Challenge Week 8: Grab Kenji Johjima
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: A seven-game schedule always beats a six-gamer, especially when six of those games are coming against the Devil Rays and Royals' staffs. That plays in favor of the Mariners' Kenji Johjima (4.1 price tag), and here's an interesting thought: As a former teammate of red-hot Royals opponent Gil Meche, Johjima should know his arsenal better than anyone. Also consider: A.J. Pierzynski (4.6), Paul Lo Duca (4.3).
FIRST BASE: If the White Sox's Paul Konerko (5.1) is ever going to turn around his season, Week 8 is as good a bet as any. He'll get six home games, and note that he's a .292 hitter with a .901 OPS and 142 of his 250 career homers there in 619 games. Plus, he'll get three games against the back end of the Athletics' staff before three against the Devil Rays. Also consider: Albert Pujols (5.7), Richie Sexson (4.9).
SECOND BASE: Since joining the Reds early last season, Brandon Phillips (5.8) has been an All-Star caliber player in his home games (.292/.799) and a terror against left-handed pitching (.306/.793). This week, he'll get seven games at Great American Ball Park, four against the Nationals and three against the Pirates, with four of them coming against left-handers. Also consider: Orlando Hudson (6.0), Ray Durham (5.5).
THIRD BASE: Everyone keeps wondering about David Wright's (5.9) lack of power, but the Mets slugger does have four homers in his first 16 games in May. He's finally heating up, and though his team does kick off the week with three games at Atlanta's Turner Field, that environment has never bothered him; he has seven homers in 27 career games there. Also consider: Adrian Beltre (5.0), Scott Rolen (4.4).
SHORTSTOP: Since the start of his breakout 2005 season, the Indians' Jhonny Peralta (5.4) has dominated left-handed pitching, with .291/.875 rates and 19 of his 45 home runs against them in 489 fewer at-bats. This week, he'll face two of three lefties in the series against the Royals, and there's a chance he could also see two of three in the series against the Tigers. Also consider: Stephen Drew (4.7), Yuniesky Betancourt (4.2).
LEFT FIELD: Though he's off to a sluggish start, the Blue Jays' Adam Lind (4.1) is a terror against right-handers, with .289/.836 rates for his career, and this week, he'll get five of his six games against them. Three of them come at Camden Yards, a favorable ballpark for any hitter, and then he'll face the back end of the Twins' rotation in Minnesota over the weekend. Also consider: Barry Bonds (6.4), Chris B. Young (4.9).
CENTER FIELD: Since moving into the leadoff spot for the White Sox for good on April 22, Darin Erstad (4.2) has batted .329 (26-for-79) with 11 RBI and 12 runs scored (through Thursday). He has long thrived at Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field, where he has .330/.856 career rates, and he'll play six games there this week, three apiece against the Athletics and Devil Rays. Also consider: Eric Byrnes (5.5), Hunter Pence (3.8).
RIGHT FIELD: As was the case with Peralta, the Indians' Casey Blake (4.8) has long been a more lethal hitter against left-handed pitchers, with an .892 OPS and 22 of his 45 homers against them in 490 fewer at-bats since 2005. He'll face at least three of them this week, and be aware he has 59 of his 92 career homers on the road, where he'll be for six games. Also consider: Jermaine Dye (5.1), Jose Guillen (4.6).
DESIGNATED HITTER: The White Sox's Jim Thome (6.0) will be fresh off the disabled list to begin the week, but what a schedule he'll get for his first week back. He'll get six games at U.S. Cellular Field, where he's a .286/1.071 hitter since the start of last season, and three of them will be against the Devil Rays. Also consider: Matt Diaz (2.8).
PITCHING STAFF: The only way the St. Louis Cardinals' (4.2) pitching matchups could look better is if the team's offense was performing better, guaranteeing a winning week. The new Busch Stadium leans more towards the pitching side than hitting, and their opponents this week are the 28th-ranked Pirates (3.75 R/G) and last-ranked Nationals (3.22). Also consider: Cincinnati Reds (4.3), Cleveland Indians (3.9).
CATCHER: I find in any week where his Braves face more than three left-handers in a given week, it's a good one to avoid the pricey Brian McCann (4.8). He's at .250/.608 rates against them this season, and .275/.782 for his career, and of the team's six games, four will come against lefties. Also avoid: Michael Barrett (4.5), Johnny Estrada (4.3).
FIRST BASE: A quick look at Nomar Garciaparra's (4.8) home numbers -- .334/.895 rates as a Dodger -- might suggest him as a standout pick with six home games on the schedule. Still, he's a combined 13-for-58 (.224) with one homer against scheduled opponents Jeff Suppan, Ben Sheets, Chris Capuano and Jason Marquis. Also avoid: Prince Fielder (6.5), Adrian Gonzalez (6.2).
SECOND BASE: The Braves' Kelly Johnson (5.7) is starting to cool off, batting only .206 (13-for-63) without a home run in May (through Thursday), and he'll have to battle four left-handers in his six games this week. Oliver Perez and Cole Hamels alone could overpower him. Also avoid: Rickie Weeks (5.8), Placido Polanco (5.1).
THIRD BASE: Since last year's All-Star break, the Orioles' Melvin Mora (5.7) has been a real disappointment, with .257/.713 numbers overall. Five of his six games this week will come against right-handed pitchers, against whom he has .256/.689 numbers during that span. Also avoid: Aramis Ramirez (5.9), Brandon Inge (4.8).
SHORTSTOP: The Rangers' Michael Young (5.8) is off to a dreadful start, with .228/.634 numbers, and this month alone he's at .250/.725 rates. Now he'll face two of the league's toughest pitchers in the Twins' Johan Santana and the Red Sox's Daisuke Matsuzaka, among others. Also avoid: J.J. Hardy (6.3), Khalil Greene (5.4).
LEFT FIELD: The Marlins' Josh Willingham (6.0) has effectively been an All-Star in his road games, with .313/.947 career rates, but this week, he gets all six games at home, where his lifetime numbers are .238/.737. Plus, the one lefty he'll face is the Phillies' Cole Hamels, one tough cookie. Also avoid: Craig Monroe (5.0), Jay Payton (4.3).
CENTER FIELD: One of the few things that hasn't been going right with the Brewers this year has been Bill Hall's (5.5) shift to center field. He's batting only .253 (20-for-79) with one homer and 25 strikeouts in his last 22 games (through Thursday), and now he'll have to play three games apiece in pitcher-friendly Petco Park and Dodger Stadium. Also avoid: Alfonso Soriano (5.7), Mike Cameron (4.5).
RIGHT FIELD: The Yankees' Bobby Abreu (5.6) is in the midst of a dreadful slump, batting .175 (18-for-103) in his last 25 games (through Thursday). This week, he'll battle four tough right-handers: The Red Sox's Tim Wakefield and Curt Schilling and the Angels' Jered Weaver and John Lackey, against whom he's a combined 16-for-59 (.271) without a homer. Also avoid: Sammy Sosa (5.6), Jacque Jones (4.4).
DESIGNATED HITTER: The Brewers' Kevin Mench (4.0) has long been the product of the matchups. He's a .302/.917 career hitter against left-handers, and hitter-friendly environments like Rangers Ballpark (.284/.856 career rates) suit him well. This week, unfortunately, isn't a matchup-friendly week for him, though. He'll play three games apiece in pitchers' parks, and four total against right-handers.
PITCHING STAFF: Sure, the Los Angeles Angels' (5.8) staff has gotten off to a great start, ranking sixth in MLB in ERA (3.59), but that ERA is quite a bit higher in road games, at 4.25. The Angels play all six of their games on the road this week, battling the second-ranked Yankees (5.44 R/G) and fifth-ranked Tigers (5.23) offenses. Also avoid: Boston Red Sox (5.8), Atlanta Braves (4.2).
MONDAY: Astros rookie CF Hunter Pence (3.8) is in the midst of a torrid, 11-game hot streak (through Thursday) in which he's batting .395 (17-for-43) with four home runs. Included in that stretch was a 4-for-4, one-homer effort against Giants left-hander Noah Lowry, who coincidentally is his scheduled opponent on Monday.
TUESDAY: Rockies 1B Todd Helton (6.4) has been nothing but a headache for Diamondbacks right-hander Livan Hernandez throughout their careers; he's a lifetime .475 hitter (28-for-59) with two homers and 16 RBI against Hernandez. Helton is also a career .292/.941 hitter in 70 games at Arizona's Chase Field.
WEDNESDAY: The Royals should throw Scott Elarton on Wednesday, and if they do, Indians LF David Dellucci (3.6) will sure be happy. He's a lifetime .500 hitter (8-for-16) with three home runs against the right-hander, and he has four homers in 12 career games at Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium.
THURSDAY: Camden Yards isn't a bad ballpark at all for Blue Jays 1B Lyle Overbay (5.3), and he'll be facing a familiar foe in Orioles right-hander Steve Trachsel. Overbay is a lifetime .400 hitter (4-for-10) with one home run against Trachsel.
FRIDAY: These are the kinds of games for which you'll want White Sox DH Jim Thome (6.0) active, as Devil Rays right-hander Jae Seo has allowed .345/.947 rates this season, .354/.956 against left-handers. The ballpark doesn't play at all in Seo's favor, and Thome's a lifetime .273 hitter (3-for-11) with two homers against him.
SATURDAY: Go for most any Reds right-hander against Pirates lefty Paul Maholm, but in this case, I'll pick C Dave Ross (3.7), because he matches up so nicely. He's 5-for-9 (.556) with two homers in his career against Maholm, and he has .286/1.021 rates against left-handers and .231/.899 numbers at Great American Ball Park since 2006.
SUNDAY: For as good as the White Sox's John Danks has looked so far this year, he does have trouble in one area, getting right-handed hitters out (.267/.764 rates). That plays quite a bit in favor of Devil Rays 2B B.J. Upton (5.7), who has .333/1.107 rates against left-handers this year, and .354/.938 numbers against them for his career.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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