Commentary

Smoltz faces the weak Nats

Updated: June 24, 2009, 3:39 PM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com

Daily Notes
All eyes will be on Washington on Thursday as 42-year-old John Smoltz makes his first appearance for the Red Sox. While the uniform will be new, the opponent is not and Smoltz has a career 2.55 ERA against Washington, including six innings of one-run ball at Nationals Park last season. We're going to place Smoltz 12th in our rankings, since we're not sure how long the team will let him pitch, but we're optimistic about his success Thursday and going forward. As for the rest of our rankings, read on:

For starters

Selected notes: Topping our charts is Chad Billingsley, who is 2-0 with a 3.86 ERA in his past three outings and who narrowly beats out Chris Carpenter for top honors. Although the Mets' lineup is severely weakened with the recent addition of Carlos Beltran to the disabled list, Carpenter has a 5.09 career ERA against the Mets. Plus, he's facing Johan Santana, who has struggled lately to be sure, but is still a threat to pitch a shutout every time he takes the mound. … Ted Lilly sneaks into the top three, primarily because the Tigers are only ninth in the AL in hitting despite their won-loss record, but also because Lilly hasn't lost since May 24. Similarly, Cliff Lee has been pitching far better than his 4-6 record indicates, and in his past three starts, he's 1-0 with a 2.86 ERA. … Andy Pettitte and Derek Lowe square off, and we have to give the edge to the Yankees starter. He's 5-1 with a 3.13 ERA lifetime against the Braves, while Lowe sports a 6.07 ERA against the men in pinstripes. … Jarrod Washburn is facing the Padres, last in the NL in runs scored and he's never lost to San Diego in his career. … Why is Scott Baker in our top 10? Baker is 2-0 with a 3.18 ERA in June and a 9.5 K/9 rate against the Brewers in five starts. That's why, along with the fact that emergency call-up Mike Burns is making his first career start for Milwaukee, replacing Dave Bush. … As for pitchers we are down on, Jon Garland has a 6.39 ERA against the Rangers and Armando Galarraga has a 7.11 ERA in his past three outings. Rich Hill's ERA is 7.36 in his past three, but we think the Cubs pose a steeper threat than the Marlins, who average nearly two fewer runs per game than Chicago over their past seven. … Sean West is pitching at home, and to quote Spencer Pratt, "That's the problem." He's only 1-2 with a 4.22 ERA at Land Shark Stadium. … San Diego's Wade LeBlanc was not in the cast of "Friends," so we doubt he'll be there for you against Seattle. Last time out, he was unimpressive in three innings, allowing three runs while burning through 62 pitches.

Now batting

Hitters' count

Justin Morneau, 1B, Twins: Since 2006, Morneau has feasted on Brewers pitching, with a .333 average, four home runs and 17 RBIs in 63 at-bats.
Jose Guillen, OF, Royals: Guillen is a career .375 hitter against Brian Moehler, to go along with a .912 OPS.
Luis Castillo, 2B, Mets: Since dropping that popup against the Yankees, Castillo is hitting .357 and is a lifetime .300 hitter against Chris Carpenter.
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals: True, he just went 0-for-15 against the Blue Jays, but Zim has two home runs and nine RBIs lifetime against John Smoltz, who will probably be rusty.
Nolan Reimold, OF, Orioles: Reimold has a .973 OPS in June and is hitting .333 against southpaws like Sean West.
Dan Uggla, 2B, Marlins: Uggla has three home runs in his past five games and 12 of his 14 home runs have come at Land Shark Stadium.
Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates: Cliff Lee is a solid left-hander, but even so, the young Pirates outfielder is hitting .412 against lefties so far this season, making him well worth the play.
Derrek Lee, 1B, Cubs: If a 20-game hitting streak and a .361 batting average in June doesn't qualify a player as being "hot," I don't know what does.

Pitchers' count

Curtis Granderson, OF, Tigers: Granderson has been not so grand against Ted Lilly, with nary a hit to his credit with the Cubs' starter on the mound.
Ivan Rodriguez, C, Astros: Pudge's batting average takes a big slide when Brian Bannister pitches; another combo that has yet to result in a single base hit.
Josh Fields, 3B, White Sox: He's started only once since June 9, and is hitting just .133 in June. How could a matchup with Chad Billingsley possibly end well?
Nick Johnson, 1B, Nationals: With eight strikeouts in 32 at-bats and a .188 batting average, Johnson is certainly not happy to see John Smoltz back.
Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers: Scott Baker has been able to keep the genie of Ryan Braun in the bottle. Braun is hitting only .200 against the Twins' scheduled starter.
Russell Martin, C, Dodgers: He's had a good week, but Martin is hitting only .170 for June, and still hasn't topped .300 in slugging.
Adam Lind, DH, Blue Jays: Left-handers are batting only .223 against Johnny Cueto this year and Lind is hitting 26 points worse against right-handed pitchers. Not a great combo.

Deep inside the matchups

Scott Feldman has been flying under the radar, but should be noticed by fantasy owners. Brian Bannister is not so inspiring.
Inside the Matchups. Insider

If you're hardcore

Hideki Matsui, DH, Yankees: The fact the Yankees are playing in an NL park makes it hard to see Matsui getting more than one at-bat, but he is a .545 career hitter with 12 RBIs against Derek Lowe.
Garret Anderson, OF, Braves: Owned in less than 4 percent of ESPN leagues, Anderson is hitting .317 in June and .400 facing Andy Pettitte.
Matt Stairs, OF, Phillies: He's hitting .333 lifetime against Andy Sonnanstine, but again, this game is in Philadelphia, limiting the upside for a usual non-starter.
Chris Davis, 3B, Rangers: Perhaps some disappointment can be shed if Davis can repeat his previous success off of Jon Garland -- two home runs and five RBIs in five at-bats.
Ronny Paulino, C, Marlins: Rich Hill brings out the best in Paulino, with a .438 average and 1.188 OPS against the Orioles pitcher.
Mitch Maier, OF, Royals: He's raised his average 15 points in the past week, and should get a lot more playing time due to the injury to Coco Crisp.

Triage

Injury list: Out

• Coco Crisp, OF, Royals (15-day DL, shoulder surgery): He has a torn labrum and will miss the rest of the season. Feel free to cut him in non-keeper leagues.
• Carlos Beltran, OF, Mets (15-day DL, knee bruise)
• Dave Bush, P, Brewers (15-day DL, arm fatigue)
Juan Uribe, 3B, Giants (hamstring): According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Uribe will not play before Friday.
Brian Giles, OF, Padres (15-day DL, knee contusion)
Chris Snyder, C, Diamondbacks (15-day DL, back strain)
Wilkin Castillo, OF, Reds (15-day DL, shoulder)

Injury list: Day-to-day

John Maine, P, Mets (shoulder): Maine could be back in the rotation as early as this weekend.
Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B, Indians (15-day disabled list, shoulder): Reports have the team considering a quick recall from rehab at Double-A Akron and he could well be in the Cleveland lineup as early as Thursday.
Kelly Johnson, 2B, Braves (leg cramps): Atlanta may keep Johnson sidelined due to his .148 start to June, more so than the cramps themselves.
Reed Johnson, OF, Cubs (bad back): His back seized up on a team flight and he is expected to be rested until the weekend.
Chris Young, OF, Diamondbacks (groin): He was a late scratch Tuesday. Gerardo Parra will play until Young can get back into the mix.

Weather concerns

• Thursday's weatherproof games: Rangers-Diamondbacks, Royals-Astros, Twins-Brewers, Padres-Mariners, Phillies-Rays and Reds-Blue Jays.
• Expect scattered thunderstorms to cause some havoc with games in Detroit, Pittsburgh and Florida.
• The start of the Dodgers-White Sox game might be delayed due to early-morning rains that might linger longer, but once the game gets going, it should finish without further incident.

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

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