- AJ Mass, Fantasy
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Assuming the weather cooperates -- no guarantee this season -- we'll have nine games on tap for Thursday. There's a definite "cream of the crop" with four 10-game winners in our top 5, but beyond that, there's still plenty of good spot-start options today. However, with our bottom six pitchers all going on the road, perhaps it's time to put on our ruby slippers and simply attempt to ride out any stormy weather in the comfort of home. There's no place like our rankings
Starting pitcher rankings for Thursday, July 23
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: Be it the second half of the season or not, with Dan Haren's 2009 so far, combined with his 3-0 lifetime mark against the Pirates, means we're not putting him anywhere but No. 1 on our list for the day. Adam Wainwright has a 1.54 ERA in his past three starts and Washington has won just once since its managerial change. We'll go Cards in this one. Jered Weaver has a 2.60 lifetime ERA against the Twins, so we'll give him the nod over CC Sabathia, who should do well against Oakland. However, CC has a 6.26 ERA against the A's over the years, so we'll tread a bit lightly. Mark Buehrle has a higher than usual ERA against the Rays -- 4.23 for his career -- but he has won seven of nine decisions against them, and he's going up against Scott Kazmir who has a gaudy 6.46 ERA against the ChiSox in his past three outings against them. Cole Hamels is back in our good graces against the Padres, thanks both to his 2-0 record with a 3.38 ERA in his past three times on the hill against them, and to Kevin Correia's 8.31 ERA versus the Phillies so far in 2009. Jarrod Washburn has been nothing short of sensational of late, with a 3-0 record and a 0.79 ERA in his past three starts. However, Detroit has been a bit of a bugaboo for Washburn. He has an astronomical 34.71 ERA in his past three starts against the Motor City Kitties. Barry Zito is 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA at Turner Field and Kenshin Kawakami already struggled against the Giants earlier this season (three earned runs and nine hits in 5 2/3 IP). We do like what we've seen so far out of Toronto's "Zep" and Detroit's Luke French, but it's been such a small sample size and neither pitcher has yet to be given the keys to the seventh inning. So while they both might make decent spot starts, don't expect them to get anywhere near a complete game. Scott Baker is 0-4 with a 6.28 ERA when playing in Anaheim of Los Angeles of California of the USA, so we'll pass on him. We'll also say no to Charlie Morton. Despite a nice stretch where Morton's gone 2-1 with a 2.65 ERA, Arizona is quite the spacious park and Dan Haren isn't likely to yield too many runs of his own. And rounding out the rankings for the day, David Huff is working on a 7.63 ERA over his past three starts, which is actually slightly worse than Vin Mazzaro's 7.07 ERA over his past three, but while Mazzaro went 0-3, Huff was actually 1-1 over that time. Vin gets the bottom bunk, but neither gets our recommendation.
• Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Padres: Struggling Gonzalez welcomes another shot at Cole Hamels, against whom AG has a solo home run to go along with a career batting average of .333.
• Raul Ibanez, OF, Phillies: Ibanez is hitting .348 since his return from the disabled list, and is 3-for-4 with a three-run homer against Kevin Correia.
• Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies: Utley also loves Correia's pitching, to the tune of a slugging percentage of 1.167.
• Carl Crawford, OF, Rays: No reason to sit Crawford against Mark Buehrle. He's 12-for-25 lifetime against the White Sox starter that's a .480 batting average, for the math-impaired.
• Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox: Not only is Konerko hitting .356 with five home runs in July, but is a .467 hitter with two home runs against Scott Kazmir.
• Brandon Inge, 3B, Tigers: Sure it looks like Inge is in a free-fall lately, but Jarrod Washburn can be his parachute. Inge has two home runs and six RBIs off the Seattle starter.
• Scott Rolen, 3B, Blue Jays: Rolen's hit .370 against the Indians this season, and scored seven runs, more than against any other opponent.
• Ryan Doumit, C, Pirates: Doumit is struggling, with a .188 average since returning from injury, and facing Dan Haren isn't exactly an elixir for success.
• Jim Thome, DH, White Sox: Thome has never had a hit off of Scott Kazmir, with five strikeouts in 13 at-bats.
• Orlando Cabrera, SS, Athletics: Certainly, you have to be impressed with Cabrera's .382 average for July, but CC Sabathia usually gives him fits. He's only hitting .138 against the Yankees' ace.
• Austin Kearns, OF, Nationals: Adam Wainwright? Austin Kearns: wrong. He's 0-for-10 against the Cardinals' starter.
• Justin Morneau, 1B, Twins: Morneau is only 2-for-11 against Jered Weaver, making him a prime candidate to be swapped out of your lineup for a one-day vacation.
• Howie Kendrick, 2B, Angels: Kendrick has a .167 OBP against Scott Baker lifetime, and is hitting only .250 against Minnesota so far in 2009.
• Kelly Shoppach, C, Indians: He's been relegated to bit player, with only 20 at-bats in July, and has a puny .067 average against the current Toronto staff.
If you're hardcore
• Miguel Montero, C, Diamondbacks: Montero's July OPS is 1.075 and he is 8-for-16 since the All Star break.
• Juan Uribe, 3B, Giants: He's hitting .308 for July and went 1-for-2 off Kenshin Kawakami the last time they met.
• Garret Anderson, OF, Braves: Owned in only four percent of ESPN Standard leagues, Anderson has two home runs and a .328 career average against Barry Zito.
• Ryan Langerhans, OF, Mariners: Not a sexy player by any means, but he is hitting 77 points higher on the road and facing unproven Luke French.
• Marcus Thames, OF, Tigers: He's slugging .647 against Jarrod Washburn. Why not give him a shot with the short schedule?
• Chris Duncan, OF, Cardinals: Duncan is in an 0-for-15 slump, but homered off of Jordan Zimmermann earlier this season.
• Nick Johnson, OF, Nationals: Perhaps praying for a trade, Johnson is hitting .351 in July, and 3-for-4 against Adam Wainwright in his career.
Injury list: Out
• Tim Wakefield, P, Red Sox (15-day DL, back strain)
• Rich Aurilia, 1B, Giants (15-day DL, infected toe)
• Ramon Hernandez, C, Reds (15-day DL, knee)
• Jason Giambi, 1B, Athletics (15-day DL, strained quad)
Injury list: Day-to-day
• Manny Ramirez, OF, Dodgers (hand): X-rays on Ramirez's hand were negative after he left the game after being hit by a Homer Bailey pitch on Tuesday night.
• Franklin Gutierrez, OF, Mariners (left knee): It could have been worse than just bruises, but Gutierrez still might miss a few games after crashing into the outfield wall on Tuesday.
• Omar Vizquel, SS, Rangers (flu)
• Jonathan Papelbon (flu)
• Lance Berkman, 1B, Astros (calf): No tear, which is good, but Berkman will give his sore calf a few days of rest before returning to the lineup.
• Juan Rivera, OF, Angels (hamstring): Continued tightness in his leg has kept the outfielder sidelined. He may be available to pinch-hit but likely would need a pinch-runner if he reached base safely.
• Gary Sheffield, OF, Mets (leg cramp): Sheffield might be the latest Mets player added to the disabled list if his condition doesn't improve soon.
• Thursday's weatherproof games: Indians-Blue Jays and Pirates-Diamondbacks.
• The already limited schedule might shrink even further as there's plenty of thunderstorms in the forecast. Games in jeopardy for delays or outright cancellation are the ones in Detroit, New York, Washington and Philadelphia, where raindrops are sure to outnumber fans in the seats.
AJ Mass is a fantasy baseball, football and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
22hTristan H. Cockcroft