Commentary

The stretch run is upon us

With the trade deadline having passed, rotations have new names in them

Updated: August 2, 2009, 3:39 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Fantasy Forecaster updated Sunday, Aug. 2 at 12:51 p.m. ET.

Fantasy Forecaster
On tap: With the trade deadline firmly in our rearview mirror, the stretch run is upon us. It's an adjustment week for us in fantasy; because of the placement of the Friday deadline and our Friday press date for the Forecaster, rotations are in flux as teams tinkered their rotations to slot in their new arms (or replace departed ones). A few notable examples: Jarrod Washburn and Luke French swapped teams early Friday, and with Ian Snell also shipped to Seattle in the past week, the Mariners' rotation changed. The Padres and White Sox also had some rotation issues to settle following the Jake Peavy deal. Keep tabs throughout the weekend, as I'll have the updates for you.

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: Indians (Saturday, @CHW); Tigers (Tuesday, BAL); Mariners (Thursday, @KC); Blue Jays (Sunday, BAL); Astros (Wednesday, SF); Phillies (Saturday, FLA); and Giants (Tuesday, @HOU).

Weather report

Weather tends to get a little spottier once the calendar page flips to August, and naturally, those East Coast cities (New York, Philadelphia and Washington) are the most threatened this week. Wednesday might be especially troublesome, as each of those cities has a 40 percent chance of rain. But it's not only the East to keep an eye on; Cincinnati and Pittsburgh might have to tangle with the elements, especially on Tuesday. Diamondbacks-Pirates has a 50 percent chance of rain that day, and it's a real headache for Arizona overall, seeing as the team will be making stops in three risky cities: New York, Pittsburgh and Washington.

Weatherproof games: Giants at Astros (3, Mon-Wed); Brewers at Astros (3, Fri-Sun); Yankees at Blue Jays (2, Tue-Wed); Orioles at Blue Jays (3, Fri-Sun); Rays at Mariners (3, Fri-Sun); Royals at Rays (1, Mon); Red Sox at Rays (2, Tue-Wed).

Load up: Hitters

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

White SoxWhite Sox (LAA-3, CLE-3): On paper it might seem like the Angels' rotation -- they'll throw John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders in this series -- presents a challenge, but you'd be wrong. In 14 games since the All-Star break the Angels have but four quality starts, three of them by Lackey alone. Santana and Saunders, meanwhile, have combined for one in six total turns, during which time they have a 6.82 ERA and 1.66 WHIP. The bullpen hasn't been much better, with a 1.68 WHIP that underscores how misleading its 3.97 ERA is. Cleveland, meanwhile, just traded its ace, Cliff Lee, and is simply scraping by with three young left-handed starters, two of whom will face Chicago during the weekend. That plays well to the White Sox; they have baseball's sixth-best OPS against lefties (.803).

TigersTigers (BAL-4, MIN-3): With the possible exception of the Yankees series coming out of the All-Star break, the Tigers have been fortunate to face mainly beleaguered rotations for much of the past month, including dodging a good share of teams' aces during that time. It's a trend certain to continue this week; the Orioles sport one of baseball's worst pitching staffs, including a dreadful 16-34 record and 5.74 ERA on the road. The Twins, meanwhile, recently lost Kevin Slowey to season-ending wrist surgery, had to scratch Francisco Liriano from his most recent start due to forearm soreness and have gotten four wins and a 5.60 ERA out of their starters in 13 games since the All-Star break. It's just more lucky timing for Detroit.

CubsCubs (@CIN-3, @COL-3): Remember back in late May and early June when the Cubs had that dreadful offensive cold spell? No longer. Since July 6, the day Aramis Ramirez returned from the disabled list, Chicago has batted .275 as a team, averaged 5.4 runs per game and clubbed 26 homers in 21 contests. Narrow that time span to just since the All-Star break and the Cubs have batted .288, averaged 6.5 runs and belted 21 homers in 14 games. It's no coincidence; Ramirez definitely deepens this lineup. And with games at hitter-friendly environments in Cincinnati and Colorado this week, the Cubs should keep up their hot hitting.

GiantsGiants (@HOU-3, CIN-3): This is an offense that's significantly more potent at home than on the road, with a team OPS more than 100 points higher at AT&T Park (.747) than elsewhere (.638). Still, a trip to Houston doesn't shape up so poorly, especially accounting for the fact that two of the three starters the Giants will face, Mike Hampton and Brian Moehler, combined for a 5.50 ERA and 1.60 WHIP in 10 starts in July. The Reds' staff, meanwhile, is a mess these days. Cincinnati ranks dead last in the majors in ERA (5.61) and batting average allowed (.295) and second-worst in WHIP (1.60) in July. Reds starters, in fact, are 5-16 with a 6.27 ERA and 1.65 WHIP in 26 games this month, only 12 of those quality starts.

Tristan's sleeper hitters

Clint Barmes, 2B/SS, Rockies: 12-for-30 (.400 BA), 4 2Bs, 1 HR in nine career games at Citizens Bank Park; .304 BA, 1.007 OPS versus left-handers in 2009, and Rockies will face only lefty starters in their three games at Philadelphia
Billy Butler, 1B, Royals: .310 BA, .956 OPS versus left-handers in 2009, .315 BA, .888 OPS in 53 games at home in 2009
Melky Cabrera, OF, Yankees: .280 BA, .806 OPS in 52 home games in 2009; .324 BA, .891 OPS in 13 games since the All-Star break
Alberto Callaspo, 2B, Royals: .400 BA, .985 OPS versus left-handers in 2009, .330 BA, .888 OPS in 52 games at home in 2009
Garrett Jones, OF, Pirates: .344 BA, 1.133 OPS versus right-handers in 2009; .333 BA, 1.083 OPS in 13 games since the All-Star break
Howie Kendrick, 2B, Angels: .421 BA, 11 RBIs, 1.121 OPS in 11 games since the All-Star break; .348 BA, .898 OPS in 24 games versus Rangers 2007-09
Nyjer Morgan, OF, Nationals: .358 BA, .870 OPS versus right-handers in 2009; .359 BA, .875 OPS in 21 career games at Nationals Park
Josh Willingham, OF, Nationals: .296 BA, .966 OPS versus right-handers in 2009; .283 BA, 1.001 OPS in 13 games since the All-Star break

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.

DiamondbacksDiamondbacks (@NYM-1, @PIT-3, @WAS-3): The Diamondbacks might be a vastly weaker offense in road games than at home, but their matchups in the stolen-base department couldn't be more favorable. Neither Ryan Doumit nor Josh Bard, the Pirates' and Nationals' respective starting catchers, is a strong-armed backstop; both of them are easy to run against. Arizona tends to capitalize upon matchups like that, as evidenced by four different players on its active roster boasting five steals or more: Mark Reynolds (18), Justin Upton (15), Chris Young (11) and Ryan Roberts (5).

MarlinsMarlins (@WAS-3, @PHI-3): My comment about Bard from above rings true here, too. One of the best examples of how favorable matchups against Washington are for opposing base stealers: Emilio Bonifacio has five steals against this team this year, and a .324 batting average, and he has barely done anything else since the first week of the season. The Phillies' Carlos Ruiz isn't all that much more skilled at throwing out opposing baserunners, so expect a good week from Bonifacio, Hanley Ramirez and perhaps even Chris Coghlan.

AngelsAngels (@CHW-3, TEX-3): Chicago's A.J. Pierzynski has surrendered the second-most steals (64) and Texas' Jarrod Saltalamacchia the fourth-most (55) in the majors this season, and if there's one thing we know about the Angels, it's that they like to run. They're second only to the run-run-running Rays with 106 stolen bases, and trail only Oakland and Texas with 17 steals since the All-Star break. Bobby Abreu and Chone Figgins are both on pace for more than 30 steals, and Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis can swipe a bag themselves. Even Howie Kendrick is a sleeper in the category 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.

RoyalsRoyals (@TB-1, SEA-3, OAK-3): This is a staff that has scuffled a bit after getting off to a hot start, but the matchups this week suggest a bit of a rebound for Royals pitchers. No, I won't make a blanket statement that "all Royals pitchers" are good fantasy picks, but look at the individuals: Zack Greinke has seven consecutive quality starts and 33 strikeouts in 26 innings in his past four turns; Luke Hochevar has won six of his past eight decisions and struck out 22 hitters in 13 1/3 innings in his past two starts at home; Brian Bannister has a 2.98 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in his past nine starts; and closer Joakim Soria has seven saves and a 0.82 ERA in 10 appearances in July. Accounting for their facing weak offenses, I'd start all four pitchers.

MetsMets (ARI-1, STL-2, @SD-4): Don't look now, but the Mets are actually winning some ballgames! Sure, they kicked off the season's second half in a funk, losing three of four in Atlanta, but since then this team has won six of its past 10, registering a 2.79 ERA and 1.25 WHIP during that span. St. Louis does present a challenge for this staff, but the Mets' rotation is aligned perfectly for that series, with lefties Johan Santana and Jonathon Niese scheduled to pitch. The Cardinals, incidentally, are one of baseball's worst teams against southpaws, with a .663 OPS against them this season. And I think by this point we all know how favorable are four matchups at Petco Park.

GiantsGiants (@HOU-3, CIN-3): This team can hit, with offensive numbers greater than most anyone expected in the preseason, but boy, it sure can pitch. San Francisco leads the major leagues in team ERA (3.50), complete games (9) and shutouts (14) and ranks second in WHIP (1.28). Much of that has been the result of the great work of starters Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, but even a Jonathan Sanchez or Barry Zito warrants matchup consideration in weeks like these. Sanchez has 24 strikeouts and a 3.60 ERA in his past three starts, and two of those came on the road, where he has historically had some trouble. He's well worth a look in Houston.

RaysRays (KC-1, BOS-2, @SEA-3): The home game against Kansas City and the three road games at Seattle are obviously favorable matchups; both of those offenses have .701 or worse team OPS and have averaged short of four runs per game since the All-Star break. But it's those two Boston games that might make you skeptical, though you shouldn't be. Be aware that, including the 2008 American League Championship Series, the Rays have won 13 of 17 meetings at Tropicana Field, with a 3.32 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in those contests. This has long been a dominant home team, and it's mostly because of how comfortable the pitching staff has been at the dome.

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: I'm assuming the White Sox will push back to Saturday the fifth-starter role vacated when Clayton Richard was traded, hence the "TBD" below, but D.J. Carrasco did get the call the most recent time that spot came up. The Marlins used Burke Badenhop as their fifth starter last turn through the rotation, but his poor performance makes it like that spot will be bumped back to Saturday with another option used. If Roy Oswalt is healthy enough to pitch, he'll assume the open spot in the Astros' rotation on Tuesday. If not, Felipe Paulino will pitch.

Rankings: Tristan's two-starts

Recommended cut-off point for elite one-starts: No. 16 (Duke)
Recommended cut-off point for "under-50" bargains: No. 24 (Wells)

Eleven must-starts: Matt Cain, Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke, Roy Halladay, Dan Haren, Josh Johnson, Clayton Kershaw, Jon Lester, Johan Santana, Javier Vazquez, Justin Verlander.

12. Scott Kazmir (TB) -- Mon-KC (Greinke), Sun-@SEA (Rowland-Smith): 3-0, 1.11 ERA, 0.95 WHIP in four career starts at Safeco Field
13. John Lackey (LAA) -- Tue-@CHW (Contreras), Sun-TEX (Holland)
14. Joel Pineiro (STL) -- Tue-@NYM (Santana), Sun-@PIT (Duke): 3-0, 2.91 ERA, 1.12 WHIP in five career starts versus Mets
15. Jarrod Washburn (DET) -- Tue-BAL (TBD), Sun-MIN (Baker): 7-6, 3.16 ERA, 1.17 WHIP in 17 career starts versus Twins

16. Zach Duke (PIT) -- Tue-ARI (Petit), Sun-STL (Pineiro): 6-4, 3.00 ERA, 1.08 WHIP in 10 home starts in 2009
17. Luke Hochevar (KC) -- Tue-SEA (Rowland-Smith), Sun-OAK (G. Gonzalez): 4-1, 3.59 ERA, 1.17 WHIP in seven home starts in 2009
18. Hiroki Kuroda (LAD) -- Tue-MIL (Gallardo), Sun-ATL (Vazquez)
19. Scott Baker (MIN) -- Tue-@CLE (Huff), Sun-@DET (Washburn): 2-1, 3.10 ERA, 0.79 WHIP in four career starts at Comerica Park
20. Andy Pettitte (NYY) -- Tue-@TOR (Halladay), Sun-BOS (Lester)
21. Jamie Moyer (PHI) -- Tue-COL (Hammel), Sun-FLA (Johnson): 13-2, 2.83 ERA, 1.04 WHIP in 15 career starts versus Marlins
22. Aaron Harang (CIN) -- Mon-CHC (Wells), Sun-@SF (Cain)
23. Jose Contreras (CHW) -- Tue-LAA (Lackey), Sun-CLE (Huff)
24. Randy Wells (CHC) -- Mon-@CIN (Harang), Sun-@COL (Hammel): 3-1, 2.62 ERA, 1.01 WHIP in seven road starts in 2009
25. Ryan Rowland-Smith (SEA) -- Tue-@KC (Hochevar), Sun-TB (Kazmir)
26. Kenshin Kawakami (ATL) -- Mon-@SD (Latos), Sat-@LAD (Kershaw)
27. Manny Parra (MIL) -- Mon-@LAD (Kershaw), Sat-@HOU (Norris)
28. Brett Anderson (OAK) -- Mon-TEX (Nippert), Sat-@KC (Greinke): 3-1, 1.85 ERA, 0.95 WHIP in his past six starts
29. Gio Gonzalez (OAK) -- Tue-TEX (Holland), Sun-@KC (Hochevar)
30. Yusmeiro Petit (ARI) -- Tue-@PIT (Duke), Sun-@WAS (Martin)
31. Charlie Morton (PIT) -- Mon-WAS (Mock), Sat-STL (Wainwright)
32. Matt Latos (SD) -- Mon-ATL (Kawakami), Sat-NYM (Pelfrey)
33. Derek Holland (TEX) -- Tue-@OAK (G. Gonzalez), Sun-@LAA (Lackey)

Eight "no thank yous": Orioles yet-to-be-named fifth starter, Jason Hammel, Mike Hampton, David Huff, J.D. Martin, Garrett Mock, Tim Stauffer, Chris Tillman.

Tristan's one-start bargains

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

Tommy Hanson (ATL) -- Wed-@SD (Gaudin): 5-1, 2.20 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 59 K's in 49 IP in his past eight starts
Chris Volstad (FLA) -- Thu-@WAS (Stammen): 9-4, 3.14 ERA, 1.24 WHIP in 18 career road games (17 starts)
Jarrod Washburn (SEA) -- Sat-TB (Shields): 12-3, 2.59 ERA, 1.24 WHIP in 17 career starts versus Rays; Win, 7 IP, 2 ERs, 9 K's versus Rays 4/21/09

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

Brian Bannister (KC) -- Fri-OAK (Mazzaro): 3.35 ERA, 1.33 WHIP in six career starts versus Athletics
Joe Blanton (PHI) -- Thu-COL (Cook): 6-2, 3.87 ERA, 1.23 WHIP in 18 career starts at Citizens Bank Park; four consecutive quality starts at home
Brett Cecil (TOR) -- Fri-BAL (Berken): Win, 6 shutout IP versus Orioles 6/10/09; 2-0, 3.03 ERA in six home games (five starts) in 2009
Jon Garland (ARI) -- Fri-@WAS (Balester): 2.67 ERA, 1.25 WHIP in 10 road starts in 2009; four consecutive quality starts on the road
J.A. Happ (PHI) -- Wed-COL (De La Rosa): 3-2, 2.45 ERA, 1.11 WHIP in his past eight starts
Tommy Hunter (TEX) -- Thu-@OAK (Cahill): Has won back-to-back starts, defeating the Red Sox and Tigers
John Lannan (WAS) -- Wed-FLA (VandenHurk): 4-1, 1.91 ERA, 1.11 WHIP in 12 home starts in 2009; eight consecutive quality starts at home
Mike Pelfrey (NYM) -- Sat-@SD (Latos): 6 IP, 1 ER at Petco Park 6/5/08
Ricky Romero (TOR) -- Sun-BAL (TBD): 6-2, 3.33 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 45 K's in 48 2/3 IP in eight home starts in 2009
Jonathan Sanchez (SF) -- Tue-@HOU (TBD): Has 24 K's and allowed only 9 H's in 20 IP in his past three starts

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.

ALSO SEE