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Friday, April 29, 2011
Baseball Challenge: Week 5 preview

By Mike Sheets
Special to ESPN.com

Since we're now roughly a month into the season, it's a good time to take a step back and evaluate your Baseball Challenge team and where it is in the standings. As we approach Week 5, our team ranks just outside the 80th percentile at 79.2 percent. Sure, that's not good enough to even crack the top 10,000, but considering we start from scratch each week and are unable to lock players in at their cheapest prices, I'll take it.

Hopefully your team is contending. However, if it's struggling, it's important to understand why. After all, you can't fix the problem if you don't know what it is, right? Are you holding onto slumping players too long? Not locking in players when you should? Not paying enough attention to the weekly matchups? Whatever it is, it's not too late to right the ship and make a run at the title. If you're wallowing in the middle of the pack or are even stuck in the cellar, don't get discouraged. There's still time.

We're trying to crack the 80th percentile in Week 5, and here's the lineup we're counting on.

Week 5 Lineup for May 2 through May 8

C: Russell Martin, New York Yankees (@DET-4, @TEX-3), 4.5 market price: I'm skeptical about Martin maintaining his current level of production, but for now he has to be considered a legitimate BBC option. Entering Thursday, his 40 points over the past 15 days were second to only Matt Wieters.

1B: Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies (ATL-3, WAS-3), 5.6 market price: There are so many elite options at first base that it's difficult to settle on one each week. But in Week 5, Howard is our guy. All of his games this week are at Citizens Bank Park, where he's hitting .381 this season (.220 on the road), and he plays the Astros and Braves -- the two teams he's homered the most against in his career (34 homers versus each).

2B: Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds (HOU-3, @CHC-3), 5.4 market price: Entering Thursday, Phillips was the top BBC second baseman over the past week, hitting .367 with two home runs and seven RBIs. I'd rather pay for an elite option like Phillips in the middle infield and look for bargains at deeper positions.

3B: Chipper Jones, Atlanta Braves (MIL-4, @PHI-3), 4.7 market price: Say what you want about Chipper and his inability to stay healthy, but he's healthy now and doing plenty of damage. He's driven in nine runs in his last five games and has accumulated the second most BBC points at third base over the last 15 days. Not only that, but Chipper is a career .336 hitter against the Phillies, and a career .331 hitter against the Brewers.

SS: Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies (ATL-3, WAS-3), 5.0 market price: Only last week's pick Stephen Drew tallied more points than Rollins over the last seven days, and the Phillies shortstop has a favorable schedule this week with six home games.

LF: Johnny Damon, Tampa Bay Rays (TOR-3, @BAL-3), 4.6 market price: Damon isn't a sexy pick, by any means, but entering Thursday he was hitting .306 with 12 RBIs over his last nine games. More importantly, he's reasonably priced and gives us more wiggle room at other positions.

CF: Grady Sizemore, Cleveland Indians (@OAK-3, @LAA-3), 4.0 market price: Sizemore carries a very enticing 4.0 price tag, and he's been the most productive Baseball Challenge center fielder over the past week. He's now hitting .390 with four home runs and nine RBIs in 10 games. If you think he's officially bounced back to the player he was a few years ago, now is a good time to lock him in.

RF: Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland Indians (@OAK-3, @LAA-3), 4.9 market price: Sizemore isn't the only Indians outfielder who has turned things on of late. Choo is batting .444 over the past week and has homered in two of the last three games. He's cheap right now, but he won't be for long.

DH: Michael Young, Texas Rangers (@OAK-1 @SEA-3, NYY-3), 5.3 market price: The top DH in the Baseball Challenge over the past two weeks, Young is hitting .337 this season and gets a seven-game week. In 18 games against the Mariners in 2010, he hit .300 with four homers and 13 RBIs.

Pitching Staff: Tampa Bay Rays (TOR-3, @BAL-3), 5.9 market price: After a slow start, the Rays have won 13 of their last 16 games, and their team ERA is 3.33, the third best mark in the American League. If you don't have the cap space for a team like the Phillies or Braves, the Rays pitching staff offers plenty of bang for your buck.

Total Salary: $49.9 million, $0.1 remaining

Watch List

These are players I'm keeping an eye on.

Wilson Ramos, C, Washington Nationals, 4.0 market price: Ramos is hitting .375-2-6 this season and should continue to get more playing time as the season wears on.

Adam Lind, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays, 4.7 market price: Lind is heating up and is beginning to look more like he did in 2009, when he hit .305 with 35 home runs.

Alex Rios, CF, Chicago White Sox, 4.7 market price: Rios has struggled so far this year and his market price is falling, but he's too talented to not turn things around eventually.

Scouting Schedules

Note: A ballpark that ranked top-10 in terms of home runs last year is considered hitter-friendly, while the bottom-10 parks are pitcher-friendly. In order to be listed below, a team must have two series at hitter-friendly venues, or two at pitcher-friendly parks.

Hitter-friendly schedules: Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds.

Pitcher-friendly schedules: Florida Marlins, San Diego Padres, St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox, San Francisco Giants, New York Mets, Seattle Mariners, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians.

Seven-Day Workweeks: Atlanta Braves, Florida Marlins, Oakland A's, Los Angeles Angels, St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers, San Francisco Giants, Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers.

Note: The Minnesota Twins have only five games this week.