On tap: It's a week chock full of makeup games, including one final interleague contest between the White Sox and Cubs at Wrigley Field on Thursday. There's even a slight chance the South Siders might even activate Jake Peavy to make his White Sox debut in that game. The other two makeup games force doubleheaders; the Pirates and Reds will tangle for two at Cincinnati on Monday, while the Blue Jays and Rangers hook up for a pair at Texas a day later. The Reds might also activate a pitcher off the DL to pitch in their doubleheader, Johnny Cueto. And those aren't the only two familiar fantasy names who mark their returns in Week 22; the Braves welcome Tim Hudson back to their rotation on Monday at Florida, giving him a two-start week.
Tuesday also marks the date of roster expansion, as teams are allowed to extend their active rosters from 25 to 40 players. Rotations might be somewhat in flux as a result, especially in Oakland and Pittsburgh, where six-man arrangements are expected in September.
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 (Monday, @MIN), Indians (Sunday, MIN), Rangers (Tuesday, TOR, Game 2), Cubs (Thursday, CHW), Reds (Monday, PIT, Game 2) and Dodgers (Friday, SD).
The weather report isn't especially worrisome at the onset of September, with the possible exception, of course, being the state of Florida. The Rays fortunately have a roof over their heads to alleviate weather concerns, but the Marlins might have to tangle with predictably rainy days during the hurricane season. Sure enough, the Braves-Marlins series running Monday through Thursday faces an increased chance of rain each progressing day, going from a 30 percent chance on Monday, to 40 on Tuesday and Wednesday and then 60 in the series finale on Thursday.
Weatherproof games: Phillies at Astros (3, Fri-Sun); Yankees at Blue Jays (4, Thu-Sun); Giants at Brewers (3, Fri-Sun); Angels at Mariners (3, Mon-Wed); Red Sox at Rays (3, Tue-Thu); Tigers at Rays (3, Fri-Sun); White Sox at Twins (3, Mon-Wed).
The teams listed below have the most favorable overall hitting matchups, accounting for recent performance, strength of opponents and ballpark factors.
Rangers (TOR-4, @BAL-3): Though he struggled for his first 22 games fresh off the disabled list, Josh Hamilton has turned his season around since Aug. 3, batting .396 with a .962 OPS in his past 23 contests. Not coincidentally, the Rangers' offense, which had been mired in a midseason mini-funk, seems to have turned itself around during that same time span, averaging 5.0 runs per game with a .280 batting average and .807 OPS. Texas avoids Roy Halladay in the Blue Jays series, and instead will battle five rookie starting pitchers, Jeremy Guthrie and his 5.31 ERA and 1.51 WHIP in home games, as well as a Blue Jays spot starter during Tuesday's doubleheader.
Cardinals (MIL-3, @PIT-3): This team keeps on hitting, with a .276 team batting average, .776 OPS and 4.6 runs-per-game average since the addition of Matt Holliday, numbers that look league-average but are not at all bad for a team that both calls a pitchers' park its home and has made stops in the cavernous ballparks of Los Angeles, New York and San Diego during that time. What's more, this team continues to draw hitting-friendly matchups, this week including games against staffs that rank in the bottom 10 in the majors in ERA since the All-Star break (Milwaukee ranks 28th at 5.62, while Pittsburgh ranks 22nd at 4.77).
White Sox (@MIN-3, @CHC-1, BOS-3): Not that Chicago's offense is an unappealing one, not by a long shot, but this pick plays more to the matchups against reeling pitching staffs than it does the offense's recent performance. Minnesota and Boston both sported team ERAs north of five in the month of August (Twins 5.72, 29th in baseball, and Red Sox 5.05, 22nd), and the only members of either rotation with a sub-4.00 ERA in the month were Scott Baker (3.03) and Jon Lester (2.41). The White Sox won't even face Baker in the series at Minnesota, instead fattening up on the rotation's three weakest links. And if you're wondering how the White Sox have been hitting, they've averaged 5.2 runs per game with a .788 team OPS in their past 25 contests.
Cubs (HOU-3, CHW-1, @NYM-3): First of all, see how many current Mets starters you can name. Not easy, is it? Roy Oswalt presents a challenge for the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Monday, but after that the matchups get far softer, including starts against such stalwarts as Yorman Bazardo, Nelson Figueroa and Brian Moehler. The White Sox could start Jake Peavy in the Thursday makeup game, but are afraid to because it'd mean he'd have to bat; the hittable Jose Contreras is their top alternative. The Cubs have averaged 6.7 runs and clubbed 23 home runs in 15 home games since the All-Star break, so those four home games present fantastic matchups, and the Mets, for the most part, are just going through the motions.
Chris Coghlan, 3B/OF, Marlins: .306 BA, .847 OPS versus right-handers in 2009; 7-for-15 (.467 BA) in three games versus Nationals Aug. 4-6
Jack Cust, OF, Athletics: .278 BA, .881 OPS in 23 games in August; .300 BA, .978 OPS in 11 games versus Mariners in 2009
Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies: .385 BA, 1.194 OPS in 22 games in August; .289 BA, .887 OPS in 30 home games in 2009
Todd Helton, 1B, Rockies: .311 BA, .883 OPS in 25 games in August; .335 BA, .957 OPS in 59 home games in 2009
Jeremy Hermida, OF, Marlins: .294 BA, .819 OPS versus right-handers in 2009; .315 BA, .891 OPS, 16 RBIs in 13 career games at Nationals Park
Garrett Jones, OF, Pirates: .323 BA, 1.041 OPS versus right-handers in 2009; 4-for-13 (.308 BA), 1 HR, 6 RBIs in three games versus Reds Aug. 21-23
Lyle Overbay, 1B, Blue Jays: .289 BA, .934 OPS versus right-handers in 2009; .333 BA, .985 OPS in 18 games in August
Randy Ruiz, DH, Blue Jays: .315 BA, 4 HRs, .918 OPS in 14 games for Blue Jays; .320 BA, 25 HRs, .976 OPS in 114 games for Triple-A Las Vegas
Favorable matchups listed below are selected based upon opponents' catchers allowing a high rate of steals attempts and/or having low caught-stealing percentages.
Reds (PIT-4, @ATL-3): Even with Willy Taveras on the disabled list, Dusty Baker has some speedy types to capitalize upon these favorable matchups. Brandon Phillips (three steals in August) is more than capable of swiping a bag, and Wladimir Balentien (1) is a bit of a sleeper for NL-only owners.
Marlins (ATL-4, @WAS-3): What a turnaround Hanley Ramirez has made in this category lately. He has 11 stolen bases in his past 31 games after only 13 in his first 88, and in the Marlins' most recent trip to Nationals Park (Aug. 4-6), he had a two-steal game. He's hardly the only Marlins player capable of swiping a bag, though; Emilio Bonifacio (two since the All-Star break), Chris Coghlan (2) and Cody Ross (1) might all be able to take advantage of these opponents' weak-armed backstops.
Red Sox (@TB-3, @CHW-3): Boston's top speedster, Jacoby Ellsbury, the new owner of the franchise's single-season record in stolen bases, might be a bit of a risk this week due to an ankle injury. Still, if he's able to sneak back into the lineup before the White Sox series, he'll almost assuredly take advantage of A.J. Pierzynski, one of the worst catchers in the game at throwing out opposing baserunners. Jason Bay and Dustin Pedroia each stole a base themselves off Pierzynski in their recent Aug. 24-27 series, and both might contribute one or two more in the rematch.
Rays (@DET-1, BOS-3, DET-3): Carl Crawford might have only seven stolen bases in his past 30 games, but you might remember the night of May 3, when he swiped six bases against the Red Sox and Jason Varitek. Actually, it's not the only time Crawford beat up Varitek; he has 13 steals in 12 games versus Boston this season, and stole two in a game against the backstop on Aug. 4. He's not the only one. Jason Bartlett has four steals against the Red Sox this season and B.J. Upton has two.
The teams listed below have the most favorable overall pitching matchups, accounting for recent performance, strength of opponents and ballpark factors.
Rangers (TOR-4, @BAL-3): One of the biggest surprises of the 2009 season is that Texas' pitching staff, once written off as a vast fantasy wasteland, has actually been one of the more effective ones for much of the summer. Since the All-Star break, this team has 23 wins in 39 games, with a 3.84 ERA and 1.31 WHIP, impressive numbers for a team that calls the bandbox Rangers Ballpark its home. Former no-names like Scott Feldman, Derek Holland and Tommy Hunter suddenly are fantasy-relevant, and these are games the team can certainly win. If there's any weak link to this staff, it's actually the closer, not the rotation; Frank Francisco has a 7.71 ERA and 1.71 WHIP in 10 appearances since the All-Star break.
Angels (@SEA-3, @KC-3): One thing that has remained constant about the Los Angeles rotation all season is that it features a steep downside; you never know on which night an Angels starter might completely implode, but every now and then it's bound to happen. Still, this staff has been getting decent efforts out of John Lackey (4-3, 3.18 ERA in eight second-half starts) and Ervin Santana (6-2, 4.61 ERA in nine), and Joe Saunders sure did look healthy in his return outing from the disabled list this past week. Both of these series come against bottom-10 offenses and both will be played in ballparks that play more toward pitchers than hitters.
Phillies (SF-3, @HOU-3): If you've been continually relying on year-to-date numbers when doing your pitching analysis, you're really underrating the Phillies' staff. They got off to a miserable start, hence their four-plus team ERA (4.14 to be exact), but if you narrow the timetable to only second-half games, they're tops in baseball with a 3.12 mark (Atlanta is next at 3.31). Looking at these matchups, you might think the Giants represent a challenge for an opposing pitcher, but you'd be wrong. Like the Astros, San Francisco ranks among the 10 worst offenses in the game since the All-Star break, and the Giants actually rank next-to-last in team OPS during that span (.684). Pitching is what drives San Francisco. That series might be a set of atypically low-scoring games at Citizens Bank Park, but fantasy owners of Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ and Cliff Lee will be happy about that.
Dodgers (ARI-4, SD-3): You can't get much more automatic than "start Dodgers pitchers at home," and apparently it doesn't seem to matter whether their names are Chad Billingsley or Randy Wolf … or even Charlie Haeger or Vicente Padilla. Dodger Stadium ranks among the bottom 10 in the game in terms of runs scored and home runs on the Park Factor page, meaning Padilla should find it refreshing to work twice there, as opposed to at Rangers Ballpark, which perpetually finds itself ranked among the top 10 in both categories. By the way, while recommending Padres matchups might seem obvious, this staff is 9-4 with a 3.03 ERA and .187 batting average allowed in 13 previous meetings this season, demonstrating its flat-out dominance.
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. 12 (Jackson)
Recommended cut-off point for "under-50" bargains: No. 21 (Pelfrey)
4. Randy Wolf (LAD) -- Mon-ARI (Davis), Sat-SD (Stauffer): 2-0, 3.92 ERA, 0.87 WHIP in three starts versus Diamondbacks in 2009
5. A.J. Burnett (NYY) -- Tue-@BAL (Hernandez), Sun-@TOR (Rzepczynski): 4-0, 3.82 ERA, 1.40 WHIP in five career starts at Camden Yards
6. John Danks (CHW) -- Tue-@MIN (Blackburn), Sun-BOS (Wakefield): 8-4, 2.99 ERA, 1.21 WHIP in his past 14 starts
7. Andy Pettitte (NYY) -- Mon-@BAL (Guthrie), Sat-@TOR (Cecil): 6-2, 3.58 ERA, 1.29 WHIP in 12 road starts in 2009
8. Joel Pineiro (STL) -- Tue-MIL (Looper), Sun-@PIT (Maholm)
9. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Tue-SF (Sanchez), Sun-@HOU (Oswalt): 3-0, 4.41 ERA, 1.07 WHIP in five career starts versus Astros
10. Derek Holland (TEX) -- Mon-TOR (Cecil), Sun-@BAL (Guthrie)
11. Jonathan Sanchez (SF) -- Tue-@PHI (Hamels), Sun-@MIL (Looper): 4-2, 3.02 ERA, 1.01 WHIP in his past nine starts
12. Edwin Jackson (DET) -- Tue-CLE (Huff), Sun-@TB (Kazmir): 2-0, 1.50 ERA, 1.17 WHIP in three career starts versus Indians
13. Gavin Floyd (CHW) -- Mon-@MIN (TBD), Sat-BOS (Lester): 2-0, 4.00 ERA, 1.28 WHIP in three starts versus Red Sox 2008-09
14. Jarrod Washburn (DET) -- Mon-TB (Shields), Sat-@TB (Shields): 2-0, 1.93 ERA, 1.07 WHIP in two starts versus Rays 2008-09
15. Roy Oswalt (HOU) -- Mon-@CHC (Harden), Sun-PHI (Hamels)
16. Joe Saunders (LAA) -- Mon-@SEA (French), Sun-@KC (Hochevar): 4-0, 3.18 ERA, 1.20 WHIP in five career starts at Safeco Field
17. Vicente Padilla (LAD) -- Tue-ARI (Petit), Sun-SD (Richard): Win, 7 IP, 6 H's, 1 ER versus Diamondbacks June 24
18. James Shields (TB) -- Mon-@DET (Washburn), Sat-DET (Washburn)
19. Randy Wells (CHC) -- Tue-HOU (Moehler), Sun-@NYM (Pelfrey)
20. Tim Wakefield (BOS) -- Tue-@TB (Kazmir), Sun-@CHW (Danks)
21. Mike Pelfrey (NYM) -- Tue-@COL (Fogg), Sun-CHC (Wells): 3-1, 2.35 ERA, 1.43 WHIP in four career starts versus Rockies
22. Scott Kazmir (TB) -- Tue-BOS (Wakefield), Sun-DET (Jackson): Has four consecutive quality starts at home; 4-0, 3.38 ERA, 1.05 WHIP in those games
23. Anibal Sanchez (FLA) -- Tue-ATL (Vazquez), Sun-@WAS (Hernandez): 3-0, 3.16 ERA, 1.36 WHIP in seven career starts versus Nationals
24. Paul Maholm (PIT) -- Mon-@CIN, Game 1 (Wells), Sun-STL (Pineiro)
25. Luke Hochevar (KC) -- Mon-@OAK (G. Gonzalez), Sun-LAA (Saunders)
26. Doug Davis (ARI) -- Mon-@LAD (Wolf), Sat-@COL (Hammel)
27. Tim Hudson (ATL) -- Mon-@FLA (Johnson), Sat-CIN (Wells): 1-1, 3.86 ERA, 1.41 WHIP in six minor league rehab starts
28. Yusmeiro Petit (ARI) -- Tue-@LAD (Padilla), Sun-@COL (Fogg)
29. Braden Looper (MIL) -- Tue-@STL (Pineiro), Sun-SF (Sanchez)
30. Doug Fister (SEA) -- Tue-LAA (Santana), Sun-@OAK (G. Gonzalez): 1-1, 3.55 ERA, 1.03 WHIP in his past four starts
31. Gio Gonzalez (OAK) -- Mon-KC (Hochevar), Sun-SEA (Fister)
32. Johnny Cueto (CIN) -- Mon-PIT, Game 2 (TBD), Sun-@ATL (Vazquez)
33. Marc Rzepczynski (TOR) -- Tue-@TEX, Game 1 (Nippert), Sun-NYY (Burnett)
The 50-to-90 group (owned in 50 to 90 percent of ESPN.com leagues)
Scott Baker (MIN) -- Sat-@CLE (Masterson): 3-0, 0.78 ERA, 0.57 WHIP in three starts versus Indians in 2009
Fausto Carmona (CLE) -- Thu-@DET (Robertson): 2.79 ERA in his past five starts; 3.77 ERA, 1.19 WHIP in six career games (four starts) at Comerica Park
Zach Duke (PIT) -- Wed-@CIN (Bailey): 2-0, 3.94 ERA, 1.31 WHIP in three career starts at Great American Ball Park
Tommy Hanson (ATL) -- Wed-@FLA (Volstad): Win, 7 IP, 4 H's, 3 ERs, 7 K's versus Marlins on Aug. 22
J.A. Happ (PHI) -- Wed-SF (Martinez): Has 12 quality starts in his past 13 tries; 6-3, 2.14 ERA, 1.14 WHIP in those games
Ubaldo Jimenez (COL) -- Thu-NYM (Misch): 1-1, 3.00 ERA, 1.19 WHIP in three career starts versus Mets
Jason Marquis (COL) -- Fri-ARI (Haren): 6-4, 3.59 ERA, 1.38 WHIP in 12 home starts in 2009
Ervin Santana (LAA) -- Tue-@SEA (Fister): 2-1, 1.61 ERA, 0.85 WHIP in three starts at Safeco Field 2008-09
The under-50 group (available in at least 50 percent of ESPN.com leagues)
Brett Anderson (OAK) -- Sat-SEA (French): 4-2, 3.01 ERA, 1.10 WHIP in his past 11 starts
Joe Blanton (PHI) -- Sat-@HOU (Rodriguez): Has nine consecutive quality starts; 4-2, 2.24 ERA, 1.04 WHIP in those games
Trevor Cahill (OAK) -- Wed-KC (Bannister): Has four consecutive quality starts; 1-1, 2.33 ERA, 1.04 WHIP in those games
Jorge De La Rosa (COL) -- Wed-NYM (Redding): Win, 6 1/3 IP, 3 H's, 2 ER versus Mets on July 30; 8-2, 3.61 ERA in his past 11 games (10 starts)
Scott Feldman (TEX) -- Fri-@BAL (Tillman): 9-1, 3.15 ERA, 1.19 WHIP in 12 road games (11 starts) in 2009
Charlie Haeger (LAD) -- Thu-ARI (Garland)
Tommy Hunter (TEX) -- Wed-TOR (Richmond): 6-1, 2.63 ERA, 1.13 WHIP in his past nine starts
John Lannan (WAS) -- Wed-@SD (Correia): 0-1, 1.71 ERA, 1.00 WHIP in three career starts versus Padres
Rick Porcello (DET) -- Wed-CLE (Laffey): 1-0, 1.38 ERA, 0.92 WHIP in two career starts versus Indians
Brett Tomko (OAK) -- Thu-SEA (Snell): Back-to-back wins, 0.82 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, both starts at McAfee Coliseum
Sean West (FLA) -- Fri-@WAS (Stammen): 2-1, 3.15 ERA, 1.45 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.