Commentary

Tough draw for Diamondbacks hitters

Updated: August 14, 2011, 12:08 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Fantasy Forecaster updated Sunday, Aug. 14 at 12:08 p.m. ET.

On tap: Week 19 could be termed the "matchup-seeker's delight," because few of fantasy's top starting pitchers are scheduled to work twice. Only three of the top 20 starters on our Player Rater (through the games of Saturday, Aug. 13) are two-start pitchers: Roy Halladay (4th) of the Philadelphia Phillies, Tim Hudson (16th) of the Atlanta Braves and James Shields (9th) of the Tampa Bay Rays. Those Monday-Tuesday/Saturday-Sunday assignments are mostly going to pitchers who are either unproven, struggling or facing some sort of reasonable question, which is why you'll notice that, of my top 30 ranked starters this week, only seven are two-start pitchers.

The Braves' Jair Jurrjens (No. 20 starter on the Player Rater) is scheduled to return from the disabled list Wednesday versus the San Francisco Giants, exactly 16 days after his last outing; he was out with a strained right knee. He's a risky play in standard ESPN leagues, but it's a favorable enough matchup that NL-only owners need take note.

Speaking of that Braves-Giants series, what a set of pitching matchups we'll get for those four games Monday-Thursday: Tim Hudson versus Madison Bumgarner, Randall Delgado versus Jonathan Sanchez, Jurrjens versus Matt Cain and Mike Minor versus Tim Lincecum. Expect the focus for both teams to be on pitching, and don't overlook that the Giants then head to Houston for a three-game weekend set.

The Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers tangle again, this time in a three-game series at Detroit from Friday through Sunday. Ubaldo Jimenez again starts for the Indians on Sunday, his second in a two-start week; he threw eight strong innings, allowing only three unearned runs, to beat the Tigers on Aug. 10. Tigers ace Justin Verlander, meanwhile, is currently scheduled to miss that series, but considering the team shuffled its rotation the last time these teams tangled, it might happen again.

Reminder: For those of you in weekly-transaction leagues, the first game of Week 19 begins Monday at 7:00 p.m. ET. Here are this week's other scheduled first pitches by day: Tuesday 1:05 p.m. ET, Wednesday 1:35 p.m. ET, Thursday 2:10 p.m. ET, Friday 2:20 p.m. ET, Saturday 4:10 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 19 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

• A few of those early-week pitching matchups stack up as smarter "bench-and-evaluate" propositions than true "start 'em" options, and let's take a look at a few of the more important ones: Coming off an Aug. 11 shutout for Triple-A Norfolk, Brian Matusz is tentatively scheduled to rejoin the Baltimore Orioles' rotation Tuesday at Oakland. The conservative play is to bench him, especially since the Oakland Athletics have 45 runs and 13 homers in nine games in August (5.00 runs per game), but Matusz does have solid back-to-back outings in Triple-A. The aforementioned Jonathan Sanchez, 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA and 1.89 WHIP in two starts since returning from the DL, will presumably be pitching for his rotation spot come Tuesday in Atlanta. Barry Zito is a candidate to steal his scheduled second turn.

• A Toronto Blue Jays youngster also qualifies as an arm under the microscope, though unlike Matusz, Burnett and Sanchez, there are reasons to be optimistic about Henderson Alvarez's prospects. He was 8-4 with a 2.86 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and a 3.88 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 15 games (14 starts) for Double-A New Hampshire, allowed three runs on eight hits in 5 2/3 innings in his major league debut on Aug. 10 and now gets a pair of favorable matchups in assignments at Seattle's Safeco Field and Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The risk of using him is that the Athletics, who were noted above for their recent hot spell, have already seen him once, but that Mariners matchup is quite an attractive one. As for the midweek starters, Brandon Morrow (Wednesday at Safeco) has back-to-back quality starts, Ricky Romero (Thursday at Oakland) has three in a row and Brett Cecil (Friday at Oakland) four in a row. Every one of those pitchers is worth activating.

• The New York Yankees are still need to find a way to turn six current starters into five, but all indications are that they'll go with five men this week, with it most likely a battle of A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes for the final spot. Ivan Nova becomes a two-start pitcher -- and is projected that way above -- if Burnett or Hughes goes to the bullpen, and fantasy owners should be confident in him whether he makes one or two starts.

Jose Valverde
Steven King/Icon SMIJose Valverde is on a roll for the Tigers and hasn't blown a save opportunity all season.

• While the Tigers didn't overwhelm from a pitching standpoint during their recent three-game set against the Indians (4.75 ERA Aug. 9-11), shifting the series to Detroit could provide them an advantage. Since June 1, Tigers starters have 13 wins, 20 quality starts and a 3.82 ERA in 31 games at Comerica Park. Brad Penny, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander have a combined 17 wins, 28 quality starts (71.8 QS%), a 3.23 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 39 home games in 2011. If Verlander gets a second start, Rick Porcello, pounded by the Indians for eight runs on 11 hits in 3 2/3 innings on Aug. 10, would lose his second turn. Oddly enough, Porcello is the riskiest Tigers starter this week. As for the bullpen, closer Jose Valverde is riding a franchise-record 33-consecutive-save streak, and he has 20 saves, a 2.39 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 28 appearances since June 1.

• Yes, questions surround the Braves' rotation, but things look favorable for them this week. The opposing Giants are baseball's worst hitting team since the All-Star break, with .236/.283/.344 rates and just 2.88 runs per game. The Diamondbacks, meanwhile, have historically performed worse on the road than at Chase Field, even if they've been better in that regard in 2011 (4.34 R/G, .703 OPS). It's for that reason that Jurrjens earned a top-75 ranking below, my giving them the "OK" being a rarity considering their injury status. Something to think about regarding that Diamondbacks series: They rank fifth in the majors in strikeouts (914), and among pitchers with 90-plus innings, Saturday's starter Brandon Beachy ranks fifth in K's per nine innings (9.74). As for Sunday starter Tim Hudson, he's 5-0 with a 1.54 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in seven career starts against the Diamondbacks.

Also favorable: Cincinnati Reds, Yankees, San Diego Padres, Giants
Unfavorable: Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, Pittsburgh Pirates

For more insight into Week 19 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

Young
Dave Miller/US PresswireYou might consider benching Chris Young if you play in a shallow league.

• It's hinted above, but the Diamondbacks have a potentially treacherous set of hitting matchups, so Week 19 will be a true test of the National League West leaders' (as of Friday, Aug. 12) mettle. Look at their six opposing starters: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Vance Worley, Derek Lowe, Brandon Beachy and Tim Hudson. Current Diamondbacks have a poor track record against Worley, and none against Beachy; combined they have .185/.223/.288 rates against the other four, each of whom has made at least three career starts against the Diamondbacks. In addition, to talk up the Diamondbacks' propensity for strikeouts once more, Lee ranks sixth among qualified starters in K's-per-nine (9.26) and Hamels 19th (8.35). Gerardo Parra (.161 OPS differential between home and road), Chris Young (.138), Willie Bloomquist (.131) and Kelly Johnson (.024) are the four Diamondbacks hitters who most suffer from road matchups, and you should consider benching all four depending upon your alternatives. It's Justin Upton, however, who actually has the steepest home/road OPS differential (.266) … but with .250/.325/.464 road rates this year, all it means is he might be human, not superhuman, for one week.

• The Los Angeles Angels' offense might have underperformed for much of the year, averaging 3.86 runs per game with .250/.312/.384 season rates, but in their past 13 games, they've totaled 55 runs (4.23 per game). That number might continue to rise this week, not necessarily because they match up brilliantly with the rival Texas Rangers, but because Rangers starters as a bunch have hit a cold spell, plus the visiting Orioles (Friday-Sunday) have a patchwork rotation. In their past 21 games, Rangers starters have six wins, 11 quality starts, a 4.52 ERA and 1.40 WHIP, with Tuesday foe Derek Holland perfectly encapsulating their up-and-down nature: He has three shutouts in his past eight starts … but also three outings of a game score of 25 or worse. Alberto Callaspo, .329/.420/.447 in his past 22 games, is the Angels' hottest hitter since the All-Star break. Torii Hunter is their slugger most helped by home matchups (.814 home OPS, .645 road). And Peter Bourjos is the Angel who has most terrorized Rangers pitching this season: .318/.375/.636 in six games.

• Despite it being a six-road-game week, Reds hitters should feel right at home against the reeling Washington Nationals and Pirates' pitching staffs. In 51 combined games since the All-Star break, those two teams are a combined 19-32, primarily because their ERAs together are 4.58. In particular, the Reds should thrive against veteran right-hander Kevin Correia (Friday), who has struggled since the All-Star break. There are two potentially sneaky-good fantasy plays among the Reds: Edgar Renteria, a .286/.306/.500 hitter in 18 second-half games, and Ramon Hernandez, a .291/.345/.443 hitter in 23 games since July 1. Both need to be in all NL-only lineups.

Also favorable: Boston Red Sox, Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals
Unfavorable: Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays, Blue Jays, Nationals

Weather report

Weatherproof games: Cubs at Astros (3, Mon-Wed); Giants at Astros (3, Fri-Sun); Dodgers at Brewers (4, Mon-Thu); Blue Jays at Mariners (3, Mon-Wed); Mariners at Rays (3, Fri-Sun).

Tristan's Week 19 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. Roy Halladay (PHI) -- Tue-ARI (Collmenter), Sun-@WAS (Wang)
2. Justin Verlander (DET) -- Tue-MIN (Blackburn)
3. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- Tue-LAD (Billingsley), Sun-@NYM (Dickey)
4. Tim Hudson (ATL) -- Mon-SF (Bumgarner), Sun-ARI (Collmenter)
5. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- Fri-@TB (Price)
6. Jon Lester (BOS) -- Tue-TB, Gm. 1 (Shields), Sun-@KC (Duffy)
7. Cliff Lee (PHI) -- Wed-ARI (Saunders)
8. Tim Lincecum (SF) -- Thu-@ATL (Minor)
9. Madison Bumgarner (SF) -- Mon-@ATL (Hudson), Sat-@HOU (Lyles)
10. CC Sabathia (NYY) -- Thu-@MIN (Duensing)
11. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Fri-@WAS (Hernandez)
12. Zack Greinke (MIL) -- Wed-LAD (Eovaldi)
13. Dan Haren (LAA) -- Fri-BAL (Guthrie)
14. James Shields (TB) -- Tue-@BOS, Gm. 1 (Lester), Sun-SEA (Pineda)
15. David Price (TB) -- Fri-SEA (Hernandez)
16. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Thu-TEX (Lewis)
17. Mat Latos (SD) -- Wed-NYM (Gee)
18. Chris Carpenter (STL) -- Tue-@PIT (Karstens)
19. Ricky Romero (TOR) -- Thu-@OAK (Cahill)
20. Michael Pineda (SEA) -- Mon-TOR (Alvarez), Sun-@TB (Shields)
21. Matt Cain (SF) -- Wed-@ATL (Jurrjens)
22. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Thu-@MIL (Estrada)
23. Brandon Morrow (TOR) -- Wed-@SEA (Beavan)
24. Ubaldo Jimenez (CLE) -- Tue-@CHW (Floyd), Sun-@DET (Porcello)
25. Jeremy Hellickson (TB) -- Sat-SEA (Furbush)
26. Ian Kennedy (ARI) -- Thu-@PHI (Worley)
27. Johnny Cueto (CIN) -- Wed-@WAS (Detwiler)
28. Ervin Santana (LAA) -- Wed-TEX (Wilson)
29. Cory Luebke (SD) -- Tue-NYM (Niese), Sun-FLA (Sanchez)
30. Brandon Beachy (ATL) -- Sat-ARI (Marquis)
31. Josh Beckett (BOS) -- Thu-@KC (Hochevar)
32. Jhoulys Chacin (COL) -- Tue-FLA (Sanchez)
33. Javier Vazquez (FLA) -- Thu-@SD (Stauffer)
34. Randy Wolf (MIL) -- Mon-LAD (Lilly), Sat-@NYM (Capuano)
35. C.J. Wilson (TEX) -- Wed-@LAA (Santana)
36. Wandy Rodriguez (HOU) -- Fri-SF (Vogelsong)
37. Gio Gonzalez (OAK) -- Mon-BAL (Hunter), Sat-TOR (Alvarez)
38. Tim Stauffer (SD) -- Thu-FLA (Vazquez)
39. Alexi Ogando (TEX) -- Mon-@LAA (Richards), Sat-@CHW (Danks)
40. Matt Garza (CHC) -- Sat-STL (Jackson)
41. Justin Masterson (CLE) -- Thu-@CHW (Buehrle)
42. R.A. Dickey (NYM) -- Mon-@SD (Harang), Sun-MIL (Gallardo)
43. Hiroki Kuroda (LAD) -- Fri-@COL (Hammel)
44. Daniel Hudson (ARI) -- Fri-@ATL (Lowe)
45. Ivan Nova (NYY) -- Tue-@KC (Duffy), Sun-@MIN (Blackburn)
46. Max Scherzer (DET) -- Fri-CLE (Tomlin)
47. Gavin Floyd (CHW) -- Tue-CLE (Jimenez), Sun-TEX (Holland)
48. Ted Lilly (LAD) -- Mon-@MIL (Wolf), Sat-@COL (Rogers)
49. Shaun Marcum (MIL) -- Fri-@NYM (Pelfrey)
50. Rick Porcello (DET) -- Mon-MIN (Liriano), Sun-CLE (Jimenez)
51. Ryan Dempster (CHC) -- Tue-@HOU (Myers)
52. Brandon McCarthy (OAK) -- Wed-BAL (Simon)
53. Mike Leake (CIN) -- Tue-@WAS (Wang), Sun-@PIT (McDonald)
54. Jake Peavy (CHW) -- Fri-TEX (Harrison)
55. Derek Holland (TEX) -- Tue-@LAA (Chatwood), Sun-@CHW (Floyd)
56. Anibal Sanchez (FLA) -- Tue-@COL (Chacin), Sun-@SD (Luebke)
57. Roy Oswalt (PHI) -- Sat-@WAS (Lannan)
58. Colby Lewis (TEX) -- Thu-@LAA (Weaver)
59. Ryan Vogelsong (SF) -- Fri-@HOU (Rodriguez)
60. John Danks (CHW) -- Sat-TEX (Ogando)
61. Jordan Zimmermann (WAS) -- Thu-CIN (Arroyo)
62. Jaime Garcia (STL) -- Fri-@CHC (Wells)
63. Bartolo Colon (NYY) -- Wed-@KC (Chen)
64. Doug Fister (DET) -- Sat-CLE (Huff)
65. James McDonald (PIT) -- Mon-STL (Westbrook), Sun-CIN (Leake)
66. Mark Buehrle (CHW) -- Thu-CLE (Masterson)
67. Brett Cecil (TOR) -- Fri-@OAK (Harden)
68. Jair Jurrjens (ATL) -- Wed-SF (Cain)
69. Jake Westbrook (STL) -- Mon-@PIT (McDonald), Sun-@CHC (Lopez)
70. Jeff Niemann (TB) -- Wed-@BOS (Lackey)
71. Rich Harden (OAK) -- Fri-TOR (Cecil)
72. Vance Worley (PHI) -- Thu-ARI (Kennedy)
73. Phil Hughes (NYY) -- Fri-@MIN (Slowey)
74. Brett Myers (HOU) -- Tue-CHC (Dempster)
75. Mike Minor (ATL) -- Thu-SF (Lincecum)

Two-start options for AL-/NL-only leagues:
Henderson Alvarez (TOR) -- Mon-@SEA (Pineda), Sat-@OAK (Gonzalez)
Chad Billingsley (LAD) -- Tue-@MIL (Gallardo), Sun-@COL (Millwood)
Aaron Harang (SD) -- Mon-NYM (Dickey), Sat-FLA (Hensley)
Brad Mills (TOR) -- Tue-@SEA (Vargas), Sun-@OAK (Moscoso)

No-thank-yous, among two-starts:
Nick Blackburn (MIN) -- Tue-@DET (Verlander), Sun-NYY (Nova)
A.J. Burnett (NYY) -- Mon-@KC (Paulino), Sat-@MIN (Liriano)
Tyler Chatwood (LAA) -- Tue-TEX (Holland), Sun-BAL (Hunter)
Josh Collmenter (ARI) -- Tue-@PHI (Halladay), Sun-@ATL (Hudson)
Danny Duffy (KC) -- Tue-NYY (Nova), Sun-BOS (Lester)
Clay Hensley (FLA) -- Mon-@COL (Millwood), Sat-@SD (Harang)
Tommy Hunter (BAL) -- Mon-@OAK (Gonzalez), Sun-@LAA (Chatwood)
Francisco Liriano (MIN) -- Mon-@DET (Porcello), Sat-NYY (Burnett)
Rodrigo Lopez (CHC) -- Mon-@HOU (Sosa), Sun-STL (Westbrook)
Kevin Millwood (COL) -- Mon-FLA (Hensley), Sun-LAD (Billingsley)
Guillermo Moscoso (OAK) -- Tue-BAL (Matusz), Sun-TOR (Mills)
Felipe Paulino (KC) -- Mon-NYY (Burnett), Sat-BOS (Miller)
Garrett Richards (LAA) -- Mon-TEX (Ogando), Sat-BAL (Reyes)
Jonathan Sanchez (SF) -- Tue-@ATL (Delgado), Sun-@HOU (Sosa)
Henry Sosa (HOU) -- Mon-CHC (Lopez), Sun-SF (Sanchez)
Chien-Ming Wang (WAS) -- Tue-CIN (Leake), Sun-PHI (Halladay)

One-start sleepers:
Bronson Arroyo (CIN) -- Thu-@WAS (Zimmermann)
Dillon Gee (NYM) -- Wed-@SD (Latos)
Matt Harrison (TEX) -- Fri-@CHW (Peavy)
John Lackey (BOS) -- Wed-TB (Niemann)
Jonathon Niese (NYM) -- Tue-@SD (Luebke)
Bud Norris (HOU) -- Wed-CHC (Coleman)
Tim Wakefield (BOS) -- Fri-@KC (Francis)
Dontrelle Willis (CIN) -- Sat-@PIT (Morton)

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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