Commentary

Onward to the All-Star break

Updated: July 4, 2010, 10:28 AM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Fantasy Forecaster

Fantasy Forecaster updated July 4 at 10:28 a.m. ET.

On tap: Baseball's traditional "first half" wraps up this week, even though mathematically speaking, by the conclusion of Week 14's Sunday games, we'll be more than 50 percent of the way through the 2010 season (54.5 percent, to be exact, assuming no postponements). The actual midpoint of the season -- 50 percent of all games scheduled -- arrives once four of the July 4 games are officially in the books. And for those of you in weekly transaction leagues, 13 weeks represents one-half of a major league season, so this being the 14th week, we're already into the season's second half. In other words, it's a good time to take a step back, evaluate where your team sits in the standings, the strengths and weaknesses of your roster and whether any specific categories need to be addressed. After all, the All-Star break arrives upon the conclusion of this week; it might be prime down time to hit up your competition for trades.

The week before the All-Star break also occasionally provides teams an opportunity to shuffle rotations, potentially granting youngsters with innings caps some extended rest (examples this year: Phil Hughes, Mat Latos, Mike Leake), or presenting starters with the occasional relief appearance on Saturday or Sunday (a practice that was once more common than it has been in recent seasons). This is a week where you might expect more midweek rotation changes than usual, plus perhaps a bonus inning or two from Tuesday or Wednesday starters pressed into relief duty a few days later.

As for the specific Week 14 schedule, the Atlanta Braves get one of their stiffest tests as they look to retain National League East supremacy; they play three road games apiece at the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets, each of those division rivals within 3½ games of them in the standings. The NL Central-leading Cincinnati Reds draw a similar schedule, facing the Mets and Phillies in reverse order, except that their weekend series at Philadelphia is a four-gamer. There's an outside chance Edinson Volquez, on the mend from Tommy John surgery, might make his 2010 debut late in the week. Finally, the Colorado Rockies welcome Jorge De La Rosa back to their rotation in six-home-game week, except the matchups are tough; they host the St. Louis Cardinals and San Diego Padres.

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 14 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

• There's no need to sweat the New York Yankees' seven-game west-coast swing, even though such a thing might have had their fantasy owners fleeing in terror in seasons past. Consider that from 2000 to 2008, when the Yankees made a West Coast trip of six games or more, they had just a .534 winning percentage and allowed an average of 4.62 runs per game. Between this and last season, their winning percentage in such contests is .579 and they've allowed an average of 3.58 runs per contest. That the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners, their two opponents this week, are significantly less competitive today than they were five or 10 years ago has a lot to do with that, but all that does is further tilt the matchups in the Yankees' favor. If there's anything to be scared of here, it should be A.J. Burnett's recent cold spell. Outside of him, every starter on the staff is a must-start.

• The Chicago White Sox are winners of 16 of their past 20 games, and much of the reason has been their pitching, which has a 2.61 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 3.09 strikeout-to-walk ratio during that span. Every one of their starters has made exactly four starts during that streak, and here are their ERA/WHIP numbers: Mark Buehrle (2.39/1.51), John Danks (3.67/1.04), Gavin Floyd (1.21/0.71), Freddy Garcia (4.05/1.24), Jake Peavy (1.55/0.90). Surprisingly enough, though he has the best ratios of the bunch, Floyd is the only one who didn't win three times; he won but once. Still, in a seven-game, all-at-home week played against middling offenses (Los Angeles Angels, Kansas City Royals), all but Garcia look like obvious fantasy options, and Garcia's ERA is more than a run lower at home (4.15) than on the road (5.18).

• The Texas Rangers have also thrived the past few weeks, winners of 17 of their past 21 games behind a staff 2.98 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. Still, it's been a team effort, as in the month of June, only Colby Lewis (16th), Tommy Hunter (29th) and Neftali Feliz (33rd) ranked among the top 50 pitchers on our Player Rater. The Rangers have clearly been feasting upon a cakewalk schedule, one that was discussed in the June 23 edition of 60 Feet 6 Inches. That light first-half-ending schedule concludes with three home games versus the Cleveland Indians and four versus the Baltimore Orioles, both of those offenses ranking among the bottom 10 in baseball in terms of team OPS. Consider it a streamer's delight.

• Over in the NL, the Milwaukee Brewers -- outside of Yovani Gallardo -- might not have impressed many fantasy owners with the performance of their pitching thus far. However, as pointed out in that same June 23 piece, their schedule from this point forward is especially favorable for their hurlers. That continues this week with seven games played entirely at home, with the San Francisco Giants (4 games) and Pittsburgh Pirates (3) their foes. This staff does have a 14-9 record, 3.54 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in its past 23 contests, with Dave Bush (3.16/1.29 ratios), Chris Narveson (3.70/1.19) and Manny Parra (4.18/1.50) having proven somewhat useful during the team hot spell. A Brewers strength: They rack up the K's, ranking fourth in the majors in the category this season (607).

For more insight into Week 14 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

• Allow me to state the obvious: Rangers hitters are good fantasy plays this week. They play all seven games at home, at hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark, and battle two pitching staffs that rank among the bottom six in baseball in both ERA and WHIP in the Indians and Orioles. An astonishing fact: Of their nine regulars (those with the most games at each position), seven have batting averages of .300 or better at home, including Julio Borbon, whose season batting average is just .282.

• Here's what makes the Cardinals' schedule this week so favorable: In addition to playing their first three games at Colorado's Coors Field, they'll also miss Roy Oswalt in their three-game, week-ending series at the Houston Astros. Games against Aaron Cook (Wednesday) and Wandy Rodriguez (Sunday) are looking especially favorable.

• Quick quiz: Which team has the greatest home/road OPS differential? It's the Arizona Diamondbacks, whose .842 OPS at Chase Field is 165 points greater than their number on the road (.677). So when you see that perfect-10 rating for the Diamondbacks this week, clearly it's a matter of their playing all seven of their games at home. Chris Young has been especially productive in home games; he has .315/.378/.623 (AVG/OBP/SLG) rates in 36 games at Chase this year.

• The Detroit Tigers also experience a significant home-field advantage, and before you point out that the rival Minnesota Twins should challenge them, be aware that the Twins have an 18-21 road record, not to mention a 4.56 ERA and 1.37 WHIP in those contests. In other words, the Twins are a top-10 staff at Target Field, which to date has leaned pitching-friendly, and they're middling at best on the road. The Orioles, meanwhile, sport one of the worst staffs in the game. Brennan Boesch has been a Comerica Park sensation; he has .365/.425/.646 rates at home.

Now, let's take a look at some Week 14 sleepers:

Pat Burrell, OF, Giants: That the Giants face three left-handed starters in their seven games suits Burrell well, as he has a .913 career OPS versus southpaws, not to mention is 5-for-12 (.417 average) with three homers against them since joining the Giants. Burrell also apparently loves Milwaukee's Miller Park; he has four home runs in his past seven games there and .286/.416/.635 rates in 18 career games at the venue.
Dexter Fowler, OF, Rockies: It's more of an NL-only (or daily-transactions) pick than one in shallow mixed (think standard ESPN leagues), but the matchups say there should be some value here. Fowler has always handled lefties well, with .328/.399/.480 career numbers against them, and his lifetime OPS at Coors is 156 points higher than on the road. Sure enough, the Rockies play all six of their games at Coors, three of them against lefty starters.
Travis Hafner, DH, Indians: There hasn't been a lot to like about his performance the past couple weeks, but remember that the loss of the designated hitter in NL parks meant Hafner was relegated to pinch-hit duty for some of that time. This schedule should provide a bounce-back opportunity, as he's a .271/.395/.514 hitter against righties, his Indians set to face six righty starters in their seven games, plus he has an .879 OPS (and three homers) in his past 11 games at Rangers Ballpark.
Scott Hairston, OF, Padres: No platoon concerns here; he has started 25 of his team's past 27 games, and at least he has improved lately, batting .265 (9-for-34) with eight RBIs in his past nine contests. Hairston has thrived historically at Colorado's Coors Field, batting .270/.361/.619 in 26 career games there. In fact, he hit three home runs in five games there in 2009 alone.
Matt LaPorta, 1B/OF, Indians: His dreadful numbers in previous big league stints might have hidden the fact that he has homers in each of his past three contests. LaPorta is here to play, so don't worry about the six righty starters the Indians will face in seven games, especially accounting for the fact that he has a lifetime homer rate of one per 25.9 at-bats against righties, compared to one per 42.0 against lefties, not to mention an OPS 79 points higher against righties than lefties.
Jonathan Lucroy, C, Brewers: If you're hurting behind the plate, why not take a chance on the Brewers' new starting backstop? Lucroy is 7-for-17 (.412) with two doubles and one home run versus left-handers this far, and while his .240 batting average at Miller Park is so-so, he does have a .160 number there in isolated power, a good measure of a hitter's power. All seven Brewers games are played at home, and four will be against lefty starters.
Corey Patterson, OF, Orioles: He's terrorizing right-handed pitching thus far, with .308/.362/.470 rates, should continue to receive regular at-bats with Luke Scott on the disabled list, and will benefit from the Orioles' schedule including five of seven games against righty starters. It also helps that four of those will be played at bandbox Rangers Ballpark.

Weather report

It's July, the least risky month for postponements historically, and let's go ahead and jinx what has been a mostly rain-free season thus far by saying that there hasn't been a postponement since June 9, not to mention there have been only 12 total all year. Of course, that means we're due, right? It depends which you trust more: History or the weatherman.

This week is surprisingly full of games threatened by 30 or 40 percent chances of rain, all of them in four cities: Chicago (all four games of the Angels-White Sox series), Denver (all three games of the Cardinals-Rockies series), Detroit (Tuesday's and Wednesday's Orioles-Tigers games) and Arlington, Texas (all three games of the Indians-Rangers series and Thursday's Orioles-Rangers contest).

Weatherproof games: Pirates at Astros (3, Tue-Thu); Cardinals at Astros (3, Fri-Sun); Twins at Blue Jays (3, Tue-Thu); Red Sox at Blue Jays (3, Fri-Sun); Giants at Brewers (4, Mon-Thu); Pirates at Brewers (3, Fri-Sun); Cubs at Diamondbacks (3, Mon-Wed); Marlins at Diamondbacks (4, Thu-Sun); Royals at Mariners (3, Mon-Wed); Yankees at Mariners (4, Thu-Sun); Red Sox at Rays (3, Mon-Wed); Indians at Rays (4, Thu-Sun).

Tristan's Week 14 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. CC Sabathia (NYY) -- Tue-@OAK (Cahill), Sun-@SEA (Bedard)
2. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- Mon-KC (Bannister), Sat-NYY (Vazquez)
3. Roy Halladay (PHI) -- Mon-ATL (Lowe), Sat-CIN (Harang)
4. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Tue-@CHW (Peavy), Sun-@OAK (Sheets)
5. Jake Peavy (CHW) -- Tue-LAA (Weaver), Sun-KC (Bannister)
6. Gavin Floyd (CHW) -- Mon-LAA (Kazmir), Sat-KC (Lerew)
7. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- Fri-PIT (Maholm)
8. Adam Wainwright (STL) -- Sat-@HOU (Myers)
9. Stephen Strasburg (WAS) -- Fri-SF (Cain)
10. Josh Johnson (FLA) -- Wed-@LAD (Kuroda)
11. Javier Vazquez (NYY) -- Mon-@OAK (Sheets), Sat-@SEA (Hernandez)
12. Chris Carpenter (STL) -- Fri-@HOU (Norris)
13. Mat Latos (SD) -- Thu-@WAS (Atilano)
14. Jon Lester (BOS) -- Fri-@TOR (Romero)
15. Zack Greinke (KC) -- Tue-@SEA (Bedard)
16. Cliff Lee (SEA) -- Fri-NYY (Hughes)
17. C.J. Wilson (TEX) -- Tue-CLE (Masterson), Sun-BAL (Arrieta)
18. Colby Lewis (TEX) -- Wed-CLE (Talbot)
19. Tim Hudson (ATL) -- Sat-@NYM (Takahashi)
20. Matt Garza (TB) -- Mon-BOS (Matsuzaka), Sat-CLE (Laffey)
21. Andy Pettitte (NYY) -- Thu-@SEA (Vargas)
22. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Thu-CHC (Wells)
23. Tim Lincecum (SF) -- Wed-@MIL (Narveson)
24. Mike Pelfrey (NYM) -- Mon-CIN (Harang), Sun-ATL (Lowe)
25. Ubaldo Jimenez (COL) -- Thu-STL (Garcia)
26. Dan Haren (ARI) -- Fri-FLA (Nolasco)
27. Roy Oswalt (HOU) -- Thu-PIT (Ohlendorf)
28. Jonathan Sanchez (SF) -- Mon-@MIL (Bush), Sat-@WAS (Stammen)
29. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Tue-ATL (Jurrjens), Sun-CIN (Wood)
30. Matt Cain (SF) -- Fri-@WAS (Strasburg)
31. Phil Hughes (NYY) -- Fri-@SEA (Lee)
32. Max Scherzer (DET) -- Wed-BAL (Bergesen)
33. Justin Verlander (DET) -- Fri-MIN (Liriano)
34. Jeff Niemann (TB) -- Tue-BOS (Buchholz), Sun-CLE (Masterson)
35. Ted Lilly (CHC) -- Fri-@LAD (Billingsley)
36. Ryan Dempster (CHC) -- Wed-@ARI (Jackson)
37. David Price (TB) -- Wed-BOS (Wakefield)
38. Johan Santana (NYM) -- Tue-CIN (Wood)
39. Chad Billingsley (LAD) -- Fri-CHC (Lilly)
40. Wandy Rodriguez (HOU) -- Tue-PIT (Lincoln), Sun-STL (Suppan)
41. James Shields (TB) -- Fri-CLE (Carmona)
42. Trevor Cahill (OAK) -- Tue-NYY (Sabathia)
43. Carl Pavano (MIN) -- Wed-@TOR (Rzepczynski)
44. Brandon Morrow (TOR) -- Sat-BOS (Lackey)
45. Ricky Nolasco (FLA) -- Fri-@ARI (Haren)
46. Clayton Richard (SD) -- Tue-@WAS (Martin), Sun-@COL (Francis)
47. Hiroki Kuroda (LAD) -- Wed-FLA (Johnson)
48. Jaime Garcia (STL) -- Thu-@COL (Jimenez)
49. John Danks (CHW) -- Thu-LAA (Santana)
50. Francisco Liriano (MIN) -- Fri-@DET (Verlander)
51. Scott Kazmir (LAA) -- Mon-@CHW (Floyd), Sat-@OAK (Mazzaro)
52. Scott Baker (MIN) -- Thu-@TOR (Cecil)
53. Jason Hammel (COL) -- Sat-SD (LeBlanc)
54. Ervin Santana (LAA) -- Thu-@CHW (Danks)
55. Randy Wolf (MIL) -- Tue-SF (Bumgarner), Sun-PIT (Lincoln)
56. Barry Zito (SF) -- Thu-@MIL (Parra)
57. Joel Pineiro (LAA) -- Fri-@OAK (Mortensen)
58. Daisuke Matsuzaka (BOS) -- Mon-@TB (Garza), Sun-@TOR (Litsch)
59. Edwin Jackson (ARI) -- Wed-CHC (Dempster)
60. Derek Lowe (ATL) -- Mon-@PHI (Halladay), Sun-@NYM (Pelfrey)
61. R.A. Dickey (NYM) -- Fri-ATL (Hanson)
62. Manny Parra (MIL) -- Thu-SF (Zito)
63. Tommy Hanson (ATL) -- Fri-@NYM (Dickey)
64. Ian Kennedy (ARI) -- Mon-CHC (Gorzelanny), Sat-FLA (Robertson)
65. Jamie Moyer (PHI) -- Wed-ATL (Medlen)
66. Jair Jurrjens (ATL) -- Tue-@PHI (Hamels)
67. A.J. Burnett (NYY) -- Wed-@OAK (Gonzalez)
68. Justin Masterson (CLE) -- Tue-@TEX (Wilson), Sun-@TB (Niemann)
69. Jonathon Niese (NYM) -- Wed-CIN (Arroyo)
70. Carlos Silva (CHC) -- Tue-@ARI (Enright), Sun-@LAD (Padilla)
71. Tom Gorzelanny (CHC) -- Mon-@ARI (Kennedy), Sat-@LAD (Ely)
72. Freddy Garcia (CHW) -- Wed-LAA (Saunders)
73. Erik Bedard (SEA) -- Tue-KC (Greinke), Sun-NYY (Sabathia)
74. Clay Buchholz (BOS) -- Tue-@TB (Niemann)
75. Vicente Padilla (LAD) -- Tue-FLA (Volstad), Sun-CHC (Silva)

Two-start pitchers for deep leagues:
Madison Bumgarner (SF) -- Tue-@MIL (Wolf), Sun-@WAS (Martin)
Dave Bush (MIL) -- Mon-SF (Sanchez), Sat-PIT (Karstens)
John Ely (LAD) -- Mon-FLA (Robertson), Sat-CHC (Gorzelanny)
Jeff Francis (COL) -- Tue-STL (Suppan), Sun-SD (Richard)
Armando Galarraga (DET) -- Mon-BAL (Millwood), Sun-MIN (Slowey)
Aaron Harang (CIN) -- Mon-@NYM (Pelfrey), Sat-@PHI (Halladay)
Brad Lincoln (PIT) -- Tue-@HOU (Rodriguez), Sun-@MIL (Wolf)
J.D. Martin (WAS) -- Tue-SD (Richard), Sun-SF (Bumgarner)
Ben Sheets (OAK) -- Mon-NYY (Vazquez), Sun-LAA (Weaver)
Chris Volstad (FLA) -- Tue-@LAD (Padilla), Sun-@ARI (Enright)
Travis Wood (CIN) -- Tue-@NYM (Santana), Sun-@PHI (Hamels)

One-start sleepers:
Wade Davis (TB) -- Thu-CLE (Westbrook)
Jorge De La Rosa (COL) -- Fri-SD (Correia)
Livan Hernandez (WAS) -- Wed-SD (Garland) -- Note: Hernandez has 6 consecutive QS at Nationals Park, and a 1.75 ERA in 9 GS there this year
Tommy Hunter (TEX) -- Thu-BAL (Guthrie)
Chris Narveson (MIL) -- Wed-SF (Lincecum)
Andrew Oliver (DET) -- Tue-BAL (Arrieta)
Tim Wakefield (BOS) -- Wed-@TB (Price) -- Note: Wakefield is 10-3 with a 3.12 ERA in 24 career G's (18 GS) at Tropicana Field

No-thank-yous, among two-starts:
Jake Arrieta (BAL) -- Tue-@DET (Oliver), Sun-@TEX (Wilson)
Brian Bannister (KC) -- Mon-@SEA (Hernandez), Sun-@CHW (Peavy)
Omar Beltre (TEX) -- Mon-CLE (Laffey), Sat-BAL (Millwood)
Barry Enright (ARI) -- Tue-CHC (Silva), Sun-FLA (Volstad)
Aaron Laffey (CLE) -- Mon-@TEX (Beltre), Sat-@TB (Garza)
Jesse Litsch (TOR) -- Tue-MIN (Slowey), Sun-BOS (Matsuzaka)
Kevin Millwood (BAL) -- Mon-@DET (Galarraga), Sat-@TEX (Beltre)
Nate Robertson (FLA) -- Mon-@LAD (Ely), Sat-@ARI (Kennedy)
Kevin Slowey (MIN) -- Tue-@TOR (Litsch), Sun-@DET (Galarraga)
Jeff Suppan (STL) -- Tue-@COL (Francis), Sun-@HOU (Rodriguez)

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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