Eric Mack
Friday April 1st, 2011

The first full week of the fantasy baseball season brings some back-end starters into the mix. That makes it that much tougher to project your starts, especially since there isn't the trusty "past three starts" to go off of.

You probably should still stick with the pitchers you drafted to be your starters.

If you're looking for some two-start sleepers, give the likes of Mike Leake, Scott Baker, Dallas Braden, Kyle Lohse, Alexi Ogando and even the perpetually rehabbing Erik Bedard a look in deeper formats. These guys have a good chance of being available in your leagues and helping you in a pinch. (If your league's Week 1 game runs from Thursday through the end of next week, you will want to read my fantasy baseball pitching planner from earlier in the week.)

We break everything down in the first full pitching planner of the season.

The must-starts: Start these guys without a second thought.

CC Sabathia, NYY Clayton Kershaw, LAD Yovani Gallardo, MIL Cole Hamels, PHI Josh Beckett, BOS

The advisable: These two-start pitchers either have favorable matchups are still worth trusting in most formats.

Derek Lowe, ATL Anibal Sanchez, FLA Mike Leake, CIN Dallas Braden, OAK Scott Baker, MIN Bud Norris, HOU Rick Porcello, DET Kyle Lohse, STL Alexi Ogando, TEX Erik Bedard, SEA

The questionable: These starts carry some measure of risk this week, so proceed at your own risk. If you have a solid one-start pitcher with a decent or favorable matchup, sit these guys.

Jason Hammel, COL Jeff Niemann, TB Brian Duensing, MIN Chris Young, NYM Gavin Floyd, CHW Brandon Beachy, ATL Chris Narveson, MIL Randy Wells, CHC Jake Arrieta, BAL Ivan Nova, NYY James McDonald, PIT Aaron Harang, SD

The high-risks: You probably do not want these guys active outside of the deepest of leagues or out of absolute necessity.

Luke Hochevar, KC Barry Enright, ARI Jason Marquis, WAS Jo-Jo Reyes, TOR Charlie Morton, PIT

Considering just the less-than-obvious fantasy arms, a player in BOLD is a matchup to exploit and a player in italics is a matchup to avoid.

Monday, April 4

ATL@MIL: Brandon Beachy vs. Chris Narveson ARI@CHC: Barry Enright vs. Randy Wells DET@BAL: Rick Porcello vs. Jake Arrieta MIN@NYY: Scott Baker vs. Ivan Nova SEA@TEX: Erik Bedard vs. Alexi Ogando PIT@STL: Charlie Morton vs. Kyle Lohse

Matchup to exploit: Lohse is a shaky back-end starter for the Cardinals, one available in almost all leagues. He is drawing the Pirates and has owned them in his career to a 5-1 clip with a 3.41 ERA in 10 starts. His opposing pitcher is a real risk. Ogando is also an intriguing sleeper against the weak-hitting Mariners. Ogando is a must-start in AL-only formats at least.

Matchup to avoid: Morton has bad numbers against anyone in his poor start to his career, but he has been particularly awful against the Cardinals, going 1-3 with a 7.77 ERA in five starts.

Tuesday, April 5

ARI@CHC: Armando Galarraga vs. Andrew Cashner SF@SD: Madison Bumgarner vs. Aaron Harang LAA@TB: Jered Weaver vs. Jeff Niemann BOS@CLE: Josh Beckett vs. Josh Tomlin MIN@NYY: Brian Duensing vs. CC Sabathia NYM@PHI: Chris Young vs. Cole Hamels OAK@TOR: Dallas Braden vs. Jo-Jo Reyes WAS@FLA: Jason Marquis vs. Anibal Sanchez HOU@CIN: Bud Norris vs. Mike Leake SEA@TEX: Michael Pineda vs. Matt Harrison ATL@MIL: Derek Lowe vs. Yovani Gallardo CHW@KC: Gavin Floyd vs. Luke Hochevar PIT@STL: James McDonald vs. Kyle McClellan LAD@COL: Clayton Kershaw vs. Jason Hammel

Matchup to exploit: The Marlins' Sanchez is 5-0 with a 2.28 ERA in 13 career starts against the Nationals and his opposing pitcher is a wreck against the Marlins (6.62 ERA in 20 career starts). This one almost looks too good to be true for Sanchez owners. Start him in all leagues.

Matchup to avoid: Niemann is a solid mixed-league option and the Angels aren't a real scary lineup for a Rays pitcher to face, but Niemann has a 9.38 ERA in five career starts against them. Weaver isn't going to give an inch against him either. It is a good week to find a replacement for Niemann.

Wednesday, April 6

LAA@TB: Dan Haren vs. Jeremy Hellickson PIT@STL: Kevin Correia vs. Chris Carpenter SEA@TEX: Felix Hernandez vs. C.J. Wilson CHW@KC: Mark Buehrle vs. Jeff Francis ARI@CHC: Ian Kennedy vs. Ryan Dempster LAD@COL: Chad Billingsley vs. Esmil Rogers SF@SD: Tim Lincecum vs. Tim Stauffer BOS@CLE: Daisuke Matsuzaka vs. Mitch Talbot DET@BAL: Justin Verlander vs. Jeremy Guthrie MIN@NYY: Carl Pavano vs. Freddy Garcia NYM@PHI: Mike Pelfrey vs. Joe Blanton OAK@TOR: Brandon McCarthy vs. Jesse Litsch WAS@FLA: Livan Hernandez vs. Chris Volstad HOU@CIN: Nelson Figueroa vs. Edinson Volquez ATL@MIL: Jair Jurrjens vs. Sergio Mitre

Matchup to exploit: Volquez didn't have an inspiring start on Opening Day, but he gets a far weaker lineup in this one. He also happens to be sterling against the Astros in his career, going 4-0 with a 1.34 ERA in five career starts. He draws the Astros' journeyman No. 5 as well. Dice-K is also good against the Indians (4-1, 2.34), a favorable matchup for a questionable mixed-league option.

Matchup to avoid: Jurrjens is targeting this start for his season debut after dealing with a side injury during the latter part of spring. He is a risk not only for healthy but also against that Brewers lineup. You should have him prove healthy and effective before you trust him in lineups for mixed leagues.

Thursday, April 7

BOS@CLE: Jon Lester vs. Fausto Carmona HOU@CIN: Brett Myers vs. Travis Wood OAK@TOR: Trevor Cahill vs. Ricky Romero MIN@NYY: Francisco Liriano vs. A.J. Burnett COL@PIT: Ubaldo Jimenez vs. Paul Maholm ATL@MIL: Tommy Hanson vs. Shaun Marcum TB@CHW: David Price vs. Edwin Jackson NYM@PHI: Jonathon Niese vs. Roy Halladay DET@BAL: Brad Penny vs. Brian Matusz WAS@FLA: John Lannan vs. Josh Johnson

Matchup to exploit: Matusz has won both of his starts against the Tigers in his career, making him a nice sleeper for a one-start option in deeper formats. Penny is no sure thing, even against the lowly O's either (7.71 ERA).

Matchup to avoid: It isn't so much a function of Lannan's history against the Marlins, which isn't great (5.34), but he will be facing Johnson, who is unbeatable against the Nationals (7-0, 3.27 in 14 career starts). You obviously shouldn't trust him or Maholm even in deeper NL-only formats.

Friday, April 8

NYY@BOS: Phil Hughes vs. John Lackey KC@DET: Kyle Davies vs. Max Scherzer OAK@MIN: Brett Anderson vs. Nick Blackburn WAS@NYM: Jordan Zimmermann vs. R.A. Dickey STL@SF: Jake Westbrook vs. Jonathan Sanchez COL@PIT: Jorge De La Rosa vs. Ross Ohlendorf FLA@HOU: Ricky Nolasco vs. Wandy Rodriguez TEX@BAL: Colby Lewis vs. Chris Tillman PHI@ATL: Cliff Lee vs. Tim Hudson CHC@MIL: Carlos Zambrano vs. Randy Wolf TB@CHW: James Shields vs. John Danks CIN@ARI: Bronson Arroyo vs. Daniel Hudson LAD@SD: Ted Lilly vs. Clayton Richard TOR@LAA: Kyle Drabek vs. Joel Pineiro CLE@SEA: Carlos Carrasco vs. Jason Vargas

Matchup to exploit: Lilly is one of the more underrated starters in fantasy. He is a must start in all formats at PETCO against the weak-hitting Padres, especially considering his career 6-3 record and 3.06 ERA. Also, the Rangers' Lewis has a bad career mark against the Orioles (6.14 ERA) but that history should be conveniently overlooked in that matchup.

Matchup to avoid: It may seem inexplicable, but the A's really have Blackburn's number. He is 0-4 with a 6.64 career ERA against them in seven starts. Let's say it is because Blackburn is a strike-thrower, and the A's are taught throughout their system about strike-zone judgment. Regardless of the theory, Blackburn is a marginal mixed-league option that you really don't need a great reason to sit.

Saturday, April 9

NYY@BOS: Ivan Nova vs. Clay Buchholz KC@DET: Bruce Chen vs. Phil Coke OAK@MIN: Gio Gonzalez vs. Scott Baker WAS@NYM: Tom Gorzelanny vs. Chris Capuano STL@SF: Jaime Garcia vs. Matt Cain COL@PIT: Jhoulys Chacin vs. Charlie Morton FLA@HOU: Javier Vazquez vs. J.A. Happ TEX@BAL: Derek Holland vs. Brad Bergesen PHI@ATL: Roy Oswalt vs. Brandon Beachy CHC@MIL: Matt Garza vs. Chris Narveson TB@CHW: Wade Davis vs. Phil Humber CIN@ARI: Sam LeCure vs. Joe Saunders LAD@SD: Hiroki Kuroda vs. Dustin Moseley TOR@LAA: Brett Cecil vs. Ervin Santana CLE@SEA: Justin Masterson vs. Doug Fister

Matchup to exploit: Baker's second start is a much better matchup than his first. He gets the weaker A's offense at home in start No. 2. That makes him a nice two-start sleeper in mixed formats, despite having to face the Yankees once.

Matchup to avoid: Nova, Baker's first start opponent, gets an even tougher second matchup this week at Boston and Buchholz. It is enough to consider sitting the rookie even in AL-only formats as a two-start pitcher. Nova is a sleeper for deeper leagues this season in the Yankees rotation, but that is a pair of top contenders he has to face out of the gate.

Sunday, April 10

NYY@BOS: CC Sabathia vs. Josh Beckett KC@DET: Luke Hochevar vs. Rick Porcello OAK@MIN: Dallas Braden vs. Brian Duensing WAS@NYM: Jason Marquis vs. Chris Young STL@SF: Kyle Lohse vs. Barry Zito COL@PIT: Jason Hammel vs. James McDonald FLA@HOU: Anibal Sanchez vs. Bud Norris TEX@BAL: Alexi Ogando vs. Jake Arrieta PHI@ATL: Cole Hamels vs. Derek Lowe CHC@MIL: Randy Wells vs. Yovani Gallardo TB@CHW: Jeff Niemann vs. Gavin Floyd CIN@ARI: Mike Leake vs. Barry Enright LAD@SD: Clayton Kershaw vs. Aaron Harang TOR@LAA: Jo-Jo Reyes vs. Scott Kazmir CLE@SEA: Josh Tomlin vs. Erik Bedard

Matchup to exploit: There are a number of two-start sleepers with favorable matchups this final day of the week, especially Young, Sanchez, Ogando, Leake and Bedard. Consider these solid options for mixed leagues with this favorable second start.

Matchup to avoid: Zito is a notoriously slow starter, like most pitchers who rely on feel of the curveball. Oh, he also has to face the murder's row of Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman all swinging from the right side of the plate. It is a not a good week to consider a marginal Zito.

Eric Mack writes fantasy for You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice on Twitter @EricMackFantasy. Hit him up. He honestly has nothing better to do with his free time.

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