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Friday, August 6, 2010
Playing the hot hand

By AJ Mass
ESPN.com

Welcome back to the Baseball Challenge! There's a theory in psychology that's called the "wisdom of the crowds" which, in a nutshell, posits that while each one of us may not have all the knowledge to make the right decision every time, if we were to take all of our independent decisions to see which one comes up the most often, odds are that will be the correct course of action to take.

One example of this theory can be put into practice. If every person who reads this article -- the crowd should be a little bit informed on the topic they're being asked about -- had been asked to make a guess at the beginning of the season as to how many home runs Evan Longoria would have by Aug. 5, the answers would have been all over the map. Some might have guessed 12. Some would have said 21. Others might have thought he'd get injured on Opening Day and offered up a goose egg. Perhaps some overly optimistic Rays fans would have projected 35. As the theory goes, while very few of the guesses would have actually been correct, the average of all those guesses, made with every intention of being correct, would have been very near to the actual total of 15, if not precisely that number.

Well for this week's lineup in the Baseball Challenge, I'm going to somewhat put that theory to the test. Each of my roster selections -- while keeping within the overall allotted budget of 50, of course -- have been taken from the small group of players who have seen the most overall "adds" from Baseball Challenge owners during the past week. In other words, if the wisdom of the crowds says these are the guys to grab, then who am I to argue? Color me skeptical, but nevertheless curious to see how this experiment pans out.

C: Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants, 4.6 market price (CHC-4, SD-3): Posey has actually struggled at home, posting only a .271 batting average. With the Padres coming to town for a first-place showdown, however, I'm confident he'll step it up and continue to impress.

1B: Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees, 5.4 (BOS-1, @TEX-2, @KC-4): Tex is heating up with three homers in his past five games, and a .438 average against the Royals so far in 2010 certainly bodes well for this week's action.

2B: Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds, 5.1 (STL-3, FLA-3): Phillips is hitting .412 in the month of August and has a .647 slugging percentage to go along with it. Plus, he even stole a base, which is a rare treat from the second baseman this season.

3B: Chris Johnson, Houston Astros, 4.4 (ATL-3, PIT-3): Anyone who expected a drop-off after his .359 July has been sadly mistaken, as Johnson is batting .357 so far in August. There really aren't any splits that go against him, so there's no reason not to hop on the bandwagon.

SS: Jose Reyes, New York Mets, 4.9 (COL-3, PHI-3): That time off in mid-July did Reyes a world of good, as he's hit safely in 15 of 16 games since getting the extra rest. He's also playing the full week at Citi Field, where he's batting .324, a good 86 points better than on the road.

LF: Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies, 5.2 (@NYM-3, MIL-3): He's managed five multi-hit games in his past seven, and blasted six home runs in the process. Is there any other player in the game more deserving of the "Most Improved" title? I doubt it.

CF: Vernon Wells, Toronto Blue Jays, 4.6 (BOS-3, @LAA-3): With a dozen hits since July 26, Wells continues to silence the critics. His home/road batting average split is still glaring (.325/.231), but he does have double-digit home runs in both the United States and Canada.

RF: Corey Hart, Milwaukee Brewers, 4.9 (ARI-4, @COL-3): Hey, if the Brewers are happy enough with Hart to sign him to a three-year extension, I can't really quibble about grabbing him onto my roster for one week. The .341 batting average at Coors Field since 2007 certainly doesn't hurt, either.

DH: Luke Scott, Baltimore Orioles, 4.5 (CWS-1, @CLE-3, @TB-3): Against the Cleveland Indians, he's a .476 lifetime hitter and so far this season, he's hit at a .379 clip against the Rays. That's not too shabby, especially in a very shallow DH pool.

Pitching staff: Tampa Bay Rays, 6.4 (@DET-3, BAL-3): The depleted Detroit Tigers are hitting 24 points below their season average during the past two weeks, and I have a sneaking suspicion the "undefeated Orioles" are going to get over the whole "playing well for the new manager" thing sooner rather than later.

As for the particulars of the schedule ahead, here's the Weekly Crib Sheet for the period of play running from Aug. 9-15:

Home Cooking: The Texas Rangers play only five times this week, but has the extra boost of having all those contests in familiar surroundings. Here's the complete list of all the teams that spend their entire week's worth of games with last licks: Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Angels, Rangers, Reds, Astros, Mets, Giants and Washington Nationals.

Frequent Flyers: Only a few teams fail to get the benefit of friendly supportive faces in the seats during the next seven days. Actually, for teams like the Arizona Diamondbacks, perhaps the fans on the road will be far happier to see them than the season-ticket holders would be. Here are the road warriors for the week: Boston Red Sox, Oakland Athletics, Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs, Florida Marlins, Los Angeles Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates.

Lucky Sevens: Looking for teams to give you a few extra at-bats for your pretend money? It's not a fairy tale. These teams are going to be on a baseball diamond near you each and every day of the upcoming week. Whether or not they live happily ever after, that's another story: Orioles, Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals, Yankees, Diamondbacks, Cubs, Brewers and Giants.

AJ Mass is a fantasy baseball, football and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can follow AJ on Twitter or e-mail him here.