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Friday, August 14, 2009
Updated: August 16, 10:11 PM ET
Where does Pedro rank?

By Tristan H. Cockcroft
ESPN.com

Fantasy Forecaster updated Sunday, Aug. 16 at 10:11 p.m. ET.

Fantasy Forecaster

On tap: It's a week of pitchers on the comeback trail, as newest Phillies starter Pedro Martinez gets his first two-start week of 2009, including a weekend assignment at Citi Field against his former team the Mets. (It's a shame that series isn't as playoff-relevant as was expected entering the season.) The Athletics will also welcome Justin Duchscherer back to face the Yankees on Tuesday, giving them plenty of time to showcase him for a possible waiver trade, while the Cubs are expected to activate Ted Lilly back into their rotation on Monday.

Speaking of those Yankees, they and their division rivals the Red Sox will be at it again during the weekend in a three-game series at Boston. The teams have traded series sweeps all season; expect more high-octane baseball.

Quick click by section, if you're seeking advice in a specific area:
Team advantages | Weather report | Load up: Hitters
Sleeper hitters | Load up: Stolen bases | Load up: Pitchers
Projected starters | Two-start rankings | One-start bargains

Team advantages

The chart below lists each of the 30 MLB teams' number of games scheduled ("Gm"), home games ("Hm"), games versus right- and left-handed pitchers ("vs. RHP" and "vs. LHP") and games at either hitter- or pitcher-friendly ballparks.

* Note: Some teams' totals versus right- and left-handed pitchers exclude games against teams with unclear starters. They include: Diamondbacks (Saturday, @HOU).

Weather report

Ah, those East Coast contests. New York, Philadelphia and Washington face threats of rain in the early part of the week, as high as 50 percent in each city Wednesday and 40 percent Thursday. But they're not the only cities to watch; Cincinnati, Cleveland and Detroit face a 40 percent chance of rain on both Tuesday and Thursday. Giants-Reds on Wednesday is also at 50 percent.

Weatherproof games: Marlins at Astros (3, Tue-Thu); Diamondbacks at Astros (3, Fri-Sun); Red Sox at Blue Jays (3, Tue-Thu); Angels at Blue Jays (3, Fri-Sun); Orioles at Rays (3, Tue-Thu); Rangers at Rays (3, Fri-Sun).

Load up: Hitters

The teams listed below have the most favorable overall hitting matchups, accounting for recent performance, strength of opponents and ballpark factors.

White SoxWhite Sox (KC-3, BAL-3): Though U.S. Cellular Field spent the better part of the season's first-half ranking as more of a neutral ballpark, the venue's park factors are all on the rise, leaning, once again, heavily toward hitters (specifically home runs). Take a look at what the White Sox have done there in their past 26 games: 5.9 runs per game, .284 batting average, .841 OPS. Chicago's two opponents rank among the majors' bottom five in team ERA since the All-Star break (Kansas City 5.87, 28th; Baltimore 5.33, 26th), which bodes well for Scott Podsednik (.314 BA, .842 OPS in his past 26 home games), A.J. Pierzynski (.364 and .871 in his past 22), Alexei Ramirez (.310 and .920 in his past 19) and Jim Thome (.266 and .953 in his past 23).

AngelsAngels (@BAL-1, @CLE-3, @TOR-3): What you have to love about this offense is that coming off getting shut out on three hits by the Rangers and Derek Holland on Aug. 9, the Angels took out their frustrations on the Rays in their next three games, totaling 24 runs, six home runs and posting a .967 OPS. With that the Angels are now averaging 6.8 runs per game with a .306 batting average and .851 OPS since the All-Star break, and now they hit the road to face nothing but young, inexperienced Indians and Blue Jays starters. The only one over the age of 26 is Scott Richmond (29), and he has just 20 career starts to his credit. Mike Napoli (.331 BA, .922 BA in 42 games) is one Angels hitter who has thrived in road contests.

NationalsNationals (COL-3, MIL-3): This might surprise you, seeing as Washington is a major league-worst 40-75, but this team has been playing some great baseball since the All-Star break, especially on the hitting side. In their past 19 games the Nationals have averaged 6.1 runs per contest, batted .300 and managed an .854 OPS, ranking them among the best in the league during that time. During their most recent home stand in fact, Washington totaled 44 runs, 10 home runs and posted a .948 team OPS in six games, and that Brewers staff in particular is in the midst of a miserable funk (6.05 ERA in their past 29 games). Cristian Guzman (.327 BA, .818 OPS in 49 games), Nyjer Morgan (.366 and .874 in 20) and Josh Willingham (.280 and .885 in 45) have been especially productive at Nationals Park this year.

BrewersBrewers (@PIT-3, @WAS-3): The Nationals might be on a hitting tear, but they're ordinary at best on the pitching side, with a 5.02 ERA, 1.46 WHIP and 34 home runs allowed in their aforementioned past 19 games. The Pirates, meanwhile, are 6-17 with a 5.61 ERA and 1.66 WHIP in their past 23 contests, stacking the deck in Milwaukee's favor. Ryan Braun (.350 BA, .987 OPS in 57 games) and Prince Fielder (.324 and 1.060 in 58) have been true road warriors all year, and with the Brewers dumping some of their offensive deadweight recently (J.J. Hardy, Bill Hall), expect this offense to come out a bit hungrier and more charged up than usual.

Tristan's sleeper hitters

Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B/SS, Indians: .290 BA, .751 OPS in 45 home games in 2009; .333 BA, .899 OPS in 25 games since the All-Star break
Franklin Gutierrez, OF, Mariners: .327 BA, .939 OPS versus left-handers in 2009; .284 BA, .790 OPS in 24 games since the All-Star break
Garrett Jones, OF, Pirates: .309 BA, 1.020 OPS versus right-handers in 2009; .279 BA, .909 OPS in 26 games since the All-Star break
Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates: .310 BA, .898 OPS in 29 home games in 2009; .278 BA, .889 OPS in 25 games since the All-Star break
Miguel Montero, C, Diamondbacks: .310 BA, .943 OPS in 42 road games in 2009; .345 BA, 1.022 OPS in 23 games since the All-Star break
Nolan Reimold, OF, Orioles: 5-for-11 (.455 BA), 2 2Bs, 2 BBs at U.S. Cellular Field July 17-19, 2009; .303 BA, .845 OPS in 23 games since the All-Star break
Freddy Sanchez, 2B, Giants: .403 BA, 16 RBIs, 1.028 OPS in 17 career games at Coors Field; .303 BA, .802 OPS in nine games since trade to Giants

Load up: Stolen bases

Favorable matchups listed below are selected based upon opponents' catchers allowing a high rate of steal attempts and/or having low caught-stealing percentages.

OriolesOrioles (LAA-1, @TB-3, @CHW-3): Surprise, surprise, Chicago has allowed the most stolen bases of any team since the All-Star break, a direct result of A.J. Pierzynski's inefficiency throwing out opposing base stealers. Brian Roberts is an obvious fiend on the basepaths, but the two Orioles you might be a tad surprised to learn have run more frequently since the All-Star break than before it are Adam Jones (3 steals in 25 games) and Nolan Reimold (5 in 23 games).

RaysRays (BAL-3, TEX-3): Teams have been capitalizing upon these teams' inexperienced young backstops -- Matt Wieters of the Orioles and Jarrod Saltalamacchia of the Rangers -- especially so since the All-Star break; Baltimore and Texas have surrendered 33 steals combined in 45 chances during that time. And if you've been paying attention at all this season, surely you know the Rays represent baseball's most aggressive team on the basepaths, with a major league-leading 156 steals. It's a loaded team facing some soft matchups, so do like the Rays do: Go wild. Stack your lineup with Jason Bartlett, Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton and Ben Zobrist.

TwinsTwins (@TEX-4, @KC-3): Sorry, NL-only owners, as I realize this makes three American League team picks for this week, but that's just the way baseball has trended in recent weeks; AL teams are the ones stealing more bases and featuring the stronger matchups. In this case, Kansas City has allowed the third-most steals in baseball since the All-Star break (25), and Texas, again, has an inexperienced backstop. Carlos Gomez hasn't been as much of a liability with the bat in recent weeks, freeing him up to tally the occasional steal, but it's second baseman Alexi Casilla who paces the team in stolen bases since the All-Star break (5 in 19 games).

Load up: Pitchers

The teams listed below have the most favorable overall pitching matchups, accounting for recent performance, strength of opponents and ballpark factors.

GiantsGiants (@NYM-1, @CIN-3, @COL-3): Even Coors Field can't hold either Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum down. Lincecum (who is scheduled to start there Sunday) has actually never lost there, with a 2-0 record, 4.18 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 28 innings in five career starts, while Cain (who isn't currently scheduled in the series at Coors) is 3-2 with a 3.60 ERA and 39 K's in 40 innings in seven career Coors starts. But this pick is more about those favorable Mets and Reds matchups. Cincinnati has baseball's lowest team batting average since the All-Star break (.215) and only 63 extra-base hits total in 27 second-half games, while the Mets have averaged 4.0 runs per game with a .703 team OPS since Memorial Day.

White SoxWhite Sox (KC-3, BAL-3): It's a good week all around to be a White Sox player, as in spite of U.S. Cellular Field's offensive leaning, this staff hasn't performed poorly at all in home games this season, with a 4.06 ERA, 1.36 WHIP and .253 batting average allowed, each of those earning a middling rank in baseball. When a middling staff faces a set of matchups like this at home, though, bump up the individuals' stock considerably. The Orioles' offense has been nothing but ordinary since the All-Star break, averaging 4.3 runs per game with a .729 OPS, while the Royals have struggled to hit all year, averaging 3.9 runs per contest with a .699 OPS since Memorial Day.

TigersTigers (SEA-3, @OAK-3): By this point of the season, you've probably gotten the idea that I like to pick on the Mariners' and Athletics' offenses. Who wouldn't? They rank 24th (.716) and 26th (.713) in terms of OPS, and 29th (4.0) and 16th (4.6) in terms of runs per game. I do realize Oakland has been on an offensive tear since the All-Star break, batting .285 with a .789 OPS and averaging 5.8 runs per game, but then the Tigers will be throwing two young, flamethrowing right-handers in that series, Edwin Jackson (Friday) and Rick Porcello (Sunday). This Tigers team knows it needs W's in order to squeak into October as the American League Central champ, and there aren't many better matchups for this staff to shine.

BravesBraves (ARI-1, @NYM-3, FLA-3): I love what this staff has been doing since the All-Star break, going 17-9 with a 3.03 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and a surprisingly strong 7.6 strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio. Wins are at a premium for the team right now, being within five games of a playoff spot. As noted above, the Mets have had a host of problems hitting this season, especially at home, where they have hit a major league-low 38 home runs. The Marlins, meanwhile, rank a middling 17th in the game in OPS in road games (.728), not to mention they rank third in the majors in K's (893).

Projected starting pitchers

The chart below lists each of the 30 MLB teams' schedules and projected starting pitchers. Those pitchers scheduled to pitch twice this week are color-coded.

Rankings: Tristan's two-starts

Recommended cut-off point for elite one-starts: No. 13 (Dempster)
Recommended cut-off point for "under-50" bargains: No. 26 (Garland)

Five must-starts: Josh Beckett, Chris Carpenter, Felix Hernandez, Tim Lincecum, CC Sabathia.

6. Ubaldo Jimenez (COL) -- Tue-@WAS (Stammen), Sun-SF (Lincecum): 7-3, 2.92 ERA, 1.11 WHIP in his past 14 starts
7. Tommy Hanson (ATL) -- Mon-ARI (Scherzer), Sat-FLA (Volstad): 4-1, 3.41 ERA, 1.19 WHIP in six home starts in 2009
8. A.J. Burnett (NYY) -- Mon-@OAK (Mazzaro), Sat-@BOS (Tazawa)
9. Mark Buehrle (CHW) -- Mon-KC (Bannister), Sun-BAL (Berken): 7-3, 3.33 ERA, 1.16 WHIP in 14 home starts in 2009
10. Derek Lowe (ATL) -- Tue-@NYM (Perez), Sun-FLA (Nolasco)
11. Max Scherzer (ARI) -- Mon-@ATL (Hanson), Sat-@HOU (TBD): Win, 6 IP, 4 H's, 0 ERs at Turner Field 5/16/09
12. Ricky Nolasco (FLA) -- Tue-@HOU (Norris), Sun-@ATL (Lowe)
13. Ryan Dempster (CHC) -- Tue-@SD (Carrillo), Sun-@LAD (Billingsley): 2-4, 3.65 ERA, 1.45 WHIP in 12 road starts in 2009
14. Ervin Santana (LAA) -- Mon-@BAL (Hernandez), Sat-@TOR (Rzepczynski): 4-2, 4.50 ERA, 1.28 WHIP in seven road starts in 2009
15. Tommy Hunter (TEX) -- Mon-MIN (Liriano), Sat-@TB (Garza): 5-2, 1.97 ERA, 1.05 WHIP in his past eight starts
16. Chad Billingsley (LAD) -- Tue-STL (Boggs), Sun-CHC (Dempster)
17. Ricky Romero (TOR) -- Tue-BOS (Beckett), Sun-LAA (Bell)
18. Manny Parra (MIL) -- Tue-@PIT (Ohlendorf), Sun-@WAS (Stammen)
19. Scott Feldman (TEX) -- Tue-MIN (Pavano), Sun-@TB (Price): 7-2, 3.75 ERA, 1.32 WHIP in his past 10 starts
20. Rick Porcello (DET) -- Tue-SEA (Hernandez), Sun-@OAK (Mazzaro)
21. David Price (TB) -- Tue-BAL (Berken), Sun-TEX (Feldman)
22. Bud Norris (HOU) -- Tue-FLA (Nolasco), Sun-ARI (Garland)
23. Fausto Carmona (CLE) -- Tue-LAA (Bell), Sun-SEA (Hernandez): 2.65 ERA, 1.47 WHIP in his past three starts
24. Ted Lilly (CHC) -- Mon-@SD (Correia), Sat-@LAD (Haeger)
25. Francisco Liriano (MIN) -- Mon-@TEX (Hunter), Sat-@KC (Davies)
26. Jon Garland (ARI) -- Tue-@PHI (Martinez), Sun-@HOU (Norris): 3-5, 2.85 ERA, 1.22 WHIP in 12 road starts in 2009
27. Pedro Martinez (PHI) -- Tue-ARI (Garland), Sun-@NYM (Perez): 3-1, 1.36 ERA, 0.94 WHIP in five career starts versus Diamondbacks
28. Kevin Hart (PIT) -- Mon-MIL (Villanueva), Sun-CIN (Bailey)
29. Carl Pavano (MIN) -- Tue-@TEX (Feldman), Sun-@KC (Bannister)
30. Brian Bannister (KC) -- Mon-@CHW (Buehrle), Sun-MIN (Pavano)
31. Carlos Villanueva (MIL) -- Mon-@PIT (Hart), Sat-@WAS (Lannan): 2.57 ERA, 1.21 WHIP in five career games (one start) at PNC Park
32. Kevin Correia (SD) -- Mon-CHC (Lilly), Sat-STL (Carpenter): 3-4, 4.03 ERA, 1.25 WHIP in 13 home starts in 2009
33. Oliver Perez (NYM) -- Tue-ATL (Lowe), Sun-PHI (Martinez)
34. David Hernandez (BAL) -- Mon-LAA (Santana), Sat-@CHW (Danks)

Ten "no thank yous:" Homer Bailey, Trevor Bell, Jason Berken, Mitchell Boggs, Cesar Carrillo, Charlie Haeger, Livan Hernandez, Joe Martinez, Vin Mazzaro, Craig Stammen.

Tristan's one-start bargains

The 50-to-90 group (owned in 50 to 90 percent of ESPN.com leagues)

John Danks (CHW) -- Sat-BAL (Hernandez): 2-0, 3.00 ERA, 1.17 WHIP in two starts versus Orioles in 2009
Zach Duke (PIT) -- Sat-CIN (Lehr): 6-5, 3.31 ERA, 1.15 WHIP in 12 home starts in 2009
Gavin Floyd (CHW) -- Fri-BAL (Guthrie): 5-2, 2.38 ERA, 1.07 WHIP in 11 home starts in 2009
J.A. Happ (PHI) -- Sat-@NYM (Hernandez): 4-1, 1.84 ERA, 0.97 WHIP in 13 road games (eight starts) in 2009
Hiroki Kuroda (LAD) -- Thu-CHC (Gorzelanny): 2-0, 3.38 ERA, 1.26 WHIP in his past five starts
Jason Marquis (COL) -- Wed-@WAS (Balester): 7-4, 3.27 ERA, 1.13 WHIP in 12 road starts in 2009
Kevin Millwood (TEX) -- Wed-MIN (Baker): 7-1, 2.53 ERA, 1.26 WHIP in 11 home starts in 2009

The under-50 group (available in at least 50 percent of ESPN.com leagues)

Joe Blanton (PHI) -- Thu-ARI (Petit): Six consecutive quality starts; 3-2, 1.87 ERA, 0.95 WHIP during that span
Aaron Cook (COL) -- Fri-SF (Sanchez): 7-2, 3.33 ERA, 1.36 WHIP in his past 13 starts
Jorge De La Rosa (COL) -- Sat-SF (Martinez): 4-0, 1.38 ERA, 0.95 WHIP in five starts versus Giants 2008-09
Derek Holland (TEX) -- Thu-MIN (Swarzak): 1.64 ERA, 22 K's in 22 innings in his past three starts; 3.98 ERA, 50 K's in 54 1/3 inings in his past 11 games
Aaron Laffey (CLE) -- Sat-SEA (Fister): 1-0, 2.08 ERA, 1.23 WHIP in two starts versus Mariners in 2009
John Lannan (WAS) -- Sat-MIL (Villanueva): 5-1, 1.98 ERA, 1.14 WHIP in 13 home starts in 2009
Jeff Niemann (TB) -- Wed-BAL (Tillman): 4-2, 2.89 ERA, 1.18 WHIP in seven home starts in 2009
Joel Pineiro (STL) -- Thu-@SD (Stauffer): 6-5, 3.96 ERA, 1.20 WHIP in 13 road starts in 2009
Randy Wells (CHC) -- Wed-@SD (Latos): 4-2, 2.98 ERA, 1.10 WHIP in nine road starts in 2009
Barry Zito (SF) -- Wed-@CIN (Arroyo): 3-1, 2.32 ERA, 1.16 WHIP in his past five starts

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.