.: A great big thank-you from BBC players to Omar Minaya, whose distractions seem to have taken the focus off the players on the field, allowing them to get back to playing good baseball. Though the Mets dropped a critical four-game set in Atlanta coming out of the break, losing three times, since then this team has picked up the pace a bit, carried by a pitching staff that has sported a 3.45 second-half ERA. The ballpark makes this staff ever so attractive, even facing an offense like St. Louis', and a subsequent four-game trip to Petco Park can't be any tastier. Even with a spot starter (Tim Redding?) needed Monday, the fact that ace Santana gets two turns this week and the Mets have perfectly aligned two left-handers to face the inept-versus-lefties Cardinals maximizes this team's matchups potential.
3. Tampa Bay Rays (KC-1, BOS-2, @SEA-3 -- two-start pitcher Scott Kazmir), 5.6: As in the Mets' matchups above, there's a scary two-game set in here, that being the two home contests against the rival Red Sox. But here's my thinking: The Rays know they need every win they can get versus Boston and New York, and matchups against the Red Sox -- at least at home -- haven't scared them in the slightest in the recent past. (Check the Forecaster, the specific stats are there.) Besides, this is a great pitching staff in Tropicana Field games; the Rays have an 88-41 record, 3.56 ERA and 1.26 WHIP at home since the beginning of last season.
4. Philadelphia Phillies (COL-3, FLA-3 -- two-start pitcher Jamie Moyer), 5.4: Care to critique my selection of a team with a 46-year-old as its lone two-start pitcher? Think again. Moyer has thoroughly dominated the Marlins while wearing a Phillies uniform; he's 13-2 with a 2.83 ERA, 1.04 WHIP in 15 career starts against them. He's no worry, and that this team added Cliff Lee will only pick up the staff's statistics, which weren't great in the early stages of the season. Did you know, though, that the Phillies have won 14 of their past 17 home games, due in large part to the pitching staff's 3.21 ERA and 1.10 WHIP?,/p>
The sleeper: Kansas City Royals (@TB-1, SEA-3, OAK-3 -- two-start pitchers Zack Greinke and Luke Hochevar), 5.2: I didn't buy for a second that the team was going to deal Brian Bannister, who is still under 30 years old, and he, Greinke and Hochevar represent three reliable young arms set to face favorable matchups this week. But here's the other thing that has me slotting the Royals in as a sleeper: Kyle Davies, 4-2 with a 2.06 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in seven starts for Triple-A Omaha since his demotion, might get a crack at either Wednesday's or Thursday's start.
Monday, Aug. 3 -- There's a pitchers' duel in Tampa Bay, as Scott Kazmir takes on the aforementioned Zack Greinke, and pressed to pick, it's Kazmir I'd nab. Kansas City has the thinner offense, and Kazmir has that home advantage, with a 3.59 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 355 K's in 310 2/3 innings in 52 starts since 2006. Still, neither pitcher comes close to the standout matchup that is the Giants' Matt Cain at Houston. It's a good day to load up on Pirates (facing Washington's Garrett Mock) and Diamondbacks (facing a Mets spot-starter), if you can find any, but I have faith that the red-hot Cubs can also handle the struggling Aaron Harang. Their active hitters have combined to bat .299 with an .855 OPS against him in their careers.
Tuesday, Aug. 4 -- Javier Vazquez might not be a consistent winner, but all his other numbers are superb, and he'll work at San Diego's Petco Park, which is an automatic start at this point. Atlanta all the way. Jason Hammel has been in quite a funk, and Phillies always make good offensive choices in home games.
Wednesday, Aug. 5 -- Having gotten off to a rocky start, the Cubs' Rich Harden might appear a scarier daily matchup than is the reality. More relevant when evaluating his chances is that he's 2-0 with an 0.95 ERA and 0.53 WHIP in his past three starts, including defeating the Reds on July 26, limiting them to a mere solo home run while striking out eight in six innings. Don't fear the matchup at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park. I'll stick with Phillies hitters coming off their favorable Tuesday matchup versus Hammel; this one comes against the lefty, Jorge De La Rosa. In particular, switch-hitters Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino are a combined 6-for-13 with one homer in their careers against him.
Thursday, Aug. 6 -- We all know about the Pirates' fire sale leading into the trade deadline, and since the All-Star break they have batted .229 as a team, averaged 3.2 runs per game and managed a .646 OPS. So when I see Arizona's Max Scherzer, a young, talented strikeout artist, set to face them, I can't help getting excited. Expect many fireworks in that Red Sox-Yankees game, with John Smoltz and Sergio Mitre the scheduled starters. Boston's lefty bats match up nicely; left-handed hitters are 11-for-27 (.407 BA) against Mitre in his first two Yankee starts.
Friday, Aug. 7 -- Do you really need me to advise you to pick the Giants and Tim Lincecum facing most any matchup? The Cardinals and Chris Carpenter at Pittsburgh is another standout choice, but if you're looking to save some bucks with a sleeper, take a look at Philadelphia and Joe Blanton. The last time he faced the Marlins, he shut them out for seven innings and struck out 11 on May 26, and like this Thursday, that game was at Citizens Bank Park. Hot tip: Jeremy Sowers has never beaten the White Sox; he's 0-6 in seven career appearances against them. Even Jim Thome (6-for-13, .462 BA, 3 HRs) tends to tee off against Sowers.
Saturday, Aug. 8 -- Adam Wainwright has seven consecutive quality starts, during which time he has a 1.35 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 51 K's in 53 1/3 innings. He and the Cardinals are no-brainers in a game at Pittsburgh. Kenshin Kawakami has been pretty shaky on the road in his first year in the States; opponents are batting .289 with a .928 OPS against him in nine road starts. Advantage: Dodgers.
Sunday, Aug. 9 -- Again, the Giants are no-brainers on days that either Cain or Lincecum pitches, and it's not like the Reds boast an especially threatening offense. The Mets behind Johan Santana at Petco Park is an obvious steal for Sunday, though, accounting for their affordable 5.3 price tag. I'll pick on Hammel again, especially in light of the fact that opponents are batting .370 with a .988 OPS against him at Coors. The red-hot Cubs have the firepower to tear him apart.
Total Segment 2 points: 674.
Percentage: 89.9. Overall rank: 2,355th.
Ranking in Fantasy Editorial Group: 124th. Total points for 2009 season: 4,639.
Percentage: 97.8. Overall rank: 1,290th.
Total Segment 2 points: 905.
Percentage: 99.5. Overall rank: 304th.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here.