- AJ Mass, Fantasy
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We're back to a short schedule Thursday, with only nine games on the agenda. Still, plenty of top pitchers will be in action, with half the 18 scheduled starters sporting an ERA lower than 4.00. Of course, ERA doesn't always tell the whole story. After all, if it did, Doug Davis would be far better than his 3-8 record suggests, based on his 3.28 ERA.
On Thursday, you need Davis to get some run support in addition to pitching well, and quite frankly, with Aaron Harang on the mound against him, we don't think he'll get it. Harang has a 1.38 ERA against the Diamondbacks the past three times he has faced them. Of course, he's gotten no run support, either, as he's 0-2 in those games. Just another prime example of why the win statistic as a measure of pitcher value should be phased out of the fantasy baseball game. But as long as wins count, we'll have to consider them when making our rankings, which we present to you below.
Starting pitcher rankings for Thursday, July 2
Rk.: The author's ranking of that pitcher for that day only. T: Pitcher throws left-handed or right-handed. W-L: 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: CC Sabathia takes top honors for Thursday, thanks to a 2.95 ERA against the Mariners and the matchup against Jason Vargas, whose 7.31 ERA in his past three outings fails to impress. Javier Vazquez continues to mow hitters down, and as a team, the Phillies have struck out once every 4.4 at-bats during the past month. Mark Buehrle always seems to step it up against the Royals, with a 19-8 career mark against them, and Bruce Chen doesn't exactly scream "top-notch competition" with his 5.66 ERA against the ChiSox. Kevin Correia is on fire with a 2.49 ERA in his past three appearances, but with Adrian Gonzalez' status for Thursday in doubt, we'll have to lean in Wandy Rodriguez's direction for this matchup. Paul Maholm has not pitched well against the Mets lately, with a 6.75 ERA in his past three outings against the not-so-Amazin's. This is such a depleted Mets lineup, though, and Maholm will go up against Tim Redding, who has been pitiful this season. We have to like Pittsburgh's chances. J.A. Happ has been acting like an ace, but he has a 9.00 ERA against the Braves this season. True, that was the result of a bad relief outing before he became a starter, but it doesn't change the fact that Atlanta has had success against him. Ryan Dempster likes to face the Brewers. He is 9-3 with a 2.73 ERA against them, but don't dismiss Seth McClung out of hand. He has a career ERA of just 1.23 at Wrigley Field. The Giants would have the wild-card spot if the season were to end today and are playing good baseball. That's why we have little confidence in Todd Wellemeyer despite the matchup against fantasy poison Barry Zito, who is 0-3 with a 4.57 ERA against the Cardinals. We had John Lackey a little bit higher on our list, but after watching Baltimore put up 10 runs in two innings against the Red Sox to come back from a 10-1 deficit Tuesday, we grew a little scared for him. The timing just isn't right for him on this day.
• Brandon Phillips, 2B, Reds: Phillips has a career .591 OBP against Doug Davis, so expect to see him on the base paths early and often Thursday.
• Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Mariners: It's another 12-game hitting streak for Ichiro, and he has a .395 batting average off CC Sabathia to go along with three career home runs.
• Adam LaRoche, 1B, Pirates: He's hit four home runs against the Mets since 2006 and has touched them all against Tim Redding in his career as well. It's a perfect storm for success.
• Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies: Utley is hitting .333 against Javier Vazquez with five RBIs in 15 at-bats.
• Brian McCann, C, Braves: Yes, he's in the midst of a severe slump, but he already has three home runs and nine RBIs against the Phillies this season.
• Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals: Not exactly reinventing the wheel with this recommendation, but even for Pujols, a .556 career average, two homers and eight RBIs off Barry Zito is impressive.
• Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox: Konerko has a 1.125 slugging percentage off Bruce Chen, so he should pad his power numbers a bit.
• Chad Tracy, 1B, Diamondbacks: The good news is he's back in action after last playing on May 29. The bad news is that he's a .176 hitter against Aaron Harang.
• Kazuo Matsui, 2B, Astros: Kevin Correia owns Matsui, who has no hits and four strikeouts in eight career at-bats.
• J.J. Hardy, SS, Brewers: Sure, he's hitting .429 in his past five games, but that all could end when Ryan Dempster brings Hardy back down to Earth. Hardy is 2-for-23 against Dempster.
• Alfonso Soriano, OF, Cubs: Seth McClung might not strike fear in the hearts of many men, but Alfonso Soriano enters the panic room when McClung looms near. He's only 1-for-15 with six strikeouts against the Brewers' pitcher.
• Aubrey Huff, 1B, Orioles: Huff won't be blowing any houses down against John Lackey, thanks to a .080 batting average and no extra-base hits.
• Bobby Abreu, OF, Angels: Abreu is not a great play against Baltimore's Jeremy Guthrie, against whom he has squared off 15 times but has earned a hit only twice.
• David DeJesus, OF, Royals: This sample size is certainly large enough. In 59 career at-bats, DeJesus has a minuscule .180 OBP against Mark Buehrle. Bench away, friends.
If you're hard-core
• Scott Hairston, SS, Padres: Hairston wields the magic against Wandy Rodriguez, with two home runs and a .444 batting average.
• Eric Hinske, OF, Yankees: Just our way of reminding you that he's in a new league and available for the taking and if you can't get up for your debut in pinstripes, when will you?
• Joe Thurston, 3B, Cardinals: With Mark DeRosa's status up in the air, Thurston will try his best to play like a millionaire against Barry Zito and the Giants.
• Argenis Reyes, SS, Mets: Sure, he's only 1-for-3 against Paul Maholm, but considering he's hitting .083 for 2009, that's a phenomenal success rate.
• Jeff Salazar, OF, Pirates: Salazar has faced Tim Redding before, although he has walked twice in three plate appearances against him. He may be in for plenty of time in the Pirates' outfield now that Nyjer Morgan has been traded.
• Fred Lewis, OF, Giants: Nate Schierholtz has been on fire, which has cost Lewis some playing time, but he is a .400 hitter against Todd Wellemeyer. Perhaps he'll trot out onto the field Thursday.
• Mark Teahen, 3B, Royals: Teahen is an impressive 20-for-47 lifetime against Mark Buehrle with an OPS of 1.109.
Injury list: Out
• Adrian Beltre, 3B, Mariners (15-day DL, shoulder surgery)
• Mike Lowell, 3B, Red Sox (15-day DL, hip strain)
• Josh Outman, P, Athletics (15-day DL, elbow surgery)
• Khalil Greene, SS, Cardinals (15-day DL, anxiety disorder)
Injury list: Day-to-day
• Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Padres (knee): Gonzalez left Tuesday's game after getting hurt sliding into third base with a triple. Hopefully, this will turn out to be just a bruise and nothing more serious.
• Mark DeRosa, 3B, Cardinals (wrist): Uh-oh! X-rays will determine the extent of DeRosa's injury, as he injured his wrist swinging the bat Tuesday. Stay tuned.
• Yunel Escobar, SS, Braves (hip): He's been favoring his right hip and has missed the past four games. However, he was originally in the lineup on Tuesday before being scratched late, so he might be close to returning to action.
• Adam Jones, OF, Orioles (shoulder/neck): Jones ran full-speed, face-first, into the wall in a failed effort to rob Kevin Youkilis of a home run and eventually was replaced by Felix Pie.
• There will be no weatherproof games on Thursday, but even with only nine contests on tap, the rain will still be a factor in just less than half the schedule.
• Missouri will be the "Show me precipitation state" with thunderstorms in the forecast for both St. Louis and Kansas City.
• Meanwhile, both the Yankees, at home against Seattle, and the Mets, on the road in Pittsburgh, could face some cloudy skies and possible slippery footing thanks to the falling rain.
AJ Mass is a fantasy baseball, football and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
AJ Mass previews Thursday's major league schedule and notes that Doug Davis is a better pitcher than his record suggests.