- AJ Mass, Fantasy
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Only eight games are on tap for Thursday, although inclement weather in the middle of the country might cause that number to drop even lower when all is said and done. Still, we're optimists here, and will rank our scheduled starters as if all the games will ultimately reach their final destination. Having said that, there are a lot of untested arms on the slate, so this might be a day better served by careful examination of pitchers like Josh Geer, James McDonald, Mitchell Boggs and Anthony Ortega, rather than any rush into "experimentation" with your fantasy team's pitching staffs. After all, any day where we're willing to put Kyle Davies at No. 2 on our rankings kind of speaks volumes about the lack of anything concrete scheduled on the mound, but for those of you willing to throw caution to the wind, here's the breakdown, as we see it:
Starting pitcher rankings for Thursday, April 30
Rk.: The author's ranking of that pitcher for that day only. T: pitcher throws left-handed or right-handed. Record: pitcher's win-loss record. ERA: pitcher's earned-run average. WHIP: pitcher's average number of walks plus hits surrendered per inning. K/9: pitcher's average number of strikeouts per nine innings. OPSA: pitcher's on-base plus slugging percentage surrendered to opponents. OPS: pitcher's opponent's composite team on-base plus slugging percentage. CT%: pitcher's opponent's success rate putting the ball in play (versus striking out).
Selected notes: Anyone looking for a quality start today needs to direct his/her eyes to Tampa Bay. Boston's Josh Beckett, who struck out 10 Rays hitters on Opening Day, gets another crack at the Tampa Bay lineup, against which he is 6-3 for his career. … Meanwhile, his opponent, Matt Garza, is a very respectable 4-1 against the Red Sox for his career, but with Boston hitting .286 on the season, we have to think they'll do a bit better than the .227 they've managed against Garza in the past. … Scott Feldman is "lip-syncing for his life" tonight (as RuPaul would say), with Kris Benson due back soon from the disabled list. However, a second straight good start might keep him in the rotation. With a 12.15 ERA out of the pen this season, we're thinking he doesn't want to go back to that role. … Similarly, Ricky Romero's injury forced Brian Burres into the Blue Jays' pitching mix, but Burres looked bad against the White Sox, and the Royals roughed him up to the tune of a .304 batting average in his two starts against them last season. … Max Scherzer has yet to see the sixth inning this season, and he's also yet to record a major league win. … Meanwhile, the jury is definitely still out on Anthony Ortega. Yes, he gave up five walks and five runs in five innings in his debut, but he also struck out five Mariners (including Ken Griffey Jr.) so there's potential. However, in the new Yankee Stadium? No thanks.
• Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Red Sox: The Boston outfielder is hitting .438 against Matt Garza, which also bodes well for his opportunity to add to his stolen-base total.
• Dan Uggla, 2B, Marlins: His average has been in a fairly steady decline in his past 10 games, but should bounce back nicely against Sean Marshall of the Cubs, thanks to a lifetime .385 against him.
• Jose Guillen, OF, Royals: Now that he's back from his disabled-list stint, expect his ownership to grow exponentially, especially after a matchup with Brian Burres. Guillen has a career OPS of .923 against the Toronto pitcher.
• Bobby Abreu, OF, Angels: You don't start Abreu for his power, but you do count on him to drive in his fair share of runs, which has never been a problem for him against A.J. Burnett. The Angels' outfielder has a .328 batting average and 10 RBIs in 58 at-bats versus Burnett.
• Marlon Byrd, OF, Rangers: He's playing almost every day and hitting .328, yet still is owned in fewer than five percent of ESPN leagues. What does a guy have to do? It's a limited sample size, but with three hits in 10 at-bats against Dallas Braden, now would be a great time to work that waiver wire.
• J.J. Hardy, SS, Brewers: We admit it's hard to throw support toward a hitter who hasn't broken the Mendoza line all season. But rather than pull our hair out, we'll simply grasp at straws. Hardy has faced Max Scherzer only one time in his career, and hit a home run. Of course, the same can be said for his teammate Prince Fielder. Maybe one of the two can do something positive Thursday.
• Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Red Sox: Sure, he's .312 in his career against the Rays, but Matt Garza seems to be immune to the reigning MVP, who is hitting only .167 against the right-hander.
• Pat Burrell, OF, Rays: Burrell might be somewhat new to the AL, but he's familiar enough with Josh Beckett to know he doesn't like seeing him on the mound. He's 6-for-38 against Beckett in his career, with 10 strikeouts. Not so hot, and yet
• Carlos Pena, 1B, Rays: Pena is even worse against the Red Sox righty, with 11 career strikeouts against Beckett in 18 fewer at-bats to go along with a paltry .150 batting average.
• Torii Hunter, OF, Angels: Hunter can't be happy to cut short a two-game set with the Orioles, against whom he has hit .351 during the past three seasons, to face the Yankees and A.J. Burnett. After all, nobody is going to look good with a gigantic ".118" plastered in bright colors on the humungous new scoreboard next to their smiling picture .
• Alfonso Soriano, OF, Cubs: He's failed to get a hit only twice so far this season, but the third time might be Thursday. Soriano has never managed to get a hit off Chris Volstad, striking out half of the times he's faced him, albeit in a limited number of at-bats.
• Jorge Cantu, 1B, Marlins: Meanwhile, in the opposing dugout, Cantu is rocking a career 0-for-4 against Sean Marshall. Again, it's not a huge sample size, but it might be large enough to influence the Marlins to give Cantu's aching wrist the day off.
If you're hardcore
• Conor Jackson, OF, Diamondbacks: Jeff Suppan might help Jackson surpass the .200 barrier for good this season. Conor's chronicles against Suppan are solid, with an .857 slugging percentage.
• Tony Clark, 1B, Diamondbacks: Owned in fewer than one percent of ESPN leagues, so he's more than available should he get inserted into the lineup (possibly at Jackson's expense) against Suppan. Clark has two home runs and eight RBIs against the Brewer and a .909 career OPS in 31 at-bats.
• Maicer Izturis, SS, Angels: Izturis, owned in 1.1 percent of ESPN leagues, is a .302 hitter at shortstop, and while he doesn't play each and every day, the odds are he'll get the call against A.J. Burnett based on his career .308 average against the Yankees' pitcher.
• Jack Cust, OF, Athletics: Cust has gone 11 games without a home run through Tuesday's play, but Scott Feldman might fall victim to his mighty swing. Cust has two homers against Feldman in 11 career at-bats.
• Mike Fontenot, 2B, Cubs: Through Tuesday, he had a six-game hitting streak going, and is 3-for-5 against Chris Volstad for his career. Let the streak continue!
Deep inside the matchups
Get inside scouting knowledge from ESPN Insider. Is Chris Volstad due to cool off against the Cubs? How will the Brewers fare against Max Scherzer? Click here to find out.
Injury list: Out
• Edwin Encarnacion, 3B, Reds (15-day DL, wrist)
• Jose Valverde, P, Astros (15-day DL, strained calf)
• Mark Ellis, 2B, Athletics (15-day DL, left calf)
• Nomar Garciaparra, 3B, Athletics (15-day DL, calf)
• Jim Thome, DH, White Sox (heel): Probably out for the weekend, at the very least.
Injury list: Day-to-day
• Carlos Delgado, 1B, NYM (hip): After Delgado hurt his hip running the bases Sunday, Fernando Tatis has been in the Mets' lineup. Thursday is an off day for the Mets, but Delgado still is iffy for Friday.
• Santiago Casilla, P, Athletics (calf strain): Casilla has tried to pitch through the discomfort, but had a lot of pain on the mound Tuesday. He'll probably be rested through the weekend.
• Brad Hawpe, OF, Rockies (neck): He's still stiff after being nailed at second base on an errant pickoff throw. However, the diagnosis is good, and Hawpe might see action again soon.
• Gil Meche, P, Royals (back): Meche was scheduled to be evaluated by doctors Wednesday after stiffening up during his poor outing against the Blue Jays earlier this week.
• Brad Lidge, P, Phillies (knee): Inflammation in the same knee that has already gone under the knife twice is why the Phillies are concerned about Lidge. He hasn't pitched since Saturday, and Ryan Madson will likely continue to work in the closer role for the time being.
• Joakim Soria, P, Royals (shoulder): Soria is expected to return sometime this weekend against the Twins as long as he suffers no setbacks in a Wednesday workout.
• Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers (ribs): Hamilton's ribs continue to cause him to miss action, but the team is hoping new medicine and just a few more days of rest can help the slugger avoid a trip to the disabled list.
• Thursday's weatherproof games: Red Sox-Rays and Diamondbacks-Brewers.
• Rain in the Midwest could be a huge factor, with Toronto-Kansas City a likely washout with scattered thunderstorms expected from dawn to dusk. The Marlins-Cubs game in Chicago also has a 70 percent chance of rain, with strong 18 mph winds on the agenda.
• On the East Coast there will be cloudy skies, but any rain should hold off until well after the games in New York and Washington have finished up.
AJ Mass is a fantasy baseball, football and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
12hBy Jackie MacMullan