Challenge Week 11: No Sophomore slump for Uggla
Each week, Tristan H. Cockcroft offers his strategies for the Baseball Challenge game. Look for his best bargains, busts and daily specials every Sunday.
CATCHER: The Royals' John Buck (3.8 price tag) continues to extend his breakout campaign into June, batting .279 (17-for-61) with six home runs and 14 RBIs in his past 18 games (through Thursday). He tends to bring his best effort to interleague contests; he hit .366 with a 1.176 OPS in 12 interleague games in 2006, and has .282/.842 career rates in interleague games. Also consider: Miguel Olivo (3.8).
FIRST BASE: His mononucleosis fully behind him, the Angels' Casey Kotchman (4.9) is finally showing his breakout potential, batting .446 (33-for-74) with five homers and 17 RBIs in his past 24 games (through Thursday). He's especially productive against right-handers, whom he has hit at .329/.974 rates, and keep in mind he'll face five righties in six games in Week 11. Also consider: Paul Konerko (4.9), Carlos Pena (4.2).
SECOND BASE: So much for the sophomore slump; the Marlins' Dan Uggla (6.7) is on even better homer/RBI paces than he had during rookie season, and he's a .333 hitter (35-for-105) with six homers in his past 26 contests (through Thursday). He's a .288/.941 hitter in 14 career interleague games, and in Week 11 he'll face three lefties, whom he hits at .297/.849 career rates, in six contests. Also consider: Ian Kinsler (4.8).
THIRD BASE: The Athletics' Eric Chavez (4.8) is finally starting to hit, batting .286 (10-for-35) with four homers in his past 10 games (through Thursday). He's especially productive against right-handed pitching, he has .254/.775 rates against righties this season and .284/.890 in his career, and he'll face nothing but righties in his six games in Week 11. Also consider: Miguel Cabrera (6.3), Mark Teahen (5.2).
SHORTSTOP: It often takes the Rangers' Michael Young (5.5) six weeks or so to get his season going. Remember, he was a .243 hitter through May 11, 2005, .356 the rest of the year. In 2006, he had one homer through May 22, 13 the rest of the year. Sure enough, this year, he's a .354 hitter (28-for-79) since May 18. Plus, he's a .344 career interleague hitter. Also consider: Hanley Ramirez (6.4), Juan Uribe (3.4).
LEFT FIELD: The Marlins' Josh Willingham (5.7), like teammate Uggla, is shaking the sophomore slump with a pace not far off his 2006 number, including a 114-RBI pace. He's a lifetime .270/.913 hitter against left-handers, and he'll face three of them in six games in Week 11. He's already 4-for-9 (.444) with one RBI in three interleague contests this season. Also consider: Adam Dunn (6.4), Josh Hamilton (4.5).
CENTER FIELD: There's little denying Ken Griffey Jr.'s (5.4) talent when healthy. Sure enough, the Reds slugger is a .293 hitter (39-for-133) with 12 homers since May 1. This week, he'll get six games at Great American Ball Park, all against right-handers, which plays to his strengths; he's at .303/.973 rates at home, and .280/.912 numbers against righties. Also consider: Curtis Granderson (6.1), David DeJesus (4.8).
RIGHT FIELD: Interleague play has long treated the White Sox's Jermaine Dye (5.2) well. He's a .306/.893 career hitter in those games and a .344 hitter with 12 homers in 56 interleague contests since 2004. He'll begin the week with three games at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park, then get three more at Pittsburgh's PNC Park, where he's 14-for-33 (.424) lifetime. Also consider: Sammy Sosa (5.4), Victor Diaz (3.6).
DESIGNATED HITTER: The Royals play all six of their games at Kauffman Stadium, which helps Mike Sweeney's (4.1) cause since most of the DH alternatives spend enough time in National League parks that they'll miss a game or two in Week 11. Sweeney is a .309/.823 career hitter during interleague play, and a .299/.875 lifetime batsman at Kauffman. Also consider: David Ortiz (6.7), Jose Bautista (4.5).
PITCHING STAFF: The Baltimore Orioles staff (4.2) has pitched better than you might expect of late; they have a 3.74 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in their past 28 games as a team (through Thursday). That's not a bad target for savings at the position, considering the Orioles host the worst offensive in baseball, the Nationals (3.77 R/G), and their other three-game interleague series is against the 23rd-ranked Diamondbacks (4.23 R/G). Also consider: Boston Red Sox (5.1).
CATCHER: High-strikeout hitters like the Angels' Mike Napoli (4.3) tend to be susceptible to painful cold spells, especially when facing tricky matchups like his in Week 11. He'll face four tough right-handers: The Reds' Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey and the Dodgers' Derek Lowe and Jason Schmidt. Also avoid: Russell Martin (5.7).
FIRST BASE: Few teams face as tough pitching staffs as the Dodgers in Week 11; they get the Mets (3.40 ERA) and Angels (3.74) for three games apiece, and all in their pitching-friendly home ballpark. All six scheduled opponents are right-handed, so sit Nomar Garciaparra (4.2). Also avoid: Adrian Gonzalez (6.2), Ryan Garko (4.8).
SECOND BASE: The Diamondbacks' Orlando Hudson (5.5) has cooled considerably since his .352/.929 April; he's a .247 hitter (19-for-77) in his past 21 games (through Thursday). He'll face three left-handers this week, and he's a .250/.697 career hitter against them. Also avoid: Jeff Kent (5.4), Robinson Cano (4.8).
THIRD BASE: Keep Chad Tracy (4.6) reserved in his first full week back off the DL. As mentioned with Hudson, his Diamondbacks face four left-handers in six games in Week 11, and Tracy is a .231/.577 hitter against them this year (.228/.628 for his career). Also avoid: Ryan Zimmerman (5.9), Garrett Atkins (4.4).
SHORTSTOP: The Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki (4.6) has to tangle with three tough Red Sox right-handers -- Tim Wakefield, Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett. Also note that in his six games in Week 11, he'll get five righties. Considering he's a .252/.699 hitter against them this year, it's a good time to sit Tulowitzki. Also avoid: Orlando Cabrera (5.6), Stephen Drew (4.3).
LEFT FIELD: Keep playing the lefty-righty trends with the Cardinals' Chris Duncan (4.9), as he's a .280/.894 hitter against righties, .214/590 against lefties, this season. Taking into account he'll face three left-handers in six road contests in Week 11, it's a good time to bench him. Also avoid: Luis Gonzalez (4.8), Melky Cabrera (3.4).
CENTER FIELD: Back and leg problems have largely been responsible for Johnny Damon's (4.8) poor production to date. In his past 20 games, he's merely a .253 hitter (19-for-75) with one homer and three stolen bases. In Week 11, he faces the tough Diamondbacks and Mets pitching staffs. Also avoid: Willy Taveras (4.1).
RIGHT FIELD: The Yankees' Bobby Abreu (5.0) has slumped comparably, though it's not due to injuries in his case. That weekend Subway Series should be a tough one for him; he's a combined 17-for-76 (.224) with one homer against scheduled opponents Oliver Perez, Tom Glavine and Orlando Hernandez. Also avoid: Austin Kearns (4.5).
DESIGNATED HITTER: Be careful of DHs scheduled for games in National League ballparks; the Angels' Garret Anderson and White Sox's Jim Thome are two in particular who could sit much of the week. The Blue Jays' Frank Thomas (4.7) should be avoided most, as he might not get a single start in San Francisco to begin the week.
PITCHING STAFF: The Milwaukee Brewers staff (4.5) has slumped of late, with a 5.03 ERA and 1.40 WHIP as a team in their past 24 games (through Thursday). Now the Brewers have to face the game's most potent offense, the Tigers (5.95 R/G), in three road games, and then they'll throw three right-handers against the Twins, who righties well (.280/.755). Also avoid: Arizona Diamondbacks (4.7), San Francisco Giants (4.2).
MONDAY: I'd pick the Cubs' Michael Barrett based on his track record against Astros right-hander Woody Williams, but since it's a Carlos Zambrano game, don't count on Barrett playing. Instead, look to LF Cliff Floyd (2.6), a lifetime .370 hitter (10-for-27) with two homers against Williams, and a .298/.777 hitter against right-handers this season.
TUESDAY: For as bad as he has been to date, Red Sox outfielder J.D. Drew (4.0) is nonetheless a .283/.892 career hitter, .290/.921 against right-handers. He's familiar with Rockies opponent Aaron Cook, against whom he's a lifetime .500 hitter (4-for-8) with a homer, a double and a triple. Perhaps this will mark the beginning of a rebound for Drew.
WEDNESDAY: Phillies right-hander Freddy Garcia faces his former team, the White Sox, and you can be sure they're familiar with his arsenal. In particular, 1B Paul Konerko (4.9) is a lifetime .385 hitter (10-for-26) hitter with four homers against Garcia. In addition, Konerko has batted .328 with 16 homers in 53 interleague games since 2003.
THURSDAY: Cardinals LF Chris Duncan (4.9) has faced Royals right-hander Scott Elarton in one game in his career, at Kauffman Stadium on May 21, 2006. In two at-bats in that contest, he flied out and homered. In addition, Duncan is a .298/.964 career hitter against right-handers, and he has three homers in six career interleague games.
FRIDAY: The Devil Rays are indeed familiar with Rockies right-hander Rodrigo Lopez from his Orioles days. In particular, 1B Carlos Pena (4.2) matches up well against him. He's 3-for-10 (.300) lifetime against Lopez, but more importantly, he's a .333/1.079 hitter against right-handers this season. Plus, the game is at Coors Field.
SATURDAY: Pay the price for Tigers RF Gary Sheffield (6.3), because you can't get a player much hotter than him, and you can't find much better a matchup than his. He's a .382 hitter (21-for-55) with eight homers and 19 RBIs in his past 14 games (through Thursday), and he's a lifetime .500 hitter (12-for-24) with four homers against Jamie Moyer.
SUNDAY: Here's one time when Yankees CF Johnny Damon (4.8) matches up nicely in Week 11, as he's familiar with Mets right-hander Orlando Hernandez from their days with the Red Sox and Yankees, respectively. Damon is a lifetime .390 hitter (16-for-41) with one homer against Hernandez, and a .292/.823 career hitter during interleague play.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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