Commentary

Rays primed for big week at home

Updated: May 24, 2010, 3:14 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Fantasy Forecaster

Fantasy Forecaster updated Monday, May 24 at 3:14 p.m. ET.

On tap: After a week of interleague play, it's back to "normal" with the schedule this week, or, at least teams facing familiar foes from within the same league. The schedule makers, however, determined that the American League must have needed some rest after an exhausting weekend of interleague contests; a whopping three teams from the Junior Circuit suffer the misfortune of a fantasy owner's nightmare, the five-game week: the Detroit Tigers, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers. Three AL teams play seven, however: the Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox and Tampa Bay Rays, which means that if you play in an AL-only league, this is a week where quantity might yet beat quality in matchups.

Speaking of the Red Sox, they wrap up this treacherous part of their schedule with a three-game series at the Rays, who have the game's top record by a noticeable margin. It's one of three AL series between teams that were widely regarded top playoff contenders, the New York Yankees at Minnesota Twins and Rangers at Twins being the two others. You'll notice, then, that both the Rays and Twins seemingly have difficult Week 8 schedules … or do they?

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 8 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

• As hinted earlier, the Rays might seemingly have a challenging schedule, having to face the Red Sox for three games and White Sox for four. Have no fear. The Rays have historically had a strong home-field advantage and neither the Red Sox nor the White Sox have been quite as potent offensively as advertised. To the former point, check out these career numbers for Rays starters at Tropicana Field: Wade Davis, 3-3, 3.33 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 8 G's; Matt Garza, 14-9, 3.06 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 36 G's; Jeff Niemann, 7-3, 3.23 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 19 G's; David Price, 11-3, 2.52 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 17 G's; James Shields, 26-14, 3.36 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 64 G's. Still scared?

• It's the Twins, however, that you should fear. They're the ones who have to battle both the Yankees and Rangers, and both of those offenses rank in the top 10 in baseball in runs scored. Even with the Yankees missing Curtis Granderson, Nick Johnson and Jorge Posada, there's enough firepower in that offense to cause issues for the Twins. Another strike against the Twins: Two of their better starters in April, Francisco Liriano and Kevin Slowey, have struggled in May, putting forth a combined 6.23 ERA and 1.67 WHIP in seven starts.

• Though the Cincinnati Reds play all seven of their games at hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park, don't be so quick to dismiss their pitchers as poor matchup options. Their opponents are the Pittsburgh Pirates and Houston Astros, who rank 28th (.663) and 30th (.596), respectively, in team OPS thus far. Great American also hasn't presented any problems for two of the Reds' younger starters: Johnny Cueto has a 3.96 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in four home starts, while rookie Mike Leake is 3-0 with a 3.31 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in five home starts.

• How about the Milwaukee Brewers as the pitching-staff sleeper of Week 8? They play all six games at home, three versus the aforementioned Astros and the other three against the New York Mets, who have batted .223 with a .638 OPS as a team in road games. This rotation also looks like it might have struck gold with two left-handers, Chris Narveson and Manny Parra, although the Brewers haven't yet formally committed to Parra as their long-term fifth starter. If you're in a deeper league, it's worth taking chances on Brewers pitchers, including fill-in closer Carlos Villanueva, arguably the team's best reliever to date.

For more insight into Week 8 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

• To the earlier point about quantity versus quality of matchups, two of the three teams with five-game weeks have hitter ratings of four or worse, and while the Rangers score a six, be aware that their entire week will be played on the road. They'll also face nothing but right-handed starters, meaning Josh Hamilton is a natural choice, as are your obvious picks like Elvis Andrus, Nelson Cruz and Vladimir Guerrero. Beyond them, Justin Smoak (.230/.356/.426 AVG/OBP/SLG versus righties) might be the only other Ranger worth a look in deeper formats.

• Conversely, the Tigers might be a no-go almost entirely across the board, or at least beyond an obvious pick like Miguel Cabrera. The Tigers are scheduled to face two left-handed starters in their five games, and perhaps three if Brett Anderson is ready to pitch for the Oakland Athletics on Saturday, and this is a team that ranks no higher than 15th in any of the "triple-slash" categories versus southpaws (.244/.321/.391). Brennan Boesch and Johnny Damon do have decent numbers against lefties so far, but be cautious with each of them, because they'll lack the matchup advantage for much of the week. Even Magglio Ordonez (.250/.382/.500 versus lefties) is a stronger play than either of those two.

• Any seven-game, all-at-home week for the Reds is probably going to score high in the ratings, but this one scores a perfect 10 because of the relative weakness of their opponents, both in terms of hitting and pitching. Sure, the Astros might rank 15th in team ERA (4.14) and 18th in team WHIP (1.38), but the Reds benefit from not having to face Roy Oswalt in that series. The Pirates, meanwhile, rank 29th in both team ERA (5.59) and WHIP (1.58), and that series is a four-gamer. Something to think about: Jonny Gomes (.294/.351/.587), Ramon Hernandez (.299/.401/.402) and Scott Rolen (.264/.355/.493) have thrived in games at Great American Ball Park since joining the Reds last season.

• The San Francisco Giants face two beleaguered pitching staffs -- or at least the Washington Nationals' staff can be termed that until Stephen Strasburg gets promoted -- in a six-game, all-at-home week. The Nationals' rotation is their weakness, as their 4.61 starters' ERA ranks 23rd, while the Arizona Diamondbacks' bullpen has been their undoing, evidenced by their bottom-ranked 7.70 relievers' ERA. This is actually not a bad offense at AT&T Park, as Aubrey Huff (.271/.358/.514), Bengie Molina (.400/.478/.533) and Nate Schierholtz (.304/.371/.429) all have good stats there this year.

• Typically speaking, Chicago Cubs hitters are must-starts in any games played at Wrigley Field, and this week they play all six contests at home. Unfortunately, their matchups are about as unpleasant as possible for Wrigley games, and it's due to the strength of their opponents' scheduled starters. Take a look: Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, John Ely (OK, he's not as scary, but does have three consecutive quality starts), Kyle Lohse, Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. This isn't a recommendation to bench hitters like Marlon Byrd or Alfonso Soriano, both of whom have All-Star caliber numbers at Wrigley, but don't get so creative seeing a full slate of Wrigley games and assume a Kosuke Fukudome or Geovany Soto is a natural standout.

Now, let's take a look at some Week 8 sleepers:

Rod Barajas, C, New York Mets: If you're not riding this hot streak, boy are you missing out. Barajas' critics are surely saying, "no way he keeps this up," but with a schedule like this, why can't he? The Mets face four left-handed starters this week and he's a .318/.333/.591 hitter versus lefties this year.
Jack Cust, OF, Oakland Athletics: It's about time the Athletics recalled and installed him into their everyday lineup, as he's one of their better hitters. Six games on the road, some of those against shaky right-handers like Jeremy Guthrie, David Hernandez and Rick Porcello, suits Cust well, especially since the ballparks in Baltimore and Detroit favor his power more than Oakland's does.
Ryan Doumit, C, Pittsburgh Pirates: Doumit has historically hit right-handers better than left-handers, and sure enough, this year he has .300/.385/.450 rates against righties. The Pirates face nothing but righties in their seven road games, and four of them are at hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park.
Jeff Francoeur, OF, New York Mets: If you're petrified of "Frenchy" due to his .148 May batting average, we understand, but few schedules might inspire him to heat up than this one. He and the Mets are set to face four left-handed starters, and he's a .323/.364/.387 hitter against them.
Troy Glaus, 1B/3B, Atlanta Braves: Not enough people have jumped on the Glaus bandwagon, as evidenced by his being available in 40.3 percent of ESPN leagues. He's on quite a tear, batting .386 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 18 games in the month of May, has terrorized left-handers to the tune of .302/.400/.488 rates and his Braves are set to face four lefty starters this week.
Miguel Olivo, C, Colorado Rockies: His Rockies play all six of their games at Coors Field, so load up on Rockies, Olivo especially. He's the team leader in a multitude of offensive categories at Coors so far this year, including batting average (.423), home runs (6), RBIs (16) and slugging percentage (.827).
Hunter Pence, OF, Houston Astros: He's finally starting to heat up at the plate, batting .333 with four homers and nine RBIs in his past 11 contests, and this week's schedule hints at a continuation of that hot spell. The Astros visit two ballparks at which Pence has historically thrived: Milwaukee's Miller Park (.286/.355/.512 in 23 career games) and Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park (.306/.352/.553 in 21 career games).
Ty Wigginton, 1B/2B/3B, Baltimore Orioles: The Orioles face an AL-high four left-handed starters this week, and Wigginton is a .289/.357/.474 hitter versus southpaws thus far. He also continues to hit while serving in an everyday role, batting .303 with six homers and 15 RBIs in 19 games in May.

Weather report

Now come the May flowers, apparently. The Week 8 schedule isn't as threatened by rain as the two before it, but a small handful of series might have to deal with the elements. Yankees at Twins has a 40 percent chance of precipitation on both Wednesday and Thursday; remember that the Twins' new Target Field is open air. Dodgers at Cubs also has a 40 percent chance on Tuesday.

Weatherproof games: Orioles at Blue Jays (3, Fri-Sun); Astros at Brewers (3, Tue-Thu); Mets at Brewers (3, Fri-Sun); Tigers at Mariners (2, Tue-Wed); Red Sox at Rays (3, Mon-Wed); White Sox at Rays (4, Thu-Sun).

Tristan's Week 8 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. Adam Wainwright (STL) -- Tue-@SD (Garland), Sun-@CHC (Dempster)
2. Jon Lester (BOS) -- Tue-@TB (Shields), Sun-KC (Meche)
3. Mike Leake (CIN) -- Tue-PIT (Maholm), Sun-HOU (Paulino)
4. Jake Peavy (CHW) -- Tue-@CLE (Talbot), Sun-@TB (Shields)
5. Clay Buchholz (BOS) -- Mon-@TB (Davis), Sat-KC (Greinke)
6. Tim Lincecum (SF) -- Wed-WAS (Atilano)
7. James Shields (TB) -- Tue-BOS (Lester), Sun-CHW (Peavy)
8. Chris Carpenter (STL) -- Fri-@CHC (Wells)
9. David Price (TB) -- Fri-CHW (Garcia)
10. CC Sabathia (NYY) -- Sat-CLE (Huff)
11. Roy Halladay (PHI) -- Sat-@FLA (Johnson)
12. Ubaldo Jimenez (COL) -- Wed-ARI (Lopez)
13. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- Fri-NYM (Santana)
14. Justin Verlander (DET) -- Tue-@SEA (Fister)
15. Mat Latos (SD) -- Sat-WAS (TBD)
16. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Sat-SEA (Hernandez)
17. Jaime Garcia (STL) -- Wed-@SD (Correia)
18. Phil Hughes (NYY) -- Fri-CLE (Carmona)
19. Shaun Marcum (TOR) -- Fri-BAL (Bergesen)
20. Matt Cain (SF) -- Fri-ARI (Jackson)
21. Ryan Dempster (CHC) -- Tue-LAD (Kershaw), Sun-STL (Wainwright)
22. Josh Johnson (FLA) -- Sat-PHI (Halladay)
23. Ricky Romero (TOR) -- Tue-@LAA (Santana), Sun-BAL (Guthrie)
24. Zack Greinke (KC) -- Sat-@BOS (Buchholz)
25. Randy Wolf (MIL) -- Tue-HOU (Paulino), Sun-NYM (Dickey)
26. Cliff Lee (SEA) -- Fri-@LAA (Kazmir)
27. Johan Santana (NYM) -- Fri-@MIL (Gallardo)
28. Tommy Hanson (ATL) -- Wed-@FLA (Robertson)
29. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Thu-@NYM (Pelfrey)
30. Wade Davis (TB) -- Mon-BOS (Buchholz), Sat-CHW (Danks)
31. Tim Hudson (ATL) -- Thu-@FLA (Nolasco)
32. Rich Harden (TEX) -- Tue-@KC (Meche)
33. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- Sat-@LAA (Weaver)
34. John Danks (CHW) -- Mon-@CLE (Masterson), Sat-@TB (Davis)
35. Barry Zito (SF) -- Thu-WAS (Stammen)
36. Dan Haren (ARI) -- Thu-@COL (Hammel)
37. Jonathan Sanchez (SF) -- Sat-ARI (Buckner)
38. Roy Oswalt (HOU) -- Wed-@MIL (Narveson)
39. Matt Garza (TB) -- Wed-BOS (Lackey)
40. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Tue-@CHC (Dempster), Sun-@COL (Chacin)
41. Mark Buehrle (CHW) -- Wed-@CLE (Westbrook)
42. Johnny Cueto (CIN) -- Thu-PIT (Morton)
43. Jhoulys Chacin (COL) -- Tue-ARI (Kennedy), Sun-LAD (Kershaw)
44. Bronson Arroyo (CIN) -- Wed-PIT (Ohlendorf)
45. C.J. Wilson (TEX) -- Sun-@MIN (Baker)
46. Jeff Niemann (TB) -- Thu-CHW (Floyd)
47. Ricky Nolasco (FLA) -- Thu-ATL (Hudson)
48. A.J. Burnett (NYY) -- Tue-@MIN (Baker), Sun-CLE (Masterson)
49. Ted Lilly (CHC) -- Thu-LAD (Ely)
50. Dallas Braden (OAK) -- Tue-@BAL (Guthrie), Sun-@DET (Porcello)
51. Kris Medlen (ATL) -- Sat-PIT (Burres)
52. Derek Lowe (ATL) -- Fri-PIT (Duke)
53. Clayton Richard (SD) -- Fri-WAS (Lannan)
54. Colby Lewis (TEX) -- Fri-@MIN (Slowey)
55. Jon Garland (SD) -- Tue-STL (Wainwright), Sun-WAS (Hernandez)
56. Wandy Rodriguez (HOU) -- Fri-@CIN (Bailey)
57. Francisco Liriano (MIN) -- Wed-NYY (Pettitte)
58. Ervin Santana (LAA) -- Tue-TOR (Romero)
59. Daisuke Matsuzaka (BOS) -- Thu-KC (Bannister)
60. Chad Billingsley (LAD) -- Wed-@CHC (Gorzelanny)
61. Doug Fister (SEA) -- Tue-DET (Verlander), Sun-@LAA (Saunders)
62. Scott Baker (MIN) -- Tue-NYY (Burnett), Sun-TEX (Wilson)
63. Jake Westbrook (CLE) -- Wed-CHW (Buehrle)
64. Joe Blanton (PHI) -- Wed-@NYM (Takahashi)
65. John Lackey (BOS) -- Wed-@TB (Garza)
66. Wade LeBlanc (SD) -- Thu-STL (Lohse)
67. Andy Pettitte (NYY) -- Wed-@MIN (Liriano)
68. Ben Sheets (OAK) -- Fri-@DET (Willis)
69. Scott Kazmir (LAA) -- Fri-SEA (Lee)
70. Paul Maholm (PIT) -- Tue-@CIN (Leake), Sun-@ATL (Kawakami)
71. Randy Wells (CHC) -- Fri-STL (Carpenter)
72. Hiroki Kuroda (LAD) -- Fri-@COL (Francis)
73. Aaron Harang (CIN) -- Mon-PIT (Burres), Sat-HOU (Norris)
74. Chris Narveson (MIL) -- Wed-HOU (Oswalt)
75. Javier Vazquez (NYY) -- Thu-@MIN (Blackburn)

Two-start pitchers for deep leagues:
Brett Cecil (TOR) -- Mon-@LAA (Saunders), Sat-BAL (Millwood)
Jeremy Guthrie (BAL) -- Tue-OAK (Braden), Sun-@TOR (Romerol)
Livan Hernandez (WAS) -- Tue-@SF (Wellemeyer), Sun-@SD (Garland)
Kenshin Kawakami (ATL) -- Tue-@FLA (Sanchez), Sun-PIT (Maholm)
Ian Kennedy (ARI) -- Tue-@COL (Chacin), Sun-@SF (Wellemeyer)
Jamie Moyer (PHI) -- Tue-@NYM (Dickey), Sun-@FLA (Sanchez)
Anibal Sanchez (FLA) -- Tue-ATL (Kawakami), Sun-PHI (Moyer)
Joe Saunders (LAA) -- Mon-TOR (Cecil), Sun-SEA (Fister)

One-start sleepers:
Homer Bailey (CIN) -- Fri-HOU (Rodriguez)
Jeremy Bonderman (DET) -- Wed-@SEA (Vargas)
Dave Bush (MIL) -- Thu-HOU (Myers)
Armando Galarraga (DET) -- Sat-OAK (TBD)
Gio Gonzalez (OAK) -- Thu-@BAL (Hernandez)
John Lannan (WAS) -- Fri-@SD (Richard)
Brian Matusz (BAL) -- Wed-OAK (Cahill)
Tim Wakefield (BOS) -- Fri-KC (Davies)

No-thank-yous, among two-starts:
Brian Burres (PIT) -- Mon-@CIN (Harang), Sat-@ATL (Medlen)
R.A. Dickey (NYM) -- Tue-PHI (Moyer), Sun-@MIL (Wolf)
Justin Masterson (CLE) -- Mon-CHW (Danks), Sun-@NYY (Burnett)
Gil Meche (KC) -- Tue-TEX (Harden), Sun-@BOS (Lester)
Felipe Paulino (HOU) -- Tue-@MIL (Wolf), Sun-@CIN (Leake)

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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