On tap: It's an "Are You For Real?" week. Unexpected wild-card contenders Colorado and Texas get tested with three games apiece against their respective leagues' biggest winners, as the Rangers roll into New York for a three-game set against the Yankees, while the Rockies host the Dodgers for three. Here's the problem: The Yankees and Dodgers manhandled these opponents in previous meetings this year, so temper your expectations. New York has won four of six games versus Texas, outscoring the Rangers 45-23, while Los Angeles has taken 10 of 12 versus Colorado, leading by a combined 79-48 score.
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Team advantages | Weather report | Load up: Hitters
Sleeper hitters | Load up: Stolen bases | Load up: Pitchers
Projected starters | Two-start rankings | One-start bargains
The chart below lists each of the 30 MLB teams' number of games scheduled ("Gm"), home games ("Hm"), games versus right- and left-handed pitchers ("vs. RHP" and "vs. LHP") and games at either hitter- or pitcher-friendly ballparks.
* Note: Some teams' totals versus right- and left-handed pitchers exclude games against teams with unclear starters. They include: White Sox (Thursday, @BOS, and Saturday, @NYY) and Diamondbacks (Saturday, HOU).
The weather report is somewhat clear for the week, though rain is expected to be a bit more of an issue in South Florida, where all three Mets-Marlins games Tuesday through Thursday face a 40 percent chance of precipitation. Dodgers-Rockies could also face some problems, with a 40 percent chance of rain on Tuesday and Thursday, though neither seems like a high risk for a washout.
Weatherproof games: Rays at Blue Jays (3, Mon-Wed); Reds at Brewers (3, Tue-Thu); Pirates at Brewers (3, Fri-Sun); Astros at Diamondbacks (3, Fri-Sun); Athletics at Mariners (3, Mon-Wed); Royals at Mariners (4, Thu-Sun); Orioles at Twins (3, Mon-Wed); Rangers at Twins (3, Fri-Sun).
The teams listed below have the most favorable overall hitting matchups, accounting for recent performance, strength of opponents and ballpark factors.
Cardinals (HOU-3, WAS-3): The addition of Matt Holliday continues to pay dividends for St. Louis, as this offense has batted .291 with an .807 OPS in 13 home games since his acquisition, and averaged 4.9 runs per game with .280/.783 numbers in its past 17 games overall. Holliday alone is a .472 hitter with a 1.339 OPS in his first 13 games at Busch Stadium, and Albert Pujols has .328/1.174 numbers in 60 games there this year, but they're not the only ones with a home advantage; Yadier Molina is a .315/.849 hitter in 54 home games this season.
Orioles (@MIN-3, CLE-4): There's a significant advantage for the Orioles in each of these series; in the three games at Minnesota, they benefit from facing the game's worst pitching staff since the All-Star break (6.05 ERA), and in the four games at home, they benefit from the hitter-friendly environment (.819 team OPS at home). Scott Baker on Monday is the toughest matchup Baltimore will face all week. Surprise, surprise, Nick Markakis is on a second-half tear, batting .353 with a .981 OPS in 33 games since the All-Star break, and rookie Nolan Reimold is also contributing, with a .298 average and .873 OPS in 30 second-half contests.
Indians (@KC-3, @BAL-4): Since the All-Star break, the Royals and Orioles staffs rank among the five worst in baseball. During that time Kansas City ranks 28th in both ERA (5.66) and WHIP (1.61), while Baltimore ranks 27th in ERA (5.56) and 29th in WHIP (1.63). Both of their home ballparks also rank among the top five in either runs scored (Kauffman Stadium, third, 1.166) or home runs (Orioles, fifth, 1.136) on the Park Factor page, so the matchups again favor the hitters. But this isn't all about Cleveland's opponents; it's about the team's success on the road of late. The Indians have batted .303 with an .899, 24 home runs and an average of 6.3 runs per game in 15 contests since the All-Star break.
Cubs (WAS-3, NYM-3): Wrigley Field is a noted hitters' environment, and the Cubs have been capitalizing upon matchups there since the All-Star break, batting .300 with an .898 OPS and 17 home runs in 12 home games during that span. In addition, look at some of the pitchers the Cubs are set to face: Garrett Mock, J.D. Martin, Oliver Perez and Bobby Parnell. Do any of those pitchers scare you? The Cubs sure won't be scared. Something fantasy owners might not be aware of: Milton Bradley is a .297 hitter with an .896 OPS in 46 home games this season.
Clint Barmes, 2B/SS, Rockies: .292 BA, .983 OPS versus left-handers in 2009; .286 BA, .875 OPS in 52 home games in 2009
Gordon Beckham, 3B/SS, White Sox: .322 BA, .955 OPS in 33 games since the All-Star break; .368 BA, .982 OPS in four games versus Yankees July 30-Aug. 2
Melky Cabrera, OF, Yankees: Has hit eight of his 11 home runs at Yankee Stadium in 2009; .333 BA, 1.175 OPS in four games versus White Sox July 30-Aug. 2
Chris Coghlan, 3B/OF, Marlins: .402 BA, 1.035 OPS in 18 games in August; .302 BA, .818 OPS in 82 home games in 2009
Mark Ellis, 2B, Athletics: .321 BA, .844 OPS in 31 road games in 2009; .331 BA, .863 OPS in 33 games since the All-Star break
Dexter Fowler OF, Rockies: .318 BA, .867 OPS versus left-handers in 2009; .313 BA, .847 OPS in 50 home games in 2009
Adam LaRoche, 1B, Braves: .315 BA, .974 OPS in 28 career games at Citizens Bank Park; .404 BA, 1.261 OPS in 17 games in August
James Loney, 1B, Dodgers: .372 BA, 34 RBIs, 1.034 OPS in 25 career games at Coors Field; .412 BA, 1.147 OPS in 11 career games at Great American Ball Park
Hideki Matsui, OF, Yankees: Has hit 11 of his 19 homers at Yankee Stadium in 2009; .316 BA, 3 HRs, 1.251 OPS in five games versus Rangers in 2009
Favorable matchups listed below are selected based upon opponents' catchers allowing a high rate of steals attempts and/or having low caught-stealing percentages.
White Sox (@BOS-4, @NYY-3): I've talked time and time again about the throwing arms of Boston's Jason Varitek and New York's Jorge Posada, and I'll point out that new Boston "backup" Victor Martinez isn't much in this department, either. These matchups play well in Chicago's favor, and there are two speedsters on the roster who shape up nicely: Scott Podsednik, who has five stolen bases in 31 games since the All-Star break, and Jayson Nix, who has four in 22 contests.
Indians (@KC-3, @BAL-4): The Royals and Orioles are tied for third in stolen bases allowed since the All-Star break (28), and opponents continually seem to take advantage of the inexperienced Matt Wieters in particular. Wieters has surrendered 39 stolen bases, which ranks 22nd in baseball despite his having played 56 games. Amazingly Grady Sizemore (2) isn't even the Indians' leading base stealer since the All-Star break; both Asdrubal Cabrera (6) and Shin-Soo Choo (4) have more.
Padres (@ATL-3, @FLA-3): Ah, Brian McCann and John Baker both can hit, but neither can throw out an opposing base stealer. Florida backup Ronny Paulino isn't too sharp, either, ranking 18th with 41 steals allowed despite only 54 games' action. Center field partners Tony Gwynn Jr. and Will Venable are each capable of swiping a bag, but the real target for fantasy owners is Everth Cabrera, who has 11 steals in 35 games since the All-Star break.
Red Sox (CHW-4, TOR-3): This will be the week that Jacoby Ellsbury sets the Red Sox's single-season stolen base record (if he hasn't before Monday, that is), and I say that mostly because he's facing cakewalk matchups in home games. Chicago's A.J. Pierzynski has allowed 74 stolen bases, second-most in the majors, and Rod Barajas ranks among the top 20 with 44. Ellsbury isn't the only Red Sox player in good shape; Jason Bay and Dustin Pedroia can each steal a base, too.
The teams listed below have the most favorable overall pitching matchups, accounting for recent performance, strength of opponents and ballpark factors.
Mariners (OAK-3, KC-4): Seattle's rotation might not be the stout, solid four it was in the earlier stages of the season, now that Erik Bedard is out for the season, Jarrod Washburn is in Detroit and Brandon Morrow is in the minors, but then neither of these opposing offenses is as "strong" as it was earlier in the year. The Mariners have already won six of nine against the Athletics, managing a 3.39 ERA and 1.34 WHIP, and all of those games were played before June 1, when Matt Holliday was still on the roster. Safeco Field presents Seattle pitchers with a noticeable advantage, and there are enough individual matchups here to make fantasy owners happy.
Angels (DET-3, OAK-4): Though this staff has a 5.03 ERA and 1.43 WHIP in 33 games since the All-Star break, truly scary numbers, things might be getting better on the pitching front in L.A. For one, while the Angels have but 11 quality starts during that span, six of those came in their past 12 contests, and the team hasn't had any trouble winning, with 24 wins since the break. For another, three of the four pitchers the Angels will throw in the Oakland series, Ervin Santana (Thursday), Jered Weaver (Saturday) and John Lackey (Sunday) are a combined 27-7 with a 2.35 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 50 career games (49 starts) versus the Athletics.
Phillies (@NYM-1, @PIT-3, ATL-3): The way the Phillies have been pitching lately, it's as if the Cliff Lee acquisition not only gave them a legitimate ace, but also picked up the performance of the team's staff overall. Lee tossed a complete-game, one-run, four-hit win at San Francisco in his Phillies debut July 31, and since (and including) that date, this staff has a 2.99 ERA and 1.21 WHIP and limited opposing hitters to a .243 batting average and nine home runs in 18 games. It makes sense; performances like Lee's tend to rub off on teammates. This week, the Phillies face the Pirates, who have a .680 team OPS since the All-Star break, third-worst in baseball, and then they throw their two hottest pitchers (Lee and Joe Blanton) against Atlanta.
Cardinals (HOU-3, WAS-3): Despite my picking the Cardinals for their hitting matchups above, don't forget that Busch Stadium is a pitcher-friendly venue. As a result, it's only natural that St. Louis' pitching matchups would rate right up there in a six-game week entirely at home, especially since the Cardinals have already defeated the Astros in five of six home games with a 1.83 ERA and 1.09 WHIP this season. As for the Nationals, when these teams played three games in Washington from April 30 to May 2 as well as a makeup game on July 23, Cardinals pitchers combined for a 2.81 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. These are outstanding matchups.
The chart below lists each of the 30 MLB teams' schedules and projected starting pitchers. Those pitchers scheduled to pitch twice this week are color-coded.
Recommended cut-off point for elite one-starts: No. 19 (Marquis)
Recommended cut-off point for "under-50" bargains: No. 25 (West)
9. John Lackey (LAA) -- Tue-DET (Washburn), Sun-OAK (Anderson): 6-0, 3.31 ERA, 1.23 WHIP in eight career starts versus Tigers
10. Joe Blanton (PHI) -- Tue-@PIT (Ohlendorf), Sun-ATL (Jurrjens): Seven consecutive quality starts; 1.79 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in them
11. Zack Greinke (KC) -- Tue-CLE (Masterson), Sun-@SEA (Rowland-Smith)
12. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- Mon-@WAS (Balester), Sat-PIT (Hart)
13. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Mon-DET (Verlander), Sat-OAK (Mazzaro): 8-1, 2.76 ERA, 0.99 WHIP in 13 home starts in 2009
14. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Tue-@COL (Hammel), Sun-@CIN (Arroyo)
15. Scott Baker (MIN) -- Mon-BAL (Tillman), Sun-TEX (Millwood): 2-0, 3.38 ERA, 1.43 WHIP in two starts versus Rangers in 2009
16. Jair Jurrjens (ATL) -- Tue-SD (Latos), Sun-@PHI (Blanton): 2-0, 0.87 ERA, 0.82 WHIP in three career starts at Citizens Bank Park
17. Dan Haren (ARI) -- Tue-@SF (Cain), Sun-HOU (Rodriguez): 2-1, 1.44 ERA, 1.12 WHIP in his past four starts at AT&T Park
18. Wandy Rodriguez (HOU) -- Tue-@STL (Wainwright), Sun-@ARI (Haren): 1-2, 3.18 ERA, 1.24 WHIP in four career starts at Busch Stadium
19. Jason Marquis (COL) -- Mon-SF (Zito), Sat-@SF (Zito): 4-2, 2.52 ERA, 0.96 WHIP in nine career games (eight starts) versus Giants
20. Jeff Niemann (TB) -- Mon-@TOR (Halladay), Sun-@DET (Verlander)
21. Bronson Arroyo (CIN) -- Tue-@MIL (Suppan), Sun-LAD (Kershaw)
22. Barry Zito (SF) -- Mon-@COL (Marquis), Sat-COL (Marquis): 2-2, 2.25 ERA, 1.04 WHIP in eight career starts versus Rockies
23. Joba Chamberlain (NYY) -- Tue-TEX (Millwood), Sun-CHW (Contreras)
24. Kevin Millwood (TEX) -- Tue-@NYY (Chamberlain), Sun-@MIN (Baker)
25. Sean West (FLA) -- Tue-NYM (Santana), Sun-SD (Latos): 3-2, 3.82 ERA, 1.41 WHIP in seven home starts in 2009
26. Brett Anderson (OAK) -- Tue-@SEA (Rowland-Smith), Sun-@LAA (Lackey)
27. Ryan Rowland-Smith (SEA) -- Tue-OAK (Anderson), Sun-KC (Greinke): 2-1, 3.25 ERA, 0.87 WHIP in four home starts in 2009
28. Chris Tillman (BAL) -- Mon-@MIN (Baker), Sat-CLE (Sowers)
29. Justin Masterson (CLE) -- Tue-@KC (Greinke), Sun-@BAL (Matusz)
30. Gil Meche (KC) -- Mon-CLE (Sowers), Sat-@SEA (Snell): 1-1, 2.21 ERA, 0.93 WHIP in three starts versus Indians in 2009
31. Clay Buchholz (BOS) -- Mon-CHW (Garcia), Sat-TOR (Halladay)
32. Ian Snell (SEA) -- Mon-OAK (Mazzaro), Sat-KC (Meche)
33. Brett Cecil (TOR) -- Tue-TB (Shields), Sun-@BOS (Lester): 1-0, 1.17 ERA, 1.04 WHIP in two games (one start) versus Rays in 2009
34. Ross Ohlendorf (PIT) -- Tue-PHI (Blanton), Sun-@MIL (Suppan): 2-0, 2.25 ERA, 1.33 WHIP in two career starts versus Brewers
35. Jeremy Sowers (CLE) -- Mon-@KC (Meche), Sat-@BAL (Tillman)
The 50-to-90 group (owned in 50 to 90 percent of ESPN.com leagues)
J.A. Happ (PHI) -- Thu-@PIT (Morton): 6-1, 1.61 ERA, 0.97 WHIP in 16 road games (10 starts) in 2009
Ubaldo Jimenez (COL) -- Fri-@SF (Lincecum): 2-2, 2.44 ERA, 1.02 WHIP in seven career starts versus Giants
Ricky Nolasco (FLA) -- Sat-SD (Carrillo): 2-2, 3.71 ERA, 1.24 WHIP in five career games (four starts) versus Padres
Ervin Santana (LAA) -- Thu-OAK (Cahill): 10-1, 1.35 ERA, 0.98 WHIP in 15 career games (14 starts) versus Athletics
Chris Volstad (FLA) -- Fri-SD (Correia): Win, 7 IP, 4 H's, 1 ER versus Padres 7/21/09
The under-50 group (available in at least 50 percent of ESPN.com leagues)
Scott Feldman (TEX) -- Sat-@MIN (Pavano): 8-1, 3.50 ERA, 1.23 WHIP in 11 road games (10 starts) in 2009
Doug Fister (SEA) -- Thu-KC (Davies): Back-to-back quality starts at home; 2.08 ERA, 1.00 WHIP in them
Gio Gonzalez (OAK) -- Wed-@SEA (French): 3-1, 2.73 ERA, 1.35 WHIP in his past five starts
Tommy Hunter (TEX) -- Fri-@MIN (Duensing): 6-1, 2.36 ERA, 1.07 WHIP in his past eight starts
Kenshin Kawakami (ATL) -- Wed-SD (Stauffer): 6 IP, 8 H's, 3 ERs versus Padres 8/3/09; 3.43 ERA, 1.23 WHIP in his past 15 starts
Ted Lilly (CHC) -- Fri-NYM (Perez): 6-1, 1.86 ERA, 0.90 WHIP in nine home starts in 2009
Kyle Lohse (STL) -- Thu-HOU (Moehler): 4-1, 2.14 ERA, 0.86 WHIP in six starts versus Astros 2008-09
Manny Parra (MIL) -- Fri-PIT (Duke): 1-1, 2.31 ERA, 1.20 WHIP in two career starts versus Pirates
Joel Pineiro (STL) -- Wed-HOU (Oswalt): 2-3, 2.97 ERA, 1.26 WHIP in five career starts versus Astros
Randy Wells (CHC) -- Thu-WAS (Lannan): 5-3, 3.04 ERA, 1.30 WHIP in nine home starts in 2009
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.