Commentary

Giants face two crucial series this week

Updated: September 11, 2009, 4:28 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Fantasy Forecaster

On tap: The National League West race heats up this week, as the San Francisco Giants take on both the Colorado Rockies and the Los Angeles Dodgers, first the Rockies at home, then the Dodgers at Los Angeles. Now 6½ games out in the division and 4½ in the wild-card race, the Giants face a critical week. They're not the only team with a stake in the playoff races; the Los Angeles Angels play a makeup game at the New York Yankees on Monday, then three apiece at the Boston Red Sox and the Texas Rangers, the two primary contenders for the American League wild card.

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: Braves (Friday, PHI).

Weather report

Atlanta and Texas (Arlington) are two cities to keep tabs on in the weather department this week. There's a 40 percent chance of rain threatening Mets-Braves from Tuesday to Thursday, as well as Athletics-Rangers on Monday and Tuesday.

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

TigersDetroit Tigers (TOR-1, KC-3, @MIN-3): The Tigers have been fortunate lately dodging potential Cy Young winners on the schedule, with the Royals having pushed Zack Greinke back in the past week and the Blue Jays pushing Roy Halladay from Monday to Tuesday. Greinke will face the Tigers in this series, but outside of that game, the only other knock on the Tigers' matchups is that they're currently slated to face three left-handed starters. The significance: They've lost five of their past eight games versus left-handed starters, totaling 28 runs (3.5 per contest), and can't really trust either Curtis Granderson or Carlos Guillen against southpaws.

Red SoxBoston Red Sox (LAA-3, @BAL-3): The Red Sox, simply put, have the Angels' number this decade, especially in games played at Fenway Park. Since 2003, the Angels have lost 18 of 31 games there, and their pitchers have combined for a 5.59 ERA and 1.65 WHIP during that time. But the Red Sox do experience a heck of a home-field advantage no matter the opponent; they're tops in the majors in team OPS (.863) and runs per game (6.0) at home. Sure, they hit the road after tangling with the Angels, but it's an easy set of matchups at Baltimore, against an Orioles team that ranks dead last in the American League in ERA (5.06), batting average allowed (.286) and WHIP (1.51).

CubsChicago Cubs (MIL-4, @STL-3): Though they're on the verge of elimination from the playoff race, the Cubs are still fighting for every win they can, and since the All-Star break have been a much more potent offense than before it. They've averaged 4.9 runs per game with a .777 OPS during that time, numbers that rank them among the five best teams in the National League. The three games at St. Louis won't be easy, especially the Saturday assignment against Cy Young candidate Chris Carpenter, but that Milwaukee Brewers series includes games against right-handers Dave Bush, Braden Looper and Jeff Suppan, who are a combined 5-8 with a 5.55 ERA and 1.71 WHIP in 21 starts since the All-Star break. By the way, Yovani Gallardo, also scheduled to pitch in that series, is 0-2 with a 5.70 ERA and 1.39 WHIP in four career starts versus the Cubs.

AstrosHouston Astros (@CIN-3, @MIL-3): The Astros might be talking about giving some of their youngsters -- Chris Johnson and Tommy Manzella in particular -- additional playing time this month, but even if those two eat up all the at-bats on the left side of the infield there are plenty of other viable fantasy choices at other spots on the diamond. Lance Berkman is a .347 hitter with 21 home runs in 47 career games at Great American Ball Park. Michael Bourn is a .307 hitter in 67 road games. Kazuo Matsui is a .302 hitter in his past 17 games. Hunter Pence has two home runs in three games at Miller Park this season. That enough for you? How about this: Johnson warrants NL-only sleeper consideration; he batted .328 with seven home runs and 23 RBIs in 36 games for Triple-A Round Rock between August and September.

Tristan's sleeper hitters

Billy Butler, 1B, Royals: .323 BA, .948 OPS versus left-handers in 2009; .405 BA, 1.149 OPS in 20 career games at Comerica Park
Alberto Callaspo, 2B, Royals: .367 BA, .902 OPS versus left-handers in 2009; .372 BA, 2 HRs, 12 RBIs in his past 12 games
Chris Coghlan, 3B/OF, Marlins: .330 BA, .892 OPS in 49 road games in 2009; .327 BA, .875 OPS versus right-handers in 2009
Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies: .296 BA, .910 OPS versus right-handers in 2009; .302 BA, 9 HRs, 16 RBIs, 1.020 OPS in his past 26 games
Vladimir Guerrero, OF, Angels: .392 BA, 1.178 OPS in 47 career games at Rangers Ballpark; .312 BA, .858 OPS in 37 road games in 2009
Felix Pie, OF, Orioles: .294 BA, .860 OPS in 45 home games in 2009; .329 BA, 6 HRs, 1.049 OPS in his past 23 games
Seth Smith, OF, Rockies: .317 BA, .947 OPS versus right-handers in 2009; .447 BA, 4 HRs, 14 RBIs, 1.409 OPS in 10 games in September
Drew Stubbs, OF, Reds: .333 BA, .992 OPS in nine home games in 2009; .292 BA, .841 OPS in his past 15 games
Matt Wieters, C, Orioles: .296 BA, .745 OPS in 37 home games in 2009; .311 BA, .785 OPS versus right-handers in 2009
Josh Willingham, OF, Nationals: 6-for-15 (.400 BA), 3 HRs in five games at Citizens Bank Park in 2009; .319 BA, 1.150 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.

Red SoxBoston Red Sox (LAA-3, @BAL-3): Opponents continue to capitalize upon Matt Wieters' inexperience. Case in point: Red Sox single-season stolen-base record holder Jacoby Ellsbury is already a perfect 6-for-6 stealing against Wieters this season. He's not the only one chancing it against the rookie; Dustin Pedroia is 2-for-3. Accounting for these fantasy-friendly matchups, there's even one Hail Mary style play for AL-only owners: Pinch runner Joey Gathright, 80-for-119 stealing in his big league career.

PadresSan Diego Padres (ARI-3, @PIT-3): Don't mistake the Diamondbacks' Miguel Montero or Pirates' Ryan Doumit as strong-armed backstops; they're in their respective teams' lineups primarily for their bats. The pair has surrendered a combined 92 steals in 122 chances (24.6 caught-stealing percentage) in 148 games, and the Padres do boast a trio of quick youngsters: Everth Cabrera (10 steals in 37 games since Aug. 1), Tony Gwynn Jr. (three in 36) and Will Venable (three in 35).

MarinersSeattle Mariners (CHW-3, NYY-3): The Chicago White Sox's A.J. Pierzynski and New York Yankees' Jorge Posada each ranks in the top five in baseball in terms of stolen bases allowed (Pierzynski second, 87; Posada fourth, 71), and the Mariners know it. For instance, Adrian Beltre has three steals in six games versus the White Sox, and Ichiro Suzuki has four in seven versus the Yankees this season. They're not the only Mariners running wild; Franklin Gutierrez has a team-high eight steals since the All-Star break.

AngelsLos Angeles Angels (@NYY-1, @BOS-3, @TEX-3): One of the Angels' strengths is their team speed; they rank third in the majors in stolen bases since the All-Star break (44), and are aggressive enough capitalizing upon favorable matchups that nine different Angels have two or more steals during that span. Two Angels in particular stand out based on their career histories versus these opponents: Bobby Abreu has 11 steals in 12 chances in 56 games versus the Red Sox since 2006, while Chone Figgins has 17 steals in 22 opportunities versus the Rangers in 41 games since 2007.

Load up: Pitchers

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

DodgersLos Angeles Dodgers (PIT-3, SF-3): Apparently it doesn't matter if your name is Jon Garland, Hiroki Kuroda or Vicente Padilla; if you put on the Dodger blue you're going to rack up the quality starts. The home ballpark has a lot to do with that, as the Dodgers have a 3.19 ERA and 1.21 WHIP at Dodger Stadium, compared to 3.73 and 1.31 on the road. The Dodgers play all six of their games at home this week, and they'll do so while facing the Pirates, who have the fourth-worst team OPS since the All-Star break (.696), and the Giants, who have the second-worst (.688). Even if Clayton Kershaw (shoulder) and Randy Wolf (elbow) are unable to return from their injuries this week, you shouldn't have any fear of their potential stand-ins.

White SoxChicago White Sox (@SEA-3, KC-3): The White Sox might have effectively thrown in the towel with the trades of Jim Thome and Jose Contreras, but that doesn't mean they can't at least make the American League Central race interesting. The Mariners and Royals rank among the 10 worst offenses in baseball since the All-Star break (Mariners 27th, .699 team OPS; Royals 24th, .725), and the White Sox's current five starters actually have 10 quality starts in their past 11 games. Even Freddy Garcia has four consecutive quality starts, two of those versus the Red Sox and one versus the Yankees, while John Danks is one of the hotter pitchers in the game, with a 3-1 record, 2.66 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in his past six starts.

YankeesNew York Yankees (LAA-1, TOR-2, @SEA-3): Joba Chamberlain has truly become a distraction for the Yankees, the right-hander having lasted only three innings in his past three starts and posted a 7.76 ERA and 2.00 WHIP in his past seven starts. Still, outside of Chamberlain, the other Yankees pitchers have been on quite a roll. Extracting his stats, the Yankees have a 3.70 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 310 strikeouts in 316 innings since Aug. 1, and 19 quality starts in the 31 games that weren't started by Chamberlain. With the exception of the makeup game versus the Angels on Monday, these are pitching-friendly matchups, making even the inconsistent A.J. Burnett a trustworthy choice in his Friday start at Seattle.

RockiesColorado Rockies (@SF-3, @ARI-3): It's a no-brainer that Rockies pitching matchups are always going to be more favorable away from Coors Field than at it, but these are even more attractive because of the opponents they're scheduled to face. The Giants have averaged the fewest runs per game since the All-Star break (3.6) and have the second-worst team OPS (.688), while the Diamondbacks, decent as they have been offensively of late, have combined to bat .237 and average 4.3 runs in 15 games against the Rockies this season. Two things to consider: Jason Hammel has a 2.93 road ERA this season; and even if Huston Street is unable to return from a biceps problem, Franklin Morales is a fine stand-in, with five saves and five shutout innings already in the month.

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. 9 (Price)
Recommended cut-off point for "under-50" bargains: No. 17 (Weaver)

Four must-starts: Roy Halladay, Tommy Hanson, Tim Lincecum, Justin Verlander.

5. Cliff Lee (PHI) -- Tue-WAS (Mock), Sun-@ATL (Hanson)
6. John Lackey (LAA) -- Tue-@BOS (Byrd), Sun-@TEX (McCarthy): 4-2, 3.77 ERA, 1.19 WHIP in 12 road starts in 2009
7. Wandy Rodriguez (HOU) -- Mon-@CIN (Arroyo), Sun-@MIL (Gallardo): 3-1, 3.22 ERA, 1.43 WHIP in six career starts at Great American Ball Park
8. Ryan Dempster (CHC) -- Mon-MIL (Suppan), Sat-@STL (Carpenter): 10-3, 2.85 ERA, 1.24 WHIP in 38 career games (16 starts) versus Brewers
9. David Price (TB) -- Mon-@BAL (Hernandez), Sat-TOR (Romero): 4-3, 3.62 ERA, 1.13 WHIP in his past eight starts
10. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- Tue-@CHC (Zambrano), Sun-HOU (Rodriguez): 4-2, 2.57 ERA, 1.14 WHIP in six career starts versus Astros
11. Jason Hammel (COL) -- Mon-@SF (Lincecum), Sun-@ARI (Buckner): 6-4, 2.92 ERA, 1.21 WHIP in 15 road games (13 starts) in 2009
12. Jeff Niemann (TB) -- Tue-@BAL (Berken), Sun-TOR (Halladay): 2-1, 4.87 ERA, 1.33 WHIP in three starts versus Blue Jays in 2009
13. John Smoltz (STL) -- Mon-FLA (Nolasco), Sun-CHC (Zambrano): 1-1, 3.27 ERA, 0.91 WHIP in four starts since joining Cardinals
14. Bronson Arroyo (CIN) -- Mon-HOU (Rodriguez), Sat-FLA (Nolasco): Nine consecutive quality starts; 2-3, 2.19 ERA, 1.10 WHIP in those games
15. Jon Garland (LAD) -- Mon-PIT (McCutchen), Sun-SF (Lincecum): 1-1, 2.08 ERA, 1.00 WHIP in two career starts at Dodger Stadium
16. Ricky Nolasco (FLA) -- Mon-@STL (Smoltz), Sat-@CIN (Arroyo)
17. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Mon-@NYY (Chamberlain), Sat-@TEX (Hunter)
18. Jarrod Washburn (DET) -- Tue-KC (Chen), Sun-@MIN (Pavano): 6-1, 2.35 ERA, 1.01 WHIP in eight career starts at Metrodome
19. Carlos Zambrano (CHC) -- Tue-MIL (Gallardo), Sun-@STL (Smoltz): 4-0, 1.32 ERA, 0.99 WHIP in four career starts at Busch Stadium
20. Ian Snell (SEA) -- Tue-CHW (Torres), Sun-NYY (Chamberlain)
21. Kevin Correia (SD) -- Mon-ARI (Buckner), Sun-@PIT (Maholm)
22. Brandon McCarthy (TEX) -- Mon-OAK (Tomko), Sun-LAA (Lackey): 4-0, 3.31 ERA, 1.02 WHIP in six home starts in 2009
23. Patrick Misch (NYM) -- Tue-@ATL (Hanson), Sun-WAS (Mock)
24. Carl Pavano (MIN) -- Mon-CLE (Laffey), Sun-DET (Washburn): 4-0, 1.48 ERA, 0.79 WHIP in four career starts versus Tigers
25. Brett Tomko (OAK) -- Mon-@TEX (McCarthy), Sun-CLE (Laffey): 3-1, 3.90 ERA, 1.16 WHIP in five starts since joining Athletics
26. Paul Byrd (BOS) -- Tue-LAA (Lackey), Sun-@BAL (Berken)
27. Sean West (FLA) -- Tue-@STL (Wainwright), Sun-@CIN (Wells)
28. Carlos Torres (CHW) -- Tue-@SEA (Snell), Sun-KC (Chen)

Nine "no thank yous": Jason Berken, Billy Buckner, Joba Chamberlain, Bruce Chen, David Hernandez, Aaron Laffey, Garrett Mock, Jeff Suppan, Kip Wells.

Tristan's one-start bargains

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

Johnny Cueto (CIN) -- Thu-FLA (Sanchez): 1.64 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, .154 BAA, 14 K's in 11 IP in two starts since his return from the DL
Ubaldo Jimenez (COL) -- Tue-@SF (Zito): 2-2, 2.48 ERA, 1.07 WHIP in four starts versus Giants in 2009
Scott Kazmir (LAA) -- Fri-@TEX (Holland): 2-1, 2.52 ERA, 1.16 WHIP in four career starts at Rangers Ballpark
Kevin Millwood (TEX) -- Wed-OAK (Mortensen): 2-0, 2.28 ERA, 1.23 WHIP in five starts versus Athletics 2008-09
Andy Pettitte (NYY) -- Wed-TOR (Tallet): 3-1, 4.38 ERA, 1.46 WHIP in four starts versus Blue Jays in 2009

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

Brett Anderson (OAK) -- Thu-CLE (Sowers): 5-3, 3.38 ERA, 1.16 WHIP in his past 13 starts
Homer Bailey (CIN) -- Fri-FLA (VandenHurk): 3-0, 1.67 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 25 K's in 27 IP in his past four starts
Clay Buchholz (BOS) -- Fri-@BAL (Guthrie): Six quality starts in his past seven appearances; 4-2, 3.00 ERA, 1.13 WHIP during that span
Doug Davis (ARI) -- Wed-@SD (Mujica): 4-1, 2.97 ERA, 1.07 WHIP in six career starts at Petco Park
Jorge De La Rosa (COL) -- Wed-@SF (Cain): 2-0, 1.32 ERA, 1.10 WHIP in three career games (two starts) at AT&T Park
Scott Feldman (TEX) -- Tue-OAK (Cahill): 2-0, 3.00 ERA, 1.17 WHIP in two starts versus Athletics in 2009
Paul Maholm (PIT) -- Sun-SD (Correia): 11-4, 3.42 ERA, 1.21 WHIP in 30 home starts 2008-09
Ross Ohlendorf (PIT) -- Sat-SD (Richard): 8-2, 2.74 ERA, 1.16 WHIP in 15 home starts in 2009
Brad Penny (SF) -- Sat-@LAD (Billingsley): 28-16, 3.75 ERA, 1.33 WHIP in 67 career games (66 starts) at Dodger Stadium
Joel Pineiro (STL) -- Wed-FLA (Johnson): 7-4, 2.62 ERA, 1.02 WHIP in 12 home starts in 2009
Randy Wells (CHC) -- Thu-MIL (Bush): 6-4, 3.12 ERA, 1.31 WHIP in 11 home starts in 2009

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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