- Will Harris, ESPN Contributor
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Only four American League games are on Thursday's docket, headlined by a clash between Central division leaders Chicago and Minnesota. Both squads send young starters in the midst of breakout seasons to the mound, as the Twins' Scott Baker will square off with White Sox left-hander John Danks. The highlight of senior-circuit action is also a matchup of Central division leaders, as new Cubs acquisition Rich Harden faces Dave Bush and the Brewers at Miller Park. Also of interest is ubertalented Marlins right-hander Anibal Sanchez's return from shoulder surgery against the Rockies. Sanchez had a stellar rookie season in 2006 but hasn't pitched since May 2007.
Matchups for Thursday, July 31
All times are ET.
Joe Crede, 3B, White Sox (back)
Michael Cuddyer, OF, Twins (finger)
Pedro Feliz, 3B, Phillies (back)
Tim Hudson, SP, Braves (elbow)
Chipper Jones, 3B, Braves (hamstring)
Scott Linebrink, RP, White Sox (shoulder)
Brian McCann, C, Braves (concussion)
Jorge Posada, C, Yankees (shoulder)
Justin Upton, OF, Diamondbacks (oblique)
Start 'em, sit 'em
Hitters: Texas first baseman Chris Davis is making a case for Rookie of the Year despite a late June debut. In that month's time -- just over 100 at-bats -- Davis has slugged 10 home runs and compiled an OPS close to 1.000. He's currently on a 13-for-32 tear, with three homers, three doubles, five RBIs and nine runs scored during that span. ... Jim Thome is 1-for-11 with seven strikeouts and no walks versus opposing Twins starter Scott Baker. The White Sox designated hitter is also in a 3-for-19 mini-slump. ... Braves second baseman Kelly Johnson has spent most of July below the Mendoza line for the month, but he may be coming out of his slump as he's slugged .579 over the course of his past six games. Johnson has only four career at-bats versus Joel Pineiro under his belt, but he's already produced two home runs against the Cardinals right-hander. ... Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is shaking off the rust after missing nearly two months with a shoulder injury. He's owned in barely half of ESPN leagues and is still on the bench in many of those. Zimmerman is ready for mixed-league action again, though, and Thursday is as good a time as any. The 23-year-old is 4-for-9 with three doubles versus Phillies' innings-eater Kyle Kendrick. ... Dodgers shortstop Nomar Garciaparra is unlikely to play Thursday due to a sprained MCL, but even if he takes the field for the Dodgers he shouldn't suit up for any fantasy teams. Garciaparra is a putrid 1-for-20 in his career against Diamondbacks ace Brandon Webb.
Pitchers: Fausto Carmona is still owned in 100 percent of ESPN leagues, but after serving up nine runs to the Twins in his first start back from a hip injury, he belongs on the bench. Carmona was pitching poorly even before the injury. He had walked 38 batters in 58 innings while recording just 23 strikeouts prior to hitting the disabled list in early May. Only his ability to keep the ball on the ground and avoid home runs allowed him to get away with all the free passes and post a 3.10 first-half ERA. He's clearly not back in 2007 form yet, so Carmona belongs nowhere near the active roster of a contending team right now. ... Derek Lowe was roughed up a bit in early May, but since then has been a major asset in mixed leagues. Lowe finished May with seven shutout innings against the potent Cubs at Wrigley Field. He then posted a 2.81 ERA in June and is 3-0 so far in July, with his most recent start an eight-inning one-hitter versus the Nationals. Lowe has already beaten Arizona twice this year and is in solid midseason form.
Hitters: Garret Anderson is 36 years old and somewhat injury-prone, and he managed an OPS of just .476 in June, so he's not getting much love from mixed-league owners. However, the Angels outfielder's July OPS is nearly .900 and he's had plenty of success against Andy Pettitte. Anderson is batting .380 and slugging .535 in 71 at-bats versus the Yankees left-hander. ... With Todd Helton on the disabled list, the Rockies have moved third sacker Garrett Atkins across the diamond and installed top prospect Ian Stewart at the hot corner. The move has paid off so far, as Stewart has been on fire since his July 19 recall. The 23-year-old is hitting .436 BA/.500 OBP/.615 SLG during that 10-game span!
Pitchers: It's hard to believe that Scott Baker is owned in fewer than half of ESPN leagues. The Twins right-hander has allowed more than three runs only twice all year, both times on the road against good offenses (Texas and Detroit.) He even notched 11 strikeouts and just one walk in those two subpar outings. For the season, Baker owns a sporty 81/18 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His 1.11 WHIP is the seventh-lowest in the major leagues among full-time starting pitchers. ... Milwaukee's Dave Bush doesn't have very impressive overall numbers, but it's hard to ignore his 2.95 ERA and .226 BAA at home. Bush has made three July starts, spanning 21 innings, and for the month he's notched 25 strikeouts and has not issued a single walk! He can be used Thursday in Miller Park even against the offensive-minded Cubs.
Games in Minnesota and Milwaukee are always weatherproof. Of the seven outdoor games on Thursday, only the Dodgers-Diamondbacks is guaranteed to be dry.
Will Harris is a fantasy baseball and college football analyst for ESPN.com.
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