Fantasy Forecaster updated Sunday, July 19 at 9:56 p.m. ET.
On tap: It's the first full week following the All-Star break, and Monday coincides with the fourth or fifth games in second-half schedules for most teams meaning a week where fourth and fifth starters are the ones pitching twice. As you'll see below, my two-start rankings are especially bottom-heavy, perhaps the most you'll see all season. As a result, it's the ideal week to target quality, as opposed to quantity, of matchups.
Quick click by section, if you're seeking advice in a specific area:
Team advantages | Weather report | Load up: Hitters
Sleeper hitters | Load up: Stolen bases | Load up: Pitchers
Projected starters | Two-start rankings | One-start bargains
The chart below lists each of the 30 MLB teams' number of games scheduled ("Gm"), home games ("Hm"), games versus right- and left-handed pitchers ("vs. RHP" and "vs. LHP") and games at either hitter- or pitcher-friendly ballparks.
* Note: Some teams' totals versus right- and left-handed pitchers exclude games against teams with unclear starters. They include: White Sox (Friday, @DET, Game 2) and Indians (Saturday, @SEA).
Though rainouts aren't a significant concern at this time of year, the East Coast might again be problematic, with games in New York, Philadelphia and Washington facing 30 percent to 40 percent chances of precipitation in the early half of the week. Texas also bears watching during that Red Sox-Rangers series.
Weatherproof games: Cardinals at Astros (3, Mon-Wed); Mets at Astros (3, Fri-Sun); Indians at Blue Jays (3, Tue-Thu); Rays at Blue Jays (3, Fri-Sun); Braves at Brewers (3, Fri-Sun); Pirates at Diamondbacks (4, Thu-Sun); Indians at Mariners (3, Fri-Sun).
The teams listed below have the most favorable overall hitting matchups, accounting for recent performance, strength of opponents and ballpark factors.
Red Sox (@TEX-3, BAL-3): Ooooh, Red Sox at Rangers Ballpark. Historical top-5 offense (OK, top-5 at least in the past several seasons) heads to historical top-5 hitters venue. What's not to like? But that's not all. Boston also gets the benefit of a three-game series at home against the division-rival Orioles, against whom they have batted .307 with 37 home runs in 25 games last season and this season combined. Among their standouts in those contests: J.D. Drew, a .419 hitter with six home runs and 13 RBIs in 14 games; Dustin Pedroia, a .352 hitter with 22 runs and 22 RBIs in 24 games; and Jason Varitek, a .286 hitter with six homers in 20 games.
Yankees (BAL-3, OAK-4): Seven home games for the Yankees at new Yankee Stadium -- which, by the way, has now seen an average of 11.1 runs and 3.4 home runs per game -- is a schedule anyone would love. But that's not all. The Yankees, the game's most productive lineup against left-handed pitchers, with a major league-best .851 OPS against that side, will face three lefties in their four-game series against Oakland, and one more lefty plus so-so righties David Hernandez and Jason Berken in the Baltimore series. This offense mashed Baltimore pitching to the tune of 30 runs and 10 home runs in their previous meeting at home May 19-22, and totaled 14 runs and five homers in facing back-to-back Oakland lefties at home April 21-22.
Cardinals (@HOU-3, @WAS-1, @PHI-3): The Cardinals went into the All-Star break averaging 5.0 runs per game with a .754 OPS in their final 10 contests, and those aren't bad numbers considering the 10 games were played on the road against division rivals (including the Brewers and Cubs). Ahhh, the perils of lengthy July road trips when your home ballpark is being prepped for the All-Star Game; the Cardinals will hit the road again coming out of the break, with stops in a decent hitters' venue in Houston and a fantastic one in Philadelphia. Certainly you've noticed that the Phillies in particular have a bloated 4.78 home ERA?
Cubs (@PHI-3, CIN-3): Maybe their numbers didn't show it in the week leading into the All-Star break, but the Cubs got a significant offensive boost with the recent, healthy return of Aramis Ramirez, and their prospects only improve after a much-needed three-day rest. The Cubs make a three-game stop in Philadelphia to face the shaky Phillies staff, and then host the Reds, whose rotation was coming apart at the seams the week before the break. In their past nine games, Cincinnati allowed 69 runs (7.7 per) and 13 home runs with a 7.51 ERA, including five contests in which the team allowed nine-plus runs and one in which it got blasted for 22.
Hank Blalock, 1B/3B, Rangers: .279 BA, 15 HRs, .926 OPS versus right-handers in 2009; .300 BA, .898 OPS in 432 career games at Rangers Ballpark
Stephen Drew, SS, Diamondbacks: .326 BA, 1.066 OPS in 11 games at Coors Field 2008-09; .344 BA, 1.018 OPS in his past 18 games
Ryan Garko, 1B, Indians: .320 BA, .933 OPS versus left-handers in 2009; .346 BA, 3 HRs, .920 OPS in his past 14 games
Todd Helton, 1B, Rockies: .338 BA, 1.051 OPS versus right-handers in 2009; .326 BA, .958 OPS in 39 home games in 2009
Nick Johnson, 1B, Nationals: .290 BA, .785 OPS versus right-handers in 2009; .318 BA, .888 OPS in 42 home games in 2009
Gabe Kapler, OF, Rays: .321 BA, 1.082 OPS versus left-handers in 2009; .354 BA, .938 OPS in 22 career games at U.S. Cellular Field
David Murphy, OF, Rangers: .301 BA, 6 HRs, .859 OPS versus right-handers in 2009; .287 BA, .825 OPS in 111 career games at Rangers Ballpark
Shane Victorino, OF, Phillies: .297 BA, .817 OPS versus right-handers in 2009; .328 BA, .866 OPS in 45 home games in 2009
Randy Winn, OF, Giants: .313 BA, .812 OPS versus right-handers in 2009; .311 BA, .892 OPS in 18 games at Coors Field 2007-09
Favorable matchups listed below are selected based upon opponents' catchers allowing a high rate of steals attempts and/or having low caught-stealing percentages.
Padres (FLA-3, @PHI-1, @WAS-3): The Padres might be used to opponents running wild against them, but this is a week when they can surely exact their revenge. Check out their opponents: One is Florida's John Baker, who has allowed the fourth-most stolen bases in baseball (50); another is Washington's Josh Bard, a former Padre whom the team surely remembers as being poor at gunning down opposing baserunners. Not that the Padres represent the league's elite as speedsters go, but there are some quick choices on the roster, like Everth Cabrera, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Will Venable. If you play in an NL-only league, any of the three might be worth a look.
Royals (LAA-3, TEX-3): Both Los Angeles' Mike Napoli and Texas' Jarrod Saltalamacchia have been butchers when it comes to throwing out opposing base stealers, ranking seventh (45) and fourth (50) in the majors terms of stolen bases allowed this season. That plays well in the Royals' favor, as Kansas City's No. 21 ranking in total steals (47) shows that the only time to trust this team is when it faces matchups like these. Willie Bloomquist is this team's top speedster, with 16 steals in 18 chances, but Mark Teahen (5-for-5) is capable of swiping a bag, too.
Dodgers (CIN-3, FLA-3): This is one quick team, ranked fifth in the majors in steals (74) and with seven different players on the roster capable of swiping a bag. Juan Pierre (23 steals), Matt Kemp (19) and Russell Martin (8) are the three most obvious, but Rafael Furcal is more than capable of boosting his current season total of five. Besides Baker being such a poor-throwing catcher, Florida as a team has surrendered the most steals in the majors (87), so expect a lot of running in L.A. this week.
Orioles (@NYY-3, @BOS-3): Brian Roberts routinely runs wild against these two teams, having swiped 16 bases in 20 attempts in 44 games against the Yankees since 2007; he's a perfect 12-for-12 in steals in 43 games against Boston during that time. But he's not the only Oriole to look at -- in deeper leagues, freshly activated Cesar Izturis can serve as a sleeper, accounting for the matchups. After all, he's 9-for-9 stealing this season, three of those coming against these two opponents.
The teams listed below have the most favorable overall pitching matchups, accounting for recent performance, strength of opponents and ballpark factors.
Tigers (SEA-3, CHW-4): This is a good, underrated staff, with two All-Stars (Edwin Jackson and Justin Verlander); closer Fernando Rodney, who has been more effective lately than he's been given credit for (8-for-8 in save chances, 2.57 ERA in his past 13 appearances); and young right-hander Rick Porcello, who can be a useful fantasy spot starter when the matchups call for it, despite the fact that he has been shuffled around a bit in the rotation lately to keep his workload in check. Well, this is such a week of favorable matchups, with all the games at home, where Detroit has a 3.44 ERA and 1.32 WHIP (and against two offenses that have been lackluster at times this season).
Nationals (NYM-3, STL-1, SD-3): Yes, this is a shocking pick. Admit it, you can't believe I picked the Nationals. And maybe I wouldn't necessarily "load up" on an entire set of Nationals pitchers, but the matchups are pretty much the best for the staff that they'll be all year, and there are useful arms here to be had, like John Lannan, Mike MacDougal, Jordan Zimmermann and heck, a case can even be made for Craig Stammen in NL-only leagues. At home, Washington has a 4.60 ERA and 1.39 WHIP as a staff, compared to brutal 5.82/1.76 numbers on the road, so this is just the time to use them. Plus, they'll be facing a Mets offense that has averaged 3.7 runs per game with a .677 OPS since June 1, while the Padres have averaged 3.5 runs per game with a .639 OPS during that same time span.
Yankees (BAL-3, OAK-4): Picking Yankees pitchers when they're slated to pitch entirely at their new ballpark is risky business, but if I'm going to extract a week's matchups that qualify as "safe," this is it. Sure, New York has a 4.80 ERA and 1.46 WHIP at new Yankee Stadium, and each of those numbers ranks the team in the bottom five in baseball at home, but when you look at CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte, do you really see pitchers you'd be terrified to use? Baltimore presents this team a challenge, with lefty sluggers like Aubrey Huff, Nick Markakis and Luke Scott taking aim at the short porch in right field, but Oakland presents the game's second-worst road offense (.701). Those four games alone make this pick worthwhile.
Dodgers (CIN-3, FLA-3): Both the Reds and Marlins rank among the game's 10 worst in team OPS in road games, and in the case of Cincinnati, the team has been mired in a hitting funk overall of late. Since June 1, the Reds have averaged 3.6 runs per game with a .669 OPS and have been held to three runs or fewer on 20 of 39 occasions. Florida, meanwhile, has averaged 3.5 runs per game with a .684 OPS in its past four road series, facing comparably difficult matchups as these. The Dodgers sport a major league-best 3.04 team ERA at home, and if you're looking for one Dodgers hurler especially productive there, well, Clayton Kershaw has a 1.85 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in nine starts.
The chart below lists each of the 30 MLB teams' schedules and projected starting pitchers. Those pitchers scheduled to pitch twice this week are color-coded.
Recommended cut-off point for elite one-starts: No. 7 (Floyd)
Recommended cut-off point for "under-50" bargains: No. 17 (Pettitte)
No must-starts this week.
1. Tommy Hanson (ATL) -- Mon-SF (Sanchez), Sat-@MIL (Gallardo): 4-0, 1.80 ERA, 1.31 WHIP in his past six starts
2. Cliff Lee (CLE) -- Tue-@TOR (Cecil), Sun-@SEA (Olson): 4-1, 3.64 ERA, 1.17 WHIP in seven career games (six starts) at Safeco Field
3. John Lannan (WAS) -- Tue-NYM (Perez), Sun-SD (Gaudin): 3-1, 2.25 ERA, 1.19 WHIP in 10 home starts in 2009
4. Derek Lowe (ATL) -- Tue-SF (Sadowski), Sun-@MIL (Burns): 4-4, 3.14 ERA, 1.27 WHIP in 13 starts versus Giants 2005-08
5. Nick Blackburn (MIN) -- Mon-@OAK (G. Gonzalez), Sat-@LAA (O'Sullivan): 3.29 ERA, 1.24 WHIP in two career starts at McAfee Coliseum
6. Kevin Millwood (TEX) -- Mon-BOS (Smoltz), Sun-@KC (Ponson): Win, 7 IP, 7 H's, 0 ERs, 5 K's versus Red Sox 6/5/09
7. Gavin Floyd (CHW) -- Mon-TB (Price), Sat-@DET (Jackson): 3-0, 4.03 ERA, 1.62 WHIP in five career starts at Comerica Park
8. Ted Lilly (CHC) -- Mon-@PHI (Lopez), Sun-CIN (Owings)
9. Max Scherzer (ARI) -- Tue-@COL (Cook), Sun-PIT (Vasquez): 2-5, 2.69 ERA, 1.32 WHIP in 17 career road games (12 starts)
10. Joe Blanton (PHI) -- Tue-CHC (Harden), Sun-STL (Wellemeyer): 5-2, 4.20 ERA, 1.29 WHIP in 16 career starts at Citizens Bank Park
11. Ervin Santana (LAA) -- Tue-@KC (Chen), Sun-MIN (Swarzak): 1-1, 3.20 ERA, 1.47 WHIP in three career starts at Kauffman Stadium
12. Jeff Niemann (TB) -- Tue-@CHW (Richard), Sun-@TOR (Cecil): Win, 7 1/3 IP, 4 H's, 1 ER at Rogers Centre 6/29/09
13. John Smoltz (BOS) -- Mon-@TEX (Millwood), Sun-BAL (Hernandez)
14. Jonathan Sanchez (SF) -- Mon-@ATL (Hanson), Sat-@COL (Hammel)
15. Joel Pineiro (STL) -- Mon-@HOU (Moehler), Sat-@PHI (Lopez)
16. Dallas Braden (OAK) -- Tue-MIN (Swarzak), Sun-@NYY (Mitre): 7 IP, 6 H's, 2 ERs, 4 K's versus Twins 6/10/09
17. Andy Pettitte (NYY) -- Mon-BAL (Hernandez), Sat-OAK (G. Gonzalez): Has won five consecutive starts versus Orioles (3.73 ERA, 1.31 WHIP)
18. Chad Gaudin (SD) -- Tue-FLA (Volstad), Sun-@WAS (Lannan)
19. Doug Davis (ARI) -- Mon-@COL (De La Rosa), Sat-PIT (Ohlendorf)
20. Livan Hernandez (NYM) -- Mon-@WAS (Martin), Sun-@HOU (Moehler): 2-0, 4.15 ERA, 1.46 WHIP in two career starts at Nationals Park
21. Rodrigo Lopez (PHI) -- Mon-CHC (Lilly), Sat-STL (Pineiro)
22. David Price (TB) -- Mon-@CHW (Floyd), Sat-@TOR (Tallet)
23. Brian Moehler (HOU) -- Mon-STL (Pineiro), Sun-NYM (Hernandez): 2-0, 3.00 ERA, 1.13 WHIP in four games (two starts) versus Cardinals in 2008
24. Armando Galarraga (DET) -- Tue-SEA (Olson), Sun-CHW (Richard)
25. Todd Wellemeyer (STL) -- Tue-@HOU (Rodriguez), Sun-@PHI (Blanton)
26. Anthony Swarzak (MIN) -- Tue-@OAK (Braden), Sun-@LAA (Santana)
27. Ross Ohlendorf (PIT) -- Mon-MIL (Burns), Sat-@ARI (Davis)
28. Ryan Sadowski (SF) -- Tue-@ATL (Lowe), Sun-@COL (De La Rosa)
Sixteen "no thank yous": Mike Burns, Brett Cecil, Jorge De La Rosa, Gio Gonzalez, David Hernandez, J.D. Martin, Sergio Mitre, Sean O'Sullivan, Garrett Olson, Micah Owings, Sidney Ponson, Clayton Richard, Jason Schmidt, Tim Stauffer, Rick VandenHurk,Virgil Vasquez.
The 50-to-90 group (owned in 50 to 90 percent of ESPN.com leagues)
Ricky Nolasco (FLA) -- Wed-@SD (Geer): 1-1, 2.57 ERA, 0.86 WHIP in two career starts at Petco Park
Ricky Romero (TOR) -- Wed-CLE (Pavano): 5-1, 2.31 ERA, 1.13 WHIP in six home starts in 2009
Chris Volstad (FLA) -- Tue-@SD (Gaudin): 7-4, 3.07 ERA, 1.19 WHIP in 16 career road games (15 starts)
The under-50 group (available in at least 50 percent of ESPN.com leagues)
Joba Chamberlain (NYY) -- Fri-OAK (Anderson): 6 IP, 6 H's, 1 ER, 8 K's versus Athletics 7/19/08
Aaron Cook (COL) -- Tue-ARI (Scherzer): 6-2, 2.93 ERA, 1.24 WHIP in his past 10 starts
Scott Feldman (TEX) -- Fri-@KC (Greinke): 5-1, 4.06 ERA, 1.17 WHIP in eight road games (seven starts) in 2009
Ubaldo Jimenez (COL) -- Wed-ARI (Garland): 2.75 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 46 K's in 39 1/3 innings in eight career starts versus Diamondbacks
Jason Marquis (COL) -- Fri-SF (Cain): 4-2, 2.52 ERA, 0.96 WHIP in nine career games (eight starts) versus Giants
Glen Perkins (MIN) -- Wed-@OAK (Cahill): 3-2, 3.73 ERA, 1.34 WHIP in his past five starts
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.