Commentary

Load up on CC Sabathia and the Yanks

Updated: April 6, 2009, 10:27 AM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

On tap: The 2009 Major League Baseball season kicks off with a Sunday night Braves-Phillies game at 8 p.m. ET. Don't forget to set your opening-week lineups!

Quick click by section, if you're seeking advice in a specific area:
Team advantages | Weather report | Load up: Hitters
Sleeper hitters | Load up: Stolen bases | Load up: Pitchers
Projected starters | Two-start rankings

The chart below lists each of the 30 MLB teams' number of games scheduled ("Gm"), home games ("Hm"), games versus right- and left-handed pitchers ("vs. RHP" and "vs. LHP") and games at either hitter- or pitcher-friendly ballparks.

Weather report

You know what they say: April showers … and that's true in the baseball world, as April tends to be the month in which the chance for postponements is highest. In 2008, eight of 411 scheduled games in April were postponed, and while that's a minuscule 1.9 percent, it's enough to take notice. Seven teams have had five or more postponements in April from 2003 to 2008: The Red Sox (8), Indians (6), Pirates (6), Yankees (6), Cardinals (5), Phillies (5), Tigers (5) and White Sox (5). Four others have had four: The Cubs, Mets, Rockies and Royals. What's the common link? Most of those teams call the Northeast or the Great Lakes region home, so expect their cities to be the ones threatened, if any are.

Monday notes: Monday's scheduled Royals-White Sox game in Chicago and Rays-Red Sox game in Boston were postponed and are both now scheduled for Tuesday. The forecasts in Baltimore, Cincinnati and Philadelphia also call for high probability of precipitation early in the week.

Weatherproof games: Mariners at Twins (4 games, Mon-Thu); Tigers at Blue Jays (4, Mon-Thu); Rockies at Diamondbacks (3, Mon-Wed); Dodgers at Diamondbacks (3, Fri-Sun); Cubs at Astros (3, Mon-Wed); Cubs at Brewers (3, Fri-Sun).

The teams listed below have the most favorable overall hitting matchups, accounting for recent performance, strength of opponents and ballpark factors.

Cardinals (PIT-4, HOU-3): Though Busch Stadium is classified as a pitchers' park, the Cardinals were a productive bunch there, ranking a respectable 13th in team OPS at home in 2008 (.781). They also have historically hit Pirates starters Paul Maholm, Ian Snell and Zach Duke well; Yadier Molina in particular has batted .347 (17-for-49) with one home run in his career against them.

Indians (@TEX-3, TOR-3): In seven games at Rangers Ballpark in 2008, the Indians tallied 58 runs (8.3 per contest), including 39 in a four-game series in early June. That might not mean much to you, but be aware that this offense registered sub-.700 team OPS in both April and May last season, making its performance in Texas all the more impressive. Drawing Blue Jays starters Scott Richmond and David Purcey in the weekend series only sweetens Cleveland's Week 1 matchups.

Phillies (ATL-3, @COL-3): Coors Field might be a better offensive ballpark in the later stages of the season than in the April cold, but nevertheless this schedule includes six games at two of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in the game. Battling Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez and Aaron Cook in three of the games will prove challenging, but the ballpark effects and a tasty Friday matchup against the hittable Jason Marquis should more than make up for it.

Yankees (@BAL-3, @KC-3): No Alex Rodriguez, no problem. Orioles ace Jeremy Guthrie got clobbered for eight runs in four innings in his final spring training start after being sparsely used during the World Baseball Classic, and he's probably the second-best starter the team will face all week (after Gil Meche on Saturday). One of the Yankees' other opponents is a pitcher you might have never heard of, Alfredo Simon, and another is the eminently hittable Horacio Ramirez. If the Yankees can't hit those guys, they're in serious trouble.

Mike Aviles, SS/2B, Royals (@CHW-3, NYY-3): .348 BA, .967 OPS versus left-handers in 2008
Jason Kubel, OF, Twins (SEA-4, @CHW-3): .310 BA, 7 HRs, 27 RBIs, 1.045 OPS in 19 career games at U.S. Cellular Field
Daniel Murphy, OF, Mets (@CIN-3, @FLA-3): .349 BA, 16 RBIs in spring
Ryan Spilborghs, OF, Rockies (@ARI-3, PHI-3): .325 BA, 11 HRs, 63 RBIs, .909 OPS in 124 career games at Coors Field
Delmon Young, OF, Twins (SEA-4, @CHW-3): .404 BA, 3 HRs, 12 RBIs, 1.075 OPS in 15 career games at U.S. Cellular Field

Favorable matchups listed below are selected based upon opponents' catchers allowing a high rate of steals attempts and/or having low caught-stealing percentages.

Tigers (@TOR-4, TEX-3): Newly acquired backup outfielder Josh Anderson might be a sleeper choice in deep AL-only leagues (or early-drafting NL-only leagues that allow you to retain his stats), though that the Tigers face three left-handers means he could play somewhat sparingly in Week 1.

Mets (@CIN-3, @FLA-3): You know the Mets' most talented speedsters, Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes and David Wright. But one you shouldn't forget about is Luis Castillo, who swiped 17 bases in a down 2008 and managed two steals during spring training.

Indians (@TEX-3, TOR-3): Both Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo are double-digit steals contributors, and their matchups in Week 1 portend their getting off to hot starts.

Braves (@PHI-3, WAS-3): Gregor Blanco stole three bases against these two opponents combined in 2008, and Kelly Johnson swiped five. With Anderson gone they might be the best base stealers this team has.

The teams listed below have the most favorable overall pitching matchups, accounting for recent performance, strength of opponents and ballpark factors.

Cardinals (PIT-4, HOU-3): With the exception of Todd Wellemeyer the Cardinals' five projected starters pitched well this spring, combining (Wellemeyer included) for a 3.74 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 3.5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 31 turns. Now they return to pitcher-friendly Busch Stadium for games that count, battling a Pirates team that ranked 24th in the game in team OPS last year (.723) and an Astros team that struggled offensively for much of the spring.

Dodgers (@SD-4, @ARI-3): Though the Dodgers won only five of their nine games at Petco Park in 2008, their pitching staff's performance wasn't the problem; it was mainly their hitting, and only in the six games before they had Manny Ramirez on board. The Dodgers limited San Diego to 30 runs in nine games at Petco (3.3 per contest), more than enough to make them an elite choice.

Mariners (@MIN-4, @OAK-3): Though the Mariners endured a dreadful 2008, if you break down their season, you might realize that their pitching staff actually got off to a decent start, with a 4.20 ERA in April, 15th in the game. They've got a healthy Erik Bedard right now and Felix Hernandez is a beast in April, with a 2.03 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 59 strikeouts in 62 innings in the season's first month in the past two seasons combined. Seattle's bullpen might have some questions, but these are two pitcher-friendly ballparks the Mariners will visit, which helps their cause.

Yankees (@BAL-3, @KC-3): With so many fresh faces, the Yankees can ill afford to get off to a slow start lest they draw more criticism for being overpaid and overrated. CC Sabathia was the best pitcher in the game the second half of last season and A.J. Burnett had a standout spring, and their matchups in Week 1 couldn't be any more favorable. When you're betting on the Yankees' staff, no matter how you feel about Burnett, Joba Chamberlain or Andy Pettitte, there's no better time to rely on them than right now, when they're obviously healthy.

The chart below lists each of the 30 MLB teams' schedules and projected starting pitchers. Those pitchers scheduled to pitch twice this week are color-coded.

Projected starting pitchers and two-start pitcher rankings updated Monday, April 6 at 10:25 a.m. ET.

* Note: The Braves-Phillies game listed in the chart below falls in the "Mon 4/6" column, but the game is scheduled to be played Sunday, April 5.

Rankings: Tristan's two-starts

Must-starts: Josh Beckett, Roy Halladay, Dan Haren, Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum, Francisco Liriano, Roy Oswalt, Jake Peavy, CC Sabathia, Johan Santana, James Shields, Brandon Webb

1. Adam Wainwright (STL) Mon-PIT (Maholm), Sat-HOU (Oswalt)
2. Ricky Nolasco (FLA) -- Mon-WAS (Lannan), Sat-NYM (Hernandez)
3. Erik Bedard (SEA) -- Tue-@MIN (Blackburn), Sun-@OAK (Cahill)
4. Brett Myers (PHI) -- Sun (4/5)-ATL (Lowe), Sat-@COL (De La Rosa)
5. Josh Johnson (FLA) -- Tue-WAS (Olsen), Sun-NYM (Santana)
6. Derek Lowe (LAD) -- Sun (4/5)-@PHI (Myers), Fri-WAS (Martis)
7. Aaron Harang (CIN) -- Mon-NYM (Santana), Sat-PIT (Maholm)
8. Mark Buehrle (CHW) -- Tue-KC (Meche), Sun-MIN (Blackburn)
9. Ryan Dempster (CHC) -- Tue-@HOU (Rodriguez), Sun-@MIL (Suppan)
10. Carlos Zambrano (CHC) -- Mon-@HOU (Oswalt), Sat-@MIL (Bush)
11. Kyle Lohse (STL) -- Tue-PIT (Snell), Sun-HOU (Rodriguez)
12. Hiroki Kuroda (LAD) -- Mon-@SD (Peavy), Sat-@ARI (Webb)
13. Justin Verlander (DET) -- Mon-@TOR (Halladay), Sat-TEX (McCarthy)
14. Wandy Rodriguez (HOU) -- Tue-CHC (Dempster), Sun-@STL (Lohse)
15. Randy Wolf (LAD) -- Tue-@SD (Young), Sun-@ARI (Haren)
16. Jair Jurrjens (ATL) -- Tue-@PHI (Moyer), Sun-WAS (Olsen)
17. Gil Meche (KC) -- Tue-@CHW (Buehrle), Sat-NYY (Sabathia)
18. Chris Young (SD) -- Tue-LAD (Wolf), Sun-SF (Lincecum)
19. Paul Maholm (PIT) -- Mon-@STL (Wainwright), Sat-@CIN (Harang)
20. Joe Saunders (LAA) -- Mon-OAK (Braden), Sat-BOS (Beckett)
21. John Lannan (WAS) -- Mon-@FLA (Nolasco), Sat-@ATL (Kawakami)
22. Jeff Suppan (MIL) -- Tue-@SF (Lincecum), Sun-CHC (Dempster)
23. Dustin Moseley (LAA) -- Tue-OAK (Cahill), Sun-BOS (Penny)
23. Trevor Cahill (OAK) -- Tue-@LAA (Moseley), Sun-SEA (Bedard)

No thank you: Nick Blackburn, Dallas Braden, Aaron Cook, Jeremy Guthrie, Edwin Jackson, Kevin Millwood, Scott Olsen, David Purcey, Ian Snell

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.

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