- Sean Allen
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The National League debut of Rich Harden certainly sticks out as a story line to follow, but on second glance, does it really matter to fantasy baseball where Harden pitches? He is one of those talents who could pitch in the toughest division and still have gaudy numbers; he is just that good. With Harden, the bigger concern will always be his health, and not necessarily the matchups he draws. But if you are curious, the matchup for his first start as a Cub is a tasty one.
Also keep an eye on the matchup in Los Angelesg as Hiroki Kuroda comes of two complete-game shutouts at home, including his near-perfect game, while Ricky Nolasco comes in as the winner of nine of his past 10 decisions.
Matchups for Saturday, July 12
Aaron Boone, 1B/3B, Nationals (calf)
Ryan Church, OF, Mets (concussion)
Elijah Dukes, OF, Nationals (knee)
Bobby Jenks, RP, White Sox (shoulder)
Ryan Spilborghs, OF, Rockies (oblique)
Justin Upton, OF, Diamondbacks (oblique)
Vernon Wells, OF, Blue Jays (hamstring)
Jeff Baker, 1B/2B, Rockies (wrist)
J.D. Drew, OF, Red Sox (back)
Kosuke Fukudome, OF, Cubs (leg)
Brian Giles, OF, Padres (hamstring)
Kevin Millwood, SP, Rangers (groin)
Edgar Renteria, SS, Tigers (hamstring)
Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Mariners (hamstring)
Ryan Sweeney, OF, A's (finger)
Start 'em, sit 'em
Hitters: Look for J.D. Drew in Friday's box score before using him Saturday. It's hoped he can return Friday after two days rest, but keep in mind that this is J.D. Drew we are talking about. ... Chase Utley is a big 0-for-9 in his career versus Randy Johnson, while Pat Burrell has struck out 14 times in 22 at-bats against the Big Unit. ... Edgar Renteria is expected back Friday, but keep an eye on the situation as hamstring injuries can linger. ... He hasn't been DL'ed yet, but Justin Upton is not expected to play at all this weekend. ... Brian Giles isn't expected to do anymore than pinch hit all weekend because of a strained hamstring. ... Ichiro Suzuki was able to pinch hit late in Thursday's contest, so his hamstring issues should allow him to play by Saturday. ... Kosuke Fukudome fouled a ball off his leg Thursday, but he's not expected to miss time. He should definitely be back by Friday. ... Marcus Thames and Curtis Granderson each have three home runs against Scott Baker. Granderson has managed that in 28 career at-bats, but Thames in only 12. ... Kevin Millar is easily the Orioles' biggest threat against Tim Wakefield. Millar is 11-for-28 (.458) with three home runs versus the knuckleballer.
Pitchers: Rich Harden makes his Cubs/NL debut against a team he is pretty familiar with thanks to interleague rivalries. With Oakland, Harden last started against San Francisco on June 14, one-hitting them through six innings while striking out nine. Harden's career ERA is 0.84 against the Giants. I guess the bottom line is that Harden is a stud no matter which league he is in, so long as he is healthy. ... Randy Johnson has been concentrating on his mechanics lately, and the effort paid off in his most recent outing as he whiffed 10 Padres in 6 1/3 innings. The Phillies are a tougher test than the Padres, but shallow-league players can feel more comfortable using the 50-percent owned Johnson here based on his latest start. Johnson is 10-3 with a 2.61 ERA in 19 career starts against Philadelphia. ... Pedro Martinez may have shown some improvement in his most recent outing, but that lofty ERA didn't come down much. The Rockies pegged Pedro for six runs on June 21 and a repeat of that seems more likely than a quality start. ... The Rangers may be first in OPS versus righties, but they rank just 15th against lefties. John Danks should continue his dominating ways. ... After missing the cut for two straight outings, Edinson Volquez got back into the quality-start department, with his 13th out of 18 starts this season. The fact that he is right-handed already gives him a leg up on the lefty-slugging Brewers lineup. Look for Volquez to go into the All-Star break strong. ... Todd Wellemeyer hasn't looked sharp since coming back from a DL stint on June 26. Until he finds his pre-injury form, I'd shy away from using him. Wellemeyer allowed nine and 12 runs, respectively, in his two most recent outings. ... Matt Garza is still throwing filth, racking up five straight quality starts. He should have little trouble against the Indians. ... Although he has been better at home, Wandy Rodriguez hasn't been that bad on the road of late. The Nationals represent an easier matchup, and Rodriguez makes a solid deep-league start here. ... Gil Meche has been up-and-down lately, but his former team in Seattle should be easily dispatched. The Mariners rank next-to-last in OPS versus righties (.661). ... Ervin Santana is 8-1 with a 1.48 ERA against Oakland and 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA in McAfee Coliseum. Those numbers should help quickly erase any memory of Santana's last outing in Texas. ... Dana Eveland is in for another crushing at the hands of the Angels. He has surrendered 11 hits and nine runs in 11 innings during two starts this season versus the Halos. ... Ricky Nolasco should continue his impressive streak of starts, as he gets to face the Dodgers and their .678 OPS versus righties (third-worst in majors). ... After flirting with perfection in his latest outing, Hiroki Kuroda should help contribute to a pitchers' duel against the Marlins and Nolasco. Kuroda, despite some recent struggles, has allowed just three earned-runs in his past four starts at Dodgers Stadium (0.82 ERA), with the two most recent starts being complete-game shutouts.
Hitters: Jeff Baker's jammed wrist is looking better as he was available to pinch hit on Thursday. He should get quality playing time at first and second base with Todd Helton out. ... Ryan Sweeney came out of Thursday's game with a dislocated finger, meaning the speedy Rajai Davis should get some more at-bats. ... If you have been using Chad Tracy against the occasional righty, feel free to stray from that plan on Saturday. Tracy is just 2-for-14 (.143) with six strikeouts against Adam Eaton. ... If you need a sub at catcher, try Yadier Molina. He is 4-for-7 with two doubles and a home run against Phil Dumatrait. It should also be Chris Iannetta's turn in his rotation with Yorvit Torrealba. Iannetta has two homers in the past week, despite playing only every other game. ... For a first-base fill-in, try Ross Gload, who is 11-for-his-past-25 (.440), or Wes Bankston, who has gotten on base in all but two of the nine games he has played for Oakland. ... At second base, Mike Fontenot doubled and homered in back-to-back games on Wednesday and Thursday. A lesser option would be Esteban German, who is 5-for-14 (.357) with two doubles against Jarrod Washburn. ... At shortstop, Jack Wilson is a second-half hitter, and he could start things a little early with his 4-for-10 history against Todd Wellemeyer. Nick Punto would be another option, as his hot bat has managed 12 hits in his past 28 at-bats (.429). ... Third-base options include: Fernando Tatis, who has three home runs in his last five games, and Bill Hall, who has 11 hits in his past 23 at-bats (.478). ... Scott Hairston should be your first choice for outfield off the wire, as he continues his recent hot streak with five home runs and a .550 average over the previous week. Cody Ross and his RBIs binge are another option. He has a .443 average and 14 RBIs in his past 30 at-bats. I'll mention Denard Span again, as he continues to get on base with eight walks and a .500 average in the previous week.
Pitchers: Kevin Correia's most recent start came on July 2 against these same Cubs. It was actually a strong outing, if not for a couple mistakes to Jim Edmonds that resulted in three of the four runs he allowed. Rich Harden is going to make sure Correia doesn't have a chance for a win, but I think his pitching line would be positive for most medium-sized leagues. ... Scott Linebrink remains the best waiver-wire choice for a save. With Bobby Jenks out, the White Sox will turn to the 23-percent owned Linebrink. ... You know Darrell Rasner's team has the potential to back him for a win on any given night, and he has an above-average chance of tossing a decent game versus the weak-hitting Blue Jays, who just lost offensive catalyst Vernon Wells. I'm not picking Rasner to turn a corner on his 1-7 slide, but I do think he has one good game here. ... Ubaldo Jimenez's struggles this season have all come on the road, but they seem like a distant memory with his last atrocious outing coming back in May. Jimenez went out and logged just his second quality start on the road in his previous outing; a seven-inning three-hitter against Milwaukee. He still managed to walk five, but helped himself out with seven strikeouts. Now note the Mets lineup and their collective 2-for-31 (.065) history versus Jimenez, and we have a pretty good spot-start candidate. ... His team hasn't always backed him for the win, but Scott Baker has stepped up in tough matchups this season. In three starts against the Tigers already, Baker is 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA. The long ball is a threat here, but Baker looks ready to log his seventh straight quality start heading into the All-Star break. ... No respect for Tim Wakefield this season, as his eight straight quality starts have him owned in just 10 percent of ESPN leagues. Maybe his ninth straight will change some minds. ... Kevin Millwood had his start pushed back because of a groin injury. As Tristan Cockcroft noted in Friday's edition, "both Nick Swisher and Jim Thome have really had Kevin Millwood's number throughout the years. Swisher is 9-for-22 (.409 BA) with three homers in his career against the Rangers right-hander; Thome is 3-for-4 with two homers." Based on those numbers, a matchup against red-hot John Danks, and the fact he has groin issues, don't toy with the idea of starting Millwood. ... Matt Ginter looks to win the "who fills the gaping hole left by CC Sabathia?" sweepstakes. You want no part of him. He has a 4.14 ERA in Triple-A this season and hasn't pitched in the majors since 2005. ... Keep an eye on rookie Collin Balester as he makes his first home start in the big leagues. The Astros represent a pretty strong challenge, and how he responds should give an indication of whether or not he'll be a spot-start candidate this season.
There is at least a slight chance of precipitation in every city hosting baseball on Saturday, but except for a few cases, the chance of significant showers is minute. ... The most ominous forecast is in Chicago, where the Giants-Cubs game has an 80 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Definitely give the edge to any other player when making lineup decisions. ... Minnesota (Twins-Tigers) has a 40 percent chance of rain and Kansas City (Mariners-Royals) has a 30 percent chance. ... Weather-proof games include: Yankees-Blue Jays and Reds-Brewers.
Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
Sean Allen previews Saturday's major league action from a fantasy perspective.