- Tristan H. Cockcroft, Fantasy
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Each week, Tristan H. Cockcroft offers his strategies for the Baseball Challenge game. Look for his best bargains, busts and daily specials every Sunday. All statistics are through the games of Thursday, July 26.
Good team matchups
Florida Marlins (COL-3, HOU-3): First baseman Mike Jacobs (3.5 price tag) is a .333 hitter (22-for-66) with three home runs and eight RBIs in his last 17 games. His Marlins also face nothing but right-handed starters in their six contests, and against three of them, the Rockies' Aaron Cook and the Astros' Jason Jennings and Roy Oswalt, Jacobs is a combined 8-for-17 (.471) with three homers in his career. ... Los Angeles Angels (@SEA-3, @OAK-4): Third baseman Chone Figgins (5.0) is a .442 hitter (19-for-43) with six stolen bases and 10 runs scored in 12 games since the All-Star break, and a .407 hitter (77-for-189) with 21 steals and 36 runs in 45 games since June 1. Also take a look at first baseman Casey Kotchman (3.8), a .303 hitter with an .879 OPS against right-handers this season, as the Angels battle six right-handed starters in their seven games. ... New York Yankees (CHW-3, KC-3): Second baseman Robinson Cano (4.2) is a .385 hitter (35-for-91) with five homers and 19 RBIs in 24 games in July, and a .328 hitter (64-for-195) with six homers and 29 RBIs in 51 games since June 1. ... Pittsburgh Pirates (STL-3, CIN-3): Could left fielder Jason Bay (4.5) finally be heating up? He went 5-for-12 (.417) with three homers and six RBIs in a three-game series at the Mets July 24-26, and has four homers in his last 13 contests overall. ... Toronto Blue Jays (@TB-3, TEX-3): Second baseman Aaron Hill (4.3) is a .352 hitter (19-for-54) with two homers and eight RBIs in 14 games since the All-Star break. ... Washington Nationals (CIN-3, STL-3): First baseman Dmitri Young (4.3) presents a bit of a risk because of the possibility he could be traded before Tuesday's deadline, but if he sticks in Washington, it's not all that bad a thing. He's a .391/1.056 hitter at home this season, and a .331 hitter (78-for-236) with seven of his nine homers against right-handers. His Nationals see five righty starters in their six games.
Ryan Braun, 3B, Brewers (4.7 price tag): His numbers against left-handed pitchers this season are absolutely unreal. Against them, Braun is 31-for-59 (.525) with 10 home runs, 23 RBIs, five doubles, two triples, 10 walks and a 1.772 OPS. He's also showing no signs of cooling off since joining the team, batting .358 (19-for-53) with six homers, 13 RBIs and a 1.141 OPS in 14 games since the All-Star break. His Brewers face three left-handers in their six games in Week 18, so expect the hot streak to continue.
Josh Fields, 3B, White Sox (3.3): He's a .276 hitter (24-for-87) with six homers and 18 RBIs in his last 24 games, including a .360 mark (9-for-25) with three homers and nine RBIs in his last seven contests. Fields is especially productive against left-handers, whom he hits for .385/1.170 rates, and his White Sox will face four in their six games.
Travis Hafner, DH, Indians (5.2): It's come time for the real "Pronk" to come out and hit, and Week 18 presents as good a chance as any. His Indians face nothing but right-handed starters in their six games, and remember, he's a .302/1.003 lifetime hitter against that side. In addition, he's a combined 22-for-45 (.489) with five homers and 18 RBIs in his career against the Rangers' Brandon McCarthy (Tuesday) and the Twins' Scott Baker (Saturday) and Carlos Silva (Sunday), three of his scheduled opponents.
J.J. Hardy, SS, Brewers (3.9): Speaking of Brewers who hit left-handers well, in a week when they'll see three of them, Hardy warrants consideration. He's a .277/.880 hitter against that side, but perhaps more importantly, he's much more comfortable at home (.294/.863 rates), and all six of the Brewers' games will be at Miller Park.
Corey Hart, RF, Brewers (4.1): Getting the idea yet that it's a fine week to play right-handed Brewers? Hart is a .314/1.015 hitter against left-handers this season, and a .318/.936 hitter at Miller Park. He's also a respectable .278 hitter (44-for-158) with 10 homers, 26 RBIs, 31 runs scored and an .875 OPS in his last 36 games.
Kenny Lofton, CF, Indians (4.1): He's back in Cleveland, where he first made headlines in the mid-1990s, and he'll presumably serve as the team's left fielder against right-handers, as he's hitting.325/.887 against that side this year. It's not a bad role for him at his age, and in his first full week with the Indians, in Week 18, he should get a fair share of playing time, as his team sees nothing but right-handed starters in six games.
Russell Martin, C, Dodgers (4.9): He's a .349/1.089 hitter against left-handers this season, and the Dodgers will battle three of them in their six games. Among them are the Giants' Noah Lowry (Tuesday) and Barry Zito (Thursday), against whom Martin is a combined 6-for-11 (.545) this season alone. Plus, while he'll have to face the Diamondbacks' Brandon Webb (Sunday), he's 2-for-6 (.333) lifetime against the right-hander.
Brandon Phillips, 2B, Reds (5.3): No team will see more left-handed starting pitching in Week 18 than the Reds, who face five southpaws in their six games. That's great news for the one Reds slugger who absolutely owns lefties, Phillips, a .346 hitter (46-for-133) with 10 homers and a 1.000 OPS against that side. Sure, all of those contests will come on the road, but that's not so bad; he's a .299/.848 road hitter this year.
Poor team matchups
Arizona Diamondbacks (@SD-3, @LAD-3): Second baseman Orlando Hudson (4.0) is an ordinary .270 hitter (63-for-233) with three home runs, 25 RBIs and 24 runs scored in 64 games since May 15, and a .232 hitter (13-for-56) with two homers in 14 games since the All-Star break. ... Chicago White Sox (@NYY-3, @DET-3): Designated hitter Jim Thome (4.6) has had his problems with left-handed pitching this season -- .200/.639 rates -- and his White Sox face four southpaw starters in their six games in Week 18. Among them are the Yankees' Andy Pettitte (Thursday) and the Tigers' Andrew Miller (Friday) and Kenny Rogers (Sunday), against whom he's a combined 14-for-69 (.203) with one homer and 25 strikeouts in his career. ... Kansas City Royals (@MIN-4, @NYY-3): Right fielder Mark Teahen (4.3) hasn't hit a home run since May 29, and during that drought, he's a .280 hitter (53-for-189) with 18 RBIs, two stolen bases and 29 runs scored in 46 games, mediocre numbers for fantasy. ... New York Mets (@MIL-3, @CHC-3): Catcher Paul Lo Duca (2.7) is a .240/.590 hitter against right-handers this season, and the Mets battle five righty starters in their six games. ... Oakland Athletics (DET-3, LAA-4): Third baseman Eric Chavez (3.5) is hitting .222 (20-for-90) with three homers and 13 RBIs in his last 27 games, limited of late by a sore back. He's also a .234/.703 hitter against left-handers this season, .238/.703 for his career, and his Athletics battle three lefty starters in their seven games. ... Seattle Mariners (LAA-3, BOS-3): Right fielder Jose Guillen (4.1) is a .245/.682 hitter against right-handers this season, and his Mariners will face five righty starters in six games.
Mike Cameron, CF, Padres (4.7): One can only imagine what Cameron's career might have been had he not spent the past eight years of it calling extreme pitchers' parks his home (Seattle's Safeco Field, New York's Shea Stadium, San Diego's Petco Park). Petco has limited him to .225/.701 rates this season, .254/.792 for his career, and his Padres are scheduled for six games at home this week. He's also a .223/.662 hitter against right-handers, and his team will face five righty starters.
Khalil Greene, SS, Padres (4.1): He's hitting .170 (9-for-53) with one homer and three RBIs in 14 games since the All-Star break. In addition, Greene is a .218/.676 hitter at Petco Park this season, .232/.670 for his career, and his Padres are scheduled for six home games in Week 18. Five of those six contests will come against right-handed starters, which is a concern since he's a .226/.687 hitter against that side.
David Ortiz, DH, Red Sox (5.0): Knee and shoulder problems continue to limit Ortiz at the plate this season, and one of the most obvious indicators that he's at less than full health is his woeful performance against left-handers (.259/.689 rates). His Red Sox will see three southpaw starters in their six games, and one of them is the Orioles' Erik Bedard (Tuesday), against whom he's 3-for-16 (.188) with four strikeouts lifetime. Plus, he has been nothing special at Seattle's Safeco Field, where he'll play three games to end the week, in his career; he's a .237 hitter (27-for-114) with seven homers in 36 games there.
Juan Pierre, CF, Dodgers (4.4): One of the aspects of his game in which his slight skills erosion is popping up is his performance against left-handers this year; he's a .248/.553 hitter against that side. That's enough to eventually drop him to platoon status, though for Week 18, the greater concern is that the Dodgers will battle three lefties in six games, meaning he'll be in there those games possibly earning your team zeroes.
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals (4.9): Who wouldn't like to see him in a better hitters' ballpark, or at least on a better team? Lineup support and RFK Stadium are factors that limit Zimmerman's potential, but the other problem is that he's struggling mightily against right-handers this year (.226/.659). In a week where the Nationals will face five right-handed starters in six home games, the underachieving sophomore should be avoided.
MONDAY: Devil Rays first baseman Carlos Pena (4.5 price tag) faced Blue Jays right-hander Dustin McGowan on May 12 and had a home run and a walk in two plate appearances; for his career he's 2-for-3 (.667) with two homers, four RBIs and a 3.467 OPS against McGowan. Pena is also a .301/1.044 hitter against righties this year.
TUESDAY: Dodgers second baseman Jeff Kent (4.4) is already 2-for-4 (.500) with four walks and two RBIs against Giants left-hander Noah Lowry this season, and he's 6-for-17 (.353) with three homers and a 1.360 OPS in his career against Lowry. He's also a .415 hitter (17-for-41) with five homers and 14 RBIs in 12 games since the All-Star break.
WEDNESDAY: Devil Rays left fielder Carl Crawford (4.9) is a lifetime .409 hitter (18-for-44) with four homers, eight RBIs and a 1.182 OPS against Blue Jays right-hander Josh Towers. He's also hitting .326 (15-for-46) with three RBIs, nine stolen bases and eight runs scored in 12 games since the All-Star break.
THURSDAY: Shortstop Miguel Tejada (4.1) has batted .406 (13-for-32) with one homer and five doubles against Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield since joining the Orioles in 2004; he's 21-for-66 (.318) with five homers and a .959 OPS lifetime against the right-hander. He's also a .311/.833 hitter in 55 career games at Boston's Fenway Park.
FRIDAY: Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell (4.5) was a perfect 3-for-3 against Mariners left-hander Horacio Ramirez on May 3, and he's 9-for-18 (.500) with a home run and a 1.217 OPS in his career against Ramirez. He's also a .345 hitter (29-for-84) with three homers, 18 RBIs and an .885 OPS in 21 games in July.
SATURDAY: Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner (5.2) is a lifetime .545 hitter (6-for-11) with three homers, five RBIs and a 2.038 OPS against Twins right-hander Scott Baker; he has homered in three of the four career games in which he has faced Baker. He's also a .321/1.074 hitter in 30 career games at Minnesota's Metrodome.
SUNDAY: White Sox third baseman Josh Fields (3.3) was 2-for-2 with a home run and two RBIs against Tigers left-hander Kenny Rogers on July 25, and as mentioned earlier, he's a .385/1.170 hitter against southpaws for the season. He's also a .276 hitter (24-for-87) with six homers and 18 RBIs in 24 games in July.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.