Commentary

Challenge Preview Week 26: Play off the playoff races

Updated: September 23, 2007, 8:50 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

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, Sept. 20.

Good team matchups

Arizona Diamondbacks (@PIT-3, @COL-3): Catcher Chris Snyder (2.6 price tag) is a .319 hitter (45-for-141) with a .410 on-base percentage, .546 slugging percentage, six home runs and 29 RBIs in 47 games since the All-Star break, starting 44 of the D-backs' 63 games during that span, including 20 of their last 27. He's a .324/.405/.514 hitter against left-handers this season, with the D-backs scheduled to face three lefty starters in six games, and a .396/.484/.509 hitter in 18 career games at Colorado's Coors Field. ... Atlanta Braves (@PHI-3, @HOU-3): Shortstop Edgar Renteria (4.4) is a .340 hitter (16-for-47) with one homer in 12 games since returning from the DL on Sept. 8, with five of those multi-hit efforts. He's also a .315 hitter (23-for-73) with five homers in 18 career games at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park. ... Chicago Cubs (@FLA-3, @CIN-3): Third baseman Aramis Ramirez (4.7) is a .294 hitter (20-for-68) with five homers and 12 RBIs in 19 games in September. He's also a .476 hitter (10-for-21) with two RBIs in five games at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park this season, and has .356/.409/.704 rates with 12 homers and 29 RBIs in 33 career games there. ... New York Yankees (TOR-1, @TB-3, @BAL-3): Catcher Jorge Posada (5.0) is a .348 hitter (31-for-89) with six homers and 16 RBIs in his last 26 games. He's also a .329/.407/.536 hitter against left-handers this season, .300/.383/.502 for his career, with the Yankees ready to battle three lefty starters in six games. ... Toronto Blue Jays (@NYY-1, @BAL-1, TB-3): First baseman Matt Stairs (3.7) is a .316 hitter (18-for-57) with four homers and 13 RBIs in his last 17 contests, starting 16 of the Blue Jays' 21 games during that span. He's also a .322/.456/.703 hitter with 13 homers in 39 career games at Baltimore's Oriole Park.

Individual bargains

Ronnie Belliard, 2B, Nationals (3.6 price tag): He's hitting .338 (24-for-71) with three homers and 12 RBIs in 18 games in September, starting 17 of the team's 18 contests. He's was 4-for-16 (.250) with a homer in his last trip to Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park (July 24-26), where he'll play Friday-Sunday. He's also a .333/.374/.540 hitter against left-handers this season, with the Nationals seeing three lefty starters in six games.

Billy Butler, DH, Royals (3.7): The power might be lacking in his rookie season, but he's hitting a respectable .308 (20-for-65) with seven homers and nine runs scored in his last 18 games. He's also a .345/.402/.598 hitter against left-handers this season, hitting four of his seven homers against that side in 97 plate appearances, with the Royals drawing three lefty starters in seven games, perhaps four depending on the Indians' Saturday starter.

Jacoby Ellsbury, LF, Red Sox (4.1): With Manny Ramirez nicked up and the Red Sox likely resting regulars for the postseason, Ellsbury should continue to play regularly, as he has all month, batting .381 (24-for-63) with three homers, 13 RBIs and seven stolen bases in 17 games, starting 14 of the Red Sox's 18 contests. He's a .375/.423/.594 hitter against right-handers, with the Red Sox facing nothing but righty starters in six games.

Prince Fielder, 1B, Brewers (5.8): He's on a tremendous tear in September, batting .365 (23-for-63) with eight homers and 15 RBIs in 18 games, and he'll be key to the Brewers' chances at winning the National League Central, so he'll keep playing. This season, he's a .297/.406/.645 hitter at home and a .300/.405/.678 hitter against right-handers, with the Brewers drawing nothing but righty starters in their seven home games.

Jason Kubel, LF, Twins (3.3): He's a .341 hitter (29-for-85) with three homers and 17 RBIs in his last 24 games, and even better for fantasy, he has started 11 consecutive games for the Twins, seemingly lifting his "platoon" label. Well, if the Twins still see him as a "sit-him-against-lefties" type, it won't matter this week; they battle six right-handed starters in seven games. Kubel, incidentally, is hitting .273/.327/.460 against that side this season.

Nick Markakis, RF, Orioles (5.7): He's hitting .290 (54-for-186) with 10 homers and 39 RBIs in 47 games since Aug. 1. He's also a .308/.381/.494 hitter against right-handers this season, .301/.370/.484 for his career, with the Orioles set to face only righty starters in seven games. What's more, Markakis loves facing the Yankees, his Friday-Sunday opponent; he's hitting .371 (23-for-62) with 11 RBIs in 15 games against them this season.

Cody Ross, CF, Marlins (3.0): He's hitting .404 (21-for-52) with five homers in 16 games in September, but, more importantly, he has started 14 of the Marlins' 18 contests during that span, with much of the missed time due to a tight left hamstring. He's also a .377/.465/.738 hitter with six homers against left-handers this season, .295/.364/.642 with 16 homers for his career, with the Marlins set to face three lefty starters in six games.

Poor team matchups

Baltimore Orioles (KC-1, TOR-3, NYY-3): Shortstop Miguel Tejada (4.7 price tag) is hitting .246 (16-for-65) with seven RBIs and only two extra-base hits -- a double and a triple -- in 18 games in September. He's also a .286/.338/.420 hitter against right-handers this season, not bad rates, but a bit more ordinary, with his Orioles scheduled to face nothing but righty starters in seven games. ... Detroit Tigers (MIN-3, @CHW-3): Designated hitter Gary Sheffield (4.1) is batting .186 (8-for-43) with one homer, three RBIs and 13 strikeouts in 13 games since returning from the DL on Sept. 6. Based on his nagging shoulder troubles, one has to wonder whether he'll be shut down for the season soon once the Tigers are officially eliminated from postseason contention. ... Florida Marlins (CHC-3, @NYM-3): Left fielder Josh Willingham (4.4) is hitting .222 (16-for-72) with no homers, five RBIs and 24 strikeouts in his last 21 games. He's also surprisingly only a .218/.320/.301 hitter against left-handers this season, a problem because the Marlins draw three lefty starters in six games. ... San Francisco Giants (SD-3, @LAD-3): Don't bother with left fielder Barry Bonds (4.3), who has appeared in only 14 of the Giants' last 22 games and batted .222 (8-for-36) with one homer and two RBIs during that span. The Giants have nothing to play for and therefore no reason to push him, meaning he could sit more than he appears in the season's final week. ... Tampa Bay Devil Rays (NYY-3, @TOR-3): Center fielder Delmon Young (4.4) has endured a great rookie season, with 177 hits and 90 RBIs, but despite all that he remains a .265 hitter (40-for-151) with three homers in his last 37 contests. He might be wearing down from the long season.

Individual busts

Melky Cabrera, CF, Yankees (4.0 price tag): One has to wonder whether fatigue might be a factor with him; he has started (and finished) 29 of the Yankees' last 30 contests, and batted .232 (26-for-112) with no homers during that span. He might sit a bit after the Yankees clinch a playoff spot, and with him hitting .255/.325/.333 against left-handers this season, it's a concern that the Yankees will be facing three lefty starters in seven games.

Orlando Cabrera, SS, Angels (4.7): Be prepared for the Angels to rest some of their regulars, considering they'll almost assuredly have the American League West title wrapped up by the start of the week. Playoff seeding might still be of interest to them, but Cabrera should get more time off than you'd expect regardless. He's hitting .241 (20-for-83) with no homers, nine RBIs and three stolen bases in his last 20 games.

Johnny Damon, LF, Yankees (4.4): He's another Yankee who could stand to get a little rest this week, since he has battled leg problems all season yet started each of the team's last 12 games. He's hitting .214 (15-for-70) with two homers and four steals in his last 17 contests. In addition, Damon is only a .268/.347/.339 hitter against left-handers this season, with the Yankees battling three lefty starters in their seven games.

Jose Guillen, RF, Mariners (4.3): He has only one home run in his last 26 games, batting .250 (25-for-100) with 12 RBIs and 21 strikeouts during that span. He's also a .269/.341/.427 hitter at Seattle's Safeco Field this season, .264/.329/.426 in 89 career games there, and a .265/.328/.398 hitter against right-handers this year. Considering the Mariners see six righties in seven home games, it's a better week to steer clear of Guillen.

Daily Specials

MONDAY: Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina (3.1 price tag) really has Brewers right-hander Dave Bush's number; he was 3-for-3 with two homers against Bush on Aug. 16, and is 4-for-7 (.571) with three homers lifetime against Bush. He's also a .278/.400/.537 hitter with four homers and 11 RBIs in 19 career games at Milwaukee's Miller Park.

TUESDAY: Phillies left fielder Pat Burrell (5.3) is a lifetime .400 hitter (6-for-15) with two doubles and two homers against Braves left-hander Chuck James. He's also a .262 hitter (43-for-164) with 14 homers and 37 RBIs in 47 games since Aug. 1, and a .308/.441/.602 hitter in 72 games at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park this season.

WEDNESDAY: Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler (4.9) was 3-for-3 with a double against the Angels' Joe Saunders on Aug. 31, and he's 5-for-8 (.625) with a homer lifetime against the left-hander. He's also a .307/.386/.526 hitter with 11 homers and 32 RBIs in 58 games at Texas' Rangers Ballpark this season.

THURSDAY: Always exploit the doubleheader when you can, and in this case, that Mariners left fielder Raul Ibanez (4.7) hit two homers in a game against Indians right-hander Paul Byrd, the probable starter for one game, on June 11 makes him a standout choice. He's a lifetime .550 hitter (11-for-20) with two homers against Byrd, and if Jake Westbrook starts the other game, Ibanez is 8-for-24 (.333) with a homer against him.

FRIDAY: Rockies first baseman Todd Helton (4.8) is 2-for-5 (.400) with two homers lifetime against Diamondbacks right-hander Edgar Gonzalez. He's also a .374 hitter (52-for-139) with six homers and 21 RBIs in his last 38 games, and a .331/.459/.521 hitter with eight homers in 71 games at Colorado's Coors Field this season.

SATURDAY: Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee (4.6) is 4-for-12 (.333) with two homers against the Reds' Aaron Harang this season, 12-for-35 (.343) with four homers lifetime against the right-hander. He's also a .337/.398/.747 hitter with 11 homers and 26 RBIs in 24 career games at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park.

SUNDAY: White Sox right fielder Jermaine Dye (3.7) is a lifetime .385 hitter (10-for-26) with four doubles and five homers against Tigers left-hander Nate Robertson. He's also a .294/.371/.584 hitter in 59 games since the All-Star break, and a .278/.347/.532 hitter with 54 homers in 235 career games at Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field.

Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.