Fantasy Forecaster updated Sunday, April 10 at 10:44 a.m. ET.
On tap: If you had asked anyone a week ago what would be the headliner series of Week 2, surely a large percentage of those polled would have picked the Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox series to begin the week. Today, how wild is it that both will be sub-.500 teams when the series opens, after both began the year 0-6? Rays-Red Sox series have been hotly contested in recent history, the Rays winning 34 of 61 games since 2008 (playoffs included), 14 of those one-run affairs and six extra-inning contests. But both teams are struggling offensively, and only the Rays' rotation has had a couple of bright spots. Fantasy owners should remain hopeful with their prime draft picks from both squads, but the Rays pitching-versus-Red Sox hitting battle -- which incidentally features Carl Crawford's first game against his old mates -- will be the one to watch. If one side stands out significantly, it might be a noteworthy trend.
Conversely, the white-hot Texas Rangers, 6-0 with a major league-best .957 team OPS entering Friday's games, make stops in Detroit and New York to face two other potential playoff combatants. Justin Verlander (Monday) and CC Sabathia (Friday) represent stiff competition, but in exchange for those tough-as-nails matchups, the Rangers also will draw Brad Penny (Tuesday) and Freddy Garcia (Saturday) as pitching opponents. Expect more offensive fireworks.
Over in the National League, two NL East stars will play their first games against their former teams, although neither will be visiting his former city. Dan Uggla and his Atlanta Braves will host the Florida Marlins from Tuesday through Thursday, while Jayson Werth and his Washington Nationals will host the Philadelphia Phillies and their quartet of aces. Both players are off to respectable starts, and perhaps there'll be some added motivation with those matchups. Mat Latos will also make his 2011 debut with a two-start week, his first turn coming Monday against the Cincinnati Reds.
The division-rival Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants battle in San Francisco from Monday through Wednesday, in a series chock full of attractive pitching machups. Check these out: Clayton Kershaw versus Madison Bumgarner (Monday), Chad Billingsley versus Tim Lincecum (Tuesday), and Ted Lilly versus Jonathan Sanchez (Wednesday).
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.
• The Seattle Mariners rarely receive any credit for what's an underrated rotation; their current five starters actually have a combined 3.24 ERA and 1.17 WHIP since the beginning of last season, and had 3.84/1.38 numbers during spring training. Pitchers such as Doug Fister and Jason Vargas might not feel like trustworthy fantasy options, but when they pitch at home, as Vargas does Wednesday (versus the Toronto Blue Jays), or against weaker opponents, as Fister does Thursday (at the Kansas City Royals), you should look at them as matchups candidates. Strikeout artists Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda are the Mariners' two-start pitchers.
• Though there's a hint of fear with Chicago White Sox starters in games at U.S. Cellular Field, that's actually a team that can capitalize, at times, upon the home-field advantage. (Just ask Edwin Jackson, who tossed a gem in the 2011 home opener.) Consider these career stats by White Sox pitchers at the venue: Mark Buehrle (3.80 ERA, 1.27 WHIP), John Danks (4.26 ERA, 1.27 WHIP), Gavin Floyd (3.70 ERA, 1.21 WHIP), Edwin Jackson (3.80 ERA, 1.32 WHIP). What's scary about those? The Oakland Athletics -- the White Sox's early-week opponent -- don't pose much of a hitting threat, and while the Los Angeles Angels are off to a hot start, they weren't projected to be one of the American League's top five offensive teams. Every one of those White Sox starters warrants your attention, especially since this is a week in which the off day allows them to skip fifth starter Philip Humber.
• It was an impressive opening week for the Cincinnati Reds, whose once-deep rotation seemed snakebitten late during spring training, as four of their five starters tossed quality-start efforts en route to the team winning each of its first five games. That increases my trust in their fill-ins -- even Mike Leake and Sam LeCure, in deeper formats -- especially with a pair of three-game series due against the San Diego Padres (in Petco Park) and Pittsburgh Pirates. Edinson Volquez is the Reds' two-start pitcher in Week 2, and it's critical for him to begin showing improvement after a rocky spring. The matchups are strong enough that he earns my endorsement, but if he disappoints, his full-season value will plummet.
• The Atlanta Braves have one of baseball's most underrated rotations, in spite of back-to-back losses by Tommy Hanson, the team's Week 2 two-start pitcher, to begin the season. Brandon Beachy, Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe were standouts during the opening week, and a pair of three-game home series against the Florida Marlins and New York Mets should help them continue to accrue great pitching stats. Remember, this is a team that had a 3.18 ERA and 1.20 WHIP at home in 2010, those ranking sixth- and seventh-best in the majors. Red-hot closer Craig Kimbrel (2 SV, 2 IP, 5 K's in 2 G) should be due for another stellar week.
For more insight into Week 2 pitching matchups, see my rankings for every scheduled starter 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 versus left- and right-handed pitchers and base stealing. Matchup ratings for each individual game are listed under the corresponding date.
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 first thing you'll notice is that the Mariners, who between their 31 spring-training and first six regular-season games managed .251/.319/.389 (BA/OBP/SLG) hitting rates (not to mention .236/.298/.339 rates during the 2010 regular season), are the lone team to rate a 10. But just to give you a window into how the ratings work, that doesn't mean you should make Mariners your top choices across the board; it simply means that comparative to their usual expectations, the Mariners might have an easier time generating quality hitting stats in Week 2 than in any other. In other words, feel free to be creative, even if that means having to look back to exhibition-season numbers to locate a sleeper hitter. Two that stand out are the switch-hitters, Milton Bradley and Justin Smoak. Bradley was a .318 spring hitter off to a .333 start (8-for-24) in his first six games, while Smoak, despite his 4-for-20 (.250) start, was a .245/.359/.415 spring hitter.
• Returning to the Red Sox, although their offense struggled to the tune of .181/.269/.275 rates in their first six games (before Friday's explosion against the New York Yankees), there's little denying that there's the talent present to go on a monstrous hot streak at any given instant. That might happen during the Rays series, but the fact that Jeremy Hellickson (Monday) and David Price (Tuesday) are two of their three opponents doesn't bode especially well. The Red Sox still score an eight offensively, however, thanks to four meaty matchups to conclude their week. Not that I expect many people to doubt the abilities of Carl Crawford, J.D. Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, who all were amazingly batting beneath .250 entering the April 8 game, but I'll be clear: If you doubt them even slightly facing this set of matchups, you're going to be kicking yourself a week from now.
• Seven home games represents a favorable schedule for the typically light-hitting Houston Astros, especially if you consider that their opponents, the Chicago Cubs (Monday-Wednesday) and San Diego Padres (Thursday-Sunday) have rotations that have been hit hard due to recent injuries, Randy Wells and Mat Latos specifically. Latos will be making his second start of the season against the Astros, but other than him, the two toughest opponents this lineup will face are Ryan Dempster (Monday) and Carlos Zambrano (Wednesday), who did no-hit the Astros in 2008. Consider this a critical week especially for Brett Wallace, as the Astros will face five right-handed starters, their only two left-handed opponents less threatening foes in James Russell (Tuesday) and Clayton Richard (Sunday). Continued struggles by Wallace this week might increase talk of Carlos Lee shifting to first place to supplant him, which would make Jason Bourgeois an attractive fantasy pickup.
• The Milwaukee Brewers, one of the four most productive NL lineups in 2010, and whose leading slugger, Ryan Braun, is off to a torrid start, have quite the set of favorable hitting matchups. They'll make stops in both Pittsburgh and Washington, and while that means they'll lack the home-field advantage of Miller Park, they might feel right at home against such pitching opponents as Paul Maholm (Wednesday), Charlie Morton (Thursday), Jason Marquis (Saturday) and Livan Hernandez (Sunday). The eventual -- as in, after Corey Hart returns from the disabled list -- battle for center field between Carlos Gomez and Nyjer Morgan bears watching, as the Brewers battle four right-handers and should get Morgan in there at least twice against his old mates. Motivation!
As of Sunday morning (April 10), these are the Week 2 games with at least a 40-percent chance of precipitation (per weather.com and the National Weather Service): Athletics at White Sox (60 percent, Monday); Rangers at Tigers (50, Monday); Rays at Red Sox (70, Tuesday); Brewers at Pirates (60, Tuesday); Royals at Twins (50, Wednesday); Mariners at Royals (40, Thursday); Angels at White Sox (50, Friday); Orioles at Indians (50, Friday); Pirates at Reds (40, Friday); Mets at Braves (40, Friday); Rangers at Yankees (50, Saturday); Orioles at Indians (50, Saturday); Brewers at Nationals (40, Saturday); Angels at White Sox (40, Saturday); Marlins at Phillies (40, Saturday).
Weatherproof games: Cubs at Astros (3, Mon-Wed); Padres at Astros (4, Thu-Sun); Cardinals at Diamondbacks (3, Mon-Wed); Giants at Diamondbacks (3, Fri-Sun); Blue Jays at Mariners (3, Mon-Wed); Twins at Rays (4, Thu-Sun).
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. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- Mon-TOR (Litsch), Sat-@KC (Mazzaro)
2. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Mon-@SF (Bumgarner), Sat-STL (McClellan)
3. Chris Carpenter (STL) -- Tue-@ARI (Galarraga), Sun-@LAD (Billingsley)
4. Justin Verlander (DET) -- Mon-TEX (Ogando), Sat-@OAK (Braden)
5. Dan Haren (LAA) -- Mon-CLE (Talbot), Sun-@CHW (Jackson)
6. Tim Lincecum (SF) -- Tue-LAD (Billingsley)
7. Roy Halladay (PHI) -- Wed-@WAS (Lannan)
8. Josh Johnson (FLA) -- Wed-@ATL (Hudson)
9. Cliff Lee (PHI) -- Thu-@WAS (Zimmermann)
10. Edwin Jackson (CHW) -- Tue-OAK (Cahill), Sun-LAA (Haren)
11. CC Sabathia (NYY) -- Fri-TEX (Lewis)
12. Trevor Cahill (OAK) -- Tue-@CHW (Jackson), Sun-DET (Penny)
13. Shaun Marcum (MIL) -- Tue-@PIT (Correia), Sun-@WAS (Hernandez)
14. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Sat-@CHW (Buehrle)
15. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- Fri-@WAS (Gorzelanny)
16. Jon Lester (BOS) -- Tue-TB (Price)
17. Jaime Garcia (STL) -- Thu-@LAD (Kuroda)
18. Tim Hudson (ATL) -- Wed-FLA (Johnson)
19. Chad Billingsley (LAD) -- Tue-@SF (Lincecum), Sun-STL (Carpenter)
20. David Price (TB) -- Tue-@BOS (Lester), Sun-MIN (Duensing)
21. Roy Oswalt (PHI) -- Fri-FLA (Vazquez)
22. Brett Myers (HOU) -- Tue-CHC (Russell), Sun-SD (Richard)
23. Hiroki Kuroda (LAD) -- Thu-STL (Garcia)
24. Ricky Romero (TOR) -- Tue-@SEA (Pineda)
25. Travis Wood (CIN) -- Wed-@SD (Stauffer)
26. Edinson Volquez (CIN) -- Mon-@SD (Latos), Sun-PIT (Correia)
27. Jhoulys Chacin (COL) -- Fri-CHC (Garza)
28. Tommy Hanson (ATL) -- Tue-FLA (Volstad), Sun-NYM (Niese)
29. Matt Cain (SF) -- Fri-@ARI (Hudson)
30. Derek Lowe (ATL) -- Fri-NYM (Young)
31. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Sat-FLA (Sanchez)
32. John Danks (CHW) -- Wed-OAK (Anderson)
33. A.J. Burnett (NYY) -- Tue-BAL (Tillman), Sun-TEX (Holland)
34. Ryan Dempster (CHC) -- Mon-@HOU (Figueroa), Sun-@COL (Rogers)
35. Kyle Drabek (TOR) -- Wed-@SEA (Vargas)
36. Mat Latos (SD) -- Mon-CIN (Volquez), Sat-@HOU (Figueroa)
37. C.J. Wilson (TEX) -- Tue-@DET (Penny)
38. Jeremy Hellickson (TB) -- Mon-@BOS (Matsuzaka), Sat-MIN (Baker)
39. Kyle McClellan (STL) -- Mon-@ARI (Enright), Sat-@LAD (Kershaw)
40. Jonathan Sanchez (SF) -- Wed-LAD (Lilly)
41. Brian Duensing (MIN) -- Tue-KC (Francis), Sun-@TB (Price)
42. Kevin Correia (PIT) -- Tue-MIL (Marcum), Sun-@CIN (Volquez)
43. Jorge De La Rosa (COL) -- Wed-@NYM (Dickey)
44. Gio Gonzalez (OAK) -- Thu-DET (Coke)
45. Daniel Hudson (ARI) -- Fri-SF (Cain)
46. Wandy Rodriguez (HOU) -- Wed-CHC (Zambrano)
47. Bronson Arroyo (CIN) -- Fri-PIT (McDonald)
48. Brett Anderson (OAK) -- Wed-@CHW (Danks)
49. Esmil Rogers (COL) -- Tue-@NYM (Niese), Sun-CHC (Dempster)
50. Dallas Braden (OAK) -- Mon-@CHW (Buehrle), Sat-DET (Verlander)
51. Francisco Liriano (MIN) -- Wed-KC (Davies)
52. Jeff Francis (KC) -- Tue-@MIN (Duensing), Sun-SEA (Pineda)
53. Ted Lilly (LAD) -- Wed-@SF (Sanchez)
54. Matt Garza (CHC) -- Fri-@COL (Chacin)
55. R.A. Dickey (NYM) -- Wed-COL (De La Rosa)
56. Madison Bumgarner (SF) -- Mon-LAD (Kershaw), Sun-@ARI (Enright)
57. Alexi Ogando (TEX) -- Mon-@DET (Verlander)
58. Brandon Beachy (ATL) -- Thu-FLA (Nolasco)
59. Ervin Santana (LAA) -- Wed-CLE (Carrasco)
60. Jesse Litsch (TOR) -- Mon-@SEA (Hernandez), Sun-@BOS (Matsuzaka)
61. Ricky Nolasco (FLA) -- Thu-@ATL (Beachy)
62. Colby Lewis (TEX) -- Fri-@NYY (Sabathia)
63. Michael Pineda (SEA) -- Tue-TOR (Romero), Sun-@KC (Francis)
64. Chris Young (NYM) -- Fri-@ATL (Lowe)
65. Jonathon Niese (NYM) -- Tue-COL (Rogers), Sun-@ATL (Hanson)
66. Mark Buehrle (CHW) -- Mon-OAK (Braden), Sat-LAA (Weaver)
67. Clay Buchholz (BOS) -- Fri-TOR (Cecil)
68. Anibal Sanchez (FLA) -- Sat-@PHI (Hamels)
69. Carlos Zambrano (CHC) -- Wed-@HOU (W. Rodriguez)
70. Jason Hammel (COL) -- Mon-@NYM (Pelfrey), Sat-CHC (Coleman)
71. Ivan Nova (NYY) -- Thu-BAL (Britton)
72. J.A. Happ (HOU) -- Fri-SD (Harang)
73. Gavin Floyd (CHW) -- Fri-LAA (Palmer)
74. Jordan Zimmermann (WAS) -- Thu-PHI (Lee)
75. Ian Kennedy (ARI) -- Wed-STL (Westbrook)
Two-start options for AL-/NL-only leagues:
Joe Blanton (PHI) -- Tue-@WAS (Hernandez), Sun-FLA (Volstad)
Barry Enright (ARI) -- Mon-STL (McClellan), Sun-SF (Bumgarner)
Nelson Figueroa (HOU) -- Mon-CHC (Dempster), Sat-SD (Latos)
Clayton Richard (SD) -- Tue-CIN (LeCure), Sun-@HOU (Myers)
Chris Tillman (BAL) -- Tue-@NYY (Burnett), Sun-@CLE (Talbot)
No-thank-yous, among two-starts:
Livan Hernandez (WAS) -- Tue-PHI (Blanton), Sun-MIL (Marcum)
Daisuke Matsuzaka (BOS) -- Mon-TB (Hellickson), Sun-TOR (Litsch)
Mike Pelfrey (NYM) -- Mon-COL (Hammel), Sat-@ATL (Jurrjens)
Brad Penny (DET) -- Tue-TEX (Wilson), Sun-@OAK (Cahill)
Mitch Talbot (CLE) -- Mon-@LAA (Haren), Sun-BAL (Tillman)
Chris Volstad (FLA) -- Tue-@ATL (Hanson), Sun-@PHI (Blanton)
Bruce Chen (KC) -- Thu-SEA (Fister)
Aaron Harang (SD) -- Fri-@HOU (Happ)
Luke Hochevar (KC) -- Fri-SEA (Bedard)
Mike Leake (CIN) -- Sat-PIT (Karstens)
Sam LeCure (CIN) -- Tue-@SD (Richard)
Chris Narveson (MIL) -- Thu-@PIT (Morton)
Bud Norris (HOU) -- Thu-SD (Moseley)
Rick Porcello (DET) -- Fri-@OAK (McCarthy)
Randy Wolf (MIL) -- Wed-@PIT (Maholm)
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.