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Friday, September 17, 2010
Take a chance on veteran players down the stretch

By AJ Mass
Special to ESPN.com

Welcome back to the Baseball Challenge! I tuned in to watch the season premiere of "Survivor" this week, with former NFL head coach Jimmy Johnson giving pep talks to his tribe of old-timers. Much to my own chagrin, I myself am closer in age these days to the "over-40" contestants than the batch of "under-30" competitors, and even more depressing I found the younger tribe to be annoying and, quite frankly, incredibly unlikeable.

Rather than fight this awful truth, I've decided to embrace it. As such, I'm leaning on the old-timers for my Baseball Challenge lineup this week. That's right; there'll be no hot rookie call-ups to be found amongst my roster picks for Week 11. Instead, we'll hope that the wisdom of experience comes shining through and that my team can survive yet another week in the upper half of all entries.

I'm not sure if the tribe has spoken, but I certainly have. Here are my selections at each position for the upcoming week of play:

C: Ivan Rodriguez, Washington Nationals, 4.7 market price (HOU-4, ATL-3): True, the 38-year-old has only been playing every other day lately, but with a seven-game schedule for the Nationals this week, that still gives him four opportunities to add to his .308 OBP for the month of September.

1B: Carlos Pena, Tampa Bay Rays, 4.5 (@NYY-4, SEA-3): The 10-year veteran already has six home runs against the New York Yankees this season, more than against any other team. Although the batting average has been awful all year long, he may well reach 30 dingers while he's on my Baseball Challenge roster.

2B: Melvin Mora, Colorado Rockies, 4.0 (@ARI-3, SF-3): The Rockies are surging and Mora is part of their success, with 15 hits already this month. The 38-year-old is batting .348 against the Arizona Diamondbacks and has five RBIs versus the San Francisco Giants. I want "Mora" Melvin.

3B: Miguel Tejada, San Diego Padres, 5.2 (@LAD-3, CIN-3): Pennant races suit Tejada, as he recently went 7-for-12 in a crucial series against the Colorado Rockies. As the season grows shorter, the importance of each game grows larger, and I expect Tejada to continue to contribute mightily to the Padres' playoff drive.

SS: Derek Jeter, Yankees, 6.0 (TB-4, BOS-3): Jeter has 11 hits in 12 games this month, but that's beside the point. The veteran shortstop always seems to show up as the postseason approaches. By the way, can you even remember the last everyday shortstop for the pinstripes before Jeter? We'll answer that one later in the article.

LF: Alfonso Soriano, Chicago Cubs, 5.3 (SF-3, STL-3): Granted it has been a lousy year for the 34-year-old Soriano, but if there's a silver lining to 2010, it's that he's hit 12 points higher at home than on the road. This week's slate of games are all at Wrigley Field, so fingers crossed, he'll close out September, and perhaps his Cubs' career, with a bang.

CF: Torii Hunter, Los Angeles Angels, 4.6 (TEX-3, CWS-3): Hunter has 10 RBIs this month and a .421 batting average in 2010 against the Chicago White Sox. The 13-year veteran clearly still has plenty left in his bat, so we're not in the least bit concerned with this selection.

RF: Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners, 5.4 (@TOR-3, @TB-3): Still going! With a .323 batting average in September, the 36-year-old Ichiro has surged back into the top 10 among American League hitters. Not only that, but he's a lock for 40 stolen bases and may even reach 50 before the year is over. Give it up for the old guy!

DH: Jim Thome, Minnesota Twins, 5.2 (CLE-3, @DET-3): There were times this season you expected the 40-year-old to use his bat as a walking stick, yet here we are in September and Thome is batting .414 for the month with five home runs and 12 RBIs.

Pitching staff: Milwaukee Brewers, 5.1 (CIN-3, FLA-4): Trevor Hoffman is 42, and both Randy Wolf and Dave Bush are on the "wrong side of 30" but even though the Brewers rank 14th in the National League in ERA, over the past two weeks, they've managed to keep it down to a quality 2.78.

As for the particulars of the schedule ahead, here's the Weekly Crib Sheet for the period of play running from Sept. 20-26:

Home Cooking: While these teams may not have immunity, they certainly have plenty of shelter all set in their tribe's camp for the upcoming week of play: Tigers, Angels, Yankees, Athletics, Blue Jays, Diamondbacks, Cubs, Brewers, Phillies, Pirates and Nationals.

Frequent Flyers: It may be an uphill battle to win all the challenges that come these teams' way, as they'll have to do all of their battling away from the comforts of home: Orioles, White Sox, Royals, Mariners, Rangers, Braves, Reds, Astros, Mets, Cardinals and Giants.

Lucky Sevens: These are the teams who get some extra at-bats this week, much like Tony Fernandez did back in 1995 when he got nearly all the playing time that a young Derek Jeter did not: Indians, Royals, Yankees, Athletics, Rays, Rangers, Marlins, Astros, Brewers, Cardinals and Nationals.

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.