Fantasy Forecaster updated Thursday, July 16 at 9:44 a.m. ET.
On tap: Baseball's traditional "second half" begins with a slightly lighter Thursday of only eight games, and then everyone is back in action on Friday. That means a shortened week due to the All-Star break, though, so only one series per team and no scheduled two-start pitchers.
For those of you who play in leagues that lump both Weeks 15 and 16 into one 11-day period -- our Baseball Challenge game is one prime example -- don't worry, I've got you covered. My two-week preview can be found at column's end.
Quick click by section, if you're seeking advice in a specific area:
Team advantages | Weather report | Load up: All around
Load up: Hitters | Sleeper hitters | Load up: Pitchers
Projected starters | Two-start rankings | One-start bargains
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.
The Southeast experiences the greatest chance of rain in this short week, as all three Phillies-Marlins games face a 40 percent chance, while Mets-Braves go 60 percent, then 40, then 30 for their weekend series. Few other cities are at risk of postponements, and maybe neither of those two are, either, accounting for the history of very few July rainouts. Cubs-Nationals on Thursday is the only other game all week with a 40-plus percent chance of rain.
Weatherproof games: Red Sox at Blue Jays (3, Fri-Sun)
I'm changing it up a little in this short, four-day week. The following four teams represent the best combinations of overall matchups between hitting and pitching, and then I'll pick one additional team from each side below.
Braves (NYM-4): It wasn't too long ago -- 2008, in fact -- that the Braves had a stranglehold on their division rivals in games played at Turner Field. Last year they took eight of nine at home against the Mets, and entering this year, the Mets were 32-69 all-time (playoffs included, .317 winning percentage) at that ballpark. While the Mets took the first two games there this year, they're floundering today; in their final 17 games of the season's first half, the Mets' lineup averaged 2.8 runs per game with a .606 OPS. The Braves match up nicely on both sides of the ball, but especially so on the pitching side.
Rockies (@SD-4): You might not traditionally think of the Rockies as a fantasy-friendly pitching staff, but in games at Petco Park, that's exactly what they are. Their four scheduled starters have a 2.50 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 15 career starts there, and if you account for starts at all venues, they have a 17-8 record, 3.43 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 34 combined turns for manager Jim Tracy. But let's not talk entirely about the Rockies' pitching; their hitters also match up nicely against the Padres' right-handed-heavy staff. Since 2006, Brad Hawpe is a .296 hitter with an .868 OPS in 29 games at Petco, while Todd Helton has .314/.834 numbers in 29 games there.
Cubs (@WAS-4): Aramis Ramirez's healthy return shouldn't have been expected to be an immediate cure for all that ails the Cubs' bats, but it's a start, and as manager Lou Piniella said this past week, now is the first time all year that he has really had his entire projected starting lineup active. With the past week of home games for the team to jell in the chemistry department, and a soft set of matchups at Washington coming out of the All-Star break, Cubs' players prospects are sure looking up.
White Sox (BAL-3): One of the few three-game weeks I strongly recommend, the White Sox get the thumbs up because they've been showing signs of life at home, helping U.S. Cellular Field once again look like the homer heaven it has traditionally been in the past. Chicago totaled 59 runs in winning six of its past nine home games (6.6 runs per contest); Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko each has his home OPS better than .900; Alexei Ramirez has batted .323 with five home runs and a .963 OPS in his past 15 home games; and the pitching staff has a respectable 3.83 ERA at home.
The following team has favorable overall hitting matchups, accounting for recent performance, strength of opponents and ballpark factors.
Mariners (@CLE-4): It's the rare week that the Mariners warrant any kind of attention whatsoever for their hitting exploits, but most any team gets the benefit of favorable matchups when it goes up against the Indians' patchwork rotation. One thing that plays in Seattle's favor: The team has an OPS 42 points higher versus left-handers (.750) than right-handers (.708), and the Indians will throw three lefties in the series. Franklin Gutierrez (.333 BA, 1.006 OPS) is the Mariner with the most appealing numbers against southpaws, but I'm picking Jose Lopez and his .293 batting average and .752 OPS versus lefties since 2006 as a big-time sleeper.
Tony Gwynn Jr., OF, Padres: .318 BA, .847 OPS versus right-handers in 2009; .289 BA in 23 games at Petco Park in 2009
Andruw Jones, OF, Rangers: .255 BA, .928 OPS in 28 home games in 2009; .811 OPS versus left-handers in 2009
Casey McGehee, 2B/3B, Brewers: .330 BA, .935 OPS versus right-handers in 2009; .341 BA, 6 HRs, 18 RBIs, 1.032 OPS in his past 25 games
The following team has favorable overall pitching matchups, accounting for recent performance, strength of opponents and ballpark factors.
Angels (@OAK-4): No matter how you feel about the health of John Lackey or Ervin Santana, or Joe Saunders' slight regression back to the mean, three things stand out about this series. One, the four pitchers the Angels will start are a combined 15-4 with a 2.50 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 29 career games (28 starts) at McAfee Coliseum. Two, this staff has won 20 of its past 28 games, and even though its ERA was 4.70 and WHIP 1.43 during that span, keep in mind there were some very tough matchups mixed in there. Three, and perhaps most importantly, Oakland sports a weak, weak offense, ranked 29th in team OPS at home with a .701 number.
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: Though several sources suggest top prospect Mat Latos will start for the Padres on Sunday, the team's official Web site lists Tim Stauffer as the team's projected starter on that date.
Due to the shortened week, no pitcher is scheduled to work twice in Week 15.
The 50-to-90 group (owned in 50 to 90 percent of ESPN.com leagues)
Jair Jurrjens (ATL) -- Fri-NYM (Pelfrey): 2-1, 3.51 ERA, 1.17 WHIP in four career starts versus Mets
Ricky Nolasco (FLA) -- Fri-PHI (Hamels): 3-1, 2.96 ERA, 0.99 WHIP in four starts versus Phillies in 2008
Joe Saunders (LAA) -- Fri-@OAK (Cahill): 3-0, 1.77 ERA, 1.18 WHIP in three career starts at McAfee Coliseum
The under-50 group (available in at least 50 percent of ESPN.com leagues)
Jose Contreras (CHW) -- Sun-BAL (Bergesen): 3.39 ERA, 1.15 WHIP in 16 home starts 2008-09; 2.06 ERA, 0.82 WHIP in his past six starts
Aaron Cook (COL) -- Thu-@SD (Gaudin): 5-1, 1.61 ERA, 1.13 WHIP in eight career starts at Petco Park
Kevin Correia (SD) -- Sat-COL (Hammel): 5-3, 3.58 ERA, 0.97 WHIP in his past eight starts, six of which were quality starts
J.A. Happ (PHI) -- Sun-@FLA (Miller): Has five consecutive quality starts; 4-0, 1.57 ERA, 0.87 WHIP in 12 career road games (six starts)
Ubaldo Jimenez (COL) -- Fri-@SD (Geer): 3.70 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 45 K's in 41 1/3 innings in seven career starts versus Padres
Jason Marquis (COL) -- Sun-@SD (Stauffer): 2.66 ERA, 1.38 WHIP in three career starts at Petco Park; 6-3, 3.50 ERA in nine road starts in 2009
Jamie Moyer (PHI) -- Thu-@FLA (Volstad): 7-0, 1.58 ERA, 0.94 WHIP in seven career starts at Dolphin Stadium
Randy Wells (CHC) -- Sun-@WAS (Mock): Five of his six road starts have been quality starts; 2.04 ERA, 0.93 WHIP in the six
Teams with 11 games combined in Weeks 15-16: Angels, Athletics, Braves, Nationals, Padres, Phillies and White Sox.
Teams with nine games: Blue Jays, Orioles, Rangers, Red Sox and Rangers.
Teams with nine-plus home games, ranked most to least: Nationals (11), Dodgers (10), Yankees (10), Blue Jays (9) and Royals (9).
Teams with nine or 10 games, but all on the road: Giants (10), Mets (10), Orioles (9), Rays (10) and Twins (10).
Eight pitchers are scheduled to pitch three times during the 11-day Week 15-16 time span (once Thursday, once July 21 and once July 26):
Dallas Braden (OAK) -- Thu-LAA (Santana), July 21-MIN (Baker), July 26-@NYY (TBD).
Chad Gaudin (SD) -- Thu-COL (Cook), July 21-FLA (Volstad), July 26-@WAS (Lannan).
John Lannan (WAS) -- Thu-CHC (Harden), July 21-NYM (Perez), July 26-SD (Gaudin).
Cliff Lee (CLE) -- Thu-SEA (Olson), July 21-@TOR (TBD), July 26-@SEA (Olson).
Derek Lowe (ATL) -- Thu-NYM (Perez), July 21-SF (Sadowski), July 26-@MIL (Burns).
Jamie Moyer (PHI) -- Thu-@FLA (Volstad), July 21-CHC (Harden), July 26-STL (Wellemeyer).
Garrett Olson (SEA) -- Thu-@CLE (Lee), July 21-@DET (Galarraga), July 26-CLE (Lee).
Ervin Santana (LAA) -- Thu-@OAK (Braden), July 21-@KC (Chen), July 26-MIN (Baker).
Among possible candidates to pitch three times if their teams skip fifth starters to maximize their starts: Rich Harden (CHC), Braden Looper (MIL), Oliver Perez (NYM), Wandy Rodriguez (HOU), Chris Volstad (FLA) and Randy Wolf (LAD).
Load up: Hitters
Yankees (DET-3, BAL-3, OAK-4)
Red Sox (@TOR-3, @TEX-3, BAL-3)
White Sox (BAL-3, TB-4, @DET-4)
Cardinals (ARI-3, @HOU-3, @WAS-1, @PHI-3)
Load up: Pitchers
Rockies (@SD-4, ARI-3, SF-3)
Nationals (CHC-4, NYM-3, STL-1, SD-3)
Angels (@OAK-4, @KC-3, MIN-4)
Dodgers (HOU-4, CIN-3, FLA-3)
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.