Commentary

Daily Notes: Billingsley looking to be first to four wins

Updated: April 23, 2009, 8:32 AM ET
By AJ Mass | Special to ESPN.com

Even though Thursday's schedule is small in size, a lot of pitchers of significant stature will face off against one another. Chad Billingsley looks to go to 4-0, on the road against the Astros and Wandy Rodriguez, owner of a 1.89 ERA. Also on tap, Carlos Zambrano looks to remain unbeaten against Cincinnati's Aaron Harang and his 2.70 ERA. Then there's Cole Hamels, who can't possibly continue to be as bad as his 11.17 ERA, can he? We've got the rankings below to fill you in on how we see it. Enjoy!

For starters

Selected notes: Not a lot of surprises to be found at the top of the list for Thursday. Chad Billingsley has looked great this season and is 2-0 with a 1.06 ERA in his career at Minute Maid Park. That, combined with Houston's .258 average on the season, compared with the Dodgers' amazing .298 team average, gives Billingsley the nod over Wandy Rodriguez. … With the Reds batting an NL-worst .215, Carlos Zambrano's 3-0 and a 0.78 ERA in his past three starts against Cincinnati looks all the more menacing. … Gil Meche has traditionally struggled against the Indians, with a 4-8 career record, but last season he faced them six times, and if you throw out the first and last time they faced (both ridiculous blowouts), he was 2-0 with a 1.73 ERA. The Indians had a big blowout already against the Yankees, so we don't expect another one here. … Cole Hamels is ranked where he is simply on the incredibly poor start to 2009. We think he's ready to have a solid outing, but our confidence in him has taken a hit. Plus this same pitching matchup ended up with Hamels taking a 5-4 loss on April 23, 2008, though that game was in Milwaukee. … Kevin Millwood is ranked eighth more for the inexperience of his opponent, Scott Richmond, and the strength of the Texas lineup (.527 slugging, tops in the AL) than any personal history versus Toronto. … A quick check of the multiple Mets and Orioles listed in the "Now Batting" sections below should help explain why Kyle Lohse and Bartolo Colon have sunk to the lower part of these rankings.

Now batting

Hitters' count:

Carlos Beltran, OF, Mets: With four career home runs and a .529 batting average against Kyle Lohse, Beltran should have an even better day than usual Thursday.
Carlos Delgado, 1B, Mets: The "other Carlos" on the Mets also likes to see Kyle Lohse on the mound. He's a career .412 hitter with a 1.207 OPS against the St. Louis starter.
Magglio Ordonez, OF, Tigers: The power numbers aren't there anymore for Ordonez, but who cares, as long as he continues to keep his OBP above .400. Considering his career .455 batting average against Darren Oliver, that shouldn't be a problem.
J.J. Hardy, SS, Brewers: Cole Hamels has struggled to start the season, and even if he starts to turn it around, it likely won't be at Hardy's expense. J.J. has a dyn-o-mite .818 slugging percentage against Hamels.
Derrek Lee, 1B, Cubs: Lee has a .304 batting average, five home runs and 11 RBIs in 52 career plate appearances against Aaron Harang.
Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Cubs: Ramirez also has had success against Harang through the years, though not as much as Lee. Still, three career home runs in 40 at-bats is nothing to sneeze at.
Scott Rolen, 3B, Blue Jays: They say familiarity breeds contempt, so Kevin Millwood must despise Rolen, who has a career .340 batting average in 53 at-bats against Millwood for his career.
Ryan Howard, 1B. Phillies: Not that you'd consider benching Howard in 2009, especially with his uncharacteristic hot start to the season, but it's impossible to consider based on his lifetime .357 average versus Dave Bush.
Aubrey Huff, 1B/3B, Orioles: Huff's home run output could get a boost Thursday when he squares off against Bartolo Colon. He's hit two blasts off of Colon in the past and has a .924 OPS against the hefty non-lefty.
Jhonny Peralta, SS, Indians: Although Peralta strikes out about one of every three times he faces Gil Meche, that only makes the career .375 average against the Royals pitcher all the more impressive.

Pitchers' count:

Brandon Phillips, 2B, Reds: Heading into Wednesday's action, Phillips was mired in an 0-for-21 slump. Don't expect that to cure itself against Carlos Zambrano. Phillips is only .229 for his career against Big Z, though even that would be a huge improvement to his 2009 season to date.
Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Mariners: Ichiro hasn't walked since his return to Seattle, and he's been pretty impatient against James Shields in the past, too: no walks and a .214 batting average.
Bobby Abreu, OF, Angels: Edwin Jackson isn't a name that automatically strikes fear into hitters' hearts. But Abreu certainly will be concerned about his 3-for-21 and .190 career slugging percentage against Jackson.
Carlos Guillen, 1B/3B, Tigers: Darren Oliver owns Guillen, as Carlos is only a .133 lifetime hitter against the veteran, although, in fairness, most of that history does date back to 2002 and earlier. Still, it's not like Guillen is knocking the cover off the ball so far in 2009, so if you have a better option, you might as well use it.
Grady Sizemore, OF, Indians: Another Indians' hitter who can't seem to avoid the K against Gil Meche. Sizemore has 10 whiffs in 33 at-bats, but only seven hits (a .212 average) when he does make contact.
Alfonso Soriano, OF, Cubs: Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. And there's also a Cubs hitter who doesn't feast on Aaron Harang. Soriano is a career .182 hitter against the right-hander.
Lance Berkman, 1B, Astros: Waiting for Berkman to break out? Wait at least one more day. Chad Billingsley has gotten Berkman out 10 of 12 times they've faced off.
Carl Crawford, OF, Rays: Crawford won't be deposing King Felix anytime soon. The Rays outfielder has only two hits against Hernandez in 15 plate appearances.

If you're hardcore

Deep inside the matchups

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Gary Matthews Jr., OF, Angels: He's owned in only 1.5 percent of ESPN leagues, but he does have five hits and four RBIs in eight career at-bats against Edwin Jackson.
Maicer Izturis, 2B/SS, Angels: Assuming Brandon Wood continues to get passed over for playing time in his call-up, Izturis also could provide the offense against Jackson. He's a career .417 hitter against the Tiger.
Luke Scott, OF, Orioles: Eight at-bats, two home runs and a ridiculously fat 2.375 OPS seems like an apt description of Scott's success against Bartolo Colon.
Kevin Millar, 1B, Blue Jays: Will Cito Gaston find a place in the lineup for Millar on Thursday? One can hope, as the .390 lifetime average in 41 at-bats against Kevin Millwood screams out to be heard.
Ryan Church, OF, Mets: More and more people are buying into Church, now up to 18.8 percent ownership, and the matchup against Kyle Lohse is a good one: Church has a career .818 slugging percentage versus the Cardinals' pitcher.
Gary Sheffield, OF, Mets: Of course, it's impossible to predict what Jerry Manuel will do with his outfielders, day in and day out. So perhaps you might want to gamble on Sheffield, who has two doubles and a home run in eight career at-bats versus Lohse.
Greg Dobbs, 3B, Phillies: Yes, he generally sticks to the bench until late in games, and rarely sees the starting pitcher. However, Pedro Feliz is a .250 hitter against Dave Bush, and Dobby is 6-for-13 against him with two home runs. Could be time for the house elf to be given a pair of socks and a start.

Triage

Injury list: Out

Rocco Baldelli, OF, Red Sox (15-day DL, strained hamstring)
Ryan Freel, 3B/OF, Orioles (15-day DL, head injury)
Andrew Miller, P, Marlins (15-day DL, oblique strain)
Ryan Doumit, C, Pirates (15-day DL, fractured wrist)
Joe Beimel, P, Nationals (15-day DL, hip flexor)
Everth Cabrera, SS, Padres (60-day DL, fractured left hand)

Injury list: Day-to-day

Jorge Cantu, 1B, Marlins (wrist)
Joel Zumaya, P, Tigers (shoulder): Zumaya has looked solid in Triple-A rehab assignments and conceivably could rejoin Detroit as early as this weekend.
Trevor Hoffman, P, Brewers (oblique): Hoffman is expected to rejoin Milwaukee before the end of its current road trip.
Rickie Weeks, 2B, Brewers (dizziness): Weeks collided with J.J. Hardy and had to leave Tuesday's game as a result, but shouldn't miss too much time, if any at all.
Adam Jones, OF, Orioles (hamstring)
Garret Anderson, OF, Braves (quad)
Brian McCann, C, Braves (blurry vision)
Jose Valverde, P, Astros (ankle/calf). The closer may be given a few days off, just to be sure the minor injury doesn't get any worse. LaTroy Hawkins could get some save chances in the interim.

Weather concerns

• Thursday's weatherproof games: Rays-Mariners, Rangers-Blue Jays and Dodgers-Astros.
• There's a 30 percent chance of isolated thunderstorms in St. Louis, which could mean a rain delay or two, decreasing the odds that the starting pitchers work deep into the game.

AJ Mass is a fantasy baseball, football and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.

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