Commentary

Early contenders meet in Week 5

Updated: May 3, 2010, 12:20 AM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Fantasy Forecaster

Fantasy Forecaster updated Monday, May 3 at 12:20 a.m. ET.

On tap: It's a week of playoff contenders matching up with one another, as the Boston Red Sox battle both the Los Angeles Angels and New York Yankees at Fenway Park, the Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers tangle at Comerica Park, and the Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals meet up at Busch Stadium. That last series is of particular interest to fantasy owners, as it'll feature four of the top 25 starting pitchers on our Player Rater (through April 29): Roy Halladay of the Phillies and Jaime Garcia, Adam Wainwright and Brad Penny of the Cardinals. The Phillies also welcome Joe Blanton back to their rotation on Monday, putting him in line for a two-start week.

Quick click by section, if you're seeking advice in a specific area:
Projected starting pitchers | Pitching strategies
Team advantages | Hitting strategies
Weather report | Week 5 pitcher rankings

Projected starting pitchers

The chart below lists each of the 30 MLB teams' schedules and projected starting pitchers, and provides a matchup rating for each day's starter. Pitchers scheduled to start twice this week are in color-coded boxes.

Tristan's pitching strategies

• Seven home games is typically a favorable pitching schedule for any team, especially one with as sound a rotation as that of the Minnesota Twins. Francisco Liriano and Kevin Slowey are off to fantastic starts, while Carl Pavano has four quality starts in five appearances, not to mention a 4-2 record, 2.88 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in seven career starts versus the Detroit Tigers, all of those pitched this and last season. It only helps that four of the games come against the Baltimore Orioles, who rank last in runs (70) and next-to-last in team OPS (.675).

• This Tampa Bay team is off to a tremendous start, and while the Rays' pitchers typically dominate at home while earning middling rankings in road games, their 9-1 record, 2.23 ERA and 1.05 WHIP away from Tropicana Field bodes extremely well in future road matchups. This staff might very well be elite both in home and road games at this point, after back-to-back seasons of being more matchups-worthy, and three-game stops at both Seattle's Safeco Field and Oakland's Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum do represent pitching-friendly matchups. There isn't a Rays starter you shouldn't have active for Week 5.

• Though the Colorado Rockies' rotation suffered some hits in the past week, three games at San Diego's Petco Park couldn't come at a more opportune time. Expect this team to maximize ace Ubaldo Jimenez's matchups, while pitchers like Greg Smith and Aaron Cook might very well be plays in NL-only formats in Petco starts. Cook, incidentally, is 6-1 with a 1.60 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in nine career starts there.

• A healthy Ted Lilly deepens the Chicago Cubs' rotation, and while it's tough for fantasy owners to trust Carlos Silva and Tom Gorzelanny, their numbers do hint that those in NL-only formats at the very least should consider them in road starts at the Cincinnati Reds late in the week. Gorzelanny already had a 6 1/3-inning, four-hit, one-run (it was unearned) outing at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park this season, and Carlos Silva went six innings, allowing one run on three hits, there as well. There isn't a pitching matchup on the Cubs' schedule all week that isn't at least fantasy-worthy in deeper formats.

For more insight into Week 5 pitching matchups, see my rankings for every scheduled starter at column's end.

Team advantages

The chart below lists each of the 30 teams' total number of scheduled games, home games and games versus right- and left-handed pitchers, and provides a matchup rating for the week's games in terms of overall offense, offense versus left- and right-handed pitchers and base stealing. Matchup ratings for each individual game are listed under the corresponding date.

Tristan's hitting strategies

• There are two "perfect 10s" this week, and both are in the American League, each of them a seven-game schedule played entirely at home. The Chicago White Sox are one, despite their bottom-10 status in terms of runs scored, batting average and OPS. Remember, the rankings above account for matchups only -- in other words, opposing pitchers and ballpark factors -- and not the performance of the offense itself. Why that's valuable to the fantasy owner: If an elite offense like, say, the New York Yankees has its hitting numbers accounted for, it's almost never going to have a rating beneath a six, and many times it might rate a nine or 10. With numbers like that fantasy owners might assume that's advice to never, ever sit your Yankees, without exception (and if you think you should never, ever sit a Yankee anyway, I present to you the case of Nick Johnson, who is absolutely a matchups-capable play and not a must-start). This way, a team like the White Sox, whose home ballpark U.S. Cellular Field has been one of the most homer-friendly venues in baseball for the past decade, catches fantasy owners' eyes with their 10, and perhaps a lesser option like Andruw Jones might be a consideration over, say, Nick Swisher, whose Yankees this week are rated a six.

• The Minnesota Twins have the other "perfect 10," thanks to three games versus the rival Detroit Tigers and four versus the Baltimore Orioles, all of those at their new home, Target Field. Through nine games the Twins and their opponents have averaged 9.33 runs, 17.78 hits and 1.56 home runs per contest at Target Field, which doesn't put it in the most hitter-friendly class of ballparks, but certainly ranks it a more favorable offensive environment than the Metrodome.

• There's an "imperfect 1" rating this week, which belongs to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who despite playing all six of their games at home, get the unfortunate honor of having to battle the Chicago Cubs' and St. Louis Cardinals' staffs. Check out the six pitchers the Pirates have to face and then see whether you think this is the week to chance using a Jeff Clement, Garrett Jones or Andy LaRoche: The Cubs plan to start Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly and Randy Wells, while the Cardinals plan to start Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Adam Wainwright. Ouch!

• Conversely, both the Cubs and Cardinals rate nines on offense, thanks to each getting the honor of facing the Pirates' patchwork rotation. Here's how bad things are for the Pirates: Their most accomplished pitcher, Paul Maholm, has a 7.06 ERA and 1.55 WHIP in nine career starts versus the Cubs. The Cardinals also get four games at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park, though they'll have to face both Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay in the process. That their schedule is a seven-gamer, however, helps keep them among the top hitting picks of the week. If there's anything not to like about the Cardinals' schedule, in fact, it's that they're likely to face three left-handed starters, so a red-hot hitter like Colby Rasmus, who is 2-for-13 with 7 K's versus southpaws so far, isn't as good a play as you might think.

Now, let's take a look at some Week 5 sleepers:

David Freese, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals: The three left-handed starters the Cardinals will face stacks the matchups in favor of a hitter like Freese, who is 8-for-17 (.471 AVG) versus that side so far. By the way, how many of you have noticed that he has started each of the team's past eight games versus a right-hander?
Jose Guillen, OF, Kansas City Royals: If you own him you'd be silly not to keep playing him through his early-season hot streak, but if anything about his 1-for-15, 9-strikeout performance in his past four games has you concerned, his Week 5 schedule at least shouldn't. It includes four games at Texas' Rangers Ballpark, where he's a .284/.355/.541 (AVG/OBP/SLG) lifetime hitter.
Cristian Guzman, 2B/SS, Washington Nationals: He's effectively shaping up as an every-day player, having started 16 of the Nationals' past 18 games, albeit shuffling between second base and shortstop. Not that it matters which he plays in fantasy, just that he plays, especially in home games. The Nationals have six this week, and must realize he's a .326/.348/.455 career hitter at Nationals Park.
Gabe Kapler, OF, Tampa Bay Rays: The Rays face a major league-high five left-handed starters in Week 5, and so far Kapler has started all nine of the Rays' games versus a lefty. He's a .291/.350/.494 lifetime hitter versus southpaws; it's as simple as that.
Scott Rolen, 3B, Cincinnati Reds: He's a .371/.470/.597 hitter versus left-handers between this and last season, not to mention a .280/.368/.545 hitter in 59 career games at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park. Sure enough, the Reds play all six of their games at home, three of those versus left-handed starters.
Chris Snyder, C, Arizona Diamondbacks: He's off to quite the hot start while filling in for Miguel Montero, so why not continue to ride the streak? After all, the Diamondbacks face three left-handed starters this week and play four games at Houston's Minute Maid Park, which does favor right-handed power hitters.
Vernon Wells, OF, Toronto Blue Jays: The same that's said about Guillen applies to Wells, and like Guillen, Wells' 8-for-33 (.242 AVG), 0-homer, 7-K performance in his past eight games shouldn't worry you too much when you consider he's got seven games in Week 5, four of them at Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field. He's a .336/.388/.495 career hitter there.
Ty Wigginton, 1B/2B/3B, Baltimore Orioles: The chances of his starting every game this week remain high, what with Brian Roberts' rehabilitation going slowly and the Orioles facing three left-handed starters. A point in Wigginton's favor: He's 8-for-19 (.421 AVG) with two doubles and one home run in six career games at Yankee Stadium.

Weather report

Though we saw a couple of rainouts in the past week, let's not forget that familiar saying "April showers bring May flowers." May is now upon us, and sure enough, as of Friday there isn't a game scheduled at an open-air stadium with greater than a 30 percent chance of rain. In fact, the only ones with even a 30 percent chance are Royals at White Sox and Cardinals at Phillies on Monday and Giants at Marlins on Thursday.

Weatherproof games: Diamondbacks at Astros (4, Mon-Thu); Padres at Astros (3, Fri-Sun); Brewers at Diamondbacks (3, Fri-Sun); Rays at Mariners (3, Tue-Thu); Angels at Mariners (3, Fri-Sun).

Tristan's Week 5 pitcher rankings: Top 75

Rankings take into account several factors: The pitcher's raw talent, historical and recent performance; number of starts; strength of opponent(s); and ballpark factors. Be aware that different leagues might emphasize different pitching statistics that could change these rankings slightly. These are based upon a fairly standard Rotisserie scoring system, like ESPN's.

1. Ubaldo Jimenez (COL) -- Mon-@SD (Correia), Sat-@LAD (TBD)
2. Tim Lincecum (SF) -- Tue-@FLA (Sanchez), Sun-@NYM (Perez)
3. Adam Wainwright (STL) -- Tue-@PHI (Hamels), Sun-@PIT (Maholm)
4. CC Sabathia (NYY) -- Mon-BAL (Guthrie), Sun-@BOS (Lester)
5. Jaime Garcia (STL) -- Mon-@PHI (Blanton), Sat-@PIT (Karstens)
6. James Shields (TB) -- Tue-@SEA (Vargas), Sun-@OAK (Braden)
7. Chris Carpenter (STL) -- Fri-@PIT (Duke)
8. Ryan Dempster (CHC) -- Tue-@PIT (Maholm), Sun-@CIN (Leake)
9. Johan Santana (NYM) -- Sat-SF (Wellemeyer)
10. Roy Halladay (PHI) -- Thu-STL (Lohse)
11. Dan Haren (ARI) -- Thu-@HOU (Rodriguez)
12. Tommy Hanson (ATL) -- Wed-@WAS (Atilano)
13. Jon Lester (BOS) -- Tue-LAA (Santana), Sun-NYY (Sabathia)
14. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Tue-MIL (Narveson), Sun-COL (Smith)
15. David Price (TB) -- Fri-@OAK (Gonzalez)
16. Ricky Nolasco (FLA) -- Thu-SF (Cain)
17. Josh Johnson (FLA) -- Sat-@WAS (Lannan)
18. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Fri-@SEA (Hernandez)
19. Francisco Liriano (MIN) -- Fri-BAL (Millwood)
20. Scott Baker (MIN) -- Mon-DET (Scherzer), Sat-BAL (Guthrie)
21. Randy Wells (CHC) -- Thu-@PIT (TBD)
22. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- Fri-LAA (Weaver)
23. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Tue-STL (Carpenter), Sun-ATL (Kawakami)
24. Ricky Romero (TOR) -- Tue-@CLE (Westbrook), Sun-@CHW (Floyd)
25. Zack Greinke (KC) -- Fri-@TEX (Wilson)
26. Matt Garza (TB) -- Wed-@SEA (Lee)
27. Roy Oswalt (HOU) -- Tue-ARI (Kennedy), Sun-SD (Correia)
28. Clay Buchholz (BOS) -- Mon-LAA (Saunders), Sat-NYY (Hughes)
29. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- Fri-@ARI (Jackson)
30. John Danks (CHW) -- Thu-TOR (Eveland)
31. Justin Verlander (DET) -- Sat-@CLE (Huff)
32. Ted Lilly (CHC) -- Wed-@PIT (Morton)
33. A.J. Burnett (NYY) -- Tue-BAL (Matusz)
34. Tim Hudson (ATL) -- Thu-@WAS (Olsen)
35. Jake Peavy (CHW) -- Mon-KC (Meche), Sat-TOR (Cecil)
36. Matt Cain (SF) -- Thu-@FLA (Nolasco)
37. Scott Feldman (TEX) -- Tue-@OAK (Duchscherer), Sun-KC (Hochevar)
38. Jonathan Sanchez (SF) -- Fri-@NYM (Pelfrey)
39. C.J. Wilson (TEX) -- Fri-KC (Greinke)
40. Cliff Lee (SEA) -- Wed-TB (Garza)
41. Wandy Rodriguez (HOU) -- Thu-ARI (Haren)
42. Wade Davis (TB) -- Sat-@OAK (Sheets)
43. Shaun Marcum (TOR) -- Fri-@CHW (Buehrle)
44. Mike Leake (CIN) -- Mon-NYM (Perez), Sun-CHC (Dempster)
45. Jeff Niemann (TB) -- Thu-@SEA (Rowland-Smith)
46. Barry Zito (SF) -- Wed-@FLA (Robertson)
47. Andy Pettitte (NYY) -- Wed-BAL (Hernandez)
48. Rich Harden (TEX) -- Mon-@OAK (Braden), Sat-KC (Meche)
49. Brad Penny (STL) -- Wed-@PHI (Kendrick)
50. Max Scherzer (DET) -- Mon-@MIN (Baker), Sun-@CLE (Talbot)
51. Mike Pelfrey (NYM) -- Fri-SF (Sanchez)
52. Aaron Cook (COL) -- Wed-@SD (Richard)
53. Phil Hughes (NYY) -- Sat-@BOS (Buchholz)
54. Hiroki Kuroda (LAD) -- Fri-COL (Chacin)
55. Kevin Slowey (MIN) -- Wed-DET (Porcello)
56. Kevin Correia (SD) -- Mon-COL (Jimenez), Sun-@HOU (Oswalt)
57. Randy Wolf (MIL) -- Sat-@ARI (TBD)
58. Josh Beckett (BOS) -- Fri-NYY (Vazquez)
59. Brett Myers (HOU) -- Wed-ARI (Lopez)
60. Colby Lewis (TEX) -- Wed-@OAK (Cahill)
61. Chad Billingsley (LAD) -- Wed-MIL (Davis)
62. Doug Fister (SEA) -- Sat-LAA (Saunders)
63. Gavin Floyd (CHW) -- Tue-KC (Hochevar), Sun-TOR (Romero)
64. John Lackey (BOS) -- Wed-LAA (Pineiro)
65. Jair Jurrjens (ATL) -- Sat-@PHI (Blanton)
66. Luis Atilano (WAS) -- Wed-ATL (Hanson)
67. Fausto Carmona (CLE) -- Wed-TOR (Morrow)
68. Ben Sheets (OAK) -- Sat-TB (Davis)
69. Jon Garland (SD) -- Sat-@HOU (Paulino)
70. Ervin Santana (LAA) -- Tue-@BOS (Lester), Sun-@SEA (Vargas)
71. Mark Buehrle (CHW) -- Fri-TOR (Marcum)
72. Brandon Morrow (TOR) -- Wed-@CLE (Carmona)
73. Dallas Braden (OAK) -- Mon-TEX (Harden), Sun-TB (Shields)
74. Jake Westbrook (CLE) -- Tue-TOR (Romero)
75. Derek Lowe (ATL) -- Fri-@PHI (Moyer)

Two-start pitchers for deep leagues:
Nick Blackburn (MIN) -- Tue-DET (Willis), Sun-BAL (Matusz)
Joe Blanton (PHI) -- Mon-STL (Garcia), Sat-ATL (Jurrjens)
Ian Kennedy (ARI) -- Tue-@HOU (Oswalt), Sun-MIL (Narveson)
Brian Matusz (BAL) -- Tue-@NYY (Burnett), Sun-@MIN (Blackburn)
Gil Meche (KC) -- Mon-@CHW (Peavy), Sat-@TEX (Harden)
Anibal Sanchez (FLA) -- Tue-SF (Lincecum), Sun-@WAS (Hernandez)
Greg Smith (COL) -- Tue-@SD (LeBlanc), Sun-@LAD (Kershaw)
Mitch Talbot (CLE) -- Mon-TOR (Cecil), Sun-DET (Scherzer)
Jason Vargas (SEA) -- Tue-TB (Shields), Sun-LAA (Santana)

One-start sleepers:
Jeremy Bonderman (DET) -- Fri-@CLE (Masterson)
Jhoulys Chacin (COL) -- Fri-@LAD (Kuroda)
Tom Gorzelanny (CHC) -- Sat-@CIN (Harang)
Mat Latos (SD) -- Fri-@HOU (Norris)
Wade LeBlanc (SD) -- Tue-COL (Smith)
Jamie Moyer (PHI) -- Fri-ATL (Lowe)
Jonathon Niese (NYM) -- Wed-@CIN (Cueto)
Bud Norris (HOU) -- Fri-SD (Latos)
Carlos Silva (CHC) -- Fri-@CIN (Bailey)

No-thank-yous, among two-starts:
Brett Cecil (TOR) -- Mon-@CLE (Talbot), Sat-@CHW (Peavy)
Jeremy Guthrie (BAL) -- Mon-@NYY (Sabathia), Sat-@MIN (Baker)
Livan Hernandez (WAS) -- Tue-ATL (Kawakami), Sun-FLA (Sanchez)
Luke Hochevar (KC) -- Tue-@CHW (Floyd), Sun-@TEX (Feldman)
Kenshin Kawakami (ATL) -- Tue-@WAS (Hernandez), Sun-@PHI (Hamels)
Paul Maholm (PIT) -- Tue-CHC (Dempster), Sun-STL (Wainwright)
Chris Narveson (MIL) -- Tue-@LAD (Kershaw), Sun-@ARI (Kennedy)
Felipe Paulino (HOU) -- Mon-ARI (TBD), Sat-SD (Garland)
Oliver Perez (NYM) -- Mon-@CIN (Leake), Sun-SF (Lincecum)
Joe Saunders (LAA) -- Mon-@BOS (Buchholz), Sat-@SEA (Fister)

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, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.

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