Commentary

Top contenders could thrive at deadline

Updated: July 25, 2010, 11:40 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Fantasy Forecaster updated Sunday, July 25 at 11:40 p.m. ET.

Fantasy Forecaster

On tap: Major League Baseball's trade deadline -- or the deadline for deals that don't first require players to clear waivers -- arrives on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET, so change should be the primary storyline of this week. You're already aware of many of the big-name players who are on the block, and one ace starter did switch teams Sunday, as Dan Haren was traded by the Arizona Diamondbacks to the Los Angeles Angels. As such, be prepared for rotation changes midweek as deals are made. For instance, Haren is tentatively scheduled to make his Angels debut Monday and be a two-start pitcher, but he could be slotted in anywhere from Monday-Wednesday, perhaps working only once. Similarly, Roy Oswalt, another trade candidate, is scheduled to pitch Friday, the day before the deadline.

This is a week where division leaders have opportunities to widen the gaps in the standings. The American League East-leading New York Yankees first can fatten up with four at the Cleveland Indians, before heading south to take on the second-place Tampa Bay Rays on the road. The AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox play seven home games against the AL West's bottom two teams. The AL West-leading Texas Rangers get three more games against the second-place Los Angeles Angels, this time at Angel Stadium. The National League Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals head east to battle the struggling New York Mets, then return home to host the NL-worst Pittsburgh Pirates. And the NL West-leading San Diego Padres play six at Petco Park, where they're 30-19 this season.

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 16 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

• A seven-game week played entirely at home, regardless of opponents, presents a significant advantage for the San Francisco Giants, whose 2.74 ERA at home ranks second in the majors. This staff has a 2.49 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in its past 15 contests, despite 11 of those being played on the road, and each of its top four starters has an ERA of 3.11 or better at AT&T Park (Madison Bumgarner being the exception; he has only one home start so far). As far as those Florida Marlins and Los Angeles Dodgers matchups are concerned, the Marlins have a .588 team OPS in the month of July, while the Dodgers have averaged 3.23 runs per game with a .666 OPS in their past 13 contests, in 11 of which they were missing Manny Ramirez. The Dodgers, in fact, scored but nine runs total in their recent July 19-21 series against these Giants, in a series played in Dodger Stadium.

• The other team to benefit from a seven-home-game week is the red-hot White Sox, winners of 28 of their past 37 contests with a staff ERA of 2.54 and WHIP of 1.17 during that span. Games at U.S. Cellular Field do increase the risk of untimely home runs, but be aware that the White Sox have allowed only 38 homers there all year, 11th-fewest in the majors, have won 14 of their past 15 home games and have a 2.07 ERA and 1.03 WHIP during that 15-home-game stretch. They'll face two of the game's eight worst offenses in terms of OPS (including the bottom-ranked Seattle Mariners), which means their starters can be trusted across the board.

• Wins might be a problem for the Marlins this week, what with trips scheduled to San Francisco and San Diego, but those ballpark factors as well as opposing offenses still present the fish with favorable matchups in the other categories. A fact to consider: The Marlins as a team have tallied double-digit strikeouts in 11 of their past 27 games, and 223 K's in 239 innings overall during that span. Besides Josh Johnson (isn't he obvious?), Ricky Nolasco is the standout matchup; he's 5-1 with a 3.70 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in his past six starts.

• Though three games at the Mets might appear to be challenging, that they'll be played at pitching-friendly Citi Field helps the Cardinals maintain a favorable set of pitching matchups. Their weekend series is a home set of three versus the light-hitting Pirates, an offense that has averaged 3.85 runs in its past 39 games while sporting a .678 OPS. Even if you're worried that certain Cardinals pitchers might soon slow down, there's not much evidence of it lately; Jaime Garcia is 4-2 with a 3.38 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in his past eight starts, while closer Ryan Franklin is 8-for-8 in saves in his past 13 appearances, plus excluding a six-run bombing on July 6 has a 2.31 ERA and 1.37 WHIP during that stretch.

For more insight into Week 16 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

• That the Colorado Rockies and Philadelphia Phillies sport perfect-10 ratings shouldn't surprise you; it's the Kansas City Royals' perfect-10 status that might. They play seven games at Kauffman Stadium this week, including four versus the Baltimore Orioles, who sport the AL's worst pitching staff. As for the three versus the Minnesota Twins, consider this: Monday's opposing starter, Francisco Liriano, is 3-4 with a 4.91 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in nine road starts. Wednesday's opposing starter, Brian Duensing, will be making only his second start of the season, meaning stamina could be a slight concern. Despite the trade of Alberto Callaspo, there are still Royals hitters who can help in deeper formats, like Billy Butler (.283/.420/.396 AVG/OBP/SLG hitter in July), Jason Kendall (.305/.358/.322 in July), Scott Podsednik (.338/.394/.431 in July) and perhaps even new starting third baseman Wilson Betemit (.303/.378/.424 in his past 10 games).

• The Rockies are an obvious pick, as they round up their wraparound series at Citizens Bank Park before returning to Coors Field to host the Pirates and Chicago Cubs for three games apiece. Having a healthy Troy Tulowitzki back in their lineup should be a boost for the Rockies, especially accounting for his .314/.391/.480 numbers at Coors this season. Among other Rockies hitters you need to have active this week, with their 2010 Coors numbers in parentheses: Jason Giambi (.380/.507/.580), Carlos Gonzalez (.359/.399/.653), Miguel Olivo (.400/.421/.689) and Seth Smith (.343/.400/.695).

• The White Sox benefit both in terms of pitching and hitting, as U.S. Cellular Field is a hitting-friendly environment, as mentioned above. The "big three" of Paul Konerko (.342/.430/.712), Carlos Quentin (.275/.395/.620) and Alex Rios (.313/.363/.583) have All-Star-caliber numbers at "The Cell," but they're not the only ones who benefit from soft matchups versus the Mariners and Oakland Athletics. Infielders Gordon Beckham (.400/.412/.620 numbers in July) and Alexei Ramirez (.356/.397/.542) have contributed to the team's hot streak, and leadoff man Juan Pierre will be plated often if the rest of the offense is firing on all cylinders.

• Trips to both Houston's Minute Maid Park and Colorado's Coors Field present favorable matchups for the Cubs, who in 24 games since Aramis Ramirez's return from the disabled list on June 25 have averaged 4.63 runs per contest, clubbed 30 homers (10 by Ramirez himself) and posted a .766 team OPS. Those numbers are all significantly better than the team's per-game rates before that, so continue to hope Ramirez's hot play will rub off on the rest of the team. Among Cubs hitters who have thrived historically at Coors: Derrek Lee (.333/.426/.561 in 37 career games), Ramirez (.280/.305/.613 in 19), Alfonso Soriano (.396/.429/.774 in 11) and Geovany Soto (.333/.381/.722 in 5).

Now, let's take a look at some Week 16 sleepers:

Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates: He's finally starting to hit, with .318/.384/.697 numbers in 17 games in July, and four home runs in his past three games combined. Alvarez has seemed to handle righties (.274/.328/.565) better than lefties (.220/.298/.400) thus far, but the three games at Coors should more than make up for his having to face two lefty starters in six contests.
Rajai Davis, OF, Oakland Athletics: You're banking primarily upon his steals, because neither the Rangers' Bengie Molina nor White Sox's A.J. Pierzynski is particularly adept at gunning down opposing base stealers. But in defense of his bat, Davis is batting .355 (11-for-31) with two home runs in his past nine games, all of his games will be played at hitter-friendly venues and he's a .312/.372/.494 hitter against left-handed pitchers this season.
Mark Ellis, 2B, Oakland Athletics: This one's a gut call, as he's a lifetime .372/.413/.553 hitter in 52 games at Rangers Ballpark, and the Athletics will face three left-handed starters in their six contests.
Matt Joyce, OF, Tampa Bay Rays: Heads up to those of you in AL-only leagues; Joyce has started 12 of 17 Rays games in July, and appeared in 15, during which time he has a .901 OPS (albeit backed by only a .231 batting average). He's playing regularly versus right-handers, against whom he has .243/.343/.500 lifetime rates, and the Rays do battle six righty starters in their seven games.
Jeff Keppinger, 2B/3B/SS, Houston Astros: He's the Astros' leading hitter both in home games (.288) and in the month of July (.328), as well as versus left-handed pitchers among players with 25-plus plate appearances (.277). The Astros, incidentally, play six home games, three versus lefty starters.
Luke Scott, OF, Baltimore Orioles: He's healthy now, he's 7-for-16 (.438 AVG) with two home runs in four games since being activated from the DL, and he's likely to play regularly, especially with Ty Wigginton in a bit of a funk lately. Scott is most productive versus right-handers, with .271/.356/.511 lifetime rates against them, which is good because the Orioles will face five righty starters in seven games.
Andres Torres, OF, San Francisco Giants: What more does he need to do to garner some respect in ESPN leagues? Torres, available in more than 50 percent of leagues, is a .301/.396/.536 hitter versus right-handers and .271/.358/.493 in home games. The Giants play all seven games at home, six of those against righty starters.

Weather report

We've said it in this space before, but rainouts in July are somewhat rare (or at least the rarest of the six regular-season months), and sure enough, there hasn't been a postponement of any kind since June 9. Still, games along the Mississippi and in the Great Lakes region bear watching: Twins-Royals faces 40 percent chances of rain Monday and Tuesday; Mariners-White Sox has a 30 percent chance Tuesday and 40 percent both Wednesday and Thursday; and Yankees-Indians has a 30 percent chance Wednesday and 40 percent on Thursday.

Weatherproof games: Cubs at Astros (3, Mon.-Wed.); Brewers at Astros (3, Fri.-Sun.); Orioles at Blue Jays (3, Mon.-Wed.); Indians at Blue Jays (3, Fri.-Sun.); Reds at Brewers (3, Mon.-Wed.); Tigers at Rays (4, Mon.-Thu.); Yankees at Rays (3, Fri.-Sun.).

Tristan's Week 16 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. Josh Johnson (FLA) -- Tue-@SF (Cain), Sun-@SD (Garland)
2. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- Mon-@CHW (Danks), Sat-@MIN (Slowey)
3. Cliff Lee (TEX) -- Tue-OAK (Gonzalez), Sun-@LAA (Pineiro)
4. Zack Greinke (KC) -- Mon-MIN (Liriano), Sat-BAL (Bergesen)
5. John Danks (CHW) -- Mon-SEA (Hernandez), Sat-OAK (Braden)
6. CC Sabathia (NYY) -- Tue-@CLE (TBD), Sun-@TB (Shields)
7. Gavin Floyd (CHW) -- Tue-SEA (Rowland-Smith), Sun-OAK (Gonzalez)
8. Chad Billingsley (LAD) -- Tue-@SD (Garland), Sun-@SF (Cain)
9. Ricky Nolasco (FLA) -- Mon-@SF (Zito), Sat-@SD (LeBlanc)
10. Jaime Garcia (STL) -- Tue-@NYM (Niese), Sun-PIT (Duke)
11. Stephen Strasburg (WAS) -- Tue-ATL (Hanson), Sun-PHI (Hamels)
12. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Tue-ARI (Lopez), Sun-@WAS (Strasburg)
13. Matt Cain (SF) -- Tue-FLA (Johnson), Sun-LAD (Billingsley)
14. Dan Haren (LAA) -- Mon-BOS (Buchholz), Sat-TEX (Hunter)
15. Javier Vazquez (NYY) -- Mon-@CLE (Westbrook), Sat-@TB (Garza)
16. Francisco Liriano (MIN) -- Mon-@KC (Greinke), Sun-SEA (Rowland-Smith)
17. Tommy Hanson (ATL) -- Tue-@WAS (Strasburg), Sun-@CIN (Arroyo)
18. Barry Zito (SF) -- Mon-FLA (Nolasco), Sat-LAD (Kershaw)
19. Adam Wainwright (STL) -- Wed-@NYM (Takahashi)
20. Chris Carpenter (STL) -- Sat-PIT (McCutchen)
21. Roy Halladay (PHI) -- Wed-ARI (Saunders)
22. Clay Buchholz (BOS) -- Mon-@LAA (Haren), Sun-DET (Scherzer)
23. Jon Lester (BOS) -- Fri-DET (Galarraga)
24. Ubaldo Jimenez (COL) -- Thu-PIT (Maholm)
25. Matt Garza (TB) -- Mon-DET (Scherzer), Sat-NYY (Vazquez)
26. Tim Lincecum (SF) -- Fri-LAD (Monasterios)
27. Johan Santana (NYM) -- Thu-STL (Suppan)
28. Tim Hudson (ATL) -- Wed-@WAS (Hernandez)
29. James Shields (TB) -- Tue-DET (Verlander), Sun-NYY (Sabathia)
30. Colby Lewis (TEX) -- Wed-OAK (Cahill)
31. Mat Latos (SD) -- Thu-LAD (Padilla)
32. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Sat-@SF (Zito)
33. Roy Oswalt (HOU) -- Fri-MIL (Parra)
34. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- Tue-CIN (Volquez)
35. Justin Verlander (DET) -- Tue-@TB (Shields)
36. C.J. Wilson (TEX) -- Thu-OAK (Mazzaro)
37. Jon Garland (SD) -- Tue-LAD (Billingsley), Sun-FLA (Johnson)
38. Brandon Morrow (TOR) -- Mon-BAL (Bergesen)
39. Hiroki Kuroda (LAD) -- Wed-@SD (Richard)
40. David Price (TB) -- Thu-DET (Porcello)
41. Jonathon Niese (NYM) -- Tue-STL (Garcia), Sun-ARI (Lopez)
42. Madison Bumgarner (SF) -- Thu-FLA (Sanchez)
43. Joel Pineiro (LAA) -- Tue-BOS (Lackey), Sun-TEX (Lee)
44. Randy Wells (CHC) -- Wed-@HOU (Norris)
45. Jonathan Sanchez (SF) -- Wed-FLA (Sanabia)
46. Brett Myers (HOU) -- Tue-CHC (Lilly)
47. A.J. Burnett (NYY) -- Wed-@CLE (Carmona)
48. Bronson Arroyo (CIN) -- Mon-@MIL (Wolf), Sun-ATL (Hanson)
49. Shaun Marcum (TOR) -- Fri-CLE (Masterson)
50. Mark Buehrle (CHW) -- Wed-SEA (Vargas)
51. Travis Wood (CIN) -- Wed-@MIL (Narveson)
52. Max Scherzer (DET) -- Mon-@TB (Garza), Sun-@BOS (Buchholz)
53. Scott Baker (MIN) -- Fri-SEA (Fister)
54. Josh Beckett (BOS) -- Wed-@LAA (Weaver)
55. Jair Jurrjens (ATL) -- Sat-@CIN (Leake)
56. Carl Pavano (MIN) -- Tue-@KC (Chen)
57. Vicente Padilla (LAD) -- Thu-@SD (Latos)
58. Jake Westbrook (CLE) -- Mon-NYY (Vazquez), Sat-@TOR (Cecil)
59. Ted Lilly (CHC) -- Tue-@HOU (Myers)
60. Ervin Santana (LAA) -- Fri-TEX (Feldman)
61. Jason Hammel (COL) -- Mon-@PHI (Blanton), Sat-CHC (Dempster)
62. John Lackey (BOS) -- Tue-@LAA (Pineiro)
63. Wandy Rodriguez (HOU) -- Sat-MIL (Bush)
64. Ricky Romero (TOR) -- Tue-BAL (Millwood)
65. Gio Gonzalez (OAK) -- Tue-@TEX (Lee), Sun-@CHW (Floyd)
66. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Wed-BOS (Beckett)
67. Aaron Cook (COL) -- Wed-PIT (Ohlendorf)
68. Johnny Cueto (CIN) -- Fri-ATL (Medlen)
69. Jeff Niemann (TB) -- Wed-DET (TBD)
70. Joe Blanton (PHI) -- Mon-COL (Hammel), Sat-@WAS (TBD)
71. Daisuke Matsuzaka (BOS) -- Sat-DET (Bonderman)
72. Freddy Garcia (CHW) -- Thu-SEA (Pauley)
73. Derek Lowe (ATL) -- Thu-@WAS (Stammen)
74. Wade LeBlanc (SD) -- Sat-FLA (Nolasco)
75. Randy Wolf (MIL) -- Mon-CIN (Arroyo), Sun-@HOU (Wright)

Two-start pitchers for deep leagues:
Bruce Chen (KC) -- Tue-MIN (Pavano), Sun-BAL (Millwood)
Jorge De La Rosa (COL) -- Tue-PIT (Duke), Sun-CHC (Silva)

One-start sleepers:
Brett Cecil (TOR) -- Sat-CLE (Westbrook)
Barry Enright (ARI) -- Sat-@NYM (Dickey)
Daniel Hudson (CHW) -- Fri-OAK (Anderson)
Tommy Hunter (TEX) -- Sat-@LAA (Haren)
Jesse Litsch (TOR) -- Sun-CLE (TBD)
Rick Porcello (DET) -- Thu-@TB (Price)
Anibal Sanchez (FLA) -- Thu-@SF (Bumgarner)
Kevin Slowey (MIN) -- Sat-SEA (Hernandez)
Chris Volstad (FLA) -- Fri-@SD (Correia)

No-thank-yous, among two-starts:
Brad Bergesen (BAL) -- Mon-@TOR (Morrow), Sat-@KC (Greinke)
Zach Duke (PIT) -- Tue-@COL (De La Rosa), Sun-@STL (Garcia)
Rodrigo Lopez (ARI) -- Tue-@PHI (Hamels), Sun-@NYM (Niese)
Kevin Millwood (BAL) -- Tue-@TOR (Romero), Sun-@KC (Chen)
Ryan Rowland-Smith (SEA) -- Tue-@CHW (Floyd), Sun-@MIN (Liriano)
Carlos Silva (CHC) -- Mon-@HOU (Wright), Sun-@COL (De La Rosa)
Wesley Wright (HOU) -- Mon-CHC (Silva), Sun-MIL (Wolf)

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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