Commentary

Big week for Rays; Phillies play eight

Updated: September 4, 2009, 12:48 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Fantasy Forecaster

On tap: It's make-or-break time for the Rays, currently six games back in the wild-card race and facing a week of road contests against the division-rival Yankees and Red Sox. Tampa Bay's week begins with a Labor Day doubleheader at Yankee Stadium facing the Yankees' top two starters, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. It's not Week 23's only doubleheader: The Mets and Phillies also have a game to make up, and they'll do so by playing two Sunday.

Brad Penny, who tossed eight shutout innings to win his Giants debut at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday, will enjoy his first two-start week for the team, the second turn a key matchup against the division-rival Dodgers.

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: Red Sox (Saturday, TB), Indians (Monday, TEX), Mariners (Sunday, @TEX) and Phillies (Sunday, NYM, Game 2).

Weather report

Though rain took a bit of a break in the months of July and August, in September it tends to return, historically speaking, with a vengeance. East Coast, Great Lakes and Southeastern cities are typically the ones most at risk, and, not surprisingly, there's a bit of rain expected in Boston, Cleveland, New York, Pittsburgh and Washington in the early part of the week.

Weatherproof games: Phillies at Astros (1, Mon); Braves at Astros (3, Tue-Thu); Pirates at Astros (3, Fri-Sun); Twins at Blue Jays (4, Mon-Thu); Cardinals at Brewers (3, Mon-Wed); Dodgers at Diamondbacks (3, Mon-Wed); Brewers at Diamondbacks (3, Fri-Sun); Athletics at Twins (3, Fri-Sun).

Load up: Hitters

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

YankeesYankees (TB-4, BAL-3): Sure the new Yankee Stadium is hitter-friendly, but right now, only for the Yankees. They have averaged 5.7 runs per game with a .287 batting average and .872 OPS at home since the All-Star break, but their opponents' numbers in those categories during that time are 3.3, .226 and .647. What's more, while those Rays games present a bit of a challenge, the Yankees have manhandled the Orioles all year. They've won 10 in a row versus Baltimore, totaling 70 runs and 21 home runs and batting .285 with a .908 OPS in those games.

PhilliesPhillies (@HOU-1, @WAS-3, NYM-4): Eight games is a significant advantage for any team, especially in a week when two teams play only five times and 17 play six, and especially in a week when that team plays the patchwork rotations of the Nationals and Mets. Philadelphia has already taken 10 of 12 from Washington this season, totaling 83 runs (6.9 per game) with a .305 batting average and .917 OPS, and the best pitcher the Mets will throw in their series is Mike Pelfrey, who has a 5.28 ERA and 1.96 WHIP in three career starts at Citizens Bank Park.

TigersTigers (@KC-3, TOR-3): These two pitching staffs have been reeling, and with the exception of the Zack Greinke matchup Thursday, not one of the other five opposing starters should pose much trouble. The Royals sport baseball's worst team ERA since the All-Star break (5.71), while the Blue Jays have a 6.07 ERA and 1.70 WHIP in their past 19 games. Even the vaunted Roy Halladay is in a funk: He is 2-4 with a 4.71 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in his past six starts. But if a matchup against him does strike fear in you, worry not: The Tigers don't face Halladay in their series.

RockiesRockies (CIN-4, @SD-3): Though the Rockies hit a bit of a blip on their playoff radar screen during their late-August stretch of games against division rivals, losing six of 10 against the Dodgers and Giants, they still boast a potent offensive attack and are entering into a softer portion of their schedule. Two things stand out about these matchups: One, the Rockies are slated to face six right-handed starters out of seven, and they boast the game's fifth-best team OPS against that side (.788). Two, though the Petco Park games diminish the Rockies' offensive appeal, keep in mind this team has totaled 32 runs in six games there already this year (5.3 average), which isn't bad.

Tristan's sleeper hitters

Adrian Beltre, 3B, Mariners: .309 BA, 18 RBIs, .904 OPS in 22 games at Rangers Ballpark 2007-'09
Michael Brantley, OF, Indians: .300 BA, .758 OPS versus right-handers in his minor league career; already 4-for-10 in three big league games
Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B/SS, Indians: .299 BA, .766 OPS in 50 home games in 2009, .321 BA, .842 OPS versus right-handers in 2009
Stephen Drew, SS, Diamondbacks: .295 BA, .846 OPS in 56 home games in 2009; .288 BA, .847 OPS versus right-handers in 2009
Jose Lopez, 2B, Mariners: .393 BA (11-for-28), 2 HRs, 1.112 OPS in seven games at Rangers Ballpark in 2009
Gerardo Parra, OF, Diamondbacks: .310 BA, .830 OPS in 39 home games in 2009; .308 BA, .813 OPS versus right-handers in 2009
Scott Rolen, 3B, Reds: .331 BA, 8 HRs, 1.066 OPS in 32 career games at Coors Field; .278 BA, .884 OPS in 63 career games at Wrigley Field
Miguel Tejada, SS, Astros: .327 BA, .818 OPS in 63 home games in 2009; .468 BA (22-for-47) in 11 games versus Pirates 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.

YankeesYankees (TB-4, BAL-3): The Yankees have sure been picking on rookie catcher Matt Wieters lately, stealing seven bases in 10 chances in their past six games versus the Orioles. Expect it to continue, especially with the team's speediest player, Brett Gardner, due back from the disabled list Monday. He'll likely land a couple of starts in a week when the Yankees will face five right-handed starters in seven games. Gardner is well worth activating in AL-only formats.

PhilliesPhillies (@HOU-1, @WAS-3, NYM-4): Eight games means more chances to pile up the stolen bases, and besides, it's not like either the Nationals or the Mets boast backstops who rank among the game's most efficient at throwing out opposing baserunners. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Shane Victorino have been rather productive since the All-Star break, combining for 24 steals in 45 Phillies games in that time.

AstrosAstros (PHI-1, ATL-3, PIT-3): Neither Brian McCann nor Ryan Doumit is all that effective at gunning down opposing base stealers; they're in the lineups for their bats, first and foremost. For that reason, expect the Astros to push the pedal to the metal, so to speak, on the base paths this week. Interesting fact: Though Michael Bourn leads the team in steals versus the Pirates this season (three in 11 games), he's actually tied for the honor with Hunter Pence (three in 12).

RaysRays (@NYY-4, @BOS-3): The Yankees might match up decently in this department versus the Rays at the onset of the week, but Tampa Bay stacks up at least as nicely from an overall-week perspective in facing these teams with aging, weak-armed catchers. The Rays have already routed these two teams for 41 steals on 50 chances in 26 games combined this season, and the team gives the green light so often that eight different Rays have five or more stolen bases this season. Even the recently activated Akinori Iwamura (8-for-9 this year) is a sleeper choice 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.

PhilliesPhillies (@HOU-1, @WAS-3, NYM-4): The Phillies have a rotation that's about as rock-solid as it can get at this stage of the season. Since Cliff Lee's debut for them on July 31, they have held their opponents to three runs or fewer in 20 of 31 games, and have 20 quality starts, a 3.09 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP during that span. A good example of this staff's depth: When Pedro Martinez can outduel defending Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, you know things are going well. Neither the Mets nor the Nationals have been lighting up scoreboards since the All-Star break: New York ranks 24th in team OPS (.721) and Washington 17th (.748) during that span.

RockiesRockies (CIN-4, @SD-3): Counting on retreads like Jose Contreras and Josh Fogg in their fifth-starter role puts the Rockies at more of a disadvantage with Aaron Cook on the DL. Despite that, this is about as safe a set of matchups as a staff could get. Since the All-Star break, the Reds rank dead last in baseball in team batting average (.237) and OPS (.685), and in addition to the Padres' sporting a comparably anemic offense (MLB-worst .657 OPS at home), San Diego also plays in a ballpark with Park Factors ranked 30th in runs scored and 29th in home runs.

AngelsAngels (@KC-1, SEA-3, CHW-3): I think I've already said this once or 100 times this season, but the Angels finally seem to be turning a corner as a pitching staff … and this time I really mean it, because the Scott Kazmir acquisition has patched the final hole in their rotation. OK, I say that a tad tongue-in-cheek, because the fact that we've been waiting all year for the Angels' staff to jell underscores their risk/reward status, but this is a stage in L.A.'s schedule when the pitching matchups are mostly positive. Seattle's offense ranks 28th in OPS since the All-Star break (.699), while Chicago's ranks 23rd (.736) during that same time span.

RangersRangers (@CLE-3, SEA-3): They keep hanging in that wild-card race, and you can expect them to for at least another week, accounting for these two very winnable series. Texas set up its rotation brilliantly for these games, with Scott Feldman and Tommy Hunter, a combined 12-2 with a 2.71 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 18 road games (17 starts) this season, set to pitch in the series at Cleveland. Then it's back home, where Derek Holland, who tossed 8 2/3 brilliant innings to beat the Mariners on July 30, gets a rematch against them during the weekend.

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.

Rankings: Tristan's two-starts

Recommended cut-off point for elite one-starts: No. 10 (Kazmir)
Recommended cut-off point for "under-50" bargains: No. 20 (Scherzer)

Three must-starts: Chris Carpenter, Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia.

4. Ubaldo Jimenez (COL) -- Mon-CIN (Lehr), Sat-@SD (Richard): 2-0, 1.80 ERA, 0.95 WHIP in three career starts versus Reds
5. J.A. Happ (PHI) -- Mon-@HOU (Moehler), Sat-NYM (Pelfrey): 1-0, 2.50 ERA, 1.28 WHIP in four games (two starts) versus Mets in 2009
6. Ted Lilly (CHC) -- Mon-@PIT (McCutchen), Sun-CIN (Bailey)
7. Ervin Santana (LAA) -- Mon-@KC (Davies), Sat-CHW (Danks): Has five consecutive quality starts; 3-1, 2.45 ERA, 1.21 WHIP in those games
8. Javier Vazquez (ATL) -- Tue-@HOU (Paulino), Sun-@STL (Smoltz): 7-2, 3.30 ERA, 1.05 WHIP in 13 road starts in 2009
9. Jason Marquis (COL) -- Tue-CIN (Bailey), Sun-@SD (Correia): 2-1, 2.22 ERA, 1.16 WHIP in four career starts at Petco Park
10. Scott Kazmir (LAA) -- Tue-SEA (Hernandez), Sun-CHW (Buehrle)
11. Chad Billingsley (LAD) -- Mon-@ARI (Scherzer), Sun-@SF (Penny)
12. Rick Porcello (DET) -- Tue-@KC (Bannister), Sun-TOR (Romero): 1-1, 4.50 ERA, 0.92 WHIP in two career starts at Kauffman Stadium
13. Pedro Martinez (PHI) -- Tue-@WAS (Lannan), Sun-NYM, Game 1 (Redding): Win, 6 IP, 7 H, 4 ERs versus Mets on Aug. 23
14. A.J. Burnett (NYY) -- Mon-TB, Game 1 (Garza), Sat-BAL (Matusz): 2-0, 2.14 ERA, 0.76 WHIP in three starts versus Rays in 2009
15. Josh Beckett (BOS) -- Mon-@CHW (Buehrle), Sun-TB (Garza): 3-0, 3.71 ERA, 1.31 WHIP in four career starts at U.S. Cellular Field
16. Matt Garza (TB) -- Mon-@NYY, Game 1 (Burnett), Sun-@BOS (Beckett): 3-1, 3.60 ERA, 1.30 WHIP in five career starts at Fenway Park
17. John Smoltz (STL) -- Tue-@MIL (Parra), Sun-ATL (Vazquez)
18. Brad Penny (SF) -- Mon-SD (Richard), Sun-LAD (Billingsley): 3-2, 3.88 ERA, 1.26 WHIP in 10 career starts at AT&T Park
19. Homer Bailey (CIN) -- Tue-@COL (Marquis), Sun-@CHC (Lilly): Has won three consecutive starts; 1.69 ERA, 1.22 WHIP in those games
20. Max Scherzer (ARI) -- Mon-LAD (Billingsley), Sun-MIL (Bush): 1-1, 2.49 ERA, 1.02 WHIP in five career games (three starts) versus Dodgers
21. Mark Buehrle (CHW) -- Mon-BOS (Beckett), Sun-@LAA (Kazmir)
22. Kyle Davies (KC) -- Mon-LAA (Santana), Sat-@CLE (Masterson)
23. Tim Redding (NYM) -- Tue-FLA (VandenHurk), Sun-@PHI, Game 1 (Martinez): 2.00 ERA, 0.89 WHIP in three career starts at Citizens Bank Park
24. John Lannan (WAS) -- Tue-PHI (Martinez), Sun-@FLA (VandenHurk)
25. Rick VandenHurk (FLA) -- Tue-@NYM (Redding), Sun-WAS (Lannan)

Twelve "no thank yous": Rangers TBD, Brian Bannister, Dave Bush, Kevin Correia, Brian Duensing, Justin Lehr, Jeff Manship, Brian Moehler, Felipe Paulino, Clayton Richard, Scott Richmond, Ricky Romero.

Tristan's one-start bargains

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

Scott Baker (MIN) -- Thu-@TOR (Cecil): 5-0, 2.76 ERA, 1.02 WHIP in his past nine starts
Ricky Nolasco (FLA) -- Wed-@NYM (Misch): 7-2, 3.83 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 97 K's in 89 1/3 innings in his past 14 starts
Randy Wolf (LAD) -- Fri-@SF (Cain): 2-2, 3.06 ERA, 1.00 WHIP in eight career starts at AT&T Park

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

Joe Blanton (PHI) -- Thu-@WAS (Hernandez): Has 10 consecutive quality starts; 5-2, 2.14 ERA, 1.04 WHIP in those games
Trevor Cahill (OAK) -- Wed-@CHW (Garcia): 5 2/3 IP, 3 H, 2 ERs at U.S. Cellular Field on June 1; 2.81 ERA, 1.13 WHIP in his past five starts
Jorge De La Rosa (COL) -- Fri-@SD (Stauffer): 7-2, 3.57 ERA, 1.33 WHIP in his past nine starts
Scott Feldman (TEX) -- Wed-@CLE (Carmona): 10-1, 2.92 ERA, 1.21 WHIP in 13 road games (12 starts) in 2009
Derek Holland (TEX) -- Sat-SEA (Fister): 4-3, 4.81 ERA, 1.19 WHIP in his past seven starts
Tommy Hunter (TEX) -- Tue-@CLE (Laffey): Win, 7 2/3 IP, 6 H, 0 ERs, 5 K's at Jacobs Field on Aug. 12
Aaron Laffey (CLE) -- Tue-TEX (Hunter): 9-3, 2.09 ERA, 1.19 WHIP in 16 home games (15 starts) 2008-09
Vicente Padilla (LAD) -- Sat-@SF (Sanchez): 3-1, 3.38 ERA, 1.19 WHIP in six career games (four starts) at AT&T Park
Joel Pineiro (STL) -- Fri-ATL (Jurrjens): 7-4, 2.62 ERA, 1.02 WHIP in 12 home starts in 2009
Anibal Sanchez (FLA) -- Sat-WAS (Stammen): 3-0, 3.16 ERA, 1.36 WHIP in seven career starts versus Nationals
Joe Saunders (LAA) -- Fri-CHW (Floyd): 2-1, 2.22 ERA, 0.99 WHIP in four starts versus White Sox 2007-09
Randy Wells (CHC) -- Sat-CIN (Lehr): 2-0, 2.70 ERA, 1.20 WHIP in three career starts versus Reds
Sean West (FLA) -- Thu-@NYM (Parnell): 7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER at Citi Field on May 29

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