Challenge Week 4: Have to get Berkman
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: Carlos Ruiz (4.3 price tag) has settled in nicely as the Phillies' starting catcher, batting .289 in 11 games through Thursday, and now he'll get seven home games at hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies host the back-ends of the Nationals' and Marlins' rotations, and while Ruiz will face Dontrelle Willis on Sunday, he's 2-for-4 lifetime against the lefty. Others to consider: Paul Lo Duca (4.9), A.J. Pierzynski (4.1).
FIRST BASE: Any time the Giants' Rich Aurilia (4.9) plays four of six games against left-handers, it's a prime week to use him. He's a .346 hitter with a 1.078 OPS against southpaws since the start of 2006, and against scheduled lefties Mark Hendrickson, Randy Wolf and Doug Davis, he's a combined 25-for-81 (.309 AVG) with seven home runs. Others to consider: Carlos Delgado (5.4), Richie Sexson (5.3), Lyle Overbay (5.2).
SECOND BASE: It appears the Braves were smart to turn over their second-base role to Kelly Johnson (4.9), an on-base specialist with decent power and speed. His .858 OPS ranks eighth among qualified second basemen, and this week, he'll get three games at Coors Field. He'll also face three lefties, but his .333/.891 rates against them this year are encouraging. Others to consider: Chase Utley (6.3), Jose Valentin (3.8).
THIRD BASE: Sticking with the Braves, Chipper Jones (5.7) loves to hit at Coors Field; always has, probably always will. He's a .330 hitter with 12 homers, 44 RBIs and a 1.066 OPS in 45 career games at Coors, and the two tough Marlins he'll face this week, Scott Olsen and Dontrelle Willis, have afforded him a .333 average (13-for-39) and three homers combined. Others to consider: Alex Rodriguez (7.0), Freddy Sanchez (4.7).
SHORTSTOP: For the second consecutive week, the Padres' Khalil Greene (5.2) gets my pick, which might seem surprising for a guy batting .242 through Thursday and .254 for his career. However, he's simply a matchups type, and three early-week games at Arizona's Chase Field, where he has .333/1.056 career rates, represent a favorable matchup for him. Others to consider: Jimmy Rollins (6.6), Edgar Renteria (5.5).
LEFT FIELD: Chris Duncan (5.6) has to be happy to see that all six of the Cardinals' games are in St. Louis and each is against a right-handed pitcher. All he has done in his career is bat .312 and average one home run per 12.5 at-bats against righties. There's no reason to fear opponents Bronson Arroyo or Aaron Harang; he took each of them deep in 2006. Others to consider: Jason Bay (6.0), Moises Alou (4.6).
CENTER FIELD: From a pure power perspective, the Phillies' Aaron Rowand (4.5) has yet to take full advantage of the bandbox that is Citizens Bank Park. However, he's off to a nice start, including .375/.878 rates at home, and he'll get a chance to beat up on Chris Sampson and the woeful Nationals pitching staff early in the week, while getting all seven games at home. Others to consider: Carlos Beltran (6.6), Curtis Granderson (5.4).
RIGHT FIELD: The Pirates' Xavier Nady (4.7) has become somewhat forgotten after a hot opening week, but make no mistake, he's still hitting, going 8-for-23 (.348 AVG) with six RBIs from April 11-19. He'll face two left-handers this week, and his .326/.874 rates indicate probable success in those contests. Overall, he'll be facing mostly back-of-the-rotation types. Others to consider: Brad Hawpe (5.1), Shane Victorino (4.8).
DESIGNATED HITTER: Since joining the White Sox last year, Jim Thome (5.7) has done two things remarkably well: hit right-handers (.329/1.244 rates) and hit at U.S. Cellular Field (.286/1.071). So what's on his schedule this week? You guessed it, five home games and six against right-handers. Also consider: Jose Vidro (4.1).
PITCHING STAFF: This is the week the Arizona Diamondbacks (5.0) get Randy Johnson back from the disabled list, in what's shaping up as a two-start week for the left-hander. Keep in mind the team had a respectable 3.88 ERA without Johnson, and it ranked second in the majors in strikeouts (123, both through Thursday). Both of Arizona's Week 4 opponents, the Padres (4.06 runs per game) and Giants (3.64), are neat the bottom of the league in most offensive categories. Others to consider: Los Angeles Dodgers (5.2), Houston Astros (5.1).
CATCHER: Though the Orioles expect Ramon Hernandez (5.3) back in action early in the week, he has now missed enough time with an oblique problem, that it's best to wait for him to get in a couple of games before activating him. Get this: The Orioles kick off the week facing Dan Haren, Rich Harden, Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett. Ouch. Others to avoid: Johnny Estrada (4.7), Chris Snyder (3.7).
FIRST BASE: Until the Diamondbacks' Conor Jackson (4.8) gets back on track, he's not someone who should be trusted when facing poor matchups. Although all six of Jackson's game will be at home, where he is a better hitter, he'll be facing tough righties like Jake Peavy, Chris Young and Matt Cain. Others to avoid: Prince Fielder (5.8), Ty Wigginton (5.2).
SECOND BASE: Though Ronnie Belliard (5.3) has taken over as the Nationals' starting second baseman and No. 2 hitter, keep in mind that he's only 4-for-30 (.133 AVG) with one run scored since taking over those roles. Washington's weak offensive attack doesn't help Belliard's cause, and the up-and-down week of different pitching styles he'll face could frustrate him. Others to avoid: Orlando Hudson (5.6), Marcus Giles (5.3).
THIRD BASE: Again, the Orioles' rough schedule makes the team as a whole avoidable, but Melvin Mora (5.6), in particular, is a poor option because he's a right-hander facing the aforementioned four righty aces. Be aware that this season, Mora has been struggling against right-handers, with .222/.677 rates that are rather troublesome. Others to avoid: Ryan Zimmerman (5.4), Wes Helms (4.9).
SHORTSTOP: The Diamondbacks' Stephen Drew (4.9) is in the midst of a dreadful slump, batting .211 with only two extra-base hits to date. Such slumping sophomores are best left on your bench, especially keeping in mind Drew is a combined 1-for-11 (.091 AVG) with seven K's against scheduled opponents Matt Cain, Matt Morris and Jake Peavy. Others to avoid: J.J. Hardy (5.1), David Eckstein (4.1).
LEFT FIELD: The Rangers aren't giving Brad Wilkerson (5.3) nearly enough playing time to make a significant fantasy impact, starting him in only two of their past six games (through Thursday) due to a knee problem. Also, keep in mind he'll be facing three left-handers, and since joining the Rangers, he has .212/.645 rates against lefties. Others to avoid: Ryan Church (4.9), Chris Young (4.8), Jay Payton (4.2).
CENTER FIELD: It seemed like everyone was calling the Angels' Gary Matthews Jr. (5.2) a free-agent bust for 2007, and through Thursday, he was living up to that billing, with a .232 batting average and .552 OPS. He's a prime reason the Angels are off to such a slow start, and with two games against the Tigers and three against the White Sox, the slump should continue. Others to avoid: Bill Hall (5.2), Corey Patterson (5.2).
RIGHT FIELD: The Diamondbacks' Carlos Quentin (4.7) has fared well since his return from the disabled list, batting .308 in his first four games of the season, but it's going to take time before he's truly up to peak form. Consider his stats facing this weeks opponents: He's 0-for-3 apiece against Cain and Peavy, and 0-for-4 with two strikeouts against David Wells. Others to avoid: Nick Markakis (5.5), Corey Hart (4.4).
DESIGNATED HITTER: The Orioles' Aubrey Huff (4.9) might have the advantage of being left-handed against those tough righties he'll face -- Haren, Harden, Schilling and Beckett -- but it's nevertheless a schedule to avoid. He's a combined 15-for-57 (.263 AVG) with two homers against the quartet. Also avoid: Jason Kubel (4.3).
PITCHING STAFF: For the second consecutive week, the Boston Red Sox (5.5) are the team to avoid, if only because they play three road games against the Yankees, by far the game's best offense to date (6.5 R/G). It's not only that, though; Toronto and Baltimore each get two games against the BoSox, and their offenses are deep enough to put a dent into Boston's numbers. The team's two-start pitchers, incidentally, are Julian Tavarez and Tim Wakefield. Others to avoid: Toronto Blue Jays (4.8), New York Yankees (4.7).
MONDAY: I'm bucking the career trends in picking Astros DH Luke Scott (4.4). Sure, he's 1-for-22 (.045 AVG) with eight K's lifetime at Citizens Bank Park, and he has never faced the Phils' Adam Eaton. Still, Scott mashes righties, with .344/1.072 rates since the beginning of 2006, while Eaton gets mauled by lefties, with .308/.956 rates during that same span.
TUESDAY: Blue Jays RF Alex Rios (5.6) is loving life in the leadoff spot, batting .265 with three homers in eight games since being moved up in the order. He hit .500 (12-for-24) with a 1.375 OPS and seven RBIs in seven games at Fenway Park in 2006, and against Julian Tavarez, he's 5-for-6 (.833 AVG) with a triple and a walk in his career.
WEDNESDAY: The Reds' Bronson Arroyo is a good pitcher, but Cardinals LF Chris Duncan (5.6) hit him well last year, going 3-for-6 (.500 AVG) with a double and a homer. Duncan has been ridiculously good at home (.320/.954 career rates at new Busch Stadium) and ridiculously good against right-handers (.312/1.001 lifetime rates).
THURSDAY: Bust open the wallet for Astros 1B Lance Berkman (5.6), because the matchup absolutely warrants it. He crushes Pittsburgh's Tony Armas, at 6-for-9 (.667 AVG) with two homers for his career; he's a better left-handed hitter (.323/1.103 rates since 2006) than right; and he's a dominating force in home games (.320/1.056 since 2006).
FRIDAY: It's Moises Alou's (4.6) first career game at RFK Stadium, and it's against Nationals left-hander Matt Chico. However, few players are as hot as Alou (.367/.967 numbers through Thursday), and few players hit lefties as well as he does (.361/1.119 rates since 2005). Don't fear the ballpark; this is a heck of a matchup for him.
SATURDAY: Tigers CF Curtis Granderson (5.4) is finally coming into his own this year, at least when he bats against right-handers (.360/1.067 rates to date). He'll be facing righty Carlos Silva, against whom he has homered in each of two career games. The matchup makes sense; Granderson is a high-strikeout hitter, and Silva is a pitch-to-contact pitcher.
SUNDAY: While I'm a believer in Randy Johnson, let's not glaze over the fact that this is only his second start coming off back surgery, and from 2005-06, he was susceptible to the long ball against right-handed hitters (.259/.756 rates). Giants 1B Rich Aurilia (4.9) is a lefty killer (.346/1.078 rates since 2006) and the perfect type to take Johnson deep.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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