Hamilton, Cruz could be back for Week 8

Fantasy Forecaster updated Sunday, May 22 at 11:50 p.m. ET.

On tap: Intraleague play resumes on Monday after the brief interleague weekend, and with it comes a somewhat lighter week than the one before it. Whereas all 30 teams were scheduled for seven games in Week 7, only 10 are scheduled for that many in Week 8, and two teams -- the Atlanta Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates -- are scheduled for only five. Each of those teams also plays a stout opponent for one of its two series -- the Braves host the Cincinnati Reds from Friday-Sunday and the Pirates visit Atlanta on Tuesday-Wednesday -- so in weekly leagues you might want to look elsewhere for fantasy production.

The Texas Rangers have floundered offensively in May, averaging 3.59 runs per game with a .645 OPS after beginning the season with outstanding 5.19/.806 numbers in those categories in April, but there's plenty of reason to be hopeful this week. They might have both of their slugging outfielders, Nelson Cruz and Josh Hamilton, back in their lineup on Monday, and they'll play all six of their games at home, including three against the pitching-starved Kansas City Royals.

Speaking of injury comebacks, the Philadelphia Phillies might get Chase Utley back in their lineup as early as Monday, right in time for a four-game set versus the Reds.

For those of you in daily leagues, there is a scheduled doubleheader on Tuesday: Arizona Diamondbacks at Colorado Rockies. The Diamondbacks will pitch Joe Saunders and Josh Collmenter, who average 5.17 and 4.20 K's per nine innings respectively, so fireworks might be in order at Coors Field.

Reminder: For those of you in weekly-transactions leagues, first pitch of Week 8 is 7:05 p.m. ET on Monday. Here are this week's other scheduled first pitches by day: Tuesday 3:10 p.m. ET, Wednesday 12:05 p.m. ET, Thursday 12:35 p.m. ET, Friday 2:20 p.m. ET, Saturday 1:05 p.m. ET, Sunday 1:05 p.m. ET.

Quick click by section, if you're seeking advice in a specific area:
Projected starting pitchers | Pitching strategies
Team advantages | Hitting strategies
Weather report | Week 8 pitcher rankings

Projected starting pitchers

The chart below lists each of the 30 MLB teams' schedules and projected starting pitchers, and provides a matchup rating for each day's starter. Pitchers scheduled to start twice this week are in gray/beige boxes.

P: The starting pitcher's matchup rating, which accounts for past history (three years' worth as well as past 21 days), opponent and ballpark. Ratings range from 1-10, with 10 representing the best possible matchup, statistically speaking, and 1 representing the worst.

Tristan's pitching strategies

• If you've been waiting for the week for Jered Weaver to "turn it around" -- he began the year with six consecutive wins and quality starts, but has since lost four straight starts with a 5.25 ERA -- this might be it. He'll face the Oakland Athletics, a team he shut out at home on April 25, again at home, then travel to Minnesota to take on the game's worst offense, the Minnesota Twins, who have averaged 3.29 runs per game and managed a .616 team OPS. It's the same arrangement fellow two-start pitcher Dan Haren will enjoy; but he by comparison has nine quality starts in 10 tries plus a 1.23 ERA this season.

And what of the less obvious choices? Ervin Santana, Wednesday's starter, is 12-3 with a 1.99 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 21 career games (19 starts) versus the Athletics, while Joel Pineiro, Thursday's starter, is 4-for-4 in terms of quality starts with a 2.10 ERA and 0.97 WHIP against the A's since joining the Angels last season. Tyler Chatwood, coming off a disappointing start in Oakland, could even warrant an AL-only look. The matchup is favorable and it's an opponent who has yet to face him. Closer Jordan Walden, meanwhile, has a set of matchups that could help him snap his funk; he has blown three of his past five save chances.

• Not that the Twins' rotation lacks fantasy appeal simply because they have that three-game weekend series versus the aforementioned Angels. Ever hear of a weekend populated entirely by pitchers' duels? Besides, the Twins' week-opening series against the Seattle Mariners is the true standout set of matchups. The Mariners rank next-to-last in both runs per game (3.47) and team OPS (.625), and have scored three runs or fewer in 12 of their past 16 contests. Two-start pitcher Carl Pavano has a 3.67 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in four career starts versus the Mariners, while Nick Blackburn (Tuesday) has a 3.13 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in six career starts against them. Another advantage: It's a full week of games at pitching-friendly Target Field, and the Twins' current five starters are a combined 39-24 with a 3.72 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 102 career games (78 starts) there.

Yovani Gallardo appears to have straightened himself out, with three consecutive quality starts, though a soft schedule (@STL, PIT, @SD) could be one explanation. No matter; he pitches at home against the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants, so it's not like his Week 8 matchups are that much tougher. The Nationals have averaged 3.47 runs per game and the Giants 3.29 in May, both of those bottom-10 numbers, and have .608 and .678 OPS in the month, and Gallardo has a 23-13 record, 3.45 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in his career at home. Feel free to load up on Milwaukee Brewers pitching as a whole, even the often-scary Randy Wolf. A point in his favor: He's 9-5 with a 2.86 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 18 career starts versus the Giants, his Saturday opponent.

• If you listened to Friday's podcast, you heard Nate Ravitz and I discuss the merits of Kyle Lohse at Coors Field; the St. Louis Cardinals finish their week there with a three-game series, with Lohse scheduled to pitch on Sunday. Here are the facts: Lohse has lost all three of his career starts at Coors, with a 7.80 ERA and 1.80 WHIP. He also has seven quality starts in his past nine tries overall, including quality starts during some more challenging assignments at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park (May 13) and versus the Brewers (May 7). So what to do? "Ride the streak," I say, especially as Lohse has a 2.77 K-to-walk ratio and 45.5 percent ground-ball rate, numbers as good as any others during his 11-year career. And that's in spite of the fact he has also lost his only two career starts at San Diego's Petro Park, where he'll pitch on Monday, with a 6.10 ERA. There's a first time for everything!

The Cardinals as a whole should experience pitching success, what with that three-game, week-opening set at Petco. Lohse and Kyle McClellan are red hot, while Wednesday starter Chris Carpenter has a 2-0 record and 1.29 ERA in three career starts at Petco. Jake Westbrook, who pitches Friday at Coors, is the one question mark. But even he has four quality starts in his past five tries.

For more insight into Week 8 pitching matchups, see my rankings for the top 75 starting pitchers, as well as every two-start pitcher, at column's end.

Team advantages

The chart below lists each of the 30 teams' total number of scheduled games, home games and games versus right- and left-handed pitchers, and provides a matchup rating for the week's games in terms of overall offense, offense for left- and right-handed hitters and base stealing. Matchup ratings for each individual game are listed under the corresponding date.

Some of the data used to generate this chart is derived from Baseball Musings' Day-by-day database.

H: Hitters' matchup rating, which accounts for the opposing starting pitcher's past history (three years' worth as well as past 21 days) as well as ballpark factors. L: Hitters' matchup rating accounting only for left-handed hitters. R: Hitters' matchup rating accounting for only right-handed hitters. S: Base stealing matchup rating, which accounts for the opponent's catchers' ability to gun down opposing base stealers. Ratings range from 1-10, with 10 representing the best possible matchup, statistically speaking, and 1 representing the worst.

Tristan's hitting strategies

• Returning to the Rangers, Cruz and Hamilton are well worth immediate insertion into your fantasy lineup. Cruz is a .319/.386/.613 hitter with 36 home runs in 137 games at Rangers Ballpark since 2009, his slugging percentage and homers team bests, while Hamilton is a .320/.369/.593 hitter with 23 homers in 123 games there during that span. Their return should also create a ripple effect in the lineup; this team has .240/.314/.349 rates in the 14 games since Cruz's last appearance, while Rangers hitters not named Cruz or Hamilton combined for .260/.321/.491 rates in the 11 games in which both outfielders were simultaneously healthy. Their return hurts Endy Chavez and Craig Gentry, who had been filling in lately. However, it helps almost everyone else in a Rangers uniform.

• They might not have the majors' best hitting rating -- they're rated a "7" -- but the Detroit Tigers get my pick this week. As a team they've batted .259/.341/.417 with 14 home runs in 14 games since a 4-2 victory against the New York Yankees on May 3. They'll also battle nothing but right-handed starters in their seven-game week, a plus for left-handed Tigers hitters like Alex Avila, Brennan Boesch and Victor Martinez. Finally, that "10" rating for steals even makes the slow-starting Austin Jackson a strong fantasy option. Jackson, incidentally, is a .328/.368/.531 hitter in 16 games in May, so get him back in there … at least for this week.

• The Chicago Cubs' offense is beginning to pick up, the team ranking 11th in terms of runs per game (4.31) in May, but third in team OPS (.756) during the month. Slow-starting Carlos Pena is a big reason for that; he has .333/.470/.667 rates, five home runs and 12 RBIs in 16 games in May. Darwin Barney (.317/.343/.333 in 15 games) and Marlon Byrd (.355/.394/.532 in 16 games) have also been two recent standouts. Aramis Ramirez (.273/.322/.309 in 14 games) and Alfonso Soriano (.260/.315/.360 in 14 games) haven't, by comparison, but there's historically been no better cure for either than a series against the Pirates, the Cubs' weekend opponent. Ramirez is a lifetime .289/.373/.534 hitter with 22 home runs in 103 games against his former team, while Soriano is a .330/.380/.644 hitter with 21 home runs in 64 games against the Pirates.

Philadelphia Phillies-New York Mets is typically an intense rivalry, and so far this season, the Phillies have had the Mets' number; they've won four of six meetings, all at Citizens Bank Park, three of those scoring 10 or more runs. That said, the Mets actually have the higher team OPS during their all-time meetings at Citi Field, .721-.658, though the Phillies have scored more runs (63-61) and hit more home runs (17-13). Among the Phillies' Citi standouts: Ryan Howard has five homers and 13 RBIs in 15 games, while Raul Ibanez has three homers in 18 games. Also look to freshly promoted Domonic Brown as a deeper-league option; he was a .350/.431/.600 hitter in the minors and could provide a spark. The aforementioned Utley, as well, might have had as many as four games before the Mets series to regain his timing. Considering the strength of the matchups, he's probably worth an instant activation in all but the shallowest of leagues.

Weather report

Weatherproof games: Dodgers at Astros (3, Mon-Wed); Diamondbacks at Astros (3, Fri-Sun); White Sox at Blue Jays (4, Thu-Sun); Nationals at Brewers (3, Mon-Wed); Giants at Brewers (3, Fri-Sun); Yankees at Mariners (3, Fri-Sun); Indians at Rays (3, Fri-Sun).

Tristan's Week 8 pitcher rankings: Top 75

Rankings take into account several factors: The pitcher's raw talent, historical and recent performance; number of starts; strength of opponent(s); and ballpark factors. Be aware that different leagues might emphasize different pitching statistics that could change these rankings slightly. These are based upon a fairly standard Rotisserie scoring system, like ESPN's.

1. Justin Verlander (DET) -- Tue-TB (Davis), Sun-BOS (Beckett)
2. Dan Haren (LAA) -- Tue-OAK (TBD), Sun-@MIN (Pavano)
3. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Mon-OAK (Outman), Sat-@MIN (Liriano)
4. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Mon-@HOU (Norris), Sun-FLA (Nolasco)
5. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- Mon-WAS (Gorzelanny), Sun-SF (Cain)
6. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Mon-CIN (Arroyo), Sat-@NYM (Pelfrey)
7. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- Sat-NYY (Nova)
8. Matt Cain (SF) -- Tue-FLA (Nolasco), Sun-@MIL (Gallardo)
9. Roy Halladay (PHI) -- Wed-CIN (Wood)
10. Josh Beckett (BOS) -- Tue-@CLE (Carmona), Sun-@DET (Verlander)
11. Jair Jurrjens (ATL) -- Tue-@PIT (Morton), Sun-CIN (Cueto)
12. Tommy Hanson (ATL) -- Fri-CIN (Volquez)
13. Tim Lincecum (SF) -- Fri-@MIL (Marcum)
14. David Price (TB) -- Fri-CLE (Tomlin)
15. Clay Buchholz (BOS) -- Mon-@CLE (Masterson), Sat-@DET (Coke)
16. Cliff Lee (PHI) -- Thu-CIN (Bailey)
17. Jon Lester (BOS) -- Wed-@CLE (Talbot)
18. Shaun Marcum (MIL) -- Fri-SF (Lincecum)
19. Ricky Nolasco (FLA) -- Tue-@SF (Cain), Sun-@LAD (Kershaw)
20. Zack Greinke (MIL) -- Wed-WAS (Marquis)
21. CC Sabathia (NYY) -- Tue-TOR (Romero)
22. Anibal Sanchez (FLA) -- Thu-@SF (Vogelsong)
23. Jeremy Hellickson (TB) -- Mon-@DET (Coke), Sun-CLE (Masterson)
24. Jhoulys Chacin (COL) -- Tue-ARI, Gm. 2 (Collmenter)
25. Zach Britton (BAL) -- Tue-KC (Duffy), Sun-@OAK (TBD)
26. Jaime Garcia (STL) -- Sat-@COL (Reynolds)
27. Johnny Cueto (CIN) -- Tue-@PHI (Worley), Sun-@ATL (Jurrjens)
28. Chad Billingsley (LAD) -- Tue-@HOU (Happ)
29. Michael Pineda (SEA) -- Fri-NYY (Burnett)
30. Ricky Romero (TOR) -- Tue-@NYY (Sabathia), Sun-CHW (Danks)
31. Daniel Hudson (ARI) -- Fri-@HOU (Myers)
32. Ryan Dempster (CHC) -- Tue-NYM (Niese), Sun-PIT (Maholm)
33. Gio Gonzalez (OAK) -- Fri-BAL (Guthrie)
34. Colby Lewis (TEX) -- Fri-KC (Adcock)
35. Alexi Ogando (TEX) -- Mon-CHW (Danks), Sun-KC (Duffy)
36. Trevor Cahill (OAK) -- Wed-@LAA (Santana)
37. Matt Garza (CHC) -- Sat-PIT (Correia)
38. Max Scherzer (DET) -- Thu-BOS (Aceves)
39. Madison Bumgarner (SF) -- Wed-FLA (Volstad)
40. James Shields (TB) -- Sat-CLE (Carrasco)
41. Kyle McClellan (STL) -- Tue-@SD (Harang)
42. Hiroki Kuroda (LAD) -- Sat-FLA (Buente)
43. Bud Norris (HOU) -- Mon-LAD (Kershaw), Sun-ARI (Saunders)
44. Mat Latos (SD) -- Wed-STL (Carpenter)
45. Roy Oswalt (PHI) -- Fri-@NYM (Capuano)
46. Ian Kennedy (ARI) -- Wed-@COL (Hammel)
47. Wandy Rodriguez (HOU) -- Sat-ARI (TBD)
48. Brandon Morrow (TOR) -- Thu-CHW (Humber)
49. Ubaldo Jimenez (COL) -- Fri-STL (Westbrook)
50. Jorge De La Rosa (COL) -- Tue-ARI, Gm. 1 (Saunders), Sun-STL (Lohse)
51. Homer Bailey (CIN) -- Thu-@PHI (Lee)
52. Bartolo Colon (NYY) -- Mon-TOR (Villanueva), Sun-@SEA (Vargas)
53. A.J. Burnett (NYY) -- Fri-@SEA (Pineda)
54. Kyle Lohse (STL) -- Mon-@SD (Moseley), Sun-@COL (De La Rosa)
55. Chris Carpenter (STL) -- Wed-@SD (Latos)
56. Justin Masterson (CLE) -- Mon-BOS (Buchholz), Sun-@TB (Hellickson)
57. Brett Anderson (OAK) -- Thu-@LAA (Pineiro)
58. Ted Lilly (LAD) -- Wed-@HOU (Rodriguez)
59. Jonathan Sanchez (SF) -- Sat-@MIL (Wolf)
60. John Danks (CHW) -- Mon-@TEX (Ogando), Sun-@TOR (Romero)
61. Jake Peavy (CHW) -- Tue-@TEX (Holland)
62. Jason Vargas (SEA) -- Mon-@MIN (Pavano), Sun-NYY (Colon)
63. C.J. Wilson (TEX) -- Wed-CHW (Floyd)
64. Francisco Liriano (MIN) -- Sat-LAA (Weaver)
65. Joel Pineiro (LAA) -- Thu-OAK (Anderson)
66. Tim Stauffer (SD) -- Sat-@WAS (Zimmermann)
67. Derek Lowe (ATL) -- Sat-CIN (Arroyo)
68. Erik Bedard (SEA) -- Wed-@MIN (Duensing)
69. Ervin Santana (LAA) -- Wed-OAK (Cahill)
70. Scott Baker (MIN) -- Fri-LAA (Chatwood)
71. Carlos Zambrano (CHC) -- Fri-PIT (Karstens)
72. Chris Narveson (MIL) -- Tue-WAS (Hernandez)
73. Mike Pelfrey (NYM) -- Sat-PHI (Hamels)
74. Travis Wood (CIN) -- Wed-@PHI (Halladay)
75. Jason Hammel (COL) -- Wed-ARI (Kennedy)

Two-start options for AL-/NL-only leagues:

Bronson Arroyo (CIN) -- Mon-@PHI (Hamels), Sat-@ATL (Lowe)
Phil Coke (DET) -- Mon-TB (Hellickson), Sat-BOS (Buchholz)
Tom Gorzelanny (WAS) -- Mon-@MIL (Gallardo), Sun-SD (Moseley)
Dustin Moseley (SD) -- Mon-STL (Lohse), Sun-@WAS (Gorzelanny)
Jonathon Niese (NYM) -- Tue-@CHC (Dempster), Sun-PHI (Worley)
Carl Pavano (MIN) -- Mon-SEA (Vargas), Sun-LAA (Haren)
Vance Worley (PHI) -- Tue-CIN (Cueto), Sun-@NYM (Niese)

No-thank-yous, among two-starts:
Danny Duffy (KC) -- Tue-@BAL (Britton), Sun-@TEX (Ogando)
Josh Outman (OAK) -- Mon-@LAA (Weaver), Sat-BAL (Tillman)
Joe Saunders (ARI) -- Tue-@COL, Gm. 1 (De La Rosa), Sun-@HOU (Norris)
Carlos Villanueva (TOR) -- Mon-@NYY (Colon), Sat-CHW (Jackson)

One-start sleepers:
Jake Arrieta (BAL) -- Wed-KC (Hochevar)
Nick Blackburn (MIN) -- Tue-SEA (Fister)
Brian Duensing (MIN) -- Wed-SEA (Bedard)
Jeremy Guthrie (BAL) -- Fri-@OAK (Gonzalez)
J.A. Happ (HOU) -- Tue-LAD (Billingsley)
Mike Minor (ATL) -- Wed-@PIT (McDonald)
Charlie Morton (PIT) -- Tue-ATL (Jurrjens)
James McDonald (PIT) -- Wed-ATL (Minor)
Ivan Nova (NYY) -- Sat-@SEA (Hernandez)
Brad Penny (DET) -- Wed-TB (Sonnanstine)
Ryan Vogelsong (SF) -- Thu-FLA (Sanchez)
Randy Wolf (MIL) -- Sat-SF (Sanchez)
Jordan Zimmermann (WAS) -- Sat-SD (Stauffer)

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, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.