Commentary

Chicago Cubs enjoy eight-game week

Updated: June 26, 2011, 12:08 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Fantasy Forecaster updated Sunday, June 26 at 12:08 p.m. ET.

On tap: Interleague play concludes with a second consecutive week comprised almost entirely of interleague games. There are two National League intraleague series: San Francisco Giants at Chicago Cubs (Tuesday-Thursday), which includes a doubleheader on Tuesday; and Pittsburgh Pirates at Washington Nationals (Friday-Sunday), which also includes a doubleheader, that one on Saturday. There is also an NL makeup game, Colorado Rockies at Cubs, and an American League makeup game, Toronto Blue Jays at Detroit Tigers, both of those on Monday. All those makeup games give the Cubs eight games and the Blue Jays, Giants, Nationals, Pirates, Rockies and Tigers seven apiece, a noticeable advantage in a week when the other 23 teams play six each.

Fantasy Forecaster

The impact of the designated hitter -- or lack of it -- is always a significant fantasy storyline during interleague play. These American League teams will lose their DH due to all six games being played at National League parks:

Boston Red Sox (@PHI-3, @HOU-3): By now you've probably heard about Adrian Gonzalez's offer to play the outfield, freeing up first base for David Ortiz. That seems unlikely to be an every-game arrangement, though it'd make sense with Carl Crawford currently sidelined. If the Red Sox employ it for most of their June 24-26 series in Pittsburgh, then Ortiz becomes a safer option here.
Chicago White Sox (@COL-3, @CHC-3): Floundering DH Adam Dunn, a .143/.250/.286 hitter in 15 June games, played one of the three games in right field during the June 17-19 series at Arizona, that against a right-handed starter. Two starts in six games this week sounds about right; but that'd make Dunn a sit.
Cleveland Indians (@ARI-3, @CIN-3): Travis Hafner can no longer effectively throw a baseball following 2008 shoulder surgery, so he'll be a pinch hitter all week. Sit him in all but the deepest AL-only leagues.
Kansas City Royals (@SD-3, @COL-3): The Royals went straight platoon at first base during their June 17-19 series at St. Louis, though with Eric Hosmer slumping (.250/.310/.288 hitter in 20 June games), Billy Butler might be able to sneak in two to three starts. If they split time, neither will be mixed-league-worthy.

These AL teams will lose the DH for only three games:

Baltimore Orioles (@ATL-3): Vladimir Guerrero didn't start any of the Orioles' first six games in NL parks, so he likely won't here, either.
New York Yankees (@NYM-3): Jorge Posada could get one start at first base, but it's more likely that the reason he did on June 22 was that it was a doubleheader, and Joe Girardi didn't want Mark Teixeira playing both games.
Texas Rangers (@HOU-3): Michael Young has started all six NL games at first base, and in the most recent series in Atlanta on June 17-19, Josh Hamilton was in center field all three games, Nelson Cruz started all three, Mitch Moreland two (both in right field). None of the fantasy assets suffered that much.

These National League teams will benefit from the addition of the DH in American League parks. Number of games in AL parks listed first in parentheses:

Arizona Diamondbacks (3 games, @OAK-3): Wily Mo Pena, who homered on June 21 after hitting .363/.439/.726 in 63 games for Triple-A Reno, is the Diamondbacks' DH. Take a look in deep NL-only leagues, because the Oakland Athletics will start two left-handers in the series.
Atlanta Braves (3, @SEA-3): It could be Eric Hinske, otherwise Chipper Jones will DH, freeing up third base for Brooks Conrad or Diory Hernandez.
Cincinnati Reds (3, @TB-3): They should take every opportunity to give the DH at-bats to Chris Heisey, who has four homers and 11 RBIs in 17 June games.
Florida Marlins (6, @OAK-3, @TEX-3): The Marlins have been rotating players at DH, ultimately meaning only a couple of extra at-bats for players like Emilio Bonifacio, Greg Dobbs, Wes Helms, Jose Lopez and Dewayne Wise.
Los Angeles Dodgers (6, @MIN-3, @LAA-3): Marcus Thames is such an obvious DH, except that the Dodgers will face five right-handed starters. We might see a little more Tony Gwynn Jr. and Trent Oeltjen.
Milwaukee Brewers (6, @NYY-3, @MIN-3): They're content to rotate regulars at DH, meaning only a handful of extra at-bats for players like Craig Counsell, Mark Kotsay, Nyjer Morgan and Josh Wilson.
New York Mets (3, @DET-3): Lucas Duda and Scott Hairston are the most likely to benefit, and the Mets are scheduled to face four right-handed starters (favoring Duda), two left-handed (favoring Hairston).
Philadelphia Phillies (3, @TOR-3): Another rotation, so perhaps an additional start apiece for Ben Francisco, Ross Gload and Michael Martinez.
Pirates (3, @TOR-3): Several reports have Alex Presley, a .338/.389/.507 hitter with 18 stolen bases in 73 games for Triple-A Indianapolis, due to join the team in time for this series beginning Tuesday. He's left-handed, so he might sit the Tuesday game against Jo-Jo Reyes, but he's the notable name for NL-only owners to consider this week.
St. Louis Cardinals (6, @BAL-3, @TB-3): Andrew Brown? Mark Hamilton? Both raked in Triple-A, so flip a coin … but only in a deep NL-only league.
San Diego Padres (3, @SEA-3): Jesus Guzman, a .332/.423/.529 hitter in 63 games for Triple-A Tucson, scored all three DH starts in the June 20-22 series in Boston. He could be of use in deep NL-only formats.
Giants (3, @DET-3): They mostly regard the DH as a way to get Cody Ross, Aaron Rowand, Nate Schierholtz and Andres Torres into the same lineup.
Nationals (3, @LAA-3): Matt Stairs, born to DH. The Nationals face only right-handed starters in that series. It's a natural fit.

Week 13 also marks the mathematical midpoint of the 2011 season. Barring any postponements, one-half of the total games on the season schedule will be in the books once the first six games on Thursday -- exactly the number of scheduled day games on that date -- go final. It's a good time for fantasy owners to step back and assess where they are in the standings.

Red Sox at Phillies is the marquee interleague matchup of Week 13; it's actually a potential World Series preview, being that both teams were widely picked as their respective league's favorites, not to mention that, as of the morning of June 24, they had the top two winning percentages in baseball. The Red Sox have lined up Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, their top two starters, for that series, while the Phillies will counter with Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels

Crosstown rivals will battle from Friday-Sunday, the concluding weekend of interleague play, with the Yankees and Mets at Citi Field and the White Sox and Cubs at Wrigley Field. And Roy Halladay will get a long-overdue return trip to Toronto; he'll start against his old mates at Rogers Centre on Friday.

Reminder: For those of you in weekly-transactions leagues, the Rockies-Cubs makeup game on Monday is a day game with a 2:20 p.m. ET start time, so the week gets an earlier start. Here are this week's other scheduled first pitches by day: Tuesday 2:20 p.m. ET, Wednesday 12:10 p.m. ET, Thursday 1:05 p.m. ET, Friday 1:07 p.m. ET, Saturday 1:07 p.m. ET, Sunday 1:05 p.m. ET.

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 13 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 gray/beige boxes.

Tristan's pitching strategies

• The Tigers have arguably the week's most favorable set of pitching matchups on paper, being that both the visiting Mets and Giants have a sub-.700 team OPS both in road games and in the month of June. While the Tigers haven't had a lot of good fortune on the mound this season, they do have a 3.80 ERA and 13 quality starts in their past 25 games, not to mention a 22-14 record, 3.44 ERA and 25 quality starts in 36 home games for the year. Two-start pitcher Max Scherzer is 13-5 with a 3.07 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 24 career starts at Comerica Park, and he held the Blue Jays, his Monday opponent, to a mere unearned run and eight hits in seven innings in a May 16 start at Comerica. Closer Jose Valverde, meanwhile, is 6-for-6 in saves with nine scoreless innings, 10 strikeouts and a .103 batting average allowed in his past nine appearances. Expect more success for him this week.

• Home games also favor the Los Angeles Angels, whose 3.22 ERA at home ranks seventh and 1.24 WHIP 12th in the majors. Returning to Angel Stadium could be a plus for struggling Dan Haren, whose 2.61 career ERA at that venue ranks 11th all time among pitchers with 125-plus innings there; he also has a 1.08 WHIP and 15 quality starts in 19 tries at the "Big A." Two-start pitcher Ervin Santana has a lifetime ERA more than a run lower at Angel Stadium (3.84) than on the road (4.98). But it's rookie Tyler Chatwood who is the Angels' most promising sleeper. He has wins in both of his first two career interleague starts (combined 14 IP, 9 H, 1 R), he has a 3.08 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in his past six starts overall and he'll be facing a Dodgers team that has the game's eighth-worst OPS (.691).

• Don't let my pro-Angels take dissuade you from using Nationals pitchers, however. This team is a combined 15-6 with a 2.58 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 12 quality starts in 21 games in June, led by Jordan Zimmermann, who was riding a nine-quality start streak into his June 24 assignment. Zimmermann isn't the only Nationals pitcher you should be considering, however. Two-start pitcher John Lannan is 3-0 with a 1.44 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in five June starts, and he'll be facing a pair of opponents who rank 19th (.697) and 26th (.663) in team OPS this season. Jason Marquis, also scheduled for two starts, has a 1.82 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in four June turns, not to mention he's 7-1 with a 2.64 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in his past nine starts versus the Pirates, his Sunday opponent.

Also favorable: Blue Jays, Diamondbacks, Padres, Seattle Mariners
Unfavorable: Indians, Mets, Phillies, White Sox

For more insight into Week 13 pitching matchups, see my rankings for the top 75 starting pitchers, as well as every two-start pitcher, 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 for left- and right-handed hitters and base stealing. Matchup ratings for each individual game are listed under the corresponding date.

Tristan's hitting strategies

• The quantitative advantage of eight games for the Cubs and seven apiece for the Giants and Nationals helps explain their high offensive ratings; if you play in a league in which quantity dictates all -- think particularly points-based and head-to-head -- it's a smart week to load up on hitters from those teams, despite the fact the Giants and Nationals face the previously endorsed Tigers and Angels pitching staffs, respectively. Red-hot Nationals Danny Espinosa (.294/.344/.471 in 21 games in June) and Michael Morse (.313/.387/.614 in 21) seem likely to keep up their solid hitting, especially during those four weekend games against the pitching-starved Pirates. Fresh-off-the-DL Alfonso Soriano should feast upon the two left-handed starters the Cubs are set to face; he's a .365/.400/.712 hitter against southpaws this season, not to mention he leads the team in homers (8) and RBIs (22) at Wrigley. Owners in deep NL-only leagues might also be interested to learn that Jeff Baker is a .444/.455/.611 hitter against left-handers, and has started 18 of the team's 20 games against lefty starters, this season.

• The White Sox might have a "home-away-from-home" feeling, as they'll make a three-game stop at hitting-friendly Coors Field, followed by a return to Chicago to play across town at Wrigley Field. Current, active White Sox hitters have combined .319/.375/.430 rates at Coors and .282/.355/.455 at Wrigley, among the notables being Juan Pierre, who played for the Rockies from 2000 to 2002 and Cubs in 2006. Pierre has .338/.383/.408 lifetime rates in 215 games at Coors and .272/.325/.349 in 113 at Wrigley, and the White Sox's steals ratings are five and up all week, so if there's any week for him to rebound, this is the one. Speaking of struggling hitters, Alex Rios is a .333/.444/.600 hitter in nine career games at those venues, and .337/.387/.561 in 25 interleague contests between this and last season, increasing his chances at a promising week. It's merely a shame the aforementioned Adam Dunn has nowhere ideal to play; he's a .272/.385/.592 hitter in 29 career games at Coors and .282/.410/.651 in 66 at Wrigley.

• Expect the opposing Rockies to also thrive offensively, being that in addition to their facing a White Sox staff with a 4.39 road ERA, eighth worst in the majors, they'll battle a Royals staff that has a 5.07 road ERA, worst overall. All six of their interleague games will be played at Coors, where, naturally, the Rockies have managed the third-most runs per game (5.32) and sixth-best team OPS (.779) among teams in home games. Many Rockies hitters -- Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, I'm looking at you -- are obvious plays in all fantasy leagues every week, but it's the lesser names who warrant a closer look. Notably, Charlie Blackmon is a .421 hitter in his 10 games so far at Coors, and three games against the White Sox's weak-armed catchers could pad his stolen base total. Seth Smith, meanwhile, should score starts against the Rockies' five right-handed starting pitching opponents, and he's red hot, hitting .338/.368/.600 in 18 games in June.

Also favorable: Rangers, Red Sox
Unfavorable: Angels, Braves, Mariners, Mets

Weather report

Weatherproof games: Rangers at Astros (3, Tue-Thu); Red Sox at Astros (3, Fri-Sun); Pirates at Blue Jays (3, Tue-Thu); Phillies at Blue Jays (3, Fri-Sun); Indians at Diamondbacks (3, Mon-Wed); Braves at Mariners (3, Mon-Wed); Padres at Mariners (3, Fri-Sun); Reds at Rays (3, Mon-Wed); Cardinals at Rays (3, Fri-Sun).

Tristan's Week 13 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. Cliff Lee (PHI) -- Tue-BOS (Beckett), Sun-@TOR (Reyes)
2. Jhoulys Chacin (COL) -- Mon-@CHC (Garza), Sat-KC (Hochevar)
3. Josh Beckett (BOS) -- Tue-@PHI (Lee), Sun-@HOU (Lyles)
4. Justin Verlander (DET) -- Thu-NYM (Pelfrey)
5. Roy Halladay (PHI) -- Fri-@TOR (Romero)
6. Zack Greinke (MIL) -- Tue-@NYY (Garcia), Sun-@MIN (Blackburn)
7. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Sat-LAD (Kershaw)
8. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Sat-@LAA (Weaver)
9. Erik Bedard (SEA) -- Mon-ATL (Beachy), Sun-SD (Latos)
10. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- Wed-ATL (Lowe)
11. Ian Kennedy (ARI) -- Mon-CLE (Talbot), Sun-@OAK (Gonzalez)
12. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Thu-BOS (Lester)
13. Michael Pineda (SEA) -- Tue-ATL (Hanson)
14. Daniel Hudson (ARI) -- Tue-CLE (Tomlin)
15. C.J. Wilson (TEX) -- Tue-@HOU (Lyles), Sun-FLA (Vazquez)
16. Tim Hudson (ATL) -- Sat-BAL (Guthrie)
17. Gio Gonzalez (OAK) -- Tue-FLA (Vazquez), Sun-ARI (Kennedy)
18. Tim Lincecum (SF) -- Wed-@CHC (Dempster)
19. Jon Lester (BOS) -- Thu-@PHI (Hamels)
20. CC Sabathia (NYY) -- Fri-@NYM (Niese)
21. Johnny Cueto (CIN) -- Mon-@TB (Hellickson), Sun-CLE (Talbot)
22. David Price (TB) -- Tue-CIN (Leake)
23. Ryan Vogelsong (SF) -- Tue-@CHC, Gm. 1 (Davis), Sun-@DET (Porcello)
24. Mat Latos (SD) -- Mon-KC (Francis), Sun-@SEA (Bedard)
25. Scott Baker (MIN) -- Wed-LAD (De La Rosa)
26. James Shields (TB) -- Wed-CIN (Volquez)
27. Anibal Sanchez (FLA) -- Fri-@TEX (Ogando)
28. Max Scherzer (DET) -- Mon-TOR (Stewart), Sat-SF (TBD)
29. Matt Cain (SF) -- Thu-@CHC (Zambrano)
30. Matt Garza (CHC) -- Mon-COL (Chacin), Sat-CHW (Danks)
31. Jordan Zimmermann (WAS) -- Wed-@LAA (Haren)
32. Brandon Beachy (ATL) -- Mon-@SEA (Bedard), Sun-BAL (Britton)
33. Ricky Romero (TOR) -- Fri-PHI (Halladay)
34. Dan Haren (LAA) -- Wed-WAS (Zimmermann)
35. Hiroki Kuroda (LAD) -- Fri-@LAA (Chatwood)
36. Jason Vargas (SEA) -- Fri-SD (Moseley)
37. Francisco Liriano (MIN) -- Fri-MIL (Gallardo)
38. Jaime Garcia (STL) -- Fri-@TB (Davis)
39. Jeremy Hellickson (TB) -- Mon-CIN (Cueto), Sun-STL (Lohse)
40. Philip Humber (CHW) -- Sun-@CHC (Davis)
41. Ervin Santana (LAA) -- Mon-WAS (Lannan), Sun-LAD (Billingsley)
42. Alexi Ogando (TEX) -- Fri-FLA (Sanchez)
43. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- Fri-@MIN (Liriano)
44. John Danks (CHW) -- Sat-@CHC (Garza)
45. Wandy Rodriguez (HOU) -- Thu-TEX (Harrison)
46. Chris Carpenter (STL) -- Wed-@BAL (Arrieta)
47. Tim Stauffer (SD) -- Wed-KC (Chen)
48. Chad Billingsley (LAD) -- Mon-@MIN (Blackburn), Sun-@LAA (Santana)
49. Jair Jurrjens (ATL) -- Fri-BAL (Matusz)
50. Ted Lilly (LAD) -- Tue-@MIN (Duensing)
51. Ryan Dempster (CHC) -- Wed-SF (Lincecum)
52. Zach Britton (BAL) -- Tue-STL (Lohse), Sun-@ATL (Beachy)
53. Doug Fister (SEA) -- Sat-SD (Luebke)
54. Ubaldo Jimenez (COL) -- Wed-CHW (Buehrle)
55. Brett Myers (HOU) -- Wed-TEX (Lewis)
56. Carlos Zambrano (CHC) -- Thu-SF (Cain)
57. Bronson Arroyo (CIN) -- Fri-CLE (Masterson)
58. Trevor Cahill (OAK) -- Fri-ARI (Collmenter)
59. Tommy Hanson (ATL) -- Tue-@SEA (Pineda)
60. Carlos Carrasco (CLE) -- Wed-@ARI (Duke)
61. John Lannan (WAS) -- Mon-@LAA (Santana), Sat-PIT, Gm. 2 (Lincoln)
62. A.J. Burnett (NYY) -- Thu-MIL (Wolf)
63. Colby Lewis (TEX) -- Wed-@HOU (Myers)
64. Freddy Garcia (NYY) -- Tue-MIL (Greinke), Sun-@NYM (Dickey)
65. Jason Hammel (COL) -- Tue-CHW (Floyd), Sun-KC (Francis)
66. Derek Lowe (ATL) -- Wed-@SEA (Hernandez)
67. Brandon Morrow (TOR) -- Wed-PIT (Maholm)
68. Bud Norris (HOU) -- Fri-BOS (Wakefield)
69. Kevin Correia (PIT) -- Tue-@TOR (Reyes), Sun-@WAS (Marquis)
70. Ricky Nolasco (FLA) -- Wed-@OAK (Godfrey)
71. Josh Collmenter (ARI) -- Fri-@OAK (Cahill)
72. Dillon Gee (NYM) -- Sat-NYY (Nova)
73. Jason Marquis (WAS) -- Tue-@LAA (Pineiro), Sun-PIT (Correia)
74. Kyle McClellan (STL) -- Sat-@TB (Niemann)
75. R.A. Dickey (NYM) -- Tue-@DET (Porcello), Sun-NYY (Garcia)

Two-start options for AL-/NL-only leagues:
Nick Blackburn (MIN) -- Mon-LAD (Billingsley), Sun-MIL (Greinke)
Doug Davis (CHC) -- Tue-SF, Gm. 1 (Vogelsong), Sun-CHW (Humber)
Rick Porcello (DET) -- Tue-NYM (Dickey), Sun-SF (Vogelsong)

No-thank-yous, among two-starts:
Jeff Francis (KC) -- Mon-@SD (Latos), Sun-@COL (Hammel)
Kyle Lohse (STL) -- Tue-@BAL (Britton), Sun-@TB (Hellickson)
Jordan Lyles (HOU) -- Tue-TEX (Wilson), Sun-BOS (Beckett)
Jo-Jo Reyes (TOR) -- Tue-PIT (Correia), Sun-PHI (Lee)
Zach Stewart (TOR) -- Mon-@DET (Scherzer), Sat-PHI (Kendrick)
Mitch Talbot (CLE) -- Mon-@ARI (Kennedy), Sun-@CIN (Cueto)
Javier Vazquez (FLA) -- Tue-@OAK (Gonzalez), Sun-@TEX (Wilson)

One-start sleepers:
Phil Coke (DET) -- Wed-NYM (Capuano)
Matt Harrison (TEX) -- Thu-@HOU (Rodriguez)
Cory Luebke (SD) -- Sat-@SEA (Fister)
Dustin Moseley (SD) -- Fri-@SEA (Vargas)
Chris Narveson (MIL) -- Sat-@MIN (Pavano)
Ivan Nova (NYY) -- Sat-@NYM (Gee)
Josh Outman (OAK) -- Sat-ARI (Saunders)
Felipe Paulino (KC) -- Tue-@SD (Richard)

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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