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Fantasy Forecaster updated Friday, July 16 at 5:18 p.m. ET.
On tap: Baseball is back, as the season's traditional "second half" begins on Thursday. Depending upon your league's rules, it'll be either a four- or an 11-day week, as we're calling the 11 days that immediately follow the All-Star break "fantasy Week 15," despite the fact it's actually a week and a half in length. Check your rulebooks, because in some cases, you might be able to set a lineup once on Thursday, July 15, and again on Monday, July 19; in others you might set one on Thursday, July 15 that cannot be changed again until Monday, July 26. Hopefully you're not in a league in which your lineup for the next four days has already locked. If you are, it's time to petition your league's commissioner for a change next season to allow at least starts and sits right up until play resumes on Thursday!
Those in standard ESPN formats will set one lineup for an 11-day scoring period, July 15 through July 25. It's for that reason that the Week 15 Forecaster will address all 11 days, though as you'll see in the charts below, those in leagues that separate the two aren't ignored, as each week is also analyzed with its own chart. To help those folks, there will be an update during the weekend, before Monday, July 19.
An 11-day scoring period means most every starting pitcher will work twice, and a handful -- 11, to be exact -- will get to pitch three times. There are actually fewer one-start pitchers!
Among the intriguing storylines for Week 15: The Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals, both of whom have their sights on either the wild card or a division title, kick off the second half with a four-game series in St. Louis. Then each team plays at least one other playoff hopeful after that. The Dodgers then host the San Francisco Giants for three games and the New York Mets for four, while the Cardinals host the Philadelphia Phillies for four contests. The Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees battle for three week-opening games at Yankee Stadium, a series during which the Yankees will host their annual Old-Timers' Day, which presumably will be an especially emotional event for them.
Players on the mend from injuries are the other big story of Week 15, most notably the anticipated return of Carlos Beltran to the Mets' lineup. He'll immediately slide into the third spot in the lineup and reclaim the everyday center-field role, with Angel Pagan shifting to right field on a somewhat regular basis. The Detroit Tigers will also welcome Rick Porcello back into their rotation for a spot start during Saturday's doubleheader at the Cleveland Indians, though future starting assignments will depend upon his performance that day. As for pitchers on the mend, expect this to be the week Edinson Volquez rejoins the Cincinnati Reds, Shaun Marcum the Toronto Blue Jays and Clay Buchholz the Boston Red Sox, though none of their return dates is entirely official (yet). Yovani Gallardo also has an outside chance at rejoining the Milwaukee Brewers late in the scoring period.
Quick click by section, if you're seeking advice in a specific area:
Projected starting pitchers | Pitching strategies
Team advantages | Hitting strategies
Weather report | Week 15 pitcher rankings
The chart below lists each of the 30 MLB teams' schedules and projected starting pitchers, and provides a matchup rating for each day's starter. Pitchers scheduled to start twice this week are in color-coded boxes.Part 1: July 15-18 games
Part 2: July 19-25 games
• The Minnesota Twins have hands-down the most favorable pitching schedule of "Week 15," that being the full 11-day period in standard ESPN formats. They play three teams -- the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians and Baltimore Orioles -- who rank among the bottom half in baseball in terms of runs per game and OPS, and play seven of their 11 contests at Target Field, which thus far has been baseball's toughest ballpark in which to hit a home run. So when you see that the White Sox rank fifth in the majors in homers (100), don't be so fearful, especially in light of Twins pitchers' combined 3.13 ERA in five previous meetings with the White Sox this season, and with Twins pitchers allowing only three homers in those five games, all of those at Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field.
• The Dodgers have a sneaky-good pitching schedule, even if wins won't be easy considering their opponents are the Cardinals, Giants and Mets, all of them playoff contenders. Those three foes all have gotten where they have thanks to their pitching -- not hitting -- contributions, as not one ranks in the top 10 in the game in runs per game or OPS. And while the four-game Cardinals series to begin the period is a set of tougher assignments because they're road contests, remember that Busch Stadium does favor pitchers.
• Among the better schedules for the second part of the scoring period, those July 19-25 games, is that of the Red Sox, who get an identical schedule to the one the rival Yankees had heading into the All-Star break, three games at the Oakland Athletics and four at the Seattle Mariners. The Yankees won six of their seven contests and turned in quality starts in every game facing that schedule. While the Red Sox don't have a rotation performing at quite the level of the Yankees recently, they'll receive a boost with the anticipated return of Clay Buchholz. A four-game home set versus the Texas Rangers to open the second half makes the Red Sox's overall Week 15 schedule more challenging, but there's enough to like about the remainder to give the staff a thumbs-up.
• The San Diego Padres' schedule is favorable despite six of their nine games being played on the road, as their opponents include the Arizona Diamondbacks, Atlanta Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates, none of those offenses exactly classified as elite. The Padres might use the break, as well as a July 19 off day, to push red-hot Mat Latos back in the rotation, perhaps to as late as July 24. That's a frustration for his fantasy owners, but at least fantasy owners can count on lesser-known Clayton Richard (3.73 ERA in his past eight starts) and Wade LeBlanc (2.94 in his past eight).
For more insight into Week 15 pitching matchups, see my rankings for every scheduled starter at column's end.
The chart below lists each of the 30 teams' total number of scheduled games, home games and games versus right- and left-handed pitchers, and provides a matchup rating for the week's games in terms of overall offense, offense versus left- and right-handed pitchers and base stealing. Matchup ratings for each individual game are listed under the corresponding date.
Part 1: July 15-18 games, plus overall Week 15 ratings. Ratings included in the chart below are those for only games played for the first four days of the scoring period, as well as those for the entire 11-day Week 15.
Part 2: July 19-25 games. Ratings in the chart below only account for matchups during the final seven days of the scoring period.
• Despite having to face the Padres for three games July 20-22, the Braves' overall Week 15 schedule is favorable, mainly because of the seven contests that surround that series. They'll host the Brewers for four games July 15-18, avoiding Yovani Gallardo (who is on the disabled list) in the process, then hit the road to face the Florida Marlins July 23-25, avoiding both Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco in that series. While Nate McLouth might return from the DL at some point during this scoring period, one thing's for sure: He shouldn't be playing over red-hot All-Star Omar Infante, a .361 hitter (35-for-97) since June 1.
• Wow, might the Orioles finally have a hitting-friendly schedule? It sure appears that way, as they're set up for a 10-game week played entirely at home, where their team OPS is 52 points higher than on the road (.733-.681), during which time they'll face nine right-handed starters, significant in that their team OPS is 40 points higher versus righties than lefties (.717-.677). That's a schedule that plays well for Corey Patterson, a .308/.361/.476 (AVG/OBP/SLG) hitter against righties and a .320/.377/.474 hitter at home, Nick Markakis, historically a second-half player who has .300/.401/.453 rates at home, and Matt Wieters, who batted .354 (17-for-48) with 11 RBIs in his final 15 games of the first half.
• The Blue Jays, who headed into the All-Star break posting .226/.292/.392 rates in their final 32 games, get a significant bounce-back opportunity coming out of the break, making a three-game stop in Baltimore before continuing their road trip with three games against the Kansas City Royals and four against the Tigers. That's a softer schedule than they faced during their recent 32-game funk, as 19 of those were played against teams that ranked in the top 10 in baseball in ERA. The Orioles, Royals and Tigers all sport ERAs of 4.29 or higher, and none ranks higher than 20th in the category.
• If you play in a league that separates this scoring period into two weeks, take a look at the Brewers and Pirates during the July 19-25 portion. The Brewers play four games in Pittsburgh before returning home to battle the Washington Nationals for three, while the Pirates play all seven games at home, four versus the Brewers and three versus the Padres. The Pirates will face four left-handed starters, which benefits both Andrew McCutchen (.375/.445/.531 against lefties) and Lastings Milledge (.318/.431/.518). Meanwhile, Brewers All-Star Corey Hart stands out thanks to the PNC Park trip; he's a .333/.395/.632 hitter in 31 career games there.
Now, let's take a look at some Week 15 sleepers:
Mike Cameron, OF, Red Sox: He was hitting well heading into the All-Star break, batting .333 (14-for-42) with three homers and 12 RBIs while playing in 13 of 17 Red Sox games, and that the Red Sox will face no fewer than five left-handed starters in their 11 games suits him well. After all, he's hitting .458/.536/.875 against them this year (albeit in a small sample of 28 plate appearances), and .294/.415/.551 against them since 2007.
Matt Diaz, OF, Braves: The Braves have made it routine to get him into their lineup versus left-handed starters, and they'll face anywhere from five to seven of them in their 10 games total, which is enough for Diaz to make an impact in NL-only formats. That's especially true in the four-game series versus the Brewers, if that's a separate scoring period in your league, because three of the opposing starters will be lefties. In spite of a down year, Diaz is still a .267/.313/.467 hitter against southpaws in 2010, and .341/.379/.533 against them in his career.
Carlos Guillen, 2B/OF, Tigers: Surprisingly, he's available in nearly two-thirds of ESPN leagues, despite his having batted .279 with 20 RBIs in 38 games since returning from the disabled list and picking up second-base eligibility. It's as much of a volume play -- the Tigers have 11 games -- as it is a matchups play, as the Tigers will face plenty of right-handed pitching during the week, and Guillen is a .297/.358/.459 hitter against righties this season.
Chase Headley, 3B/OF, Padres: I'm warming again to Headley, thanks to his .323/.371/.431, 16-game finish to the first half, as well as the fact he was a significantly better hitter after the All-Star break than before it last season. The Padres escape cavernous Petco for three of their nine games this week, and Headley is a .287/.326/.409 hitter in road contests.
Ian Stewart, 2B/3B, Colorado Rockies: Despite the Coors home-field advantage, Stewart has been surprisingly productive in road games, leading the team in road homers (8) and ranking second in road slugging percentage (.518). Trips to Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park and Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park aren't much less fantasy-friendly than games at Coors, and the Rockies will face a noticeable amount of right-handed pitching in the process.
Delmon Young, OF, Twins: Target Field, in spite of its homer-suppressing ways, hasn't seemed to bother him, as his .504 slugging percentage in 38 games there is second best on the team among those with 50-plus plate appearances. He's also historically a White Sox killer, and that's the Twins' week-opening opponent; Young has .354/.394/.537 numbers in 40 career games against them.
Considering we're now deep into July, a month that historically has produced few rainouts, this week's schedule is surprisingly full of precipitation threats. That's most true in the southeast and Great Lakes regions. Miami (Florida) has at least a 30 percent chance of rain every day through at least July 20, as does Atlanta for all that time except July 15 (when the chance of rain is a mere 20 percent). Moving north, Chicago faces a 40 percent chance of rain on both July 15 and 18, while both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh face percentages that high on July 16 and 19.
Weatherproof games: Reds at Astros (3, July 23-25); Nationals at Brewers (3, July 23-25); Mets at Diamondbacks (3, July 19-21); Giants at Diamondbacks (4, July 22-25); White Sox at Mariners (3, July 19-21); Red Sox at Mariners (4, July 22-25).
Rankings take into account several factors: The pitcher's raw talent, historical and recent performance; number of starts; strength of opponent(s); and ballpark factors. Be aware that different leagues might emphasize different pitching statistics that could change these rankings slightly. These are based upon a fairly standard Rotisserie scoring system, like ESPN's.
Note: Due to the high volume of two-start pitchers, this week's list expands to 100, without any deep sleepers or two-start no-thank-yous. Next week's Forecaster will return to its traditional top 75 plus sleepers/no-thank-yous.
1. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- 7/15-@STL (Carpenter), 7/20-SF (Lincecum), 7/25-NYM (Dickey)
2. Tim Lincecum (SF) -- 7/15-NYM (Dickey), 7/20-@LAD (Kershaw), 7/25-@ARI (Kennedy)
3. Josh Johnson (FLA) -- 7/17-WAS (Hernandez), 7/22-COL (De La Rosa)
4. CC Sabathia (NYY) -- 7/16-TB (Shields), 7/22-KC (Chen)
5. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- 7/16-@LAA (Weaver), 7/21-CHW (Floyd)
6. Roy Oswalt (HOU) -- 7/18-@PIT (Maholm), 7/24-CIN (Leake)
7. Chris Carpenter (STL) -- 7/15-LAD (Kershaw), 7/20-PHI (Moyer), 7/25-@CHC (Silva)
8. Adam Wainwright (STL) -- 7/17-LAD (Kuroda), 7/22-PHI (Hamels)
9. Jon Lester (BOS) -- 7/18-TEX (Wilson), 7/23-@SEA (Vargas)
10. Roy Halladay (PHI) -- 7/18-@CHC (Gorzelanny), 7/23-COL (Cook)
11. Zack Greinke (KC) -- 7/16-OAK (Gonzalez), 7/21-TOR (Romero)
12. Tim Hudson (ATL) -- 7/17-MIL (Narveson), 7/23-@FLA (Sanchez)
13. Justin Verlander (DET) -- 7/17-@CLE, Gm. 1 (Carmona), 7/22-TOR (Morrow)
14. Ubaldo Jimenez (COL) -- 7/19-@FLA (Robertson), 7/24-@PHI (Kendrick)
15. Johan Santana (NYM) -- 7/18-@SF (Sanchez), 7/23-@LAD (Padilla)
16. Ryan Dempster (CHC) -- 7/15-PHI (Moyer), 7/20-HOU (Paulino)
17. John Danks (CHW) -- 7/15-@MIN (Slowey), 7/20-@SEA (Fister)
18. David Price (TB) -- 7/18-@NYY (Pettitte), 7/24-@CLE (Talbot)
19. Gavin Floyd (CHW) -- 7/16-@MIN (Liriano), 7/21-@SEA (Hernandez)
20. Cliff Lee (TEX) -- 7/17-@BOS (Lackey), 7/22-LAA (Weaver)
21. Jaime Garcia (STL) -- 7/16-LAD (Billingsley), 7/21-PHI (Blanton)
22. Dan Haren (ARI) -- 7/16-@SD (Garland), 7/21-NYM (Niese)
23. Stephen Strasburg (WAS) -- 7/16-@FLA (Nolasco), 7/21-@CIN (Arroyo)
24. Ricky Nolasco (FLA) -- 7/16-WAS (Strasburg), 7/21-COL (Hammel)
25. Travis Wood (CIN) -- 7/20-WAS (Atilano), 7/25-@HOU (Rodriguez)
26. Andy Pettitte (NYY) -- 7/18-TB (Price), 7/24-KC (Davies)
27. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- 7/16-SEA (Hernandez), 7/22-@TEX (Lee)
28. Trevor Cahill (OAK) -- 7/17-@KC (Chen), 7/23-CHW (Buehrle)
29. Chad Billingsley (LAD) -- 7/16-@STL (Garcia), 7/21-SF (Zito)
30. Tommy Hanson (ATL) -- 7/16-MIL (Wolf), 7/22-SD (Richard)
31. Clayton Richard (SD) -- 7/17-ARI (Lopez), 7/22-@ATL (Hanson)
32. Jair Jurrjens (ATL) -- 7/15-MIL (Bush), 7/21-SD (Garland)
33. Francisco Liriano (MIN) -- 7/16-CHW (Floyd), 7/21-CLE (Westbrook)
34. Wandy Rodriguez (HOU) -- 7/19-@CHC (Silva), 7/25-CIN (Wood)
35. Carl Pavano (MIN) -- 7/17-CHW (Buehrle), 7/22-@BAL (Guthrie)
36. Randy Wolf (MIL) -- 7/16-@ATL (Hanson), 7/21-@PIT (Duke)
37. Scott Baker (MIN) -- 7/19-CLE (Laffey), 7/24-@BAL (Tillman)
38. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- 7/17-@CHC (Wells), 7/22-@STL (Wainwright)
39. A.J. Burnett (NYY) -- 7/17-TB (Niemann), 7/23-KC (Bannister)
40. Daisuke Matsuzaka (BOS) -- 7/19-@OAK (Sheets), 7/24-@SEA (TBD)
41. C.J. Wilson (TEX) -- 7/18-@BOS (Lester), 7/23-LAA (Saunders)
42. Edwin Jackson (ARI) -- 7/18-@SD (Correia), 7/23-SF (Sanchez)
43. Ted Lilly (CHC) -- 7/16-PHI (Blanton), 7/21-HOU (Myers)
44. Derek Lowe (ATL) -- 7/18-MIL (Parra), 7/24-@FLA (Robertson)
45. Brett Myers (HOU) -- 7/16-@PIT (Duke), 7/21-@CHC (Lilly)
46. R.A. Dickey (NYM) -- 7/15-@SF (Lincecum), 7/20-@ARI (Kennedy), 7/25-@LAD (Kershaw)
47. Dave Bush (MIL) -- 7/15-@ATL (Jurrjens), 7/20-@PIT (Lincoln), 7/25-WAS (Atilano)
48. Fausto Carmona (CLE) -- 7/17-DET, Gm. 1 (Verlander), 7/23-TB (Niemann)
49. Tim Wakefield (BOS) -- 7/15-TEX (Hunter), 7/20-@OAK (Braden), 7/25-@SEA (Fister)
50. Max Scherzer (DET) -- 7/16-@CLE (Westbrook), 7/21-TEX (Lewis)
51. Hiroki Kuroda (LAD) -- 7/17-@STL (Wainwright), 7/22-NYM (Pelfrey)
52. Jeff Niemann (TB) -- 7/17-@NYY (Burnett), 7/23-@CLE (Carmona)
53. Phil Hughes (NYY) -- 7/20-LAA (Kazmir), 7/25-KC (Lerew)
54. Mat Latos (SD) -- 7/24-@ATL (Lowe)
55. Matt Cain (SF) -- 7/17-NYM (Pelfrey), 7/22-@ARI (Lopez)
56. Anibal Sanchez (FLA) -- 7/18-WAS (Stammen), 7/23-ATL (Hudson)
57. Colby Lewis (TEX) -- 7/16-@BOS (Doubront), 7/21-@DET (Scherzer)
58. Johnny Cueto (CIN) -- 7/18-COL (Cook), 7/23-@HOU (Norris)
59. Kris Medlen (ATL) -- 7/20-SD (LeBlanc), 7/25-@FLA (TBD)
60. Kevin Slowey (MIN) -- 7/15-CHW (Danks), 7/20-CLE (TBD), 7/25-@BAL (Arrieta)
61. Bronson Arroyo (CIN) -- 7/16-COL (Hammel), 7/21-WAS (Strasburg)
62. Ricky Romero (TOR) -- 7/16-@BAL (Bergesen), 7/21-@KC (Greinke)
63. Mark Buehrle (CHW) -- 7/17-@MIN (Pavano), 7/23-@OAK (Cahill)
64. Vicente Padilla (LAD) -- 7/18-@STL (Suppan), 7/23-NYM (Santana)
65. Doug Fister (SEA) -- 7/15-@LAA (Pineiro), 7/20-CHW (Danks), 7/25-BOS (Wakefield)
66. Jonathan Sanchez (SF) -- 7/18-NYM (Santana), 7/23-@ARI (Jackson)
67. James Shields (TB) -- 7/16-@NYY (Sabathia), 7/21-@BAL (Bergesen)
68. Randy Wells (CHC) -- 7/17-PHI (Hamels), 7/23-STL (Suppan)
69. John Lackey (BOS) -- 7/17-TEX (Lee), 7/22-@SEA (Rowland-Smith)
70. Brandon Morrow (TOR) -- 7/17-@BAL (Guthrie), 7/22-@DET (Verlander)
71. Javier Vazquez (NYY) -- 7/21-LAA (Pineiro)
72. Joel Pineiro (LAA) -- 7/15-SEA (Fister), 7/21-@NYY (Vazquez)
73. Ervin Santana (LAA) -- 7/18-SEA (Vargas), 7/24-@TEX (Feldman)
74. Madison Bumgarner (SF) -- 7/19-@LAD (McDonald), 7/24-@ARI (Enright)
75. Jamie Moyer (PHI) -- 7/15-@CHC (Dempster), 7/20-@STL (Carpenter), 7/25-COL (Francis)
76. Ross Ohlendorf (PIT) -- 7/17-HOU (Norris), 7/22-MIL (Narveson)
77. Kevin Correia (SD) -- 7/18-ARI (Jackson), 7/23-@PIT (Maholm)
78. Ian Kennedy (ARI) -- 7/20-NYM (Dickey), 7/25-SF (Lincecum)
79. Wade LeBlanc (SD) -- 7/20-@ATL (Medlen), 7/25-@PIT (Lincoln)
80. Jon Garland (SD) -- 7/16-ARI (Haren), 7/21-@ATL (Jurrjens)
81. Freddy Garcia (CHW) -- 7/18-@MIN (Blackburn), 7/24-@OAK (Mazzaro)
82. Jonathon Niese (NYM) -- 7/16-@SF (Zito), 7/21-@ARI (Haren)
83. Matt Garza (TB) -- 7/20-@BAL (Arrieta)
84. Jason Hammel (COL) -- 7/16-@CIN (Arroyo), 7/21-@FLA (Nolasco)
85. Tom Gorzelanny (CHC) -- 7/18-PHI (Halladay), 7/24-STL (Hawksworth)
86. Wade Davis (TB) -- 7/19-@BAL (Tillman), 7/25-@CLE (Masterson)
87. Shaun Marcum (TOR) -- 7/18-@BAL (Matusz), 7/23-@DET (Bonderman)
88. Edinson Volquez (CIN) -- 7/17-COL (De La Rosa), 7/22-WAS (Hernandez)
89. Brian Matusz (BAL) -- 7/18-TOR (Marcum), 7/23-MIN (Blackburn)
90. Doug Davis (MIL) -- 7/19-@PIT (Karstens), 7/24-WAS (Martin)
91. Carlos Silva (CHC) -- 7/19-HOU (Rodriguez), 7/25-STL (Carpenter)
92. Mike Pelfrey (NYM) -- 7/17-@SF (Cain), 7/22-@LAD (Kuroda)
93. Jorge De La Rosa (COL) -- 7/17-@CIN (Volquez), 7/22-@FLA (Johnson)
94. Ben Sheets (OAK) -- 7/19-BOS (Matsuzaka), 7/25-CHW (Hudson)
95. Paul Maholm (PIT) -- 7/18-HOU (Oswalt), 7/23-SD (Correia)
96. Jason Vargas (SEA) -- 7/18-@LAA (Santana), 7/23-BOS (Lester)
97. Mitch Talbot (CLE) -- 7/17-DET, Gm. 2 (Porcello), 7/24-TB (Price)
98. Barry Zito (SF) -- 7/16-NYM (Niese), 7/21-@LAD (Billingsley)
99. Tommy Hunter (TEX) -- 7/15-@BOS (Wakefield), 7/20-@DET (Galarraga), 7/25-LAA (Kazmir)
100. Clay Buchholz (BOS) -- 7/21-@OAK (Gonzalez)
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, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.