Fantasy Forecaster updated Saturday, Aug. 8 at 10:36 a.m. ET.
On tap: It's make-or-break time for many teams chasing a pennant, with some key inter-division matchups (plus one intra-division battle) between playoff hopefuls headlining Week 19. The Red Sox will take on the AL Central-leading Tigers in a four-game series at Fenway Park before heading to Texas to take on one of their chief contenders for the wild card, the Rangers. The Rays, another wild-card hopeful, head to Los Angeles for a three-game series versus the AL West-leading Angels. Over in the National League, the Dodgers and Giants tangle in San Francisco for three games, which could narrow the 6 1/2-game gap between the teams in the NL West race. The NL East-leading Phillies visit Wrigley Field for a three-game series against one of the NL Central's best squads, the Cubs.
It's another weak week for two-start pitchers, as you'll see below. There isn't a single two-start pitcher you must have in your active lineup, so be careful to select quality over quantity wherever possible.
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 (Tuesday, @SEA), Tigers (Tuesday, @BOS), Yankees (Sunday, @SEA), Rangers (Sunday, BOS), Reds (Tuesday, @STL), Astros (Saturday, @MIL) and Cardinals (Saturday, SD).
Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, New York and St. Louis are the five cities most at risk for rainouts this week, with the Reds-Cardinals series potentially most problematic. All three Cleveland games face at least a 30-percent chance of rain. Tigers-Red Sox and Blue Jays-Yankees on Tuesday, Athletics-Orioles on Wednesday and Rangers-Indians on Thursday all have a 40-percent chance of rain.
Weatherproof games: Padres at Brewers (3, Tuesday-Thursday), Astros at Brewers (3, Friday-Sunday), Mets at Diamondbacks (3, Monday-Wednesday), Dodgers at Diamondbacks (3, Friday-Sunday), White Sox at Mariners (3, Monday-Wednesday), Yankees at Mariners (4, Thursday-Sunday), Blue Jays at Rays (3, Friday-Sunday), Royals at Twins (3, Tuesday-Thursday) and Indians at Twins (3, Friday-Sunday).
The teams listed below have the most favorable overall hitting matchups, accounting for recent performance, strength of opponents and ballpark factors.
Orioles (OAK-3, LAA-3): When is someone going to wake up and give the Orioles a little credit? Sure, their pitching is awful -- perhaps somewhat on the rise with rookies Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz now on board -- but their hitting is young, improving and capitalizing nicely upon their hitter-friendly home environment. Did you know that this team has averaged 5.1 runs per game at home, registering a .816 team OPS at Camden Yards that ranks sixth-best in the majors? The Angels' pitching staff, in spite of boasting a healthy John Lackey and Ervin Santana (OK, apparently healthy), still ranks among the game's 10 worst, and in the case of the Athletics, their staff has a road ERA (5.04) much higher than at home (3.87). One thing we can say in defense of Matt Wieters, who has been somewhat a rookie disappointment: He can sure hit at Camden Yards (.313 BA, .790 OPS in 22 games).
Twins (KC-3, CLE-3): No matter if you believe the Metrodome is more of a hitters' or pitchers' environment, there's no denying that this season the Twins have performed significantly better offensively on their home turf than on the road. They have averaged 5.4 runs per game with a .795 OPS there, both top-10 numbers in baseball, and they'll be facing two, at best, so-so staffs, one of which is the Indians and their brutal 5.68 road ERA. Some encouraging data on one of the newest Twins, Orlando Cabrera: He's a .330 hitter with an .882 OPS in 22 career games at the Metrodome and .327/.864 in 12 games on artificial turf this season.
Cardinals (CIN-3, SD-3): Matt Holliday's acquisition has absolutely been making a difference for this offense. In the Cardinals' 12 games since he joined the team, they're averaging 4.8 runs per contest with a .782 OPS. In their first 98 games, by comparison, they averaged 4.4 runs with a .734 OPS, numbers that shrink to 4.3 and .722 in their July games sans-Holliday. Busch Stadium might lean more towards favoring pitchers than hitters, but the Cardinals' two opponents this week rank in the bottom half in the majors in ERA and WHIP. In the Reds' case in particular, the Cardinals have been routed to the tune of a 5.83 ERA and 1.59 WHIP as a team since (and including) their 22-1 thrashing at Philadelphia on July 6. Of note: Yadier Molina is a .297 hitter with an .811 OPS in his home games this season.
Brewers (SD-3, HOU-3): It's a good thing the Brewers are still hitting because they sure as heck aren't pitching, not lately. Milwaukee has averaged 4.7 runs per game with a .748 OPS since the All-Star break. Those are middling numbers, but they are not nearly as poor as the pitching, which ranks almost across the board in the bottom five in baseball since the break. These are also home games, and as the Brewers evidenced in their recent July 27-30, four-game series at Miller Park against the shoddy Nationals staff, they sure can capitalize, totaling 23 runs, seven home runs and 39 hits. With Roy Oswalt hardly guaranteed to be healthy enough to pitch in the Houston series, I'd put both of these visiting staffs in a similarly weak talent class to Washington's.
John Baker, C, Marlins: .318 BA, .877 OPS in 14 games since the All-Star break; .293 BA, .774 OPS in 36 home games in 2009
Gordon Beckham, 3B/SS, White Sox: .389 BA, 1.100 OPS versus left-handers in 2009; .382 BA, 1.091 OPS in 25 road games in 2009
Milton Bradley, OF, Cubs: .351 BA, .883 OPS versus left-handers in 2009; .308 BA, .946 OPS in 42 home games in 2009
Melky Cabrera, OF, Yankees: .298 BA, .880 OPS versus left-handers in 2009; .292 BA, .891 OPS in 20 games since the All-Star break
Michael Cuddyer, OF, Twins: .299 BA, .961 OPS in 48 home games in 2009; .273 BA, .948 OPS versus left-handers in 2009
Franklin Gutierrez, OF, Mariners: .344 BA, .963 OPS versus left-handers in 2009; .327 BA, .866 OPS in 47 home games in 2009
Garrett Jones, OF, Pirates: .316 BA, 1.067 OPS versus right-handers in 2009; .275 BA, .923 OPS in 20 games since the All-Star break
Nyjer Morgan, OF, Nationals: 8-for-17 (.471 BA), 3 2Bs in five career games at Great American Ball Park; .404 BA, .941 OPS versus right-handers in 2009
Favorable matchups listed below are selected based upon opponents' catchers allowing a high rate of steal attempts and/or having low caught-stealing percentages.
Tigers (@BOS-4, KC-3): Guess which two teams have allowed the most and third-most stolen bases since the All-Star break? You got it, the Red Sox (28) and Royals (18). In Boston's case, adding Victor Martinez to the fray gives the team a lot of name-brand power behind the plate, but it also greatly weakens the team in this department. Team-leading base stealer Curtis Granderson should have his way with these squads, even Adam Everett or Placido Polanco might swipe a bag.
Mariners (CHW-3, NYY-4): I've talked many times about A.J. Pierzynski's shortcomings throwing out opposing base stealers, and Jorge Posada is past his prime and clearly below-average in that department. You already know about Ichiro Suzuki's base stealing prowess, but the sleeper here is Adrian Beltre, who does take advantage of weak-armed backstops. He has nine steals for the year, and if you're worried about the effects of his recent surgery, remember it was on his shoulder, not his legs.
Athletics (@BAL-3, CHW-3): Pierzynski is the softest portion of Oakland's weekly matchups, but be aware that rookie Wieters has actually nailed only 20.0 percent of opposing base stealers, and allows one steal per 9.7 innings, a below-average rate. Another key fact: The 2009 Athletics are actually a running team, one of the most such squads in the Billy Beane era; they rank eighth in baseball with 79 steals. Red-hot Rajai Davis is your sleeper, with seven stolen bases and a .347 batting average in 18 games since the All-Star break.
The teams listed below have the most favorable overall pitching matchups, accounting for recent performance, strength of opponents and ballpark factors.
Cardinals (CIN-3, SD-3): Remember what I wrote above about the pitching-friendly nature of Busch Stadium? Check out our Park Factor page, which shows the ballpark ranking among the bottom five in both runs scored and home runs. That plays right into St. Louis' hands facing such meager offenses. The Reds are batting .206 as a team since the All-Star break, averaging 3.4 runs per game, and that's despite their hitter-friendly home environment helping them out more than half the time. The Padres, meanwhile, have batted .236 with a .691 OPS and average of 3.7 runs for the season, all of those numbers are major league lows, so expect big things for Tony La Russa's crew.
Rockies (CHC-1, PIT-3, @FLA-3): People seem to have this fear of the Rockies, probably because for the first 10 years at Coors Field it was seemingly a death trap for pitchers. But if you count only statistics accrued during the Jim Tracy era, the Rockies' top four starters, Aaron Cook, Jorge de la Rosa, Ubaldo Jimenez and Jason Marquis, are 27-12 with a 3.53 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 50 games (49 starts). They're all absolutely fantasy-worthy, especially facing matchups like these. Pittsburgh has a .672 OPS since the All-Star break, third-worst in baseball. Florida has averaged a so-so 4.3 runs per game since the break and continues to strike out a ton -- the team remains tops in baseball with 852 strikeouts.
White Sox (@SEA-3, @OAK-3): Ozzie Guillen's boys are on the upswing on the mound, with a 3.61 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in their past 18 games, led, of course, by Gavin Floyd. He has a 7-2 record, 2.24 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in his past 14 starts. The White Sox's hot streak has come at the right time. These six games will be played entirely at pitching-friendly venues, against middling-to-worse offenses. The Mariners have the game's third-worst team OPS at home (.725) and the Athletics the second-worst (.721). The two teams combined have averaged 4.3 runs per game at home.
Red Sox (DET-4, @TEX-3): If there's any time a pitching staff could pick to play the Tigers and Rangers, it's right now. Detroit has averaged 3.9 runs per game with a .716 OPS since the All-Star break, compared to 4.8 runs per game with a .750 mark before it. Texas has averaged 4.2 runs per game with a .717 OPS since (and including) its three-game series in Boston June 5-7. With Ian Kinsler on the shelf, the Rangers' attack isn't quite so fearsome, even at home. Josh Beckett and Jon Lester still represent two of the most talented pitchers in the game. These are big games for the Red Sox; expect them to be up to the task.
The chart below lists each of the 30 MLB teams' schedules and projected starting pitchers. The pitchers scheduled to pitch twice this week are color-coded.
Recommended cut-off point for elite one-starts: No. 10 (Lohse)
Recommended cut-off point for "under-50" bargains: No. 17 (Laffey)
No must-starts this week.
1. Gavin Floyd (CHW) -- Mon-@SEA (French), Sat-@OAK (Anderson): 1.35 ERA, 1.05 WHIP in three career starts versus Athletics
2. Rich Harden (CHC) -- Tue-PHI (Happ), Sun-PIT (Ohlendorf): 0.90 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 22 K's in 20 innings in three career starts versus Phillies
3. Joba Chamberlain (NYY) -- Tue-TOR (Richmond), Sun-@SEA (TBD): 4-0, 2.02 ERA, 1.09 WHIP in his past four starts
4. Edwin Jackson (DET) -- Mon-@BOS (Penny), Sat-KC (Hochevar)
5. Aaron Cook (COL) -- Tue-PIT (Ohlendorf), Sun-@FLA (Volstad): 8-3, 3.19 ERA, 1.32 WHIP in his past 15 starts
6. Matt Garza (TB) -- Mon-@LAA (O'Sullivan), Sun-TOR (Rzepczynski)
7. J.A. Happ (PHI) -- Tue-@CHC (Harden), Sun-@ATL (Vazquez): 4-2, 2.02 ERA, 0.91 WHIP in his past eight starts
8. John Danks (CHW) -- Tue-@SEA (TBD), Sun-@OAK (G. Gonzalez)
9. Roy Oswalt (HOU) -- Tue-@FLA (Volstad), Sun-@MIL (Looper)
10. Kyle Lohse (STL) -- Mon-CIN (Cueto), Sun-SD (Richard): 13-6, 3.19 ERA, 1.13 WHIP in 29 career starts at Busch Stadium
11. Chris Volstad (FLA) -- Tue-HOU (Oswalt), Sun-COL (Cook)
12. Jonathan Sanchez (SF) -- Mon-LAD (Kuroda), Sun-@NYM (Pelfrey)
13. Mike Pelfrey (NYM) -- Mon-@ARI (Davis), Sun, SF (Sanchez)
14. John Lannan (WAS) -- Tue-@ATL (Hanson), Sun-@CIN (Lehr): 2-1, 2.37 ERA, 1.58 WHIP in three career starts at Turner Field
15. Hiroki Kuroda (LAD) -- Mon-@SF (Sanchez), Sun-@ARI (Davis)
16. Sean O'Sullivan (LAA) -- Mon-TB (Garza), Sun-@BAL (Guthrie)
17. Aaron Laffey (CLE) -- Tue-TEX (Hunter), Sun-@MIN (Blackburn)
18. Braden Looper (MIL) -- Tue-SD (Richard), Sun-HOU (Oswalt): 4-2, 4.60 ERA, 1.30 WHIP in 12 home starts in 2009
19. Brad Penny (BOS) -- Mon-DET (Jackson), Sat-@TEX (Holland)
20. Jorge De La Rosa (COL) -- Mon-CHC (Gorzelanny), Sat-@FLA (VandenHurk)
21. Doug Davis (ARI) -- Mon-NYM (Pelfrey), Sun-LAD (Kuroda): 3-6, 3.30 ERA, 1.40 WHIP in 12 home starts in 2009
22. Jeremy Guthrie (BAL) -- Mon-OAK (G. Gonzalez), Sun-LAA (O'Sullivan)
23. Rick Porcello (DET) -- Tue-@BOS (TBD), Sun-KC (Davies)
24. Johnny Cueto (CIN) -- Mon-@STL (Lohse), Sat-WAS (Martin): 2-1, 3.15 ERA, 1.20 WHIP in three career starts versus Nationals
25. Tom Gorzelanny (CHC) -- Mon-@COL (De La Rosa), Sat-PIT (Duke)
26. Nick Blackburn (MIN) -- Tue-KC (Davies), Sun-CLE (Laffey): 5-0, 2.95 ERA, 1.30 WHIP in nine home starts in 2009
27. Rick VandenHurk (FLA) -- Mon-HOU (Moehler), Sat-COL (De La Rosa)
28. Gio Gonzalez (OAK) -- Mon-@BAL (Guthrie), Sun-CHW (Danks)
29. Marc Rzepczynski (TOR) -- Mon-@NYY (Mitre), Sun-@TB (Garza)
30. Clayton Richard (SD) -- Tue-@MIL (Looper), Sun-@STL (Lohse)
31. Kyle Davies (KC) -- Tue-@MIN (Blackburn), Sun-@DET (Porcello)
32. Ross Ohlendorf (PIT) -- Tue-@COL (Cook), Sun-@CHC (Harden)
The 50-to-90 group (owned in 50 to 90 percent of ESPN.com leagues)
Scott Baker (MIN) -- Fri-CLE (Masterson): 2-0, 1.29 ERA, 0.79 WHIP in two starts versus Indians in 2009
Tommy Hanson (ATL) -- Tue-WAS (Lannan): 7 IP, 3 H's, 1 ER, 5 K's versus Nationals 7/4/09
Ubaldo Jimenez (COL) -- Wed-PIT (Hart): 1-0, 2.25 ERA, 1.00 WHIP in three career starts versus Pirates
Jason Marquis (COL) -- Thu-PIT (Maholm): 8-3, 3.39 ERA, 1.35 WHIP in 14 career games (13 starts) at Coors Field
Ricky Nolasco (FLA) -- Wed-HOU (Norris): 10-7, 3.87 ERA, 1.16 WHIP in 25 home games (23 starts) 2008-09
Jarrod Washburn (DET) -- Fri-KC (Greinke): 8-6, 3.16 ERA, 1.17 WHIP in 18 career games (17 starts) versus Royals
The under-50 group (available in at least 50 percent of ESPN.com leagues)
Brett Anderson (OAK) -- Sat-CHW (Floyd): Win, 7 IP, 6 H's, 0 ERs, 4 K's versus White Sox 6/4/09
Joe Blanton (PHI) -- Thu-@CHC (Dempster): 5-2, 2.33 ERA, 1.09 WHIP in his past 12 starts
Manny Parra (MIL) -- Thu-SD (Latos): 3-0, 3.94 ERA, 1.50 WHIP in his past five starts
Andy Pettitte (NYY) -- Fri-@SEA (Rowland-Smith): 5-2, 3.19 ERA, 1.26 WHIP in 10 road starts in 2009
Joel Pineiro (STL) -- Sat-SD (TBD): 10-6, 3.12 ERA, 1.20 WHIP in 23 career games (22 starts) at Busch Stadium
Randy Wells (CHC) -- Fri-PIT (Morton): Win, 7 IP, 6 H's, 1 ER, 4 K's versus Pirates 7/1/09
Barry Zito (SF) -- Fri-@NYM (Parnell): 2-1, 2.16 ERA, 1.24 WHIP in his past four 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.