- Will Harris, ESPN Contributor
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There are just eight games Thursday, four in each league. The Red Sox resume their series at the Yankees when Jon Lester takes the mound opposite Mike Mussina. In the National League, top starters clash in a matchup of playoff hopefuls when Ryan Dempster and the Cubs host Cole Hamels and the Phillies.
Matchups for Thursday, Aug. 28
All times are ET.
Carl Crawford, OF, Rays (hand)
J.D. Drew, OF, Red Sox (back)
Alex Gordon, 3B, Royals (quad)
Jerry Hairston Jr., SS/OF, Reds (hamstring)
Orlando Hudson, 2B, Diamondbacks (wrist)
Maicer Izturis, SS, Angels (thumb)
Carlos Lee, OF, Astros (finger)
Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays (wrist)
Mike Lowell, 3B, Red Sox (oblique)
Troy Percival, RP, Rays (knee)
George Sherrill, RP, Orioles (shoulder)
Billy Wagner, RP, Mets (shoulder)
C.J. Wilson, RP, Rangers (elbow)
Start 'em, sit 'em
Hitters: Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek has managed just a .426 OPS in 66 at-bats versus Yankees starter Mike Mussina. Johnny Damon is 9-for-26 with three home runs and two stolen bases in the past seven days. The Yankees outfielder is also 5-for-10 with a dinger versus Boston left-hander Jon Lester. ... Twins leadoff man Denard Span has batted .307 with 12 steals in 218 at-bats this year, and he should definitely be in the lineup Thursday thanks to his 1.003 OPS against left-handers like the A's Dana Eveland. ... Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier didn't have sharp platoon splits last year, but this season he's batting only .198 against fellow left-handers like the Nationals' John Lannan. Ethier is also currently in a 5-for-31 drought. ... Phillies slugger Pat Burrell is hitting a miserable .181 BA/.299 OBP/.373 SLG in August, but he's 8-for-21 with five doubles versus Ryan Dempster. Phillies ace Cole Hamels makes a lot of hitters look bad, with Mark DeRosa of the Cubs going 0-for-8 against him during their short acquaintance. However, DeRosa's four home runs in seven games are impossible to bench, especially on a day without many options.
Pitchers: Angels soft-tosser Jon Garland is owned in a significant chunk of mixed leagues, but on the heels of a poor July, he's sporting a 5.55 ERA and a mere nine strikeouts in four August starts. He certainly shouldn't be anywhere near a contending team's roster when the Rangers come to visit Thursday. ... Aaron Harang was impressive in tossing six scoreless innings at Coors Field in his last outing, and has again surpassed 50 percent ownership in ESPN leagues. However, it might be best to make sure he's truly regained his form before activating him as Harang was clubbed for 22 earned runs in his previous three starts, including a four-inning disaster against the Astros on Aug. 10.
Hitters: Reds outfielder Chris Dickerson has been swinging a hot bat, hitting .327/.411/.673 since his debut on Aug. 12. With the trades of Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr., the left-handed Dickerson has been assured of seeing his name in the lineup against right-handers. ... Versatile Braves utility man Martin Prado has little power or speed, so he hasn't captured the attention of those in deeper mixed leagues. Prado has been red-hot while filling in for first Chipper Jones and now Casey Kotchman, hitting .453 and slugging .642 in August. He's a solid temporary fill-in on a day when many teams are idle. ... Nationals first baseman Ronnie Belliard isn't exactly a mixed league mainstay, but he's hitting a scorching .411/.449/.575 in August. He's also put up a monster line of .304/.409/.646 with seven homers and six doubles in 79 at-bats versus left-handers.
Pitchers: Blue Jays control artist Jesse Litsch has been incredible since his recall from minor league exile earlier this month, tossing 13 scoreless innings in his two turns. ... With a 2.55 ERA and no more than three runs allowed in 10 of his last 11 starts, Rays right-hander Edwin Jackson appear to be a prime pitching pickup against Toronto. However, Jackson has been fortunate during his recent hot streak and there are several warning signs going forward. His walks and fly balls have continued to increase in July and August, while his strikeout numbers have dropped off sharply. Jackson is high-risk despite outstanding recent surface stats.
Games in Tampa and Houston are always weatherproof. The contests in New York, Washington and Chicago will be played under the threat of rain.
Will Harris is a fantasy baseball and college football analyst for ESPN.com
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