Lilly gets soft landing in return
The Cubs have been without Ted Lilly since July 21, so as the cliché goes, it will be like (re-)acquiring their own difference-maker for the stretch run when Lilly returns from the disabled list Monday to face the Padres. Lilly has seen a bit of a career revival since joining the Cubs, with a 3.87 ERA in his two and a half seasons with the team. He can thank the National League for that; his lowest ERA in the AL was a 4.06 mark, which he topped in his first season as a Cub, and he's on pace to do it again this season.
Charlie Haeger will be making his Dodgers debut, and he hopes to take advantage of the weaker league as well. Haeger was lost in the shuffle on the White Sox and later released, then was non-tendered by the Padres, but he compiled a 3.55 ERA at Triple-A Albuquerque this season and still does have some potential. Filling in for Chad Billingsley, who will have his start pushed back a day, Haeger is a knuckleballer, so he'll have more attention on him than most pitchers with a career 6.35 ERA. Will he have any luck against the hot-hitting Cardinals? Our rankings tell all.
Starting pitcher rankings for August 17, 2009
Selected notes: Ted Lilly was great in his rehab start, tossing five shutout innings and throwing better than 77 percent of his pitches for strikes. Since he draws the Padres in his first start back, there's no way you can resist activating him immediately. He might not go deep in the game -- he threw only 58 pitches in his rehab start -- but a start against one of the worst offenses in the majors shouldn't be too taxing. Max Scherzer was lit up in his previous start against the Braves on May 31, allowing 10 hits and eight runs in 3 2/3 innings in what was his worst start of the season. However, he shut them out for six innings earlier that month, and despite a 5.00 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP since the All-Star break, he's coming into Monday's start with a 31-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the five starts since the break, so his ERA and WHIP are bound to lower. With the peripherals of a No. 2 starter and the strikeout numbers of an ace, Scherzer is almost always a strong play. Hindsight being 20/20, you might have been able to take a look at Ervin Santana's strikeout and walk rates in the four previous starts before his complete-game shutout versus the Rays -- 24 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings (three starts) with two walks or fewer in each start -- and maybe predicted a future breakout. So, one start later, we'll do that now. Santana is going up against the Orioles, so it's not too much of a risk, but since he's still available in a quarter of ESPN leagues, it's worth throwing out there. Welcome back to fantasy relevance, Santana. Tommy Hanson put together his best start of the season against one of his toughest opponents, the Nationals (hold your laughter), allowing one run and fanning nine batters in 6 2/3 innings. The Nats' offense might finally be beginning to cool off a bit, but their .789 OPS since the All-Star break still ranks in the top 10, so it was a particularly impressive performance for Hanson. The big test for most talented young pitchers is consistency, so it will be interesting to see whether he can put together another good start against the Diamondbacks, a normally mediocre offense but one that is currently streaking, with a .881 OPS in August. Despite ugly peripherals, Kevin Correia has managed four consecutive quality starts, and five out of his past six. He has decent numbers at Petco Park -- a 4.03 ERA and 1.25 WHIP -- and while the Cubs' offense can be dangerous, it's usually an enigma, making Correia a fair option for deep leagues. Tommy Hunter is also pitching over his head, but he also has a great defense backing him and a semblance of an offense. He's allowed more than two runs just once in his past eight starts, but the Twins are a pretty good offense that could put a stop to Hunter's run. His recent results almost demand you keep Hunter active, but a fairly tough matchup pushes him down on the day's rankings. Unfortunately, Francisco Liriano's best start of the season really did come out of nowhere -- it's hard to find much to like about any of his preceding starts. A matchup with the Rangers on the road is a nice test. The Rangers don't hit lefties too well, so it's a matchup he can take advantage of, but they do have dangerous hitters and are a much better offense at home, so he will still have to pitch well in order to see results. He should still be avoided for now, but another good start and Liriano might finally build some trust in his owners and the Twins alike, who have been rumored to be considering removing Liriano from the rotation if he doesn't shape up.
• Adam LaRoche, 1B, Braves: Is there really such a thing as a second-half player? LaRoche is doing his best to prove there is, as he's hitting .316 since the All-Star break, and .400 with three homers in August. He has a career .299 average and .909 OPS after the break, and if he keeps hitting like this, he'll be moved up in the lineup soon.
• Nick Markakis, OF, Orioles: Markakis is 13-for-35 during his eight-game hitting streak, roping five doubles, but he's gone yard just once this month. A matchup with Ervin Santana may change that; not only does Santana often struggle against left-handed hitters (.938 OPS against), Markakis is also 7-for-21 with two homers (and three doubles) in his career against Santana.
• Bengie Molina, C, Giants: In 27 at-bats versus Livan Hernandez, Molina has taken him deep three times. Otherwise, he's done his usual thing, hitting .296 with one walk.
• Jim Thome, DH, White Sox: Thome has struck out in a third of his at-bats against Brian Bannister, but he's made his hits count. Of his eight hits, five have gone for extra bases, three of them leaving the park. Overall he's hitting .333 in 24 at-bats versus Bannister.
• Hank Blalock, 1B/3B, Rangers: Blalock draws a southpaw, so he should remain on your bench. Lefties slug a paltry .305 against Francisco Liriano, and Blalock is 1-for-7 with 3 K's versus Liriano, so there's not much to hang your hat on.
• Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox: Surprisingly enough, Konerko has struck out six times in 22 at-bats versus Brian Bannister, two more times than he's reached base safely via a hit. He hasn't done much with those few hits, either, with one extra-base hit, giving him a .182 average and a .227 slugging percentage.
• Billy Butler, 1B, Royals: Maybe the only time we'll suggest to bench Butler against a lefty. He's just 1-for-9 against Mark Buehrle this season, and not particularly great against him for his career hitting .276 in 29 at-bats, although he does have two homers.
• Casey Blake, 1B/3B, Dodgers: Only a .266 hitter against right-handers, it's doubtful he'll fare well when he goes up against Chris Carpenter who does? Blake has one hit and a strikeout in five previous at-bats against Carpenter.
If you're hardcore
• Ryan Church, OF, Braves: With Nate McLouth out for a couple of games, Church will play every day in the meantime. He's hitting .313 with seven runs, five doubles and one homer in just 32 at-bats. While he lacks power for an outfielder, he still won't kill you anywhere.
• Alcides Escobar, SS, Brewers: He's known more for his glove than his bat, but he's off to a quick start since being recalled from the minors, with four hits, four runs and a steal in his first four games. The steals are real -- he swiped 42 in 109 games at Triple-A -- and since he plays a position that is normally an offensive sinkhole, that's more than enough to make him worth grabbing, especially since the Brewers will be compelled to keep J.J. Hardy in the minors, since doing so allows them to delay his free agency a year.
• Andruw Jones, OF, Rangers: Eighteen of the 19 home runs Francisco Liriano has allowed have come against right-handers, and Jones, who starts against most lefties, could easily take him deep with Rangers Ballpark working in his favor.
• Mark Teahen, 1B/3B/OF, Royals: He's a lifetime .440 hitter versus Mark Buehrle in 50 at-bats, so who cares if it comes attached with precious little power? Teahen has seven doubles, but only one dinger. He's 4-for-7 with a double against Buehrle this season.
• Willie Bloomquist, SS/OF, Royals: He's here because of how rare it is to see positive press for Bloomquist. He's even better against Buehrle with 12 hits in 25 career at-bats, giving him a .480 average and a 1.160 OPS.
• Colby Rasmus, OF, Cardinals: Charlie Haeger has had difficulty against left-handed hitters -- the past three seasons, Haeger allowed a 1.18 HR/9 against lefties, only 0.69 HR/9 to righties -- and one would imagine such a problem would only be exacerbated in the majors. While Rasmus has struggled recently, he has three hits in each of his past two games and is still hitting .287 against righties on the season.
Injury list: Out
• Chad Billingsley, SP, Dodgers (hamstring): Billingsley will have his start pushed back a day, so he'll toe the mound Tuesday.
• Nelson Cruz, OF, Rangers (15-day DL, ankle): Cruz is eligible to return Wednesday, and since he said he was at "90 percent" last Wednesday, chances are he'll be activated when eligible.
• Nate McLouth, OF, Braves (hamstring): McLouth will miss "more than a couple of days" after aggravating his hamstring injury Saturday. As manager Bobby Cox put it, "He's a center fielder and he's limping. You've got to face the facts."
• Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, Rangers (15-day DL, arm)
• David Wright, 3B, Mets (concussion): Let's hope the Mets learned something from the Cardinals' fiasco with Scott Rolen. Wright was hit in the head with a Matt Cain fastball (ouch!) on Saturday, and remained hospitalized overnight. Concussions are serious business, and he is doubtful for Monday. It wouldn't be surprising to see him land on the disabled list.
Injury list: Day-to-day
• Martin Prado, 1B/2B/3B, Braves (fatigue)
• Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Cubs (illness): Ramirez is expected to rejoin his teammates Sunday. He was originally scheduled to return Friday, but he came down with a cold.
• No games Monday will be played in domes, but fortunately just two cities might end up wet: Atlanta and Chicago, places that both have a 40 to 50 percent chance of thunderstorms.
Adam Madison is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com.