- Sean Allen
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With the finish of the season so close, owners in tight battles for the championship need to start paying attention to every minute detail. Brett Myers' start on Friday is a prime example. The man has been unhittable since returning from the minors after the All-Star break; 11 starts, 7-2 record with a 1.80 ERA. He is coming off a complete-game two-hitter against the Brewers. How can you sit him?
Well, if you have only 35 innings left against the cap in your league, you have to consider whether Myers will maximize the innings he throws for your team. He faces the Marlins on Friday, but check out the career batting averages of some Fish against Myers (career at-bats in parentheses): Mike Jacobs, .357 (28); Hanley Ramirez, .360 (25); Luis Gonzalez, .421 (19); Alfredo Amezaga, .375 (16); and Josh Willingham, .385 (13). Those are pretty good numbers from five guys who conceivably could hit consecutively against Myers, although remember many of these numbers came during his recent down period.
Do I still think Myers will dominate the Marlins and win the game? Yes, I honestly do. He found an extra something in the minors this season that hadn't been there while he dealt with his personal troubles and subsequent mission to the bullpen the past couple of seasons. But do I think there is enough risk that I would bench him if I'd think I definitely would overshoot my innings cap and still had Tim Lincecum, Rich Harden and Johan Santana on my roster? Yes, I would. Little things are what count in tight races, and you have to minimize risk when you don't have much wiggle room left.
Matchups for Friday, Sept. 19
Rod Barajas, C, Blue Jays (hamstring)
Jason Bay, OF, Red Sox (personal)
Ronnie Belliard, 1B/2B/3B, Nationals (wrist)
Milton Bradley, OF, Rangers (wrist)
J.D. Drew, OF, Red Sox (back)
Yunel Escobar, 2B/SS/3B, Braves (hamstring)
Carlos Guillen, 1B/SS/3B, Tigers (back)
Jose Guillen, OF, Royals (illness)
Vladimir Guerrero, OF, Angels (knee)
Conor Jackson, 1B, Diamondbacks (shoulder)
Mike Lowell, 3B, Red Sox (hip)
Kazuo Matsui, 2B, Astros (back)
Yadier Molina, C, Cardinals (quadriceps)
Carl Pavano, SP, Yankees (hip)
Edgar Renteria, SS, Tigers (pectoral)
Juan Rivera, OF, Angels (hip)
B.J. Upton, 2B/OF, Rays (quadriceps)
Ty Wigginton, 2B/3B/OF, Astros (hamstring)
Jack Wilson, SS, Pirates (finger)
Chris Young, OF, Diamondbacks (wrist)
Start 'em, sit 'em
Hitters: I'll believe it when I see it, but J.D. Drew owners could have him back Friday. He's been taking some swings this week in practice. Drew still should be an asset, as he is cozy with David Ortiz in the lineup. Also expect Jason Bay (attending the birth of his child), Chris Young (who pinch-hit Tuesday) and Vladimir Guerrero (targeting a return Thursday at the latest) to find their way into your fantasy lineups. Ease away from using Andre Ethier again, as the Dodgers face another southpaw in Barry Zito. Ethier is hitting .242 against lefties while teammates Manny Ramirez, Juan Pierre and Matt Kemp are all hitting better than .300. Owners in search of steals should look to Kazuo Matsui, who returned to action Tuesday. He is at 80 percent now, and I'd watch for a stolen base in the box score before using him, but now might be the time to scoop him up. He might be especially helpful for those who had owned Brandon Phillips, who is done for the year. Curtis Granderson sinks his teeth into Fausto Carmona's sinkerball. He's 10-for-23 (.435) with two doubles, two triples and a home run. Keep a close eye on Conor Jackson's injury status. He rakes left-handed pitching, and this is a date with a southpaw in Coors Field. Yum. Kelly Johnson is on fire this month and has a .354 average against left-handers. He'll face southpaw Oliver Perez. Coco Crisp is a measly 1-for-13 against A.J. Burnett, and his value may go down even more with impending return of J.D. Drew.
Pitchers: So, is anyone not starting Carlos Zambrano because of his 5.53 August/September ERA? Didn't think so. I assume the owners in 78 percent of ESPN leagues have been hanging on to Fausto Carmona precisely for this start and this start alone. Although his season has been a prolonged debacle, Carmona has dominated the Tigers in three tries this year. Carmona is 3-0 with a 3.32 ERA against Detroit this season, and 6-2 with a 3.34 ERA against the Tigers lifetime. A.J. Burnett always gets a thumbs-up versus Boston. He is 5-0 in seven starts with a 2.37 ERA versus the Red Sox.
Hitters: Start Lyle Overbay and Joe Inglett from the Blue Jays. Both have terrific histories against Paul Byrd. Overbay is 9-for-16 (.563 BA), while Inglett is 8-for-13 (.615 BA). If you're in a two-catcher league and just lost Josh Bard for the season, check to see whether Nick Hundley is available. Sure, he is hitting .230, but 20 RBIs in 50 games isn't too shabby for a No. 2 catcher. The Reds have started five different second basemen since losing Brandon Phillips, but expect them to settle on Jerry Hairston Jr. as a replacement. Use him if you need someone with a safe average and some stolen bases. Need a spot start at catcher? Use Robinson Cancel. The Mets face lefty Mike Hampton, and Cancel is hitting southpaws at a .429 clip, while Brian Schneider's average against them is .189. Felipe Lopez appears to be useful against Carlos Zambrano. In 34 career at-bats, Lopez has 11 hits (.324 BA) and two home runs. Marcus Thames and his uppercut swing get no consideration against a ground-ball inducer like Fausto Carmona. Sure enough, Thames is 0-for-12 in his career against the Indians righty. Steve Pearce might be worth playing Friday. The Pirates outfielder is 7-for-20 with a home run versus lefties so far this season.. Billy Butler is not only hitting better than .300 versus lefties overall this season, he also is 7-for-17 (.412) with two home runs in his career against Mark Buehrle. Go as deep as Juan Uribe, Nick Swisher and A.J. Pierzynski for White Sox hitters, as Brian Bannister has served it up to the team this season (7.56 ERA in three starts).
Pitchers: Coors Field be damned. Max Scherzer is racking up the strikeouts, and contrary to last September, the Rockies have been spending the month in the league's offensive basement (.657 OPS, second-worst in majors). Expect a pitchers' duel in Pittsburgh between two guys who aren't owned in 50 percent of ESPN leagues combined. Houston's September OPS of .651 ranks dead last in the majors, and Pittsburgh's .705 mark is fifth worst. Randy Wolf has great numbers in nine career starts against the Pirates; 6-1 with a 3.64 ERA. Ian Snell had his most recent quality start Sept. 8 against the Astros while striking out nine in six innings of three-run ball. Although I expect Brett Myers to prevent Josh Johnson from getting the win, he's rolling with eight straight quality starts, and the Phillies have only managed two runs off him in 12 2/3 innings this season. The Angels are a far cry from the A's when it comes to offense, so I wouldn't get lured in by Matt Harrison after his shutout of Oakland in his most recent outing. Consider Greg Maddux in deeper formats, as he is coming off a dominant performance in Coors Field and is 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA against San Francisco this season.
The forecast in every city where baseball is to be played on Friday calls for at least a slight (20 percent) chance of showers. However, the Twins-Rays game is weatherproof (as is Red Sox-Blue Jays), but you'll have to keep an eye on the Phillies-Marlins game, as there is a 40 percent chance of isolated showers.
Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.