By Eric Mack
April 01, 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, NYYClayton Kershaw, LADYovani Gallardo, MILCole Hamels, PHIJosh Beckett, BOS

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

Derek Lowe, ATLAnibal Sanchez, FLAMike Leake, CINDallas Braden, OAKScott Baker, MINBud Norris, HOURick Porcello, DETKyle Lohse, STLAlexi Ogando, TEXErik 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, COLJeff Niemann, TBBrian Duensing, MINChris Young, NYMGavin Floyd, CHWBrandon Beachy, ATLChris Narveson, MILRandy Wells, CHCJake Arrieta, BALIvan Nova, NYYJames McDonald, PITAaron 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, KCBarry Enright, ARIJason Marquis, WASJo-Jo Reyes, TORCharlie 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 NarvesonARI@CHC: Barry Enright vs. Randy WellsDET@BAL: Rick Porcello vs. Jake ArrietaMIN@NYY: Scott Baker vs. Ivan NovaSEA@TEX: Erik Bedard vs. Alexi OgandoPIT@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 CashnerSF@SD: Madison Bumgarner vs. Aaron HarangLAA@TB: Jered Weaver vs. Jeff NiemannBOS@CLE: Josh Beckett vs. Josh TomlinMIN@NYY: Brian Duensing vs. CC SabathiaNYM@PHI: Chris Young vs. Cole HamelsOAK@TOR: Dallas Braden vs. Jo-Jo ReyesWAS@FLA: Jason Marquis vs. Anibal SanchezHOU@CIN: Bud Norris vs. Mike LeakeSEA@TEX: Michael Pineda vs. Matt HarrisonATL@MIL: Derek Lowe vs. Yovani GallardoCHW@KC: Gavin Floyd vs. Luke HochevarPIT@STL: James McDonald vs. Kyle McClellanLAD@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 HellicksonPIT@STL: Kevin Correia vs. Chris CarpenterSEA@TEX: Felix Hernandez vs. C.J. WilsonCHW@KC: Mark Buehrle vs. Jeff FrancisARI@CHC: Ian Kennedy vs. Ryan DempsterLAD@COL: Chad Billingsley vs. Esmil RogersSF@SD: Tim Lincecum vs. Tim StaufferBOS@CLE: Daisuke Matsuzaka vs. Mitch TalbotDET@BAL: Justin Verlander vs. Jeremy GuthrieMIN@NYY: Carl Pavano vs. Freddy GarciaNYM@PHI: Mike Pelfrey vs. Joe BlantonOAK@TOR: Brandon McCarthy vs. Jesse LitschWAS@FLA: Livan Hernandez vs. Chris VolstadHOU@CIN: Nelson Figueroa vs. Edinson VolquezATL@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 CarmonaHOU@CIN: Brett Myers vs. Travis WoodOAK@TOR: Trevor Cahill vs. Ricky RomeroMIN@NYY: Francisco Liriano vs. A.J. BurnettCOL@PIT: Ubaldo Jimenez vs. Paul MaholmATL@MIL: Tommy Hanson vs. Shaun MarcumTB@CHW: David Price vs. Edwin JacksonNYM@PHI: Jonathon Niese vs. Roy HalladayDET@BAL: Brad Penny vs. Brian MatuszWAS@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 LackeyKC@DET: Kyle Davies vs. Max ScherzerOAK@MIN: Brett Anderson vs. Nick BlackburnWAS@NYM: Jordan Zimmermann vs. R.A. DickeySTL@SF: Jake Westbrook vs. Jonathan SanchezCOL@PIT: Jorge De La Rosa vs. Ross OhlendorfFLA@HOU: Ricky Nolasco vs. Wandy RodriguezTEX@BAL: Colby Lewis vs. Chris TillmanPHI@ATL: Cliff Lee vs. Tim HudsonCHC@MIL: Carlos Zambrano vs. Randy WolfTB@CHW: James Shields vs. John DanksCIN@ARI: Bronson Arroyo vs. Daniel HudsonLAD@SD: Ted Lilly vs. Clayton RichardTOR@LAA: Kyle Drabek vs. Joel PineiroCLE@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 BuchholzKC@DET: Bruce Chen vs. Phil CokeOAK@MIN: Gio Gonzalez vs. Scott BakerWAS@NYM: Tom Gorzelanny vs. Chris CapuanoSTL@SF: Jaime Garcia vs. Matt CainCOL@PIT: Jhoulys Chacin vs. Charlie MortonFLA@HOU: Javier Vazquez vs. J.A. HappTEX@BAL: Derek Holland vs. Brad BergesenPHI@ATL: Roy Oswalt vs. Brandon BeachyCHC@MIL: Matt Garza vs. Chris NarvesonTB@CHW: Wade Davis vs. Phil HumberCIN@ARI: Sam LeCure vs. Joe SaundersLAD@SD: Hiroki Kuroda vs. Dustin MoseleyTOR@LAA: Brett Cecil vs. Ervin SantanaCLE@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 BeckettKC@DET: Luke Hochevar vs. Rick PorcelloOAK@MIN: Dallas Braden vs. Brian DuensingWAS@NYM: Jason Marquis vs. Chris YoungSTL@SF: Kyle Lohse vs. Barry ZitoCOL@PIT: Jason Hammel vs. James McDonaldFLA@HOU: Anibal Sanchez vs. Bud NorrisTEX@BAL: Alexi Ogando vs. Jake ArrietaPHI@ATL: Cole Hamels vs. Derek LoweCHC@MIL: Randy Wells vs. Yovani GallardoTB@CHW: Jeff Niemann vs. Gavin FloydCIN@ARI: Mike Leake vs. Barry EnrightLAD@SD: Clayton Kershaw vs. Aaron HarangTOR@LAA: Jo-Jo Reyes vs. Scott KazmirCLE@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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