Fantasy Forecaster updated Sunday, May 1 at 1:40 p.m. ET.
On tap: Those slow-starting Boston Red Sox seem to have picked up the pace, following up their 2-10 (not to mention 0-6) start with a 9-3 performance since April 16. Dismiss it as regression to the mean if you wish, but it's impossible to overlook that it was a four-game road sweep of the Los Angeles Angels from April 21-24 that truly garnered the Red Sox momentum. The Red Sox have exhibited mastery of the Angels in the past year-plus; since the Angels swept them in the 2009 Division Series, the Red Sox have won 13 of 14 meetings and outscored the Angels 88-41. That's why the Angels' four-game rematch with the Red Sox from Monday to Thursday, albeit this time in Boston, probably has Red Sox's fantasy owners (not to mention their fans) salivating. Can the Red Sox repeat their dominance? Perhaps. They have, after all, won 53 of 89 meetings (.596 winning percentage), postseason included, against the Angels since 2003.
Intradivisional battles are the story over in the National League, as projected playoff contenders meet up in each of the three divisions during the Friday-Sunday weekend series: In the East, the Philadelphia Phillies host the Atlanta Braves, in the Central the St. Louis Cardinals host the Milwaukee Brewers, and in the West the San Francisco Giants host the Colorado Rockies. It's that Cardinals-Brewers series that is particularly intriguing, as the Cardinals will be starting three of the top 53 starting pitchers on our Player Rater -- Jaime Garcia (No. 18) on Friday, Kyle Lohse (No. 4) on Saturday and Kyle McClellan (No. 53) on Sunday -- as they take on a Brewers offense that ranks second in the NL in OPS (.773) and second in homers (27).
Just as in Week 4, this is a week of injured players on the comeback trail, though unlike last week, this is the week Evan Longoria actually should -- as opposed to might -- be back from the disabled list. Longoria (oblique) is currently on a minor league rehabilitation assignment and is due back on Tuesday. Brewers ace Zack Greinke (ribs) is also set to rejoin the rotation Wednesday against the Braves. Among the other recovering players we might see before week's end: David Aardsma (hip), Homer Bailey (shoulder), Johnny Cueto (triceps), Neftali Feliz (shoulder), Victor Martinez (groin) and Logan Morrison (foot).
Reminder: Those of you in leagues with weekly transactions and lock times at the first pitch of the week, there is a 3:35 p.m. ET game (Rangers-Athletics) on Monday. Here are this week's scheduled first pitches for each day: Monday 3:35 p.m. ET, Tuesday 6:40 p.m. ET, Wednesday 12:35 p.m. ET, Thursday 1:05 p.m. ET, Friday 2:20 p.m. ET, Saturday 1:10 p.m. ET, Sunday 1:07 p.m. ET.
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.
P: The starting pitcher's matchup rating, which accounts for past history (three years' worth as well as past 21 days), opponent and ballpark. Ratings range from 1-10, with 10 representing the best possible matchup, statistically speaking, and 1 representing the worst.
• Let's tackle the Red Sox topic first, as Red Sox starters managed three wins, four quality starts, a 0.60 ERA, 0.73 WHIP and 8.40 strikeouts per nine innings against the Angels during their four-game trip to L.A. earlier this season, and three of the four starters from that series are slated to battle the Angels in the rematch: Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Toss in that weekend series versus the Joe Mauer-less Minnesota Twins, who rank dead last in the American League in runs (77), home runs (10) and team OPS (.614), and it could be a week of great things for the Red Sox. Lester, the No. 9 starting pitcher on our Player Rater, is a must-start, two-start pitcher.
• Knock the Chicago White Sox's offensive doldrums or their completely unpredictable bullpen if you wish, but their starting pitching -- with the exception of recently struggling Edwin Jackson -- has been perfectly fine in fantasy so far. Excluding Jackson, the White Sox's other four starters have a combined 3.81 ERA and 1.20 WHIP and have 11 quality starts in 20 tries and two of those (in four starts) have come from a most unexpected source in Philip Humber! Humber gets a cozy Friday assignment in spacious Safeco Field on Friday, and the team's two-start pitcher is Mark Buehrle, who by the way has a 2.97 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 16 career games (14 starts) against the Baltimore Orioles, his Monday opponent.
• He failed to crack my top 75 starting pitcher rankings below, instead landing in the "Two-start options for AL-/NL-only leagues," but Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander James McDonald could be of help if you're mixing and matching. His command has been atrocious, yes -- he has failed to strike out more batters than he has walked in a single start all year and has one more walk (16) than strikeouts (15) overall -- but he also did just toss six shutout innings against the Giants this past Wednesday, and has easy-as-pie two-start matchups. Heck, that Petco Park assignment on Monday is appealing enough on its own; besides the park factor, the San Diego Padres rank dead last in baseball in runs scored (70), team OPS (.599) and team batting average (.208), and have struck out more often than anyone (213, or 25.2 percent of their at-bats). Ex-Padre Kevin Correia should be plenty motivated in his old stomping ground on Wednesday, while Charlie Morton, who has four quality starts in five tries, is worth a look Saturday versus the Houston Astros.
• Here's a stat for you: The New York Mets as a team have a 3.59 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and .531 winning percentage since Citi Field opened in 2009. Maybe that won't overwhelm you, but if you consider the quality of starting pitchers -- and frankly, their middle relief -- the Mets have thrown out there since they moved into their new digs, it should at least a little. Sure, Johan Santana is responsible for 27 of those starts, but among the others who have started at least 10 and been remarkably successful there: Mike Pelfrey (38, 17-8 record, 3.22 ERA), R.A. Dickey (14, 2.68 ERA) and John Maine (11, 7-2 record, 2.63 ERA). Maine is now gone and Santana hurt, but Dickey and Pelfrey remain, and the Mets also got a strong effort from Chris Young in his Citi Field debut (7 IP, 1 H, 1 ER). All three of them warrant your attention this week -- Dickey and Pelfrey versus the Giants, Young and Dickey versus the Los Angeles Dodgers -- especially since both of those opponents rank in the bottom half of the NL in team OPS (Giants .684, 12th; Dodgers .705, 11th).
For more insight into Week 5 pitching matchups, see my rankings for the top 75 starting pitchers, as well as every two-start pitcher, at column's end.
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 for left- and right-handed hitters and base stealing. Matchup ratings for each individual game are listed under the corresponding date.
Some of the data used to generate this chart is derived from Baseball Musings' Day-by-day database.
H: Hitters' matchup rating, which accounts for the opposing starting pitcher's past history (three years' worth as well as past 21 days) as well as ballpark factors. L: Hitters' matchup rating accounting only for left-handed hitters. R: Hitters' matchup rating accounting for only right-handed hitters. S: Base stealing matchup rating, which accounts for the opponent's catchers' ability to gun down opposing base stealers. Ratings range from 1-10, with 10 representing the best possible matchup, statistically speaking, and 1 representing the worst.
• The AL's second-worst offensive team finally catches a break this week, as the Oakland Athletics earn the lone perfect-10 rating. Consider this: Six of the Athletics' first 25 games have come against starting pitchers ranked in the top 25 on our Player Rater; they've had to face No. 23 Felix Hernandez twice! But this week, there isn't nearly as challenging a set of opposing starters on the radar. Argue your case for 11th-ranked Josh Tomlin (Tuesday's foe) if you wish, but outside of him, the next highest-ranked starter slated to face the Athletics is Derek Holland (Monday), who placed 83rd. Not that there are a lot of exciting fantasy picks on the Athletics' side, but red-hot Coco Crisp is a must, and what about the prospects of David DeJesus' return trip to Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium during the weekend? Motivation could help kick-start his season, as he's a lifetime .301/.374/.435 hitter there. The Royals' other seven regulars -- by most played by position -- also have .288/.369/.461 lifetime numbers (90 games) at Kauffman Stadium. Hmmm
• There is no need to temper your expectations from Rockies hitters despite their six games all being played on the road -- three apiece at Arizona's Chase Field and San Francisco's AT&T Park -- for a few reasons. One is that Chase Field has historically been friendly to Rockies hitters, like a "Coors away from home"; their eight usual starters (including both Jose Lopez and Ty Wigginton at third base) have combined for .267/.368/.463 lifetime rates there. The other is that the Giants will be throwing Madison Bumgarner, 0-2 with a 4.24 ERA and 1.65 WHIP in three career starts versus the Rockies, and temporary No. 5 starter Ryan Vogelsong, in two of their three games. (The Giants also lack a day off during Week 5, so they'd need a rainout in prior series in Washington or New York to shuffle their rotation.) Hot-starting Jonathan Herrera has been a true road warrior so far this season, with .381/.500/.548 rates in 11 road contests.
• A caveat regarding the Baltimore Orioles' "9" rating in the above chart: They'll battle four left-handed starters in their seven games, and are arguably the worst team against lefties in baseball so far, with a 1-5 record against lefty starters and .188/.261/.319 team rates against that side. On paper, the matchups say this week presents a bounce-back opportunity for terribly slow-starting righty mashers like Derrek Lee and Mark Reynolds. But there's a reason Mark Buehrle got a positive note in the pitching section, so understand it's a risk-taking venture.
• Conversely, the Cardinals' "5" rating doesn't do quite enough justice to the strength of their matchups, and is largely driven by the fact all seven of their games are at Busch Stadium, which is a pitchers' park. That means home games, however, so a home-field advantage, and if you look at the 2011 Busch Stadium numbers of a Lance Berkman or Matt Holliday, you can see there's little cause for concern. This is a week chock full of right-handed opposing starters, and the Cardinals are mashing righties (.308/.364/.465 team rates so far). And the man who could stand out with an exceptional Week 5 is, naturally, left-handed: Colby Rasmus, .313/.395/.537 against righties and .275/.388/.400 at home.
Weatherproof games: Tigers at Blue Jays (3, Fri-Sun); Rockies at Diamondbacks (3, Tue-Thu); Rangers at Mariners (3, Tue-Thu); White Sox at Mariners (3, Fri-Sun); Blue Jays at Rays (3, Tue-Thu).
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. Jon Lester (BOS) -- Tue-LAA (Haren), Sun-MIN (Pavano)
2. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Mon-@BOS (Buchholz), Sat-CLE (Masterson)
3. Tommy Hanson (ATL) -- Tue-MIL (Gallardo), Sun-@PHI (Oswalt)
4. Dan Haren (LAA) -- Tue-@BOS (Lester), Sun-CLE (Tomlin)
5. Justin Verlander (DET) -- Mon-NYY (Colon), Sat-@TOR (Litsch)
6. Roy Halladay (PHI) -- Fri-ATL (Lowe)
7. Roy Oswalt (PHI) -- Tue-WAS (Hernandez), Sun-ATL (Hanson)
8. Josh Johnson (FLA) -- Thu-@STL (Westbrook)
9. CC Sabathia (NYY) -- Tue-@DET (Penny), Sun-@TEX (Ogando)
10. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Mon-CHC (Russell), Sun-@NYM (Dickey)
11. Tim Lincecum (SF) -- Wed-@NYM (Capuano)
12. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- Fri-CHW (Humber)
13. Cliff Lee (PHI) -- Sat-ATL (Jurrjens)
14. Anibal Sanchez (FLA) -- Tue-@STL (McClellan), Sun-WAS (Hernandez)
15. Chris Carpenter (STL) -- Wed-FLA (Vazquez)
16. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Wed-WAS (Marquis)
17. Brett Anderson (OAK) -- Thu-CLE (Gomez)
18. Kyle Lohse (STL) -- Mon-FLA (Volstad), Sat-MIL (Narveson)
19. Shaun Marcum (MIL) -- Thu-@ATL (Beachy)
20. David Price (TB) -- Fri-@BAL (Britton)
21. Trevor Cahill (OAK) -- Wed-CLE (Carmona)
22. Kyle McClellan (STL) -- Tue-FLA (Sanchez), Sun-MIL (Gallardo)
23. Chad Billingsley (LAD) -- Tue-CHC (Dempster)
24. Jair Jurrjens (ATL) -- Mon-MIL (Estrada), Sat-@PHI (Lee)
25. Alexi Ogando (TEX) -- Tue-@SEA (Bedard), Sun-NYY (Sabathia)
26. Ubaldo Jimenez (COL) -- Fri-@SF (Cain)
27. Mat Latos (SD) -- Tue-PIT (Karstens)
28. Wade Davis (TB) -- Tue-TOR (Reyes), Sun-@BAL (Bergesen)
29. John Danks (CHW) -- Wed-MIN (Blackburn)
30. Matt Cain (SF) -- Fri-COL (Jimenez)
31. Josh Beckett (BOS) -- Wed-LAA (Santana)
32. Tim Hudson (ATL) -- Wed-MIL (Greinke)
33. Jonathan Sanchez (SF) -- Thu-@NYM (Pelfrey)
34. Jaime Garcia (STL) -- Fri-MIL (Wolf)
35. Daniel Hudson (ARI) -- Sat-@SD (Moseley)
36. Jorge De La Rosa (COL) -- Tue-@ARI (Saunders), Sun-@SF (Vogelsong)
37. Max Scherzer (DET) -- Wed-NYY (Garcia)
38. Ricky Nolasco (FLA) -- Fri-WAS (Zimmermann)
39. C.J. Wilson (TEX) -- Wed-@SEA (Pineda)
40. Hiroki Kuroda (LAD) -- Fri-@NYM (Niese)
41. Gavin Floyd (CHW) -- Sat-@SEA (Fister)
42. Ian Kennedy (ARI) -- Fri-@SD (Stauffer)
43. Tim Stauffer (SD) -- Fri-ARI (Kennedy)
44. Matt Garza (CHC) -- Fri-CIN (Volquez)
45. Brandon Morrow (TOR) -- Wed-@TB (Hellickson)
46. Jhoulys Chacin (COL) -- Wed-@ARI (Enright)
47. Michael Pineda (SEA) -- Wed-TEX (Wilson)
48. Jeremy Guthrie (BAL) -- Mon-@CHW (Buehrle), Sat-TB (Shields)
49. Randy Wolf (MIL) -- Fri-@STL (Garcia)
50. Wandy Rodriguez (HOU) -- Fri-@PIT (Maholm)
51. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- Tue-@ATL (Hanson), Sun-@STL (McClellan)
52. Carlos Zambrano (CHC) -- Wed-@LAD (Lilly)
53. Bartolo Colon (NYY) -- Mon-@DET (Verlander), Sat-@TEX (Holland)
54. Brian Duensing (MIN) -- Sat-@BOS (Buchholz)
55. Scott Baker (MIN) -- Fri-@BOS (Lackey)
56. Justin Masterson (CLE) -- Sat-@LAA (Weaver)
57. Mark Buehrle (CHW) -- Mon-BAL (Guthrie), Sun-@SEA (Bedard)
58. James Shields (TB) -- Sat-@BAL (Guthrie)
59. John Lackey (BOS) -- Fri-MIN (Baker)
60. Tom Gorzelanny (WAS) -- Mon-SF (Bumgarner), Sat-@FLA (Volstad)
61. Ted Lilly (LAD) -- Wed-CHC (Zambrano)
62. Daisuke Matsuzaka (BOS) -- Thu-LAA (Pineiro)
63. Ryan Dempster (CHC) -- Tue-@LAD (Billingsley), Sun-CIN (Leake)
64. Brandon McCarthy (OAK) -- Mon-TEX (Holland), Sat-@KC (Hochevar)
65. Zach Britton (BAL) -- Fri-TB (Price)
66. Josh Tomlin (CLE) -- Tue-@OAK (Ross), Sun-@LAA (Haren)
67. Edinson Volquez (CIN) -- Fri-@CHC (Garza)
68. Aaron Harang (SD) -- Mon-PIT (McDonald), Sun-ARI (Saunders)
69. Brandon Beachy (ATL) -- Thu-MIL (Marcum)
70. Derek Holland (TEX) -- Mon-@OAK (McCarthy), Sat-NYY (Colon)
71. Philip Humber (CHW) -- Fri-@SEA (Hernandez)
72. Derek Lowe (ATL) -- Fri-@PHI (Halladay)
73. Clay Buchholz (BOS) -- Mon-LAA (Weaver), Sat-MIN (Duensing)
74. Gio Gonzalez (OAK) -- Fri-@KC (O'Sullivan)
75. Ricky Romero (TOR) -- Thu-@TB (Niemann)
Two-start options for AL-/NL-only leagues:
Erik Bedard (SEA) -- Tue-TEX (Ogando), Sun-CHW (Buehrle)
Madison Bumgarner (SF) -- Mon-@WAS (Gorzelanny), Sat-COL (Rogers)
R.A. Dickey (NYM) -- Tue-SF (Vogelsong), Sun-LAD (Kershaw)
Jeff Francis (KC) -- Tue-BAL (Bergesen), Sun-OAK (Ross)
J.A. Happ (HOU) -- Mon-@CIN (Leake), Sun-@PIT (McDonald)
Mike Leake (CIN) -- Mon-HOU (Happ), Sun-@CHC (Dempster)
James McDonald (PIT) -- Mon-@SD (Harang), Sun-HOU (Happ)
Brad Penny (DET) -- Tue-NYY (Sabathia), Sun-@TOR (Reyes)
Tyson Ross (OAK) -- Tue-CLE (Tomlin), Sun-@KC (Francis)
Chris Volstad (FLA) -- Mon-@STL (Lohse), Sat-WAS (Gorzelanny)
No-thank-yous, among two-starts:
Brad Bergesen (BAL) -- Tue-@KC (Francis), Sun-TB (Davis)
Livan Hernandez (WAS) -- Tue-@PHI (Oswalt), Sun-@FLA (Sanchez)
Jo-Jo Reyes (TOR) -- Tue-@TB (Davis), Sun-DET (Penny)
Joe Saunders (ARI) -- Tue-COL (De La Rosa), Sun-@SD (Harang)
Ryan Vogelsong (SF) -- Tue-@NYM (Dickey), Sun-COL (De La Rosa)
Jake Arrieta (BAL) -- Wed-@KC (Davies)
Kevin Correia (PIT) -- Wed-@SD (Richard)
Doug Fister (SEA) -- Sat-CHW (Floyd)
Jon Garland (LAD) -- Sat-@NYM (Young)
Jason Hammel (COL) -- Thu-@ARI (Galarraga)
Jesse Litsch (TOR) -- Sat-DET (Verlander)
Charlie Morton (PIT) -- Sat-HOU (Norris)
Bud Norris (HOU) -- Sat-@PIT (Morton)
Clayton Richard (SD) -- Wed-PIT (Correia)
Chris Young (NYM) -- Sat-LAD (Garland)
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.