Challenge Preview Week 20: Eight-game week for Bucs, Giants
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, Aug. 10.
Chicago Cubs (CIN-3, STL-3): First baseman Derrek Lee (4.9 price tag) hits far better at home (.368 AVG, .453 OBP, .616 SLG) than on the road (.266/.361/.387) this season, and nine of his 12 home runs this year have been hit at Wrigley Field. Milwaukee Brewers (STL-3, CIN-3): Even as his Brewers continue to slump, losing 15 of their past 22 games, third baseman Ryan Braun (5.3) keeps doing his best to keep them in games, batting .370 (34-for-92) with seven homers and 17 RBIs in that span. He's a .328/.392/.650 hitter at Miller Park, and he's 3-for-3 with a homer lifetime against Reds left-hander Bobby Livingston, his scheduled Friday opponent. New York Mets (@PIT-3, @WAS-3): Second baseman Luis Castillo (3.2) has respectable .343/.361/.400 numbers and two stolen bases in nine games since coming over from the Twins. He's also a .438 hitter (14-for-32) in nine career games at Washington's RFK Stadium. Oakland Athletics (@DET-1, CHW-3, KC-3): Designated hitter Jack Cust (3.8) has lost some at-bats since Mike Piazza's return from the DL, starting 12 of the Athletics' past 20 games, but he's too productive against right-handers (.268/.406/.537) for the team to sit him this week when it faces five righty starters in seven games. In addition, Cust is a .302/.454/.611 hitter at McAfee Coliseum. Philadelphia Phillies (@WAS-3, @PIT-3): Left fielder Pat Burrell (4.3) is batting .398 (39-for-98) with nine homers and 26 RBIs in 32 games since July 1, starting 20 straight contests. He's also a .519/.675/.852 hitter in 40 plate appearances against left-handers since July 1, and his Phillies battle three lefty starters in six games.
Michael Cuddyer, RF, Twins (4.1 price tag): He's still working himself back to full speed after missing a little more than two weeks with a sprained thumb, but a 3-for-5, one-homer effort against the Royals and left-hander Odalis Perez on Wednesday is encouraging. That helped bring Cuddyer's 2007 numbers against southpaws to .321/.392/.527 rates, which is good because the Twins could see as many as four lefty starters in their six contests.
Torii Hunter, CF, Twins (4.6): Like Cuddyer, Hunter should benefit from the hefty diet of left-handed pitching the Twins will face this week, as he's a .333/.366/.650 hitter against that side this year, with 10 of his 23 homers against lefties in only about a third of his overall plate appearances. He's also one of the few Twins hitting well recently, batting .353 (12-for-34) with two homers and six RBIs in his past nine contests.
Casey Kotchman, 1B, Angels (4.0): Kotchman -- as well as the Cardinals' Chris Duncan and Devil Rays' Carlos Pena -- is one of those easy-read matchups types, the kind of player you throw in there against every right-hander and sit against almost every left-hander. That's why it's a good week to use him, even though his Angels face six tough right-handed starters from the Blue Jays' and Red Sox's staffs in their seven contests. Kotchman's .306/.369/.504 rates against that side say he should be just fine to use.
Adam LaRoche, 1B, Pirates (4.0): It's easy to overlook that since July 1, LaRoche has batted .315 (34-for-108) with five homers and 16 RBIs in 28 games, awfully respectable numbers. Hey, he's a Pirate, we understand. Still, it's hard to ignore that he was a .316 hitter with 12 homers from Aug. 1 on last season, and he sure looks acclimated to life in Pittsburgh now. His Pirates battle six right-handed starters in a loaded, eight-game week, which bodes well for a guy hitting .342/.386/.582 against that side since July 1.
Nick Markakis, RF, Orioles (4.7): Slowly but surely, he's learning to survive against left-handed pitching, but against right-handers, Markakis is already a star, with .313/.380/.477 rates this year. As was the case last season, he's red hot since the All-Star break, batting .358 (34-for-95) with 19 RBIs and five steals in 25 games, and his Orioles are the only team to face nothing but right-handed starters (they play six games).
Hanley Ramirez, SS, Marlins (6.0): This kid is incredible, isn't he? Since missing four games with shoulder problems in late July, Ramirez has rattled off a .373 batting average (19-for-51), four homers, 10 RBIs and six steals in 12 games, looking every bit the stud he was before getting hurt. He's an unreal .417/.460/.728 against left-handers this season, .352/.415/.645 for his career, and his Marlins see three lefty starters in their six games.
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals (5.0): RFK Stadium really doesn't seem to bother him; he's a .284/.329/.492 hitter there this season, .314/.363/.507 for his career, and he was 14-for-27 (.519) with two homers and 11 RBIs in six games during the Nationals' last homestand. In addition, Zimmerman has astonishing .398/.446/.680 rates against southpaws this year, which is good since his Nationals battle three such starters in their six games.
Colorado Rockies (@SD-3, @LAD-3): Right fielder Brad Hawpe (4.6 price tag) is an ordinary .253/.351/.420 away from Coors Field this season, and a combined 7-for-27 (.250) with no homers lifetime against Padres right-handers Greg Maddux and Chris Young, his scheduled opponents Tuesday and Wednesday. Houston Astros (@LAD-4, @SD-3): Second baseman Ty Wigginton (4.3) has been fine thus far in his Astros career, batting .296 (8-for-27) with three RBIs in eight games. But in a week when he's slated to face a heavy load of right-handed pitching -- such as this one, in which his Astros see only right-handed starters in their seven games -- temper your expectations. Wigginton is a mere .273/.321/.412 hitter against that side this year, .262/.317/.431 for his career. Los Angeles Angels (@TOR-3, @BOS-4): Shortstop Orlando Cabrera (4.6) has been in a bit of a slump since July 1, batting .208 (27-for-130) with two homers and 17 RBIs in 31 games, only seven of those multihit efforts. St. Louis Cardinals (@MIL-3, @CHC-3): Aforementioned left fielder Chris Duncan (4.2) is a mere .232/.316/.348 hitter against left-handers this season, .220/.290/.381 with 39 strikeouts in 118 at-bats for his career, and his Cardinals face three lefty starters in their six contests. Tampa Bay Devil Rays (@BOS-3, CLE-3): Right fielder Delmon Young (4.1) might be a .375 hitter (12-for-32) in his last eight games, but he's not hitting for a lot of power, going without a homer since June 22. Against the Devil Rays' six scheduled pitching opponents -- the Red Sox's Tim Wakefield (Monday), Jon Lester (Tuesday) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (Wednesday) and the Indians' Fausto Carmona (Friday), Paul Byrd (Saturday) and Jake Westbrook (Sunday) -- Young is a combined 5-for-28 (.179) without an extra-base hit in his career.
Casey Blake, 3B, Indians (4.2 price tag): In a week when one team gets five games (Indians) and two others get eight (Giants and Pirates), it's a good idea to limit your choices from the team with five, at least in terms of lesser hitting options, that is. Blake, a .234 hitter (25-for-107) with one homer and eight RBIs in 27 games since the All-Star break, qualifies as a "lesser hitter," especially as his Indians face only right-handed starters all week, and he hits them for .268/.321/.442 rates this season.
Barry Bonds, LF, Giants (4.7): Surely you've heard the arguments made that with the all-time home run record now his, Bonds' play should pick up now that the pressure is off there as well as in the pennant race with his Giants noncontenders. Why is that the case? It's actually more likely Bonds will rest as a result of those things, such as in one game of Monday's doubleheader, and perhaps the Sunday day game, as well, meaning he won't capitalize on his Giants' eight-game schedule. In fact, given that Thursday's scheduled opponent is a left-hander -- the Braves' Chuck James -- he might sit out that game, too.
Ryan Garko, 1B, Indians (3.7): Again, it's a short week for the Indians, so don't be too hasty to plug in Garko, despite his .361 batting average (30-for-83), five homers and 14 RBIs in 24 games since the All-Star break. More important to the matchup is that he's a .265/.320/.479 hitter against right-handers since June 1.
Melvin Mora, 3B, Orioles (4.3): Since the beginning of last season, Mora has been a bit less productive in road games (.263/.330/.399) than at home (.284/.352/.431), and that's before taking a look at some of the tough right-handed starters he'll have to face this week, such as the Yankees' Roger Clemens and Chien-Ming Wang and the Blue Jays' A.J. Burnett and Roy Halladay. Rookie Phil Hughes also could prove a challenge.
Freddy Sanchez, 2B, Pirates (4.1): Sure, he's a consistent, high-average batsman, with a .322 batting average (97-for-301) in his past 73 games, but Sanchez isn't much to speak of in the other prominent fantasy categories. That limits his potential, and considering he's a .280/.318/.373 hitter against right-handers this season, this week -- with his Pirates scheduled to battle six righty starters in eight games -- is a good time to avoid him.
MONDAY: We've been getting to see something much closer to the "real" Jason Bay (4.8 price tag) since the All-Star break, as the Pirates left fielder is a .267 hitter (23-for-86) with five home runs and 17 RBIs in 23 games during that span. Always exploit the doubleheader when you can, as the Pirates host the Giants for two on Monday, which is good because Bay is a lifetime .285/.388/.495 hitter at PNC Park.
TUESDAY: Among the better individual matchups to exploit for Twins right fielder Michael Cuddyer (4.1), Tuesday's -- against Mariners left-hander Horacio Ramirez -- is one of the best of the week. Sure, the two have never faced off, but consider that Cuddyer is a .306/.382/.521 hitter against left-handers since the start of last season and Ramirez has allowed .360/.433/.531 numbers to right-handed hitters this season.
WEDNESDAY: Nationals first baseman Dmitri Young (4.0) has been an absolute terror at RFK Stadium this season, with .402/.441/.621 numbers there, including an 11-for-23 (.478), six-RBI performance in six games in the team's most recent homestand. Sure, Phillies right-hander Kyle Kendrick held him to an 0-for-3 performance in their first meeting July 24, but considering Kendrick allows .317/.376/.540 numbers to left-handed hitters this season, expect better results from Young this time around.
THURSDAY: As noted earlier, Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee (4.9) has been a statistical monster at Wrigley Field this season, and for his career, he's a .313/.399/.580 hitter there. He was also 1-for-3 with a homer against the Reds' Matt Belisle on July 29, and is 4-for-7 (.571) with two homers in his career against the right-hander.
FRIDAY: It's tough to ignore the kind of track record Reds right fielder Ken Griffey Jr. (5.1) has against Brewers right-hander Jeff Suppan, even if Suppan did get the best of Griffey in their most recent meeting, July 25, when Griffey popped out three times. For his career, though, Griffey is 11-for-22 (.500) with five homers against Suppan.
SATURDAY: You can't ignore the kind of numbers White Sox right fielder Jermaine Dye (4.2) has since the All-Star break; he's a .316 hitter (31-for-98) with 11 homers and 22 RBIs in 26 games during that span. In addition, he's a lifetime .343 hitter (12-for-35) with two homers against Mariners right-hander Jeff Weaver.
SUNDAY: Braves second baseman Kelly Johnson (4.5) has been on quite a tear of his own since the All-Star break, batting .337 (29-for-86) with three homers and 15 RBIs in 25 games. He's also a .307/.402/.524 hitter against right-handers this season, so even though he was 0-for-2 against Diamondbacks right-hander Byung-Hyun Kim on June 30, he's a worthy start because Kim allows .294/.437/.558 rates to left-handed hitters this year.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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