Sabathia faces the Sox in Chicago
July 31 always manages to throw its share of monkey wrenches into the best-laid plans of those charged with making fantasy baseball recommendations and rankings. For example, we were all set to tell you to steer clear of Nelson Cruz against Jarrod Washburn, when all of a sudden, Washburn was no longer a Mariner, having been sent packing to Detroit. Nothing to see here, Nelson! Go on with business as usual!
With plenty of new faces in new places, it is bound to be some time before new roles are fully established and rotations properly shuffled. (In some instances, even a missed or delayed flight might end up keeping a particular player from making his scheduled debut.) So, while it's always a good idea to strike quickly to make those waiver claims, you don't want to jump the gun by starting a player before his new manager has even had a chance to introduce himself. With that said, here are our rankings for the weekend's scheduled starters, for the time being, at least.
Starting pitcher rankings for Saturday, Aug. 1
Selected notes for Saturday: How can you not like Tim Lincecum, regardless of the opponent? Now throw in his personal record against the Phillies (1-0, 1.29 ERA in his past three starts against Philadelphia) and again I ask: How can you not like Tim Lincecum? Felix Hernandez tends to have a slightly higher ERA when facing the Rangers (4.85 career at Arlington) but that's not enough to sour us on the once and future king. Josh Beckett at Camden Yards? That has meant an .800 winning percentage for the Red Sox hurler, so he gets our bronze medal for Saturday. Wandy Rodriguez has a 2.77 ERA against the Cardinals in two previous decisions in 2009, but of course, that was before the arrival of Matt Holliday. That's enough of a difference to make us favor Chris Carpenter (2-0, 1.17 ERA in his last three) in this matchup. With the Reds hitting .244 (15th in the NL), we like Ubaldo Jimenez to win, especially going up against Homer Bailey, who, in spite of his first name, is only 3-6 with a 7.18 ERA at Great American Ballpark. A.J. Burnett has a 2.77 ERA at U.S. Cellular Field, giving him a slight nod in our rankings over Derek Lowe. Besides, the Braves have plenty of injuries in the infield and aren't likely to be at full strength. Speaking of which, that's why we like Randy Wolf a bit more than perhaps we normally would, given his 4-6 record and 5.08 ERA at Turner Field. John Danks has a 6.10 ERA against the Yankees, but at least he's not facing them on the road, where things could get real ugly. As long as we're on the topic of New York, how 'bout them Mets? The offense has come to life as of late, even at Citi Field, but Max Scherzer's 9.31 K/9 rate should get a boost here. Jeff Niemann is strutting his stuff of late, with a 2.66 ERA in his past three, and he gets the Royals on Saturday, which is an easier matchup than, say, Minnesota. That's why we have to put Joe Saunders down a bit on our list, even with his 1.20 ERA at the Metrodome. Brett Cecil (2-0, 0.45 ERA in his past three) and David Hernandez (1-0, 1.89 ERA in his last three) are both good sleeper picks if you're looking for an unheralded pitcher to roll the dice on today. Florida's Burke Badenhop and Milwaukee's Mike Burns are our best guess to fill "undecided" spots in their respective team's rotations, but there's no guarantee they'll be the ones their managers eventually settle on. As for the bottom of the barrel, we've got Virgil Vasquez (0-3, 9.00 ERA over his past three appearances), Oliver Perez, sporting a 1-5 record and a 5.01 ERA against the D-backs, and Bruce Chen, 1-1 with a 5.28 ERA lifetime at the Trop.
Starting pitcher rankings for Sunday, August 2
Selected notes for Sunday:
As Meatloaf used to sing, "Two out of three ain't bad." So with that ditty stuck in our heads, we select Adam Wainwright and his .667 winning percentage to get lucky win No. 13 against Houston. The Astros are optimistic that Roy Oswalt will indeed be able to take his scheduled turn in the rotation, and since we don't get to see the medical reports, we'll have to take their word for it. CC Sabathia is 7-1 with a 2.84 ERA for his career at U.S. Cellular Park, so he comes in just ahead of Mark Buehrle, who still should be started by all his owners, without question -- just don't expect perfection again. Jered Weaver has been the anti-Buehrle of late, but he's far better than the 7.47 ERA over his past three starts, and considering he didn't actually get charged with a loss in any of those games, he certainly can't complain of lack of run support. Jason Marquis is 4-2 at Great American Ballpark, so don't be sad. (Dagnabit, there's that Meatloaf again!) We like Marquis, but we like Jair Jurrjens and his 2-0 record with a 1.37 ERA over his past three starts a little bit better, especially against Chad Billingsley, who is 0-2 with a 7.84 ERA the past three times he's squared off against the Braves. Ricky Nolasco is 1-0 with a 2.79 ERA over his past three starts, and goes up against Ryan Dempster, who still is contending with that broken toe and probably could have used a little more time on the disabled list. Cole Hamels re-enters the Top 10. He's been pitching well of late and is a perfect 3-0 against the Giants for his career. James Shields does have a favorable matchup against the Royals, but that 7.27 ERA over his past three does give us reason to be cautious with our praise here. Wisdom would say to rank Carl Pavano higher, since he's 2-0 with a 2.35 ERA against the Tigers so far in 2009. But there's this song in my head that's making me think he's due for a loss. Ricky Romero has nine wins? Talk about drilling for oil on a city street. He is 2-1 in his past three, but with a 7.20 ERA. Other middle-of-the-road options are Brian Bannister, with a 10.38 ERA versus the Rays in 2009; Barry Zito, who does have a 1.89 ERA in his past three but faces the strong Phillies lineup; and Kevin Correia, who has a 6.46 ERA over his past three appearances. Not exactly a murderers' row, but all capable of having a good day. Glen Perkins carries huge risk, but his 2-0 record with a 0.56 ERA against the Angels might yield huge rewards for those owners brave enough to take that chance. As for the rest of the Cracker Jack box, there's nary a Coupe de Ville to be found. Carlos Villanueva's ERA is 7.88 over his past three outings. Vin Mazzaro's is 10.80! Ian Snell has been called up from Triple-A to join fellow Pirates-castoff Jack Wilson on the Mariners roster. He'll be taking Jarrod Washburn's turn in the rotation, and we'll try not to snicker when Seattle management tries to explain how they haven't given up on making the playoffs this season. And finally, we've got Clay Buchholz at No. 30. Its not that we have anything against him personally, but with all that trade deadline hullabaloo and his name being mentioned as being included in each and every potential deal, we just don't have any confidence that his head and heart will be completely present in this start. Sure, he could go out with a chip on his shoulder and strike out 20 Orioles and if he does, we're happy for him. But we're still not starting him.
Now batting (Saturday)
• Carlos Pena, 1B, Rays: Pena is hitting .342 against the Royals' current roster of pitchers, and Bruce Chen isn't exactly Cy Young.
• Curtis Granderson, OF, Tigers: Certainly, three home runs in three games is reason enough to start Curtis. The .364 career average against Jeremy Sowers is just gravy.
• Mark DeRosa, 3B, Cardinals: Not only does DeRosa have a six-game hitting streak, but he also has a .588 slugging percentage against Wandy Rodriguez.
• Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Padres: Milwaukee's starter is up in the air, but Gonzalez has a .458 batting average against the Brewers' current roster of arms.
• Orlando Hudson, 2B, Dodgers: Hudson is 11-for-34 in his career against Derek Lowe (.324), making him a player to keep your eye on this Saturday.
• Michael Young, 3B, Rangers: Young is the real "king" when facing Felix Hernandez, with a .354 career average and six RBIs in 48 at-bats.
• Jorge Posada, C, Yankees: Posada lost his eight-game hitting streak with a failed pinch-hit attempt Thursday. So what? He's still hot and is 3-for-4, with a home run, against John Danks.
• Kurt Suzuki, C, Athletics: Suzuki lost his nine-game hitting streak with a failed pinch-hit attempt Thursday. Again, so what? He's still hot and is 2-for-4 lifetime against Brett Cecil.
• Kendry Morales, 1B, Angels: In the midst of a five-game stretch in which he's hitting .368, we're just not high on him against the Twins, with his .146 average against the current staff of Minnesota.
• Justin Morneau, 1B, Twins: Morneau is only 1-for-9 lifetime against Joe Saunders, so if you've got a decision to make at first base today, you might want to lean in the direction of "the other guy."
• Milton Bradley, OF, Cubs: True, he's hitting a very un-Bradley-esque .360 since July 22, but that .167 against the Marlins this year is closer to what we expect this weekend.
• Emilio Bonifacio, 3B, Marlins: Bonifacio has never had a hit against Carlos Zambrano and is batting only .136 against the Cubs' staff as a whole. Plus, with Nick Johnson now in town, there might not be room at the infield for him.
• Carlos Lee, OF, Astros: Lee's hitting only .148 against Chris Carpenter, with a strikeout every three at-bats. Not today, Carlos.
• Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies: Sit Rollins after a .315 July? Yup. At least against Tim Lincecum, who has retired Rollins in 10 of 11 at-bats.
• Mark Reynolds, 3B, Diamondbacks: I love Mark Reynolds, but he hates the Mets. For his career, he's hit only .194 against them with 19 K's in 36 at-bats.
• Aaron Hill, 2B, Blue Jays: Exhibit No. 206 why not all hitting streaks are created equal. Hill's had a hit in nine straight and still only managed to raise his July average to .224. Ouch. Plus, Trevor Cahill got him three straight times back in April.
If you're hardcore
• Matt Diaz, OF, Braves: With a .727 OBP against Randy Wolf, we'd take a chance on him this fine Saturday.
• Yuniesky Betancourt, SS, Royals: He's batting only .119 in July we know. But he was 8-for-24 against Tampa Bay in 2008; that's a hardcore starter's kind of stat.
• Kelly Shoppach, C, Indians: With V-Mart now joining the Red Sox, Shoppach will have plenty of chances to continue his current mini-roll: 4-for-7, with two doubles.
• Mark Kotsay, 1B, White Sox: Kotsay is hitting .364 against A.J. Burnett. Maybe he's worth a pickup, since he's getting some playing time.
• Luke Scott, DH, Orioles: Normally a 2-for-27 stretch means hands off. Hardcore owners will ignore that and look to the 1.625 OPS against Josh Beckett and cross their fingers.
• Willie Harris, 3B, Nationals: Harris is hitting .308 against the Pirates this season, and who knows what will remain in that bullpen when the deadline finally passes.
• Ramon Vazquez, SS, Pirates: This one's just a gut call, as I continue to believe that, given the playing time, Vazquez could develop into a solid fantasy stopgap far better than Ronny Cedeno.
• Angel Pagan, OF, Mets: When I recently tweeted the following: "Angel Pagan -- Catalyst," my friend Ron thought it was a Lord of the Rings reference. Three steals, four triples and 11 runs scored in July? Take that, Sauron!
Now batting (Sunday)
• Grady Sizemore, OF, Indians: For a first-round pick, that .227 average is even more tragic; however, that .474 average against Armando Galarraga might ease the pain for at least one day.
• Ryan Doumit, C, Pirates: He's hitting .524 against the current Washington Nationals staff. He's still playing for Pittsburgh, isn't he? When is that deadline again?
• Hunter Pence, OF, Astros: Pence has a .950 OPS against Adam Wainwright and rocking a seven-game hitting streak.
• Matt Holliday, OF, Cardinals: Look, how can you ignore a .520 average since the trade? You simply can't.
• Alfonso Soriano, 2B, Cubs: The sleeper has awakened, with a .333 average in July, and August should start off even hotter, as Soriano is hitting .400 with two home runs against Ricky Nolasco.
• Bobby Abreu, OF, Angels: Abreu isn't exactly known for his power potential, but it's hard to ignore a 1.467 OPS lifetime against Glen Perkins.
• Andre Ethier, OF, Dodgers: He's hitting .436 since July 19 and has compiled an .833 OBP against Atlanta's Jair Jurrjens.
• Placido Polanco, 2B, Tigers: Polanco struggles against Carl Pavano. A .212 batting average in 33 career at-bats isn't going to cut it for fantasy purposes.
• Carlos Quentin, OF, White Sox: What to do with CQ and his .158 batting average since returning to action? With a .143 lifetime average against CC Sabathia, starting him is probably not the right answer.
• Randy Winn, OF, Giants: He has managed to record a mere .214 batting average against Cole Hamels and has hit only .174 over the past week.
• Dan Uggla, 2B, Marlins: He's 0-for-6 with four strikeouts against Ryan Dempster, and hitting only .211 against the Cubs staff as a whole.
• Kelly Johnson, 2B, Braves: He's hit only .227 against the Dodgers since 2006, so we're not that excited about starting him even if he does get the start because of injuries to both Martin Prado and Yunel Escobar.
• Jason Bay, OF, Red Sox: Bay has a .135 average this season versus Baltimore and is hitting only .227 for the past week. Bye-bye, Bay.
• Orlando Cabrera, SS, Twins: We know he's hitting .373 for July, but we figure he'll be ineffective against Jered Weaver -- remember, he's ended up in Minnesota -- thanks to a .111 career mark.
If you're hardcore
• Ben Francisco, OF, Phillies: Francisco hit .329 in July for the Tribe and may be called into action in Philadelphia if Shane Victorino needs a little more time off with his knee injury.
• Jack Wilson, SS, Mariners: New to Seattle, he's not completely unfamiliar with Kevin Millwood, though we confess the 2-for-5 isn't the largest sampling of at-bats.
• Augie Ojeda, SS, Diamondbacks: Ojeda doesn't play often, but he's been a thorn in Mike Pelfrey's side, with four RBIs against the Mets pitcher for his career.
• Mike Jacobs, DH, Royals: He's hit four home runs in his past 11 games and has two blasts in 12 career at-bats against James Shields.
• Will Venable, OF, Padres: He's had two 4-for-5 days since July 12. Is lightning more likely to strike for a third time where it's already struck twice?
• Alexi Casilla, 2B, Twins: Obviously we're not expecting Casilla to suddenly smack three home runs off Jered Weaver, but the .900 OPS he's mounted against the Angels' starter is impressive.
• Lastings Milledge, OF, Pirates: Milledge is a. 333 career hitter at PNC Park. Maybe this is finally his time to shine.
• Mike Rivera, C, Brewers: Recommending a player who has been in only 10 games since June 1 is as hardcore as it gets; we're nevertheless undaunted. Rivera is 3-for-5 lifetime against Kevin Correia with a home run and four RBIs.
Injury list: Out
Injury list: Day-to-day
• Bobby Jenks, P, White Sox (kidney stones): The painful episode will pass eventually. In the meantime, Matt Thornton might get a few save opportunities.
• Andres Torres, OF, Giants (hamstring): This leaves the Giants pretty thin in the outfield, as Torres was playing only because of the injury to Aaron Rowand.
• Freddy Sanchez, 2B, Giants (knee): Sanchez could make his debut for San Francisco this weekend, assuming that his "tender knee" has sturdied itself up a bit.
• Yunel Escobar, SS, Braves (wrist): X-rays were negative after Escobar was hit by a pitch Thursday.
• Martin Prado, 2B, Braves (ankle): Prado got hit with a stray line drive during batting practice and could miss a few days with a deep bruise.
• J.D. Drew, OF, Red Sox (leg): Drew left Thursday's game with an unspecified leg injury and may miss a few days as a result.
• Brendan Ryan, SS, Cardinals (ankle): Ryan hurt himself fouling a ball off his leg but avoided a Reed Johnson fate and should be back in the lineup sooner rather than later.
• Only two weekend series are weatherproof as we start the month of August: Royals-Rays and Angels-Twins.
• The rain starts Saturday in Atlanta, Florida and Texas with isolated thunderstorms creeping into town, and they stick around all weekend long, but most likely only in fits and starts, so these games should all get played.
• St. Louis is the only other city to see some Saturday showers, as the rest of the slate is dry, but on Sunday, those dark clouds will leave the Arch and sporadically make appearances in Pittsburgh, New York and Baltimore.
AJ Mass is a fantasy baseball, football and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.