Commentary

Fantasy Forecaster: A-Rod's return will boost Yanks offense

Updated: May 6, 2009, 3:05 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Fantasy Forecaster last updated Sunday, May 3 at 9:39 p.m. ET.

On tap: Week 5 is a busy one in the baseball world. It's the only week in which every team is scheduled to play on each of the seven days, and each team will play three different opponents, one in a two-game series Monday and Tuesday, another in a two-game series Wednesday and Thursday and a third in a three-game weekend series.

It's a big week for the Yankees. Besides a pair of two-game home series against division rivals the Red Sox (Monday and Tuesday) and Rays (Wednesday and Thursday), the team is expected to get Alex Rodriguez back on Friday (if not sooner).

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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.

* Note: Pirates' totals versus right- and left-handed pitchers exclude Friday game against the Mets, whose starter is unclear. Giants' totals versus right- and left-handed pitchers exclude Sunday game against the Dodgers, whose starter is unclear.

Where are those "May flowers"? The forecasts up and down the east coast -- Baltimore, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington -- are dreadful for much of the week. Among games in those cities with greater than a 50-percent chance of rain are both Red Sox-Yankees games (70 both Monday and Tuesday); Astros-Nationals on Monday (90); Yankees-Orioles (50), Rays-Red Sox (50), Pirates-Mets (50) and Braves-Phillies (50) on Saturday. There's even a 50-percent chance of rain for both Monday and Tuesday's games in Oakland, and a 60-percent chance of rain for Monday's Mets-Braves game. All in all, this might be a messy week, and with the short series in the week's first half, the chance of rescheduling games as doubleheaders within the week isn't especially high.

Weatherproof games: Cubs at Astros (2, Wed-Thu); Padres at Astros (3, Fri-Sun); Indians at Blue Jays (2, Mon-Tue); Cubs at Brewers (3, Fri-Sun); Nationals at Diamondbacks (3, Fri-Sun); Rangers at Mariners (2, Mon-Tue); Orioles at Rays (2, Mon-Tue); Mariners at Twins (3, Fri-Sun).

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

Yankees (BOS-2, TB-2, @BAL-3): Through seven regular-season games (through April 30) at the new Yankee Stadium, the Yankees and their opponents have averaged 13.4 runs, 4.0 home runs and 22.1 hits per game, keeping the ballpark ranked among the most hitter-friendly venues. With four more home games -- even against the Red Sox and Rays -- then three at another hitter-friendly environment in Baltimore, Yankees hitters remain strong choices. Having Alex Rodriguez back can only help this team; the Yankees got a .536 OPS from their third basemen in April, second-worst in baseball (only Seattle was worse). Something to think about: Melky Cabrera has started six games in center field (and one in right field) to Brett Gardner's two in the team's past eight contests, and all four of Cabrera's home runs this season have been hit at Yankee Stadium. The gig seems to be his right now.

Astros (@WAS-2, CHC-2, SD-3): Let's not mince words; this is a dreadful offensive team, having ranked 27th in team OPS (.696) and dead last in runs per game (3.55) in the month of April. That out of the way, if you're going to extract a favorable matchup or two from Houston's roster, this is the week to do it. None of these opponents' pitching staffs ranks higher than 18th in team ERA, WHIP or OPS allowed, and among the individual starters Houston will face are such luminaries as Kevin Correia, Josh Geer and Scott Olsen. Some encouragement for you Lance Berkman owners: The slugger's worst career batting average and OPS by month is March/April (.271 and .929); his best is May (.319 and 1.019).

Athletics (LAA-2, TEX-2, TOR-3): Another case of terrible-offense-meets-actually-useful-schedule, as Oakland ranked 25th in runs per game (4.16) and dead last in team OPS (.634) through the season's first month. Still, they're fortunate to avoid the Angels', Rangers' and Blue Jays' best this week; none of Joe Saunders, Kevin Millwood or Roy Halladay is slated to pitch against them. Instead they'll battle guys like Anthony Ortega, Scott Feldman, Brian Tallet and Brett Cecil. Kurt Suzuki is off to a scorching start, completing April on a seven-game hitting streak that pushed his batting average to .343, and Jack Cust, a .265 hitter with a .961 OPS in his career at McAfee Coliseum and .245/.875 lifetime versus right-handers, matches up nicely.

Braves (NYM-2, @FLA-2, @PHI-3): When the Braves and Phillies met for their season-opening series at "Citizens Bandbox Park," Atlanta took two of three, nearly completed the sweep and scored 19 runs and hit eight home runs. The team's success at that ballpark wasn't an isolated incident; Chipper Jones (2.150), Kelly Johnson (1.312) and Casey Kotchman (.911) all had an OPS greater than .900 there in 2008. In the other pair of two-game series, the Braves will face fifth starters Livan Hernandez and Graham Taylor, and be aware that an entire week played within the division has to motivate a team like this, one that has its sights set on a division title.

John Baker, C, Marlins: .320 BA, .870 OPS lifetime versus right-handers
Chris Duncan, 1B/OF, Cardinals: .353 BA, 4 HRs in nine career G's at Great American Ball Park; .283 BA, .899 OPS lifetime versus right-handers
Dexter Fowler, OF, Rockies: .286 BA, 1 HR in 50 PAs versus right-handers in 2009; .318 BA, .812 OPS in 14 career G's at Coors Field
Chris Getz, 2B, White Sox: .319 BA in 51 career PAs versus right-handers
Todd Helton, 1B, Rockies: .308 BA, .906 OPS versus right-handers from 2007 to 2009; .310 BA, 15 HRs, 76 R's, .931 OPS in 126 G's at Coors Field from 2007 to 2009
Fred Lewis, OF, Giants: .327 BA, 3 HRs, 12 RBIs, .998 OPS in 14 career G's at Coors Field; .319 BA, .865 OPS versus right-handers in 2009
Ryan Ludwick, OF, Cardinals: .345 BA, 7 HRs, 16 RBIs, 1.187 OPS in 16 career G's at Great American Ball Park; .316 BA, .988 OPS versus right-handers 2008-09
Yadier Molina, C, Cardinals: .375 BA, .897 OPS in 27 career G's at Great American Ball Park; .354 BA, .947 OPS in 56 PAs versus right-handers in 2009
Pablo Sandoval, 1B/3B, Giants: .357 BA, 4 HRs, 26 RBIs, .912 OPS in 167 career PAs versus right-handers
Rickie Weeks, 2B, Brewers: .262 BA, 4 HRs, .882 OPS in 17 G's at Great American Ball Park 2007-08; .273 BA, .888 OPS versus right-handers in 2009

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

Rockies (@SD-2, SF-2, FLA-3): Remember that night in which Dexter Fowler stole five bases, including steals of second and third base in consecutive times on base (back-to-back plate appearances to boot)? It came against who else but the Padres, who have allowed an MLB-high 25 steals this season after easily pacing baseball in 2008 (168), 2007 (189) and 2006 (150). Opponents run the Padres ragged, as evidenced by the Rockies' eight steals as a team on that April 27 night, so having them -- regardless of other opponents -- on your schedule makes for a steals-happy week. Fowler (5 steals versus San Diego since 2006), Ryan Spilborghs (4) and Clint Barmes (3) all stand out in the category.

Royals (CHW-2, SEA-2, @LAA-3): The Royals rank 26th in baseball with eight stolen bases and 27th with 12 steals attempts, but they've got players who can run, a group that includes Coco Crisp, David DeJesus and Mike Aviles. Every one of them is off to a sluggish start, both at the plate and on the base paths, but matchups against a set of weak-armed catchers might help them pick up the pace. DeJesus in particular swiped four of his 11 bags in 2008 against Chicago.

Astros (@WAS-2, CHC-2, SD-3): Not only should the Astros get themselves on base more often drawing these matchups, they should have relative ease swiping bases, particularly with three of their seven games coming against the aforementioned Padres. One of Houston's greatest offensive assets is its team speed; since the beginning of last season Michael Bourn has 47 stolen bases, Kazuo Matsui 24, Lance Berkman 18 and Hunter Pence 15.

Rays (BAL-2, @NYY-2, @BOS-3): Baseball's speed demons, the Rays have swiped an MLB-most 170 bases since the start of last season, including easily pacing the league with 29 through one month of this year. Incredibly they have three players matching or exceeding the speedy B.J. Upton's five steals (Carl Crawford 9, Jason Bartlett and Akinori Iwamura 5 apiece). This team will take every opportunity to run, as evidenced by Tampa Bay's 13-for-14 performance in its first 10 games against these opponents this year. The Rays regularly test the weak arms of Baltimore's Gregg Zaun and Boston's Jason Varitek, as well as the surgically repaired shoulder of New York's Jorge Posada.

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

Dodgers (ARI-2, WAS-2, SF-3): A staff that's better for traditional Rotisserie than it is in, say, Baseball Challenge, as the Dodgers' two-start pitchers are their Nos. 4 and 5 starters, Eric Stults and Jeff Weaver -- and that's if Weaver even gets to pitch a second time on Sunday. Still, any week in which the Dodgers play entirely at home, especially a seven-game set, is a favorable one, as the team is a perfect 7-0 with a 3.14 ERA (fourth in MLB), 1.17 WHIP (fourth), .212 batting average allowed (first) and .649 OPS allowed (third) through its first seven games at Dodger Stadium. Despite each pitching only once, Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw and Randy Wolf -- yes, I included Kershaw -- are must-starts, since they'll be facing the Nationals (Kershaw and Wolf) and Giants (Billingsley).

Royals (CHW-2, SEA-2, @LAA-3): When Zack Greinke and Kyle Davies, a combined 7-1 with a 2.47 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 10 starts, are your two-start pitchers, your team is in for a promising week. What will help matters is that Joakim Soria, who had been battling some shoulder trouble, is back in the closer role. But even if he suffers any setbacks, Juan Cruz is an adequate stand-in and a fantasy sleeper, especially against a White Sox team that totaled five runs in losing two of three to Kansas City in Chicago from April 7 to April 9. This is a staff that will pit its two "weak links" in the rotation, Brian Bannister and Sidney Ponson, in home games against a Mariners team that has scored a total of 40 runs in its past 11 contests. What perfect matchups.

Brewers (@PIT-2, @CIN-2, CHC-3): It seems like a risky play, because when you look at the names (and statistics of) Braden Looper, Manny Parra and Jeff Suppan, the phrase "fantasy greatness" doesn't immediately come to mind. But Milwaukee has won eight of its past nine games, much of that a result of quality pitching, as the staff has limited its opponents to 26 runs total during that hot spell. It's no coincidence that Trevor Hoffman's return this past Sunday has coincided with a five-game stretch in which the Brewers' staff has allowed a total of 14 runs (2.8 per contest); he deepens a bullpen that can now use Todd Coffey and Carlos Villanueva more appropriately, picking individual matchups instead of just in the late frames. This team just swept the Pirates after going 14-1 and allowing 41 total runs to them the entire 2008 season. Speaking of last year, Milwaukee allowed only 35 runs in nine games (3.9 per contest) at Great American Ball Park, meaning those matchups shouldn't be totally terrifying.

Twins (@DET-2, @BAL-2, SEA-3): Like the Brewers, picking the Twins is an attempt at catching a hot streak at its onset; this team has won four of its past six games and surrendered a total of 19 runs (3.2 per contest). That four of Minnesota's seven games will come on the road is a concern, as both Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano have been lambasted away from the Metrodome, but at least only one of them (Liriano) is actually scheduled to pitch in one of those road affairs (he goes Monday). One bright spot: Liriano did strike out nine Tigers in seven innings en route to a win last time he faced them, Sept. 5 of last season.

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.

Notes: Though the Dodgers have moved Jeff Weaver into their rotation beginning on Tuesday, he hasn't been guaranteed more than one start, leaving Sunday's starter unclear. He's a top candidate for that turn. ... The Mets will need a fill-in for Oliver Perez on Friday, with left-hander Ken Takahaski the leading candidate. ... The Phillies expect Cole Hamels to return to their rotation on Friday, though he's no guarantee to be healthy enough to pitch.

For those owners trying to decide between two- and one-start pitchers, my recommended cut-off point (remember that this can vary from league to league) this week would most likely come around No. 26, Paul Maholm. I would also begin slotting in my one-start bargain picks around No. 34, John Maine.

Five must-starts: Erik Bedard, Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke, Felix Hernandez, Tim Lincecum.

6. Josh Beckett (BOS) -- Tue-@NYY (Chamberlain), Sun-TB (Garza): 3-1, 1.93 ERA, 0.88 WHIP in 6 GS versus Rays 2008-09
7. Roy Oswalt (HOU) -- Tue-@WAS (Olsen), Sun-SD (Geer)
8. Javier Vazquez (ATL) -- Mon-NYM (Maine), Sat-@PHI (Blanton)
9. Josh Johnson (FLA) -- Mon-CIN (Harang), Sat-@COL (De La Rosa)
10. Aaron Harang (CIN) -- Mon-@FLA (Johnson), Sat-STL (Lohse)
11. Adam Wainwright (STL) -- Tue-PHI (Myers), Sun-@CIN (Volquez): 2-0, 1.29 ERA, 1.19 WHIP in 3 GS versus Phillies in 2007
12. Ryan Dempster (CHC) -- Mon-SF (Sanchez), Sat-@MIL (Gallardo): 4-1, 2.33 ERA, 1.14 WHIP in 19 career G's (7 GS) at Miller Park
13. Jon Lester (BOS) -- Mon-@NYY (Hughes), Sat-TB (Kazmir)
14. Matt Garza (TB) -- Tue-BAL (Uehara), Sun-@BOS (Beckett): 5-0, 2.80 ERA, 1.27 WHIP in 6 career GS versus Orioles
15. Joba Chamberlain (NYY) -- Tue-BOS (Beckett), Sun-@BAL (Uehara)
16. Scott Kazmir (TB) -- Mon-BAL (Eaton), Sat-@BOS (Lester): 5-4, 2.88 ERA, 1.41 WHIP in 12 career GS at Fenway Park
17. Edinson Volquez (CIN) -- Tue-@FLA (Volstad), Sun-STL (Wainwright)
18. Brett Myers (PHI) -- Tue-@STL (Wainwright), Sun-ATL (Kawakami)
19. Francisco Liriano (MIN) -- Mon-@DET (Jackson), Sat-SEA (Hernandez): 2-2, 2.32 ERA, 0.90 WHIP in 5 career GS versus Mariners
20. Joe Saunders (LAA) -- Mon-@OAK (Anderson), Sat-KC (Greinke): 2-0, 1.32 ERA, 1.24 WHIP in 2 career GS at McAfee Coliseum
21. Kyle Lohse (STL) -- Mon-PHI (Blanton), Sat-@CIN (Harang): 2.74 ERA, 1.16 WHIP in 11 GS at Great American Ball Park 2007-08
22. Doug Davis (ARI) -- Mon-@LAD (Stults), Sat-WAS (Lannan): 2-3, 2.96 ERA, 1.39 WHIP in 5 career GS at Dodger Stadium
23. Aaron Cook (COL) -- Tue-@SD (Geer), Sun-FLA (Volstad): 5-1, 1.69 ERA, 1.15 WHIP in 7 career GS at Petco Park
24. Max Scherzer (ARI) -- Tue-@LAD (Weaver), Sun-WAS (Olsen)
25. Kyle Davies (KC) -- Tue-CHW (Floyd), Sun-@LAA (Loux): 2-1, 3.30 ERA, 1.23 WHIP in 5 GS versus White Sox 2008-09
26. Paul Maholm (PIT) -- Mon-MIL (Gallardo), Sat-@NYM (Maine): 3-1, 2.25 ERA, 1.25 WHIP in 5 career GS versus Mets
27. Edwin Jackson (DET) -- Mon-MIN (Liriano), Sat-@CLE (Carmona): 6 IP, 7 H's, 2 ERs at Comerica Park 8/6/07
28. Kevin Millwood (TEX) -- Mon-@SEA (Hernandez), Sat-@CHW (Colon): 2.32 ERA, 1.00 WHIP in his past 4 GS
29. Phil Hughes (NYY) -- Mon-BOS (Lester), Sat-@BAL (Eaton): 3-1, 3.94 ERA, 1.50 WHIP in 5 career GS at Camden Yards
30. Nick Blackburn (MIN) -- Tue-@DET (Porcello), Sun-SEA (Bedard)
31. Sean Marshall (CHC) -- Tue-SF (Lincecum), Sun-@MIL (Suppan)
32. Joe Blanton (PHI) -- Mon-@STL (Lohse), Sat-ATL (Vazquez)
33. Chris Volstad (FLA) -- Tue-CIN (Volquez), Sun-@COL (Cook)
34. John Maine (NYM) -- Mon-@ATL (Vazquez), Sat-PIT (Maholm)
35. Koji Uehara (BAL) -- Tue-@TB (Garza), Sun-NYY (Chamberlain)
36. Fausto Carmona (CLE) -- Mon-@TOR (Tallet), Sat-DET (Jackson)
37. Ian Snell (PIT) -- Tue-MIL (Suppan), Sun-@NYM (Hernandez): 4-1, 3.60 ERA, 1.26 WHIP in 6 career G's (5 GS) versus Brewers
38. Jonathan Sanchez (SF) -- Mon-@CHC (Dempster), Sat-@LAD (Stults)
39. John Lannan (WAS) -- Mon-HOU (Moehler), Sat-@ARI (Davis)
40. Anthony Reyes (CLE) -- Tue-@TOR (Cecil), Sun-DET (Porcello): 1-0, 1.42 ERA, 1.26 WHIP in 1 career GS at Rogers Centre
41. Bartolo Colon (CHW) -- Mon-@KC (Greinke), Sat-TEX (Millwood): 6-4, 5.21 ERA, 1.20 WHIP in 13 career GS at Kauffman Stadium
42. Gavin Floyd (CHW) -- Tue-@KC (Davies), Sun-TEX (Padilla)
43. Rick Porcello (DET) -- Tue-MIN (Blackburn), Sun-@CLE (Reyes)
44. Dallas Braden (OAK) -- Tue-LAA (Loux), Sun-TOR (Cecil): 1-1, 2.86 ERA, 1.23 WHIP in 7 career G's (3 GS) versus Angels
45. Jorge De La Rosa (COL) -- Mon-@SD (Correia), Sat-FLA (Johnson)
46. Brett Anderson (OAK) -- Mon-LAA (Saunders), Sat-TOR (Tallet)
47. Brian Tallet (TOR) -- Mon-CLE (Carmona), Sat-@OAK (Anderson)
48. Kenshin Kawakami (ATL) -- Tue-NYM (Hernandez), Sun-@PHI (Myers)
49. Eric Stults (LAD) -- Mon-ARI (Davis), Sat-SF (Sanchez)

Ten "no thank yous": Brett Cecil, Kevin Correia, Adam Eaton, Josh Geer, Livan Hernandez, Shane Loux, Brian Moehler, Scott Olsen, Vicente Padilla, Jeff Suppan.

Bargain selections remain available in at least 50 percent of ESPN.com leagues, and are listed in alphabetical order.

Jon Garland (ARI) -- Wed-@SD (Peavy): Padres rank 22nd in runs per game (4.36)
Justin Masterson (BOS) -- Wed-CLE (Pavano): 7-0, 2.80 ERA in 24 career home G's (7 GS)
Joel Pineiro (STL) -- Fri-@CIN (Cueto): 1-0, 4.09 ERA, 1.00 WHIP in 2 career GS at Great American Ball Park
Scott Richmond (TOR) -- Fri-@OAK (Outman): 3-0, 1.93 ERA in 4 career road GS
Anibal Sanchez (FLA) -- Thu-ATL (Jurrjens): 10-3, 3.17 ERA, 1.24 WHIP in 18 career G's (17 GS) at Dolphin Stadium
Jarrod Washburn (SEA) -- Thu-@KC (Bannister): 6-1, 2.30 ERA, 1.10 WHIP in 11 career G's (10 GS) at Kauffman Stadium
Todd Wellemeyer (STL) -- Thu-PIT (Ohlendorf): 3-1, 3.83 ERA in past 7 GS versus Pirates
Randy Wolf (LAD) -- Thu-WAS (Zimmermann): 6-3, 4.58 ERA, 1.31 WHIP in past 13 GS at Dodger Stadium

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here.