Commentary

Big Unit shoots for win No. 300

He'll face the Nationals on Wednesday in an attempt to reach the heralded plateau

Updated: May 31, 2009, 10:21 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Fantasy Forecaster last updated Sunday, May 31 at 10:21 p.m. ET.

Fantasy Forecaster

On tap: June is here, and with it comes a busy week in the National League. Ten of the 16 NL teams play a full seven games, and four of those teams (Astros, Cardinals, Dodgers and Marlins) will play entirely at home.

But that's not Week 9's most compelling story: That honor belongs to Randy Johnson, who goes for his 300th career win Wednesday at Washington. Of course, the Nationals hit a career-high three home runs against him in San Francisco on May 11, so it'll be interesting to see whether he'll achieve the milestone in his first try. No matter your opinion on the "Big Unit," this is history, and history you should cherish at that, as it might be some time before we see another 300-game winner. Jamie Moyer is next closest among active players with 249 wins, but he's 46 years old. Andy Pettitte (219) has the most wins of any pitcher younger than 40. (He's 37.) And of the under-30 crowd, CC Sabathia is your active leader in wins (121, 28 years old).

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: Some teams' totals versus right- and left-handed pitchers exclude games against teams with unclear starters. They include: White Sox (Tuesday, OAK), Blue Jays (Saturday, KC), Reds (Tuesday, @STL), Rockies (Sunday, @STL) and Giants (Sunday, @FLA).

Weather report

June tends to present the Northeast with the most trouble in the weather department; since 2001, Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are the only cities to have seen more than 4 percent of their scheduled games postponed, suspended or shortened in that month. (New York is tops, with 6.5 percent between the two teams.) Sure enough, the Yankees are the greatest concern for postponements in Week 9, with their series against the Rangers seeing increasing chances of precipitation Tuesday through Thursday (60 percent chance in the series finale). Chicago, Florida, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Washington are also cities to watch for bad weather in Week 9.

Weatherproof games: Rockies at Astros (4, Mon-Thu); Pirates at Astros (3, Fri-Sun); Angels at Blue Jays (3, Tue-Thu); Royals at Blue Jays (3, Fri-Sun); Orioles at Mariners (3, Mon-Wed); Twins at Mariners (3, Fri-Sun); Royals at Rays (3, Tue-Thu); Indians 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.

Dodgers (ARI-3, PHI-4): Manny who? Just because Manny Ramirez is on the sidelines doesn't mean the Dodgers can't score runs; they're just finding different ways to do it in the wake of his suspension. Though their home-run production is down -- from 0.83 per game through May 6 to 0.50 per game since -- they're actually scoring more runs per contest since Manny's suspension (5.9) than before (5.6). How are they doing it? Their batting average is up, from .283 to .302, as is their stolen-base production (0.69 per game to 1.05) and number of sacrifices (from 7 to 12), all signs that "small ball" has become more of the Dodgers' game plan sans Manny. Most impressively, the team has done all this while facing not-too-shabby pitching staffs -- Giants, Phillies, Marlins, Mets and Angels -- so I wouldn't worry that they'll go dormant battling the Arizona and Philadelphia staffs, which have both vastly underperformed this year.

Yankees (@CLE-1, TEX-3, TB-3): Anytime I grant the thumbs-up to the Yankees' offense in a heavy home week, I feel obligated to recite their new ballpark's statistics. So here are the per-game numbers at the new Yankee Stadium from the month of May: 10.7 runs, 19.1 hits, 3.7 home runs (in 16 games). That means the park seems to be getting even more homer-friendly as the season wears on, which is great news when you're an offense set to face two pitching staffs (Rangers and Rays) that rank in the top 10 in baseball in home runs allowed. Besides, the Yankees just got done slaughtering the Rangers' pitching staff in Texas, totaling 23 runs on 47 hits, including five home runs, in three games May 25-27.

White Sox (OAK-4, CLE-3): OK, so ask yourself, do you really think the White Sox are going to remain buried down toward the bottom of the majors in terms of runs per game and team OPS? C'mon, this team ranked in the top 5 in both of those categories and home runs at home in 2008, and through 22 home games in 2009 it has an unsightly .243 batting average on balls in play, worst in the majors and 40 points beneath the team's 2008 number in the category. In addition to Oakland's inexperience and Cleveland's pathetic team pitching performance, the A's will need to dig up a Tuesday spot starter because of their recent doubleheader, while the Indians won't throw Cliff Lee in any of the three games at "The Cell." That definitely works in the White Sox's favor.

Astros (COL-4, PIT-3): The Pirates' staff got off to a hot start, but all good things must come to an end sometime, right? Pittsburgh has lost 19 of its past 29 games while posting a 5.12 ERA and 1.47 WHIP. Colorado, meanwhile, has had pitching problems for much of the year, capped by a recent stretch in which they've gone 5-10 with a 5.95 ERA and 1.62 WHIP. Carlos Lee, Hunter Pence and Miguel Tejada are off to torrid starts at Minute Maid Park; they've combined to bat .355 with 14 home runs and a .997 OPS in 72 games there. Even Geoff Blum is a .297 hitter there through 23 home games.

Tristan's sleeper hitters

Willy Aybar, 3B, Rays: .327 BA, .900 OPS versus right-handers in 2009; .344 BA, .944 OPS in 20 games in May
Kosuke Fukudome, OF, Cubs: .315 BA, .946 OPS versus right-handers in 2009; .343 BA, 1.016 OPS in 21 road games in 2009
Todd Helton, 1B, Rockies: .316 BA, .968 OPS versus right-handers in 2009; .364 BA, 1.126 OPS in 27 career games at Minute Maid Park
Jorge Posada, C, Yankees: .371 BA, 1.221 OPS in 12 home games in 2009; .462 BA, 1.210 OPS in 29 plate appearances versus left-handers in 2009
Nolan Reimold, OF, Orioles: .299 BA, 1.010 OPS versus left-handers in his minor league career; .295 BA, 5 HRs, 10 RBIs in his past 12 games
Skip Schumaker, 2B/OF, Cardinals: .316 BA, .813 OPS in 24 home games in 2009; .313 BA, .819 OPS versus right-handers in 2009
Jason Varitek, C, Red Sox: .309 BA, .944 OPS in 18 games at Comerica Park 2003-08; .310 BA, 1.244 OPS versus left-handers in 2009
Ben Zobrist, SS/OF, Rays: 1 HR per 13.1 ABs, .930 OPS versus right-handers in 2008-09; .314 BA, 1.092 OPS in 25 games in May

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.

Athletics (@CHW-4, BAL-3): Though new Orioles backstop Matt Wieters represents a considerable improvement over Gregg Zaun in this department -- Wieters has gunned down 45 of 126 opposing baserunners (35.7 percent) in his minor league career -- chances are, teams are going to test him early in his big-league career in order to build a scouting report on him. For one thing, he's inexperienced, and inexperience favors his opponents. But that's not why you should exploit Oakland's matchups; you should exploit them because Chicago's A.J. Pierzynski has a reputation as one of the game's worst at gunning down opposing runners. The Athletics pick and choose their times to run, and their speedsters have limited fantasy appeal, but those owners in AL-only leagues can take a look at Rajai Davis (five steals), Adam Kennedy (3) and Ryan Sweeney (3).

Giants (@WAS-3, @FLA-3): This is one of the speediest teams in the game, with 34 stolen bases, eighth-most in the majors. Credit Emmanuel Burriss and Randy Winn with most of those; they have a combined 19. Better yet, those two have been super-comfortable in road games this season, combining to bat .325 in 22 games. But the Giants do get contributions from others; slumping Fred Lewis can be a 30-steal candidate at his best, and Edgar Renteria and Aaron Rowand are capable of swiping a bag or three. Neither the Nationals nor the Marlins are particularly efficient at gunning down opposing baserunners, so if you're in need, take a look at any of the five in most formats.

Cardinals (CIN-4, COL-3): For a team not exactly known for its speed -- try to predict who will lead the team in stolen bases (no easy task) -- the Cardinals were actually decent in the category in their May 8-10 series against the Reds, swiping three bags in three games, including two off Cincinnati backup Ryan Hanigan. Colorado, meanwhile, must rely on weak-armed Yorvit Torrealba with Chris Iannetta on the DL; Torrealba has allowed 19 steals in 20 tries in 16 games this season. As for who might lead the Cards in the category, can you believe Albert Pujols is currently tops on the team with seven? Heck, even Yadier Molina, who shares his genes with slow-footed Bengie and Jose, has three. That's as good a sign as any that this is a team that exploits matchups.

Rangers (@NYY-3, @BOS-3): The Yankees might very well get Jorge Posada before this week, not that that's a good thing for them when it comes to throwing out runners. He's coming off a hamstring problem most recently, but the greater concern was the shoulder surgery he had within the past year, limiting his ability to gun down opposing base stealers. Couple that with three games against the Red Sox and particularly Jason Varitek, who has allowed an MLB-high 42 stolen bases, and things look great for Texas on the basepaths in Week 9. Can you believe Nelson Cruz has nine steals already this year? Elvis Andrus (6 steals) has yet to fully realize his potential in the category, but he's a sleeper for this week.

Load up: Pitchers

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

Brewers (@FLA-4, @ATL-3): That Marlins offense is in quite a funk, striking out 10 or more times as a team on nine of 26 occasions in May and batting .244 with a .690 OPS, an average of 4.2 runs per game and a major league-high 226 whiffs during that span. Atlanta, meanwhile, hasn't been much more productive, having registered a team OPS of .699 while averaging 4.4 runs in 26 games in May. Besides, even though Milwaukee tends to pitch better as a team at Miller Park, it's not like this is a bad staff in road games. The Brewers have a 4.20 team ERA on the road for the season and are 12-6 with a 3.65 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in their past 18 road contests.

Cardinals (CIN-4, COL-3): Dave Duncan might be credited as a wizard among pitching coaches, but nowhere is his mastery more evident than at the new Busch Stadium, where his hurlers tend to dominate. Consider that in the three years and two months of the ballpark's existence, the Cardinals as a staff have a .578 winning percentage, 3.97 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 268 games there, compared to .455, 4.84 and 1.44 in 264 road contests. This year the staff is 17-9 with a 3.23 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 26 starts at home, and the current five members of their rotation are a combined 62-36 with a 3.15 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in their careers at Busch. Best indicator of how good the going is for the Cardinals' staff: In his second start back from the DL this past Monday, Chris Carpenter tossed six perfect innings. Oh, and by the way, the Cards are a combined 25-11 all-time at the new Busch Stadium against these opponents.

White Sox (OAK-4, CLE-3): I picked Chicago's staff as a favorable fantasy choice for Week 7, and that was the week it suffered a 20-1 drubbing at the hands of the Twins. Outside of that game, however, the team wasn't in any way unproductive. The White Sox actually had a 3.17 ERA during that six-game homestand, including that drubbing -- they allowed only 10 runs total in the other five games -- and for the season have a 3.73 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in 22 home contests. You might think this staff is in for trouble at typically homer-friendly U.S. Cellular Field, but it's not, especially not with four games against the Athletics and their MLB-worst .671 team OPS on the schedule. Besides, according to the Park Factors page, "The Cell" has actually leaned toward being pitcher-friendly so far.

Blue Jays (LAA-3, KC-3): Here's a case of perception -- you probably think this inexperienced staff, which has used 10 different starting pitchers so far, stinks -- meeting reality: This staff actually ranks in the majors' upper half in ERA, opponents' batting average and WHIP (where it incredibly ranks No. 2). I understand the perception; this staff just lost nine consecutive road games and was obliterated to the tune of a 6.30 ERA and 1.60 WHIP. But back home, where Toronto has a 3.38 ERA and an MLB-best 1.12 WHIP, I think the Blue Jays get back on track. It sure helps when you have your ace, Roy Halladay, pitching twice, and a pair of middling to below-average opponents on the schedule.

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.

Notes: The Royals need a fifth starter on Saturday, and it'll likely be either Luke Hochevar or Sidney Ponson. Though there's a chance either Ricky Nolasco or Anibal Sanchez could be activated to pitch for the Marlins on Tuesday, more likely Burke Badenhop will pitch then with either Nolasco or Sanchez replacing him in the rotation on Sunday. Kyle Lohse is doubtful to make his scheduled start for the Cardinals on Tuesday, leaving Brad Thompson the most likely starter that day, but Lohse might be ready to pitch the next time that turn comes up on Sunday.

Rankings: Tristan's two-starts

Recommended cutoff point for elite one-start guys: No. 16 (Volquez)
Recommended cutoff point for "under-50" bargains: No. 23 (Miller)

Five must-starts: Roy Halladay, Dan Haren, Tim Lincecum, Jake Peavy, Johan Santana

6. Kevin Slowey (MIN) -- Tue-CLE (Huff), Sun-@SEA (Washburn)
7. Randy Wolf (LAD) -- Tue-ARI (Haren), Sun-PHI (Bastardo): 3.16 ERA, 1.18 WHIP in five home starts
8. Roy Oswalt (HOU) -- Mon-COL (Cook), Sat-PIT (Snell): 20-5, 2.92 ERA, 1.21 WHIP in 38 home starts 2007-09
9. Bronson Arroyo (CIN) -- Tue-@STL (TBD), Sun-CHC (Wells)
10. Joe Saunders (LAA) -- Tue-@TOR (Halladay), Sun-@DET (Porcello): 19-6, 3.02 ERA, 1.23 WHIP in 28 road starts 2007-09
11. A.J. Burnett (NYY) -- Tue-TEX (Padilla), Sun-TB (Sonnanstine): 8-4, 3.01 ERA, 1.03 WHIP in 18 career starts versus Rays
12. Aaron Cook (COL) -- Mon-@HOU (Oswalt), Sat-@STL (Wellemeyer): 3-0, 2.37 ERA, 1.32 WHIP in five career starts at Minute Maid Park
13. Joe Blanton (PHI) -- Mon-@SD (Correia), Sat-@LAD (Kuroda): 3-1, 4.65 ERA, 1.32 WHIP in his past five starts
14. Rick Porcello (DET) -- Tue-BOS (Matsuzaka), Sun-LAA (Saunders): 3-1, 3.18 ERA, 1.28 WHIP in four home starts
15. Joba Chamberlain (NYY) -- Mon-@CLE (Sowers), Sat-TB (Garza)
16. Edinson Volquez (CIN) -- Mon-@STL (Wellemeyer), Sat-CHC (Marshall)
17. Ubaldo Jimenez (COL) -- Tue-@HOU (Paulino), Sun-@STL (TBD): 2-0, 3.38 ERA, 1.23 WHIP in three career starts versus Astros
18. Todd Wellemeyer (STL) -- Mon-CIN (Volquez), Sat-COL (Cook): 9-3, 2.65 ERA, 1.11 WHIP in 17 home starts 2008-09
19. Kyle Davies (KC) -- Tue-@TB (Sonnanstine), Sun-@TOR (Halladay): 3.52 ERA, 1.31 WHIP in 11 road starts 2008-09
20. Jarrod Washburn (SEA) -- Mon-BAL (Hill), Sun-MIN (Slowey): 7-6, 3.26 ERA, 1.10 WHIP in 16 career starts versus Twins
21. Daisuke Matsuzaka (BOS) -- Tue-@DET (Porcello), Sun-TEX (Padilla)
22. Manny Parra (MIL) -- Tue-@FLA (Badenhop), Sun-@ATL (Kawakami)
23. Andrew Miller (FLA) -- Mon-MIL (Suppan), Sat-SF (Sanchez): 4.55 ERA, 7.16 WHIP at home 2008-09 (7.16 and 1.93 on road)
24. Gavin Floyd (CHW) -- Tue-OAK (TBD), Sun-CLE (Huff): 11-5, 3.55 ERA, 1.19 WHIP in 21 home starts 2008-09
25. Zach Duke (PIT) -- Tue-NYM (Santana), Sun-@HOU (Paulino)
26. Livan Hernandez (NYM) -- Mon-@PIT (Snell), Sat-@WAS (Lannan): 3-0, 3.03 ERA, 1.32 WHIP in his past six starts
27. Kenshin Kawakami (ATL) -- Tue-CHC (Wells), Sun-MIL (Parra): 2-3, 3.60 ERA, 1.20 WHIP in five home starts
28. Andy Sonnanstine (TB) -- Tue-KC (Davies), Sun-@NYY (Burnett)
29. Ian Snell (PIT) -- Mon-NYM (Hernandez), Sat-@HOU (Oswalt)
30. Bartolo Colon (CHW) -- Mon-OAK (Cahill), Sat-CLE (Sowers)
31. Jeff Suppan (MIL) -- Mon-@FLA (Miller), Sat-@ATL (Medlen): 3-2, 2.98 ERA, 1.23 WHIP in seven career starts at Dolphin Stadium
32. Rich Hill (BAL) -- Mon-@SEA (Washburn), Sun-@OAK (Cahill)
33. Randy Wells (CHC) -- Tue-@ATL (Kawakami), Sun-@CIN (Arroyo)
34. Felipe Paulino (HOU) -- Tue-COL (Jimenez), Sun-PIT (Duke)
35. Trevor Cahill (OAK) -- Mon-@CHW (Colon), Sun-BAL (Hill)

Six "no thank yous": Antonio Bastardo, David Huff, Hiroki Kuroda, Vicente Padilla, Jeremy Sowers, Craig Stammen

Tristan's one-start bargains

The 50-to-90 group (owned in 50 to 90 percent of ESPN.com leagues)

Scott Baker (MIN) -- Thu-CLE (Carmona): 7-4, 3.71 ERA, 1.03 WHIP in 18 home starts in 2008 and '09
Jeremy Guthrie (BAL) -- Fri-@OAK (Anderson): 3.45 ERA, 1.21 WHIP in three career games (two starts) at McAfee Coliseum
Edwin Jackson (DET) -- Sat-LAA (Santana): 2-1, 3.55 ERA, 1.21 WHIP in five home starts

The under-50 group (available in at least 50 percent of ESPN.com leagues)

Nick Blackburn (MIN) -- Sat-@SEA (Jakubauskas): 12 IP, 13 H's, 4 ERs, 7 K's (3.00 ERA) in two starts versus Mariners in 2009
Dave Bush (MIL) -- Thu-@FLA (Johnson): Win, 7 IP, 6 H's, 2 ERs, 7 K's versus Marlins 5/14/09
Doug Davis (ARI) -- Fri-@SD (Geer): 3-1, 3.51 ERA, 1.05 WHIP in five career starts at Petco Park
J.A. Happ (PHI) -- Wed-@SD (Young): 2-0, 1.16 ERA, 0.64 WHIP in eight career road games (two starts)
John Maine (NYM) -- Fri-@WAS (Martis): Win, 5 IP, 1 H, 0 ERs at Nationals Park 8/13/08; 7-2, 3.79 ERA in 11 career starts versus Nationals
Mike Pelfrey (NYM) -- Wed-@PIT (Ohlendorf): Win, 7 IP, 7 H's, 0 ER at PNC Park 8/15/08
Joel Pineiro (STL) -- Wed-CIN (Cueto): 2-1, 3.38 ERA, 1.00 WHIP in four starts versus Reds 2008-09
Jonathan Sanchez (SF) -- Sat-@FLA (Miller): Marlins have .690 team OPS in May
Jordan Zimmermann (WAS) -- Wed-SF (Johnson): Season-high 8 K's versus Giants 5/12/08
Barry Zito (SF) -- Fri-@FLA (Volstad): 2-0, 0.68 ERA, 0.75 WHIP in two career starts at Land Shark 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.

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