Commentary

Cubs, Jays primed for big Week 6

Updated: May 12, 2009, 10:10 AM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Fantasy Forecaster

Fantasy Forecaster last updated Monday, May 11 at 1:10 p.m. ET.

On tap: A much lighter week than the one before, Week 6 features a rekindling of the Red Sox-Angels recent postseason rivalry in Anaheim; the Blue Jays finally getting tested by games against their chief American League East rivals, with three against the Yankees to begin the week; and the Manny Ramirez-less Dodgers getting a rematch with their NLCS foes the Phillies, with three games in Philadelphia.

Speaking of the Phillies, both they and the Nationals get an extra game this week, with a doubleheader scheduled between the two on Saturday in the nation's capital. The Angels might also welcome back both John Lackey and Ervin Santana to their rotation by week's end.

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 | One-start bargains

Team advantages

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: Nationals' totals versus right- and left-handed pitchers exclude Saturday doubleheader game against the Phillies, whose starter is unclear. Rangers' totals versus right- and left-handed pitchers exclude Friday and Saturday games against the Angels, whose starters are unclear. (Those might be John Lackey and Ervin Santana starts.)

Weather report

Oh, sure, now we get those proverbial "May flowers," a week after a packed one on the baseball schedule. Looking at the early weather reports, Week 6 should be a beautiful one, with few games dealing with a high probability of rain. There's slight risk of rain in Chicago, Cleveland and Pittsburgh in the early portion of the week, but that's about it, and that's not at all surprising considering those are the three cities that have been most threatened by rain in the month of May since 2001.

Weatherproof games: Yankees at Blue Jays (3, Tue-Thu); White Sox at Blue Jays (3, Fri-Sun); Marlins at Brewers (3, Tue-Thu); Reds at Diamondbacks (3, Mon-Wed); Red Sox at Mariners (3, Fri-Sun); Indians at Rays (4, Thu-Sun); Tigers at Twins (3, Tue-Thu).

Load up: Hitters

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

Rays (@BAL-2, CLE-4): This team has scored 150 runs in 23 games against the Orioles since the beginning of last season, 6.5 per contest, including 70 in 12 contests at Camden Yards during that span. But it's not like the two games in Baltimore are the ones you're wondering about; it's the four against Cleveland that might not strike you as hitting-friendly matchups. Consider this: The four Indians starters the Rays are scheduled to face -- their entire rotation minus Cliff Lee -- have a combined 4-7 record, 6.80 ERA and 1.58 WHIP in 18 starts, each of them sporting an ERA north of six. Expect a big week from the Rays, who had scored 52 runs in winning six of their past eight games through this past Thursday.

Blue Jays (NYY-3, CHW-3): Even if you want to make the case that this is Toronto's first real test against an elite AL East team, the Blue Jays face two left-handed Yankee starters, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte, and they have an .881 OPS against southpaws this season, third-best in the majors. This is also an offense that scored 14 runs against Gavin Floyd and the White Sox on April 24, and they'll face Floyd again Sunday, not to mention another left-hander (John Danks) on Friday. I find it hard to believe this is the week that Aaron Hill, Adam Lind, Marco Scutaro and the hot-out-of-the-gate Blue Jays finally begin cooling off.

Nationals (@SF-3, PHI-4): News flash, this team can hit! Each of the Nationals' starting outfielders has an OPS of .876 or better, and each of their starting infielders has a batting average of .328 or better. This team has totaled 32 runs in five games against the Phillies already this year, and Philadelphia sports the second-highest ERA of any National League team (5.39). Enjoy it while it lasts, as Nick Johnson shouldn't be expected to stay healthy, Cristian Guzman shouldn't be able to maintain a near-.400 batting average, and Elijah Dukes shouldn't be able to remain this maddeningly consistent. But, at least for this week, I'd bank on the Nats.

Cubs (SD-3, HOU-3): The Cubs tend to dominate at Wrigley Field, winners of 69 of their past 102 home games (67.6 percent) and outscoring their opponents by 138 runs during that span (an average 1.4-run margin of victory per game). Kosuke Fukudome and Derrek Lee have an OPS more than 75 points higher at home than on the road since the beginning of 2008, and every member of the Opening Day lineup has an .800-plus career OPS at Wrigley except for Ryan Theriot, whose batting average there is .302, and Milton Bradley, who has played all of 13 games there. That alleviates concerns that the Cubbies draw Jake Peavy, Chris Young and Roy Oswalt as opponents in three of their six games.

Tristan's sleeper hitters

Russell Branyan, 1B/3B, Mariners: Has averaged one homer per 11.5 ABs 2008-09; 5 HRs, 1.001 OPS in 14 career games at Rangers Ballpark
Billy Butler, 1B, Royals: .441 BA, 2 HRs, 9 RBIs, 1.208 OPS in his past 9 games
Pedro Feliz, 3B, Phillies: .348 BA, 10 RBIs, .937 OPS in 14 home games in 2009; .263 BA, .912 OPS versus left-handers in 2009
Franklin Gutierrez, OF, Mariners: .433 BA, 2 HRs, 1.148 OPS in his past 8 games; .370 BA, .874 OPS in 11 career games at Rangers Ballpark
Jason Kubel, OF, Twins: .347 BA, 1.006 OPS versus right-handers in 2009
Kazuo Matsui, 2B, Astros: .348 BA, .889 OPS in 66 career games at Coors Field
Kendry Morales, 1B/OF, Angels: .286 BA, 2 HRs, .820 OPS in 11 career games at Rangers Ballpark; .301 BA, .957 OPS versus right-handers in 2009
Mike Napoli, C, Angels: .359 BA, 3 HRs, 1.200 OPS in 15 career games at Rangers Ballpark; 3-for-6, 2 HRs in 2 games versus Red Sox in 2009
Ryan Spilborghs, OF, Rockies: .325 BA,.909 OPS in 135 career games at Coors Field; career OPS versus left-handers 110 points higher than versus right-handers
Jayson Werth, OF, Phillies: .276 BA, .814 OPS in 128 career games at Citizens Bank Park; .304 BA, .973 OPS versus left-handers in 2009

Load up: Stolen bases

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

Giants (WAS-3, NYM-4): This Giants team has shown a tendency to take risks on the base paths in home games, having racked up 11 of their 18 team steals at AT&T Park (in 14 games, compared to 13 on the road), and if there's any prime example of that, it's that Pablo Sandoval is a perfect 2-for-2 in the category at home. With Brian Schneider still ailing for the Mets -- he has added a calf injury to his previous back problems -- the Giants should be able to capitalize on a set of weak-armed backstops, including Ramon Castro, who has nailed only 20 percent of opposing baserunners (12 of 60) since 2007.

Angels (BOS-3, @TEX-3): Chone Figgins might have been your pick to lead this team in steals in 2009, but through this past Thursday's games, you might be surprised to learn that Bobby Abreu paces the Angels with 11 (a full-year pace of 74). Abreu routinely beats up on Jason Varitek and the Red Sox; he has swiped 10 bags successfully in 11 tries in 53 games against Boston since 2006, and that includes the two he had in the teams' recent three-game series. If there's any team that might have caught wind of what Carl Crawford recently did to Varitek and planned to exploit the catcher down the road, Mike Scioscia's is a prime one.

Indians (CHW-3, @TB-4): The Indians ripped apart the base paths against the White Sox in 2008, swiping 11 bags (in 15 chances) in their 18 meetings, not that it's shocking considering A.J. Pierzynski has ranked as one of the worst catchers at gunning down opposing baserunners since the beginning of last season. He has surrendered 116 stolen bases since Opening Day 2008 and only gunned down 23 base stealers, a pathetic 16.5 percent. Besides the obvious Grady Sizemore, the Indians are generating impressive speed from Shin-Soo Choo (six steals), Asdrubal Cabrera (five) and Ben Francisco (four), and I expect their wheels will keep spinning this week.

Dodgers (@PHI-3, @FLA-3): Carlos Ruiz is back for the Phillies but that's hardly a good thing; he has surrendered 69 steals (out of 91 chances) to opposing baserunners since the beginning of last season and 137 (in 188 chances) in 254 games behind the plate in his career. Here's the other thing: The Marlins tend to use Ronny Paulino at catcher when facing a left-handed starter, the Dodgers will trot out two lefties in that series (Eric Stults and Clayton Kershaw) and Paulino has served up 17 steals in his 14 games behind the plate thus far. Newly crowned left fielder Juan Pierre should thrive as he returns to his old stomping grounds of Land Shark Stadium (formerly Dolphin Stadium), and I'd bank on the team as a whole taking more chances on the base paths to make up for the run production they lost to Manny Ramirez's suspension.

Load up: Pitchers

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

Cubs (SD-3, HOU-3): The Cubs tend to dominate at Wrigley Field, winners of … OK, you get the idea, this team is gooooooood at Wrigley. That's especially true for the rotation, where Ted Lilly has a 3.79 ERA and 1.11 WHIP for his career; Ryan Dempster has won 15 of his past 18 decisions and registered a 2.98 ERA in his past 22 starts; and Rich Harden has a 3.25 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 13.5 strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio in 10 starts since coming over from Oakland in a trade in July. The Cubs need those three, as well as Sean Marshall, he of the 4.12 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in 30 starts since 2007, to maintain that level of performance with Carlos Zambrano on the DL. Considering they'll be facing two of the game's 10 weakest offenses, I'd say no one will even notice Zambrano is gone.

Tigers (@MIN-3, OAK-3): Admit it, you're excited that Dontrelle Willis is due back in their rotation on Wednesday, right? Right? OK, so that's not why I made the pick; I did so because between Armando Galarraga, Edwin Jackson, Rick Porcello and Justin Verlander (back-to-back stellar outings), this team currently has four other starters you can rely on in fantasy. Or, at least, I can claim that with confidence this week when the Tigers face the two weakest offenses in the American League; Minnesota's .637 team OPS is second-to-last and Oakland's .573 is by far the worst. Get ready to exploit those matchups!

Reds (@ARI-3, @SD-3): One of the primary reasons Bob Melvin was fired by the Diamondbacks is that he couldn't squeeze much life out of his offense, which not only ranked dead last in baseball in runs per game (3.7), but third-from-worst in team OPS (.677). It's going to take time for A.J. Hinch to right the ship, but in the meantime Arizona should be expected to keep up its strikeout-happy ways; this team has the second-worst team contact rate in the game (its 75.8 percent tops only Florida's 75.4). Oh, and then the Reds head west to Petco Park from there. I think we all know what to expect from a trip to that canyon-esque venue.

Royals (@OAK-2, BAL-4): Amazingly, this team got a four-inning, six-run stinker from Kyle Davies this past Tuesday and still managed to win six consecutive games with a 2.64 ERA (the Davies outing included). So if you want to claim that the Royals' staff is in decline, well, you'd be wrong. Zack Greinke is off to the most surprisingly dominant start of any starting pitcher, Brian Bannister is 3-0 with a 1.48 ERA in his first four starts of the season, and this schedule includes games against the woeful Oakland offense and a Baltimore team with a ho-hum .708 road OPS. Even with Joakim Soria sidelined, Juan Cruz is a more-than-adequate short-term fill-in, and Luke Hochevar gets a chance to strut his stuff in a two-start week after dominating in Triple-A ball.

Projected starting pitchers

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.

Note: As of most recent update, the Angels sounded likely to activate both John Lackey and Ervin Santana to pitch Friday and Saturday, bumping both Shane Loux and Anthony Ortega from the rotation. Neither game's starter has been formally announced, however.

Rankings: Tristan's two-starts

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. 14, Mike Pelfrey. I would also begin slotting in my one-start bargain picks around No. 21, Jordan Zimmermann.

Two must-starts: Roy Halladay, Johan Santana.

3. Matt Cain (SF) -- Tue-WAS (Zimmermann), Sun-NYM (Pelfrey): 3.42 ERA, 1.25 WHIP in 60 career home GS; 2.36 ERA, 0.93 WHIP in 6 career GS versus Nationals
4. Randy Johnson (SF) -- Mon-WAS (Cabrera), Sat-NYM (Santana): 5-3, 2.07 ERA, 1.03 WHIP in 10 career GS at AT&T Park
5. Rich Harden (CHC) -- Tue-SD (Peavy), Sun-HOU (Paulino): 3-1, 3.25 ERA, 1.22 WHIP in 10 career GS at Wrigley Field
6. A.J. Burnett (NYY) -- Tue-@TOR (Halladay), Sun-MIN (Slowey): 22-8, 3.77 ERA, 1.28 WHIP in 40 career G's (39 GS) at Rogers Centre
7. Jake Peavy (SD) -- Tue-@CHC (Harden), Sun-CIN (Arroyo)
8. Derek Lowe (ATL) -- Mon-@NYM (Santana), Sun-ARI (Garland)
9. Kevin Slowey (MIN) -- Tue-DET (Galarraga), Sun-@NYY (Burnett)
10. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Tue-BOS (Masterson), Sun-@TEX (Feldman): 1-1, 1.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP in 4 career GS at Rangers Ballpark
11. Armando Galarraga (DET) -- Tue-@MIN (Slowey), Sun-OAK (Cahill)
12. Ubaldo Jimenez (COL) -- Tue-HOU (Paulino), Sun-@PIT (Duke): 1-0, 2.57 ERA, 0.86 WHIP in 2 career GS versus Pirates
13. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Tue-@PHI (Park), Sun-@FLA (Koronka)
14. Mike Pelfrey (NYM) -- Tue-ATL (Jurrjens), Sun-@SF (Cain)
15. Zach Duke (PIT) -- Tue-STL (Wellemeyer), Sun-COL (Jimenez): 4.18 ERA, 1.47 WHIP in 50 career GS at PNC Park
16. Jon Garland (ARI) -- Mon-CIN (Arroyo), Sun-@ATL (Lowe): 2-0, 2.33 ERA, 1.22 WHIP in his past 4 GS
17. Justin Masterson (BOS) -- Tue-@LAA (Weaver), Sun-@SEA (Vargas)
18. Andy Sonnanstine (TB) -- Tue-@BAL (Hendrickson), Sun-CLE (Sowers)
19. Bronson Arroyo (CIN) -- Mon-@ARI (Garland), Sun-@SD (Peavy): 2-1, 2.11 ERA, 1.27 WHIP in 3 career GS at Petco Park
20. Todd Wellemeyer (STL) -- Tue-@PIT (Duke), Sun-MIL (Parra): 4-1, 3.97 ERA, 1.25 WHIP in 7 career GS versus Pirates
21. Jordan Zimmermann (WAS) -- Tue-@SF (Cain), Sun-PHI (Park)
22. Gavin Floyd (CHW) -- Mon-@CLE (Pavano), Sun-@TOR (Halladay)
23. Carl Pavano (CLE) -- Mon-CHW (Floyd), Sat-@TB (Garza): Has back-to-back road wins (13 1/3 IP, 11 H's, 4 ERs)
24. Manny Parra (MIL) -- Tue-FLA (Koronka), Sun-@STL (Wellemeyer): 2.81 ERA, 1.50 WHIP in 3 career GS at Busch Stadium
25. Chan Ho Park (PHI) -- Tue-LAD (Kershaw), Sun-@WAS (Zimmermann)
26. Luke Hochevar (KC) -- Tue-@OAK (Cahill), Sun-BAL (Hendrickson)

Eight "no thank yous": Daniel Cabrera, Trevor Cahill, Scott Feldman, Mark Hendrickson, John Koronka, Felipe Paulino, Jeremy Sowers, Jason Vargas.

Tristan's one-start bargains

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

Brian Bannister (KC) -- Wed-@OAK (Outman): 3.96 ERA, 1.40 WHIP in four career starts at McAfee Coliseum
Dave Bush (MIL) -- Thu-FLA (Johnson): 23-14, 3.76 ERA, 1.10 WHIP in 51 career games (47 starts) at Miller Park
Aaron Cook (COL) -- Sat-@PIT (Snell): 2-0, 4.50 ERA, 1.29 WHIP in two starts versus Pirates in 2008
Paul Maholm (PIT) -- Fri-COL (De La Rosa): 21-11, 3.51 ERA in 51 career home starts
Jason Marquis (COL) -- Wed-HOU (Hampton): 4-0, 2.52 ERA, 1.18 WHIP in six career games (five starts) at Coors Field
Sean Marshall (CHC) -- Sat-HOU (Oswalt): 4.47 ERA, 1.29 WHIP in 17 home games (five starts) in 2008-09
Rick Porcello (DET) -- Sat-OAK (Braden): Athletics' team OPS dead last in MLB (.573)
Koji Uehara (BAL) -- Sat-@KC (Davies): 4.42 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 3.9:1 K-to-BB ratio in five starts
Barry Zito (SF) -- Wed-WAS (Martis): 2-0, 4.30 ERA in four starts versus Nationals in 2007-08

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.

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