|ESPN.com: 2009||[Print without images]|
For even more statistics and advice to help you set your Baseball Challenge lineup, check out Tristan's Week 24 Fantasy Forecaster!
I'm making the bold prediction now: The Colorado Rockies are going to the playoffs.
OK, maybe that's not so bold. After all, they boasted a 4½-game lead in the wild-card race heading into the Sept. 11 game. So here's where I'll make that prediction truly bold: They'll do it as the National League West champion.
Baseball Challenge players might wonder the relevance to that, besides the fact that obviously I believe in the Rockies, meaning their hitters and pitching staff become stronger plays than usual. But here's where else it matters: In September there is nothing better in the BBC (or fantasy baseball in general) than a team motivated to win. The Rockies, by virtue of their standing, might be the most motivated of any team the remainder of the regular season.
Consider that as of the morning of Sept. 11, only eight of the 30 teams in baseball were within five games in the standings of at least one other direct competitor in either the division or wild-card race: The Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers were five games apart in the American League West, the Philadelphia Phillies and Florida Marlins were five apart in the National League East, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Rockies were two apart in the NL West, the Boston Red Sox and the Rangers were two apart in the AL wild-card race, and the Rockies and the San Francisco Giants were 4½ apart in the NL wild-card hunt. It's not unthinkable that all of those races, with the possible exception of the NL West, might be decided with a week or more to go in the regular season.
But the Rockies not only have their sights on holding off the Giants, and to a lesser extent the Marlins (5½ games back), in the wild-card race, they legitimately have a chance to catch the Dodgers in their division. Remember, they finish the season with a three-game series, where else, but at the home of those very Dodgers.
Another benefit: From this week forward, the Rockies get three games apiece against the Diamondbacks, Padres and Brewers and their shabby staffs, and while a three-game series Sept. 25-27 against the Cardinals might prove a challenge, by all rights the Cardinals might have already clinched their playoff spot by then.
As you'll see below, I didn't nab any Rockies hitters for my weekly lineup, but I'll be picking and choosing them for sure in my daily lineup, and chances are I'll be grabbing them for next week, when they get nothing but games at Coors Field. Check out some of these recent Rockies hot streaks:
Carlos Gonzalez: .302 BA, 9 HRs, 1.020 OPS in his past 26 games
Todd Helton: .382 BA, 1.026 OPS in his past 20
Seth Smith: .418 BA, 6 HRs, 21 RBIs, 1.386 OPS in his past 18
Ian Stewart: .313 BA, 1.080 OPS in his past 14
Troy Tulowitzki: .337 BA, .972 OPS in his past 26
1. Los Angeles Dodgers (PIT-3, SF-3 -- two-start pitcher Jon Garland), 7.7 price tag: I've heard quite a bit of chatter lately about the Dodgers' rotation problems, and while I'd agree that there are some questions surrounding their starters as far as the playoffs are concerned, the fact remains that this rotation has 13 quality starts in its past 19 games, and a 3.34 ERA and 1.18 WHIP during that time. Garland and Vicente Padilla have made instant transitions and can fill in the gaps if neither Clayton Kershaw nor Randy Wolf is able to pitch this week, and neither of these opponents sports a remotely threatening lineup.
2. Detroit Tigers (TOR-1, KC-3, @MIN-3 -- two-start pitchers Justin Verlander and Jarrod Washburn), 5.3: Verlander isn't stupid; he knows he has 16 wins and probably only four more regular-season starts if he's to be lined up to pitch Game 1 of a probable division series. Sure enough, he has picked up the pace of late, going 4-2 with a 2.47 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in his past six starts, his offense and his bullpen the main obstacles to what might have been a perfect record in those games. Verlander lucks out this week with the Blue Jays pushing Roy Halladay back by a day to Tuesday, avoiding a Monday matchup, and if you're worried at all about Washburn, keep in mind that he has outstanding career numbers against his scheduled opponents. This should be a big week with a lot of wins.
3. Colorado Rockies (@SF-3, @ARI-3 -- two-start pitcher Jason Hammel), 6.0: Depending on the health of Jose Contreras, Ubaldo Jimenez might join Hammel as a two-start pitcher this week, which only enhances the appeal of this staff. Hammel might not strike you as a standout choice to be the Rockies' two-start pitcher, but his numbers should convince you: He's 6-4 with a 2.92 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 15 road games (13 starts) this season. The Rockies are out for revenge after being swept in San Francisco in their most recent visit Aug. 28-30, and that's mainly why you see them lining up Jimenez to pitch there Tuesday.
4. Philadelphia Phillies (WAS-3, @ATL-3 -- two-start pitcher Cliff Lee), 6.1: Though the Phillies dropped five of seven road games in the past week, getting back home for a few days should do them some good, not to mention making a three-game stop in Atlanta to face a Braves team against which they have four wins, a 3.10 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP in their past six meetings. The switch from Brad Lidge at closer alleviates some of the risk in this pick, as both Ryan Madson and Brett Myers seem more suited at this point to lock down games.
Monday, Sept. 14 -- If I'm so pro-Verlander, there's little doubt I'd pick him and the Tigers in a home game against the Blue Jays and spot starter David Purcey. Keep in mind Verlander is 8-2 with a 2.33 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 13 starts at home. The Yankees are nearing the end of a 23-day span in which they played 23 games, and with Joba Chamberlain unable to pitch more than four innings these days, the Angels' potent offense should feast on him in that hitting-friendly venue. They've scored 50 runs in their six games against the Yankees so far this year.
Tuesday, Sept. 15 -- Not that I have any problem with the Rockies and Ubaldo Jimenez at the Giants, but the Cardinals behind Adam Wainwright are an obvious pick. He has a 1.85 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 16 starts at home. Picking on the Yankees again -- Blue Jays hitters versus Sergio Mitre (or Chad Gaudin) stand out, especially Lyle Overbay (4-for-6, one homer in his career against Mitre). The Phillies at home against Garrett Mock isn't a bad choice, either.
Wednesday, Sept. 16 -- Let's get back on the Yankees bandwagon Wednesday, though, as Andy Pettitte is the almost-perfect choice to round out a long busy stretch, especially if he's coming off a team loss (or two). He's 3-1 with a 4.38 ERA in four starts versus the Blue Jays this season alone. The Athletics will presumably throw either a fresh-off-injury Vin Mazzaro or stand-in Clayton Mortensen at Texas, which stacks the matchups firmly in the Rangers' favor.
Thursday, Sept. 17 -- Historically speaking, the Phillies' Cole Hamels has dominated the Nationals. He's 6-3 with a 2.41 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 14 career starts against them, and stands out on a day without attractive alternatives. Dave Bush has had a host of troubles with the Cubs over the years -- he's 1-7 with a 4.62 ERA in 14 career games against them -- and that's a lineup that experiences a significant home-field advantage besides. Aramis Ramirez is the standout pick, with a 1.053 lifetime OPS versus Bush and a 1.019 OPS at home this season.
Friday, Sept. 18 -- Though John Danks has but two wins in seven career starts versus the Royals, he has yet to lose in any of those games and has a 2.70 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. He has been about as consistent as any pitcher over the past three months, and he and the White Sox match up nicely at home. The Red Sox battling Jeremy Guthrie at Baltimore is a no-brainer. Jason Bay, J.D. Drew and David Ortiz each has a lifetime OPS greater than 1.000 versus the right-hander, and even Jacoby Ellsbury's is .983. Perfect time to grab two or more Red Sox hitters.
Saturday, Sept. 19 -- The Tigers and Justin Verlander is a natural choice yet again, in a matchup at Minnesota, but I'd actually have no problem with picking either team in the Yankees-Mariners pitchers' duel between CC Sabathia and Felix Hernandez in Seattle. I'll take Sabathia, though; he's 5-1 with a 2.59 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in eight career starts at Safeco Field. Stick with those Red Sox, because they'll yet again face a hittable right-hander. David Hernandez has a 5.79 ERA and has surrendered a .981 OPS to Red Sox hitters in three starts this season.
Sunday, Sept. 20 -- Tough call, and chances are my opinion will change as rotations potentially change before Sunday. Right now the Pirates and Paul Maholm stand out versus the Padres, and the Rockies behind Jason Hammel at Arizona is worth a look. Take your pick of Sox. The Red Sox battle another so-so right-hander in Jason Berken at Baltimore, while the White Sox get to fatten up with a home game against shaky Royals left-hander Bruce Chen.
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.