Haren versus the best
It's an embarrassment of riches at the top of our pitching rankings for Friday, with aces across the two leagues scheduled to start. However, for once there might be actual concern with one of them, Dan Haren, who has allowed 16 earned runs in his past 23 innings. Sure, these bumps in the road happen from time to time, and what makes him elite is his ability to bounce back, but can Haren bounce back against the division-rival Dodgers, who also possess one of the best offenses in the league? Well, you have to read on for our verdict.
Starting pitcher rankings for August 14, 2009
Selected notes: It's kind of fun when pitchers like Dan Haren flirt with mortality. Haren is coming off consecutive starts in which he's allowed five earned runs, and faces a Dodgers offense that has hit .302 against him in 212 at-bats. Still, he hasn't looked especially awful during his recent slump. He's allowed more home runs, certainly, but the Dodgers don't hit many of those. It's not the best matchup, and if he allows five runs again, you'll feel silly for not benching him, but he's one of the NL's best pitchers, so he deserves our faith. Since allowing six runs in consecutive starts, Andy Pettitte has been lights out, with one run or fewer allowed in four of his next five starts. Since July 11, he's lowered his ERA from 4.85 to 4.14, with a significant increase in strikeout rate; he's fanned 33 batters in his past 33 2/3 innings. He has been the victim of poor run support, with just one win during this stretch, but odds are that will change since he is backed by the game's best offense. Pettitte should feast on the Mariners, and unless Ryan Rowland-Smith tosses a gem, chances are high that Pettitte will pick up his 10th win of the season. Jarrod Washburn's sterling ERA has jumped half a run in his past two starts, and it hasn't taken long for him to miss Safeco Field. He's already allowed just as many home runs -- four -- in 11 1/3 innings at Comerica Park as he did in 74 innings at Safeco. Toss in the fact he hasn't struck out more than three batters in seven starts, and his owners should definitely be alarmed. It's probably time to bail, and although you might be able to squeeze a decent start out of him on Friday -- the Royals' offense is nothing to write home about, of course -- it's risky nonetheless, as those Royals are actually hitting .293 as a team this month. Barry Zito allowed two runs or less for the fifth straight start versus the Reds last week, limiting them to two runs in six innings. Given a decent uptick in strikeouts in recent weeks -- he has struck out 39 batters his past 48 innings -- and a matchup against the Mets, he's a nice option Friday. Okay, maybe it's time to rethink Kevin Millwood's matchup against the Red Sox. Career-wise he's horrible -- a .960 OPS against over 243 at-bats -- but he's worked around five walks to limit the team to a 1.38 ERA in two starts this season. A matching 1.38 WHIP suggests he's been a little lucky, and the Red Sox have hit a respectable .274 against him, so how about we slice it down the middle and call Millwood a playable, but not great, option versus the Red Sox. With a 3.15 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 34 1/3 innings since the All-Star break, Brett Anderson has really come into his own. That makes it difficult to gauge how well he'll do against the White Sox, who, next to the Yankees, have the majors' best OPS against left-handed pitching with an .821 mark. Anderson does have a few things working in his favor: He's at home, where he's only allowed three of his 14 home runs, and although the White Sox lineup leans to the right, Anderson has been much better against right-handed hitters. We'll give him the benefit of the doubt -- after all, tough matchups against the Red Sox, Yankees and Rangers didn't faze him -- and suggest he's kept active.
• Placido Polanco, 2B, Tigers: Polanco is hitting .336 since the All-Star break, and is 5-for-11 (.455) with a double versus Zack Greinke this season, upping his career numbers to 13-for-35 (.371). It's mostly death by singles -- Polanco has just two extra-base hits, the aforementioned double and a homer -- so don't expect any miracles, but it's good enough against one of baseball's top pitchers.
• Brian McCann, C, Braves: Joe Blanton has trouble against McCann, with six hits allowed in 10 at-bats. McCann has blasted two homers as well, his lone extra-base hits.
• Mike Lowell, 3B, Red Sox: A robust 20-for-59 (.339) lifetime versus Kevin Millwood, it's safe to assume Lowell -- who is also batting .393 since the break -- will be in the lineup and get the job done Friday. He's also chipped in seven extra-base hits, including two homers, against Millwood.
• Mike Cameron, OF, Brewers: In typical Cameron fashion, he's hitting only .250 against Wandy Rodriguez, but he's made his hits count with two doubles and a home run among his four hits in just 16 at-bats.
• Andre Ethier, OF, Dodgers: Ethier owns Dan Haren, ripping three doubles and two homers in 20 at-bats against the ace. Overall, Ethier is hitting .450, slugging an impressive .900.
• Curtis Granderson, OF, Tigers: Batting a lowly .129 against Zack Greinke, Granderson does have two extra-base hits -- a triple and a homer -- but has also struck out twice as often as he's reached base safely via a hit. Overall, he has a .472 OPS in 31 at-bats.
• Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies: In five at-bats versus Jair Jurrjens this season, Rollins is hitless, although he did earn a walk, and subsequently steal a base. His batting average is now .176 in 17 career at-bats against Jurrjens, making him a poor bet Friday.
• Ben Zobrist, 2B/SS/OF, Rays: Zobrist is hitting just .139 in August, and hasn't had much success against Roy Halladay, with just two singles in 15 at-bats.
• Ian Kinsler, 2B, Rangers: Friday may not be the greatest day for Kinsler to return, as the scheduled pitcher, Jon Lester, has limited him to one hit -- a measly single -- in 12 at-bats, striking him out twice.
• Stephen Drew, SS, Diamondbacks: Lefties are batting a woeful .180 against Clayton Kershaw, with just six extra-base hits in 108 at-bats. For what it's worth, Drew is 1-for-6 versus Kershaw; keep Drew far, far away.
If you're hardcore
• Willie Bloomquist, SS/OF, Royals: Bloomquist is a very convincing 12-for-26 (.462) against Jarrod Washburn in his career, swatting two doubles and a home run. He's yet to steal a base off Washburn, but as far as batter versus pitcher matchups go, it looks like Bloomquist has it in the bag.
• Billy Butler, 1B, Royals: Continuing to hit everything in sight, Butler is now batting .323 with five homers since the break. He's hitting .326 against southpaws, and although he's faced Washburn in only nine at-bats, he already has gone deep against him.
• Chris Coghlan, OF, Marlins: His multihit streak came to an end, but he's still hit in 11 straight, and faces Jason Hammel, a right-hander who has allowed left-handed batters to hit .333 this season.
• Gary Sheffield, OF, Mets: Sheffield is hitting .400 with two long balls versus Barry Zito in 20 career at-bats. He's hit more than 25 points better against southpaws this season too, and is, for now, the Mets' cleanup hitter.
• Lyle Overbay, 1B, Blue Jays: Overbay shouldn't have a problem maintaining his hot streak when he steps into the batters' box against James Shields -- he sports a .577 slugging percentage in 26 at-bats. He has only seven hits, but four extra-base hits, including two dingers.
• Casey Kotchman, 1B, Red Sox: In 15 at-bats against Kevin Millwood, Kotchman has swatted three home runs, making him a great spot start, should he fill in for the suspended Kevin Youkilis.
Injury list: Out
• Scott Rolen, 3B, Reds (15-day DL, concussion)
• Kevin Youkilis, 1B/3B, Red Sox (suspension)
Injury list: Day-to-day
• Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers (hand)
• Nelson Cruz, OF, Rangers (ankle): Cruz told his manager, Ron Washington, that his ankle is 90 percent healthy. He hopes to return Thursday.
• Dexter Fowler, OF, Rockies (knee): The injury isn't serious, and Fowler could return Thursday.
• Orlando Hudson, 2B, Dodgers (groin): Hudson appeared as a pinch-hitter on Wednesday. The injury is mild, and with Thursday's off day, Hudson could be back in Friday's lineup.
• Maicer Izturis, 2B/SS, Angels (elbow)
• Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees (foot): X-rays came back negative, and the Yankees are calling the injury a contusion. Consider the Yankees captain questionable for Friday.
• Ian Kinsler, 2B, Rangers (15-day DL, hamstring): Kinsler went 0-for-2 in his first rehab game Wednesday, and is scheduled to play a full nine innings on Thursday. Assuming no setbacks, Kinsler could be activated in time to play Friday.
• Nate McLouth, OF, Braves (hamstring): McLouth is aiming to return in time for the series against the Phillies that begins Friday.
• Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Cubs (shoulder): Ramirez is gearing for a Friday return.
• Friday will have five weatherproof games: Blue Jays-Rays, Astros-Brewers, Indians-Twins, Dodgers-Diamondbacks and Yankees-Mariners.
• Miami is the only city with rain in the forecast, with a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms.
Adam Madison is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com.