Commentary

Tigers poised for big week

Updated: May 30, 2010, 10:40 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Fantasy Forecaster

Fantasy Forecaster updated Sunday, May 30 at 10:40 p.m. ET.

On tap: It's a good time to be an elite fantasy starter, as 10 of the top 25 starting pitchers on our Player Rater are lined up to toe the hill twice in Week 9. That excludes, by the way, Gio Gonzalez, Francisco Liriano and Andy Pettitte, who pitch twice but rest just outside the top 25, and John Lackey and Tommy Hanson, two preseason top-25 starters who will probably be in most every fantasy team's lineups during two-start weeks. Quantity matters in Week 9; the top eight starting pitchers in my rankings all work twice, all four teams with perfect-10 ratings will play seven games and three of the seven teams with 8s or 9s play seven.

Among the week's compelling matchups: Cincinnati Reds at St. Louis Cardinals (Monday-Wednesday), as the first-place Reds battle the team most everyone predicted to finish first, in a series where fantasy standouts Johnny Cueto, Jaime Garcia and Chris Carpenter are all scheduled to pitch; Tampa Bay Rays at Texas Rangers, a battle of first-place teams in which the Rays' top-ranked rotation (major league-best 2.91 ERA) gets tested at one of the most hitting-friendly venues in baseball; and Colorado Rockies at San Francisco Giants, in which the series opener features a battle of aces, Ubaldo Jimenez versus Tim Lincecum.

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 9 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

• The Detroit Tigers get a prime opportunity to make up some ground in the American League Central race, fattening their pitching statistics versus the light-hitting Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals. Justin Verlander is an obvious two-start standout facing that schedule, but Jeremy Bonderman, the Tigers' other two-start pitcher, gets a boost as well; he's a perfect 4-for-4 in quality starts in May and has a 1.33 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in the month.

• Though the Minnesota Twins' starters have been in a mini funk the past three weeks, with only nine quality starts in their past 18 games, this week's schedule presents great bounce-back potential. The Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics each rank among the bottom 10 offenses in the game, and both of their home ballparks ranks in the bottom 10 in terms of both runs scored and home runs, per our Park Factor page.

• The Los Angeles Angels are the other team to visit Seattle's Safeco Field, and tacking on a four-game set at the Royals gives them one of the most favorable pitching schedules of the week. A few things to think about: Joe Saunders, who is set to pitch Friday at Seattle, is 5-0 with a 2.41 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in five career starts at Safeco; and Ervin Santana, who starts at each venue, has three quality starts in his past four road games, and a 3.06 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in five road starts overall.

Carlos Zambrano rejoins the Chicago Cubs' rotation on Wednesday, facing an ideal matchup versus the 29th-ranked (in terms of runs scored) Pittsburgh Pirates. Zambrano is 7-1 with a 4.11 ERA and 1.39 WHIP in 15 career games (13 starts) at PNC Park.

• A three-game trip to San Diego's Petco Park, plus three home games versus the division rival Florida Marlins, suits the New York Mets' pitching staff well. With the exception of John Maine's one-batter stint on May 20, Mets starters have turned in quality starts every time since May 17, and that's in spite of some lesser-heralded names like R.A. Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi filling in. Takahashi, a two-start pitcher this week, has been quite the find for the Mets; he has a 2.13 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 10.42 strikeouts-per-nine ratio in 17 appearances.

• If you're picking and choosing matchups -- which typically applies to those who utilize the streamers' strategy -- don't underestimate Washington Nationals pitchers. No, Stephen Strasburg isn't expected to join the rotation this week, but John Lannan has back-to-back decent outings, Livan Hernandez has a 2.08 ERA and 1.09 WHIP for the season and Craig Stammen might be a two-start sleeper thanks to assignments at the Astros and versus the Reds. Most importantly, closer Matt Capps might get in plenty of work protecting leads.

For more insight into Week 9 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

• The Tigers' schedule is exceptional both for their pitchers and hitters, as they're one of five teams this week to register a perfect-10 rating. A point in their favor: They won't face Zack Greinke during their weekend visit to Kansas City. Another: They battle five right-handers in their seven games, and they rank 10th in baseball in terms of team OPS versus righties (.766).

• Beware that "7" rating for the Indians, because it's misleading. They earned it because of ballpark factors at New York and Chicago, as well as facing Armando Galarraga (Wednesday). Truth is, the Indians sport baseball's second-worst team OPS versus left-handers (.606), .131 worse than their number against righties (.737), and they're set to face three tough southpaws in Andy Pettitte (Monday), John Danks (Friday) and Mark Buehrle (Sunday).

• Assuming their regulars are healthy enough to play, the Boston Red Sox should begin picking up the pace offensively this week. The Athletics, their Tuesday-Thursday opponent, present a challenge, but at least those are Fenway Park games. Plus, the Red Sox can fatten up during the weekend, as they have .319/.396/.534 (AVG/OBP/SLG) team rates versus the opposing Baltimore Orioles since the beginning of last season.

• The Mariners also rate a perfect 10, and AL-only owners at least shouldn't ignore that. Keep in mind that Mike Sweeney is a .441 hitter (15-for-34) with six home runs and 13 RBIs in his past 10 games, all played since May 13; while Jack Wilson is hitting .321/.379/.472 in his past 16 contests.

• The Los Angeles Dodgers get a significant advantage from battling nothing but right-handed starters in their seven home games. As a team, they have an .800 OPS versus righties, 149 points higher than their number versus southpaws (.651). Andre Ethier, a .398/.462/.806 hitter versus right-handers this season, should return in time to play the full Week 9. Blake DeWitt is also a .283/.372/.384 hitter, Rafael Furcal .319/.397/.435 and James Loney .308/.355/.454 have done well against right-handers this season.

Now, let's take a look at some Week 9 sleepers:

Mike Aviles, 2B/SS, Royals: He has been on an amazing tear in May, with .345/.360/.476 (AVG/OBP/SLG) numbers in 20 games, and has taken over an everyday gig once more. Still, he's available in nearly two-thirds of ESPN leagues. The Royals might be facing six right-handed starters in their seven games, but worry not, as Aviles has .302/.319/.419 numbers against righties.
David Freese, 3B, Cardinals: Consider this rookie a must-start in his home games, as through 32 career contests at Busch Stadium, he's a .396/.449/.604 hitter with 25 RBIs.
Hideki Matsui, DH, Angels: Though he has gotten off to a slow start with the Angels, this might be the week for him to begin heating up. Matsui has shown signs of life in his past 11 games, batting .278 with two home runs and nine RBIs, and he'll face six right-handed starters in his seven contests; he's a .285/.379/.468 hitter against righties since 2006. Matsui also has good career numbers at Seattle's Safeco Field -- .308/.359/.521 in 29 games there -- and his Angels will make a weekend visit there.
Angel Pagan, OF, Mets: News that Carlos Beltran will be sidelined until at least the All-Star break only strengthens Pagan's fill-in value, and in case you hadn't noticed, Pagan is on quite a tear, batting .360 (27-for-75) with 10 RBIs and 14 runs scored in his past 20 games. Hitting in a spacious home ballpark like Citi Field has never seemed to bother him -- he has .321/.365/.518 career rates there -- so why sweat the three, week-opening games at San Diego's Petco Park?
Ronny Paulino, C, Marlins: John Baker's disabled-list status has benefited Paulino, who has started 11 of the Marlins' past 15 games behind the plate with Baker out. Though Paulino has enjoyed success against pitchers from both sides thus far, he's still more of a standout against left-handers, with .340/.367/.532 numbers against them this season and .334/.390/.490 in his career. That's good to know, because the Marlins are set to battle three lefty starters in their seven games this week.
Cody Ross, OF, Marlins: One of the more underappreciated outfielders in fantasy, Ross is hitting .307 with a pace of 89 RBIs, yet remains available in almost 20 percent of ESPN leagues. Like the aforementioned Paulino, Ross benefits from a week stacked with lefty opponents, and he's even productive against one of the specific righties he's set to face: Mike Pelfrey, against whom he's a lifetime .353 hitter (6-for-17) with a 1.097 OPS.
Mark Teahen, 3B/OF, Chicago White Sox: His White Sox play all six of their games at homer-friendly U.S. Cellular Field, but what really stacks the deck for Teahen is that all six will be against right-handed starters. He's a .274/.340/.427 lifetime hitter versus righties, .275/.370/.431 this year.

Weather report

Beware the games in the Great Lakes region, as well as along the Mississippi; they're the ones that face the greatest threat of rain in Week 9. Athletics-Tigers has a 40 percent chance of rain on Monday and Indians-Tigers a 60 percent chance on Thursday; Angels-Royals has a 40 percent chance on both Tuesday and Wednesday; Reds-Cardinals has a 40 percent chance on Monday; and Rangers-White Sox has a 60 percent chance on Thursday. Atlanta might also be problematic, as the chance of rain for all three Phillies-Braves games is 30 percent or greater.

Weatherproof games: Nationals at Astros (4, Mon-Thu); Cubs at Astros (3, Fri-Sun); Rays at Blue Jays (3, Mon-Wed); Yankees at Blue Jays (3, Fri-Sun); Rockies at Diamondbacks (3, Fri-Sun); Twins at Mariners (4, Mon-Thu); Angels at Mariners (3, Fri-Sun).

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

Two-start pitchers for deep leagues:
Brian Bannister (KC) -- Tue-LAA (Pineiro), Sun-DET (Bonderman)
Nick Blackburn (MIN) -- Tue-@SEA (Vargas), Sun-@OAK (Gonzalez)
Mark Buehrle (CHW) -- Tue-TEX (Harden), Sun-CLE (Westbrook)
Trevor Cahill (OAK) -- Mon-@DET (Verlander), Sat-MIN (Liriano)
Kevin Correia (SD) -- Mon-NYM (Takahashi), Sun-@PHI (Blanton)
Rich Harden (TEX) -- Tue-@CHW (Buehrle), Sun-TB (Garza)
Luke Hochevar (KC) -- Mon-LAA (Santana), Sat-DET (Verlander)
Joel Pineiro (LAA) -- Tue-@KC (Bannister), Sun-@SEA (Vargas)
Craig Stammen (WAS) -- Tue-@HOU (Myers), Sun-CIN (Arroyo)
Jason Vargas (SEA) -- Tue-MIN (Blackburn), Sun-LAA (Pineiro)
Javier Vazquez (NYY) -- Tue-BAL (Matusz), Sun-@TOR (Morrow)
Jake Westbrook (CLE) -- Tue-@DET (Bonderman), Sun-@CHW (Buehrle)

One-start sleepers:
Fausto Carmona (CLE) -- Wed-@DET (Galarraga)
Gavin Floyd (CHW) -- Wed-TEX (Feldman)
Jason Hammel (COL) -- Tue-@SF (Zito)
Aaron Harang (CIN) -- Fri-@WAS (Hernandez)
Scott Kazmir (LAA) -- Wed-@KC (Davies)
Jamie Moyer (PHI) -- Sat-SD (Garland)
Carl Pavano (MIN) -- Thu-@SEA (Hernandez)
Carlos Silva (CHC) -- Fri-@HOU (Paulino)

No-thank-yous, among two-starts:
Luis Atilano (WAS) -- Mon-@HOU (Oswalt), Sat-CIN (Leake)
Dave Bush (MIL) -- Tue-@FLA (Nolasco), Sun-@STL (Garcia)
Rodrigo Lopez (ARI) -- Mon-@LAD (Billingsley), Sun-COL (Jimenez)
Brian Matusz (BAL) -- Tue-@NYY (Vazquez), Sun-BOS (Lackey)
Brandon Morrow (TOR) -- Mon-TB (Garza), Sun-NYY (Vazquez)
Chris Narveson (MIL) -- Mon-@FLA (Robertson), Sat-@STL (Wainwright)
Ross Ohlendorf (PIT) -- Mon-CHC (Wells), Sun-SF (Lincecum)
Nate Robertson (FLA) -- Mon-MIL (Narveson), Sat-@NYM (Takahashi)
Mitch Talbot (CLE) -- Mon-@NYY (Pettitte), Sat-@CHW (Peavy)

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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