Lee looks for eighth straight win
Twelve teams will take Monday off, so action around the majors is a little sparse. However, the hottest pitcher in baseball, Cliff Lee, will be looking for his eighth consecutive win, and one senses a bit of déjā vu since he joined the Phillies. Like CC Sabathia, his teammate last season, Lee was traded from the AL to the NL and immediately dominated, highlighting the difference in quality between the two leagues. With the downtrodden Mets on the schedule on Monday, there's little reason to think Lee can't continue pitching in rarified air.
In the AL, meanwhile, Jeff Niemann will be searching for his 12th win, as the former first-round draft pick is enjoying a breakout season. Fans could be in for quite a treat when he faces Roy Halladay in what could be the finest pitching matchup of the day. Niemann's recent productivity is reflected in our rankings for the day, where his placement may surprise you:
Starting pitcher rankings for Aug. 24, 2009
Selected notes: It is surprising that Jeff Niemann, a former top-five draft pick with a 3.04 ERA in his past seven starts, isn't getting more attention. He's pitched at least six innings in six of those starts, and with 40 strikeouts against nine walks in that span, he has earned his ERA. The Blue Jays touched him up the last time they met, with Niemann allowing nine hits and five runs in 6 2/3 innings, but he still had six strikeouts to just one walk, so it wasn't all bad. The matchup may not be the greatest, but Niemann has pitched well enough to earn a little trust.
The Giants have six regulars that hit .263 or worse against Jason Marquis, and Marquis has a 3.60 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in two starts against his division rivals. Maybe the acquisition of Ryan Garko has improved the Giants' offense a bit -- the team does have a middle-of-the-pack .772 OPS this month -- but Marquis should be good enough for his usual performance: decent, inning-eating pitching with a good shot at a win thanks to the Coors Field-enhanced Rockies offense backing him.
Twelve of Gil Meche's 14 home runs allowed have come in his past seven starts, and, as you might expect, his ERA has increased by nearly a run and a half in that time. Toss in the fact he's also walked 25 batters during that span and he's unusable for the foreseeable future.
Despite a 1.89 ERA in his past three outings, Clay Buchholz sports an ugly 10 strikeouts to nine walks in those starts, and although he's expected to become a strikeout pitcher, he's fanned fewer than six batters per nine innings this season. He turned 25 a couple of weeks ago, so the future is very much now for the former top prospect. Pitching at home versus the White Sox should be a good test; they have enough sluggers to capitalize on mistakes, but they also tend to struggle against right-handers. With Freddy Garcia pitching for the White Sox, Buchholz should have more than enough run support to work with. He's a high-risk play in AL-only leagues.
As a team, the Rockies are batting only .178 versus Barry Zito in 135 at-bats, and in four career starts, Zito has a 3.00 ERA and 1.22 WHIP at Coors Field. He also hasn't allowed more than three earned runs in seven consecutive starts, so it's somewhat tempting to keep him active. But he's been the beneficiary of a soft schedule the past five weeks, and the Rockies possess the best home OPS in the majors; why take a chance with Zito, who is also prone to some spectacular blowups?
• Nyjer Morgan, OF, Nationals: Morgan has been running like crazy -- a .428 OBP since the All-Star break sure helps -- and he could find more opportunities against Jason Kendall and the Brewers. Kendall is one of the worst catchers in the majors at throwing out would-be base stealers, catching less than 21 percent of potential thieves.
• Mike Cameron, OF, Brewers: With multiple hits in three consecutive games, and hits in 12 of his past 13 games overall, Cameron is heating up. He's slugged four extra-base hits in his past five games, including two homers, bad news for Collin Balester, who has already allowed nine home runs in just 25 1/3 innings this season.
• Carl Crawford, OF, Rays: Crawford is a .330 hitter versus right-handed pitching, and he's been all over Roy Halladay this season, going 8-for-14 with two doubles, a home run and two steals. That's brought his lifetime average up to .346 in 78 at-bats against the ace, and he's been extremely aggressive, as well, walking only once.
• Delmon Young, OF, Twins: An ugly 13-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio has contributed to his .232 average this month, but Young has made his few hits count, with five home runs and three doubles in just 69 at-bats. Young is hitting only .234 against right-handers this season, but he faces Chris Tillman, who has allowed nine dingers in his first 30 innings and has allowed righties to bat .328.
• Curtis Granderson, OF, Tigers: Not only is Granderson hitting .500 versus Jered Weaver, he's gone deep four times in just 12 at-bats, including twice this season.
• Russell Branyan, 1B, Mariners: Out of nowhere, Branyan has blasted home runs in three consecutive games; he was hitting .202 in August before the outburst. His opponent Monday, Vin Mazzaro, has been tattooed recently, and overall the league is hitting .322 against him, so things are lined up for continued production.
• Ben Zobrist, 2B/SS/OF, Rays: Despite the career year, Zobrist is a nonfactor against Roy Halladay, going 1-for-10 with three strikeouts. In 18 career at-bats against Halladay, Zobrist has managed only two singles versus four strikeouts, so adjust accordingly.
• Pat Burrell, OF, Rays: Although Burrell, who is 7-for-18 (.388) with two homers in his past five games, may finally be warming up, a matchup with Halladay is like dumping a cold bucket of water on his production. He's 1-for-12 lifetime against Halladay, going down on strikes five times.
• Grady Sizemore, OF, Indians: Sizemore has struck out in more than 30 percent of his at-bats against Gil Meche, with 12 K's in 39 at-bats. While Sizemore has had some success -- he does have two home runs -- he's still hitting a paltry .179, and has gone hitless in six at-bats against Meche this season.
• Brad Hawpe, OF, Rockies: Earlier in the season, Hawpe was doing well against left-handers, but he's since struggled, and on the year is hitting only .252 versus southpaws. He's a poor option against Barry Zito, against whom he's just 1-for-14 (.071) in his career, although the one hit did leave the park.
• Chris Iannetta, C, Rockies: It's quite the odd stat line Iannetta has against Barry Zito -- a single, seven walks and five strikeouts in 10 at-bats. Since most leagues don't assign credit for walks -- and how do you strike out five times against Zito? -- chances are Iannetta won't have much value to offer.
• Chone Figgins, 3B, Angels: Striking out in more than half your at-bats is never a good thing, so Figgins is probably not looking forward to his matchup with Justin Verlander. He's gone 1-for-13 with seven strikeouts, and since righties have a sub-.600 OPS against Verlander this year, that .077 average isn't likely to improve by much.
If you're hardcore
• J.D. Drew, OF, Red Sox: The streaky Drew is 14-for-35 (.388) since Aug. 9 and gets a tasty matchup with Freddy Garcia, who may be a piņata at this point in his career; he allowed five runs and eight baserunners in 4 1/3 innings to the lowly Royals in his first start in nearly a year.
• Nolan Reimold, OF, Orioles: He's hot again, boasting a nine-game hitting streak in which he's piled up seven extra-base hits, albeit just one home run. Fortunately, right-handers are slugging .526 versus Scott Baker, and they are also responsible for 18 of his 22 home runs allowed, so Reimold is a good bet to produce.
• Billy Butler, 1B, Royals: He's faced Jeremy Sowers only three times, going 1-for-3, but if his production against lefties in general (eight home runs, .322 average in 149 at-bats) is any indication, Sowers may be in some trouble when they meet again Monday.
Injury list: Day-to-day
• Rays-Blue Jays, Orioles-Twins and Athletics-Mariners are the day's weatherproof games.
• Rain on the East Coast has cleared up, and now it's Denver that has thunderstorms to tangle with. The Giants and Rockies will have to play through a 50 to 60 percent chance of thunderstorms, which are expected to persist all night.