Commentary

Top pitchers finish key series

Burnett, De La Rosa, Danks among notable options for Thursday

Updated: August 26, 2009, 4:10 PM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com

Daily Notes

Plenty of games with playoff impact are still on the schedule for Thursday, with the tightly contested Rockies-Dodgers, White Sox-Red Sox and Yankees-Rangers series coming to an end. In fact, three of our top five pitching recommendations come from that trio of matchups. To find out which ones, as well as the rest of our rankings for the day, you need look no further than the chart below:

For starters

Selected notes: Starting things off, we've got Javier Vazquez of the Braves. Not only does he have a 2.57 ERA in his past three outings against the Padres, but after San Diego hitters struck out 16 times Tuesday, we expect a lot of K's to show up on the scorecard. … Chris Carpenter comes in a close second. He's a perfect 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA in his past three starts, and there's no reason to expect a letdown anytime soon, as he makes a legitimate charge for the Cy Young. … John Danks has struggled against the Red Sox lately, with a 6.06 ERA in his past three starts, but he's 6-3 away from home and 3-1 so far in August. We're going to bat for him. … A.J. Burnett has already beaten Texas twice this season, with 15 strikeouts and a 2.08 ERA in those two outings. He completes the triple Thursday. … Jorge De La Rosa is 12-2 since June 5, so we're willing to overlook the career 0-7 and 7.89 ERA against the Dodgers, especially given the roll the Rockies have been on lately. Add to that Vicente Padilla's 6.00 ERA at Coors Field for his career, and the Silver Bullet Express should continue to cruise down the tracks. … J.D. Martin's start was pushed back to Thursday with the Nationals' signing of Livan Hernandez. And so, we lift Randy Wells up to the No. 6 spot. Wells has a 2.82 ERA at Wrigley Field, while Martin has allowed seven dingers in 34 innings this season. … J.A. Happ is making his fourth straight road start, and is 2-0 over the previous three away from Philadelphia. However, he has whiffed only seven in that stretch, which is why we've lowered him a touch, even against the Pirates and the pitiful Charlie Morton (9.49 ERA in his past three). … Why is Brian Moehler so high? For one, nobody left to choose from has more wins on the season. For two, he's never lost to St. Louis, with a 5-0 record and a 3.84 ERA lifetime against the Cards. … We're going to go "glass half-full" with Trevor Cahill. True, he has won only once in his past eight decisions. However, in his past three starts, he's lasted a total of 20 innings and posted an ERA of 3.15. Ervin Santana will still probably win, since he's 10-1 for his career against the Athletics, but it could be a closely contested game. … Junichi Tazawa is 2-0 at Fenway Park with a 0.82 ERA, but that WHIP (1.45 at home, 1.87 overall) spells trouble, with a capital T. … Anibal Sanchez is slightly favored over Tim Redding, since Sanchez gets to face the undead zombies that are the New York Mets, even though we are impressed somewhat by Redding's 3-1 lifetime mark at "The Shark."... The rest of our starters are in the lower half of the list for good reasons. Dave Bush is 0-2 with a 12.71 ERA in his past three, but we still have slightly more confidence in him than Kyle Davies, who is rocking a 19.64 ERA against Seattle this season. Yusmeiro Petit is 0-3 with a 7.07 ERA in his past three outings, only slightly better than Dustin Nippert's 5.82 -- but Nippert is facing the Yankees and we expect that number to rise. … Rounding out our rankings, we can stomach neither Justin Lehr's 25 hits allowed in his past three starts, nor Joe Martinez's 6.43 ERA at home in AT&T Park. Throw out the winning records, gang. Nothing to see here!

Now batting

Hitters' count:

Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees: An August OPS of 1.001 is but one reason to be in Tex's corner against Texas. The other is the .350 batting average against the Rangers so far this season.
Brandon Phillips, 2B. Reds: Phillips has a .310 lifetime average against Dave Bush of the Brewers and five hits in his past three games.
Prince Fielder, 1B, Brewers: Fielder has had 16 RBIs and a .313 batting average against the Reds this season. Expect him to add to his eight August home runs, against Justin Lehr.
Derrek Lee, 1B, Cubs: Lee has a .909 OPS against the Nationals in 2009, and has hit .310 so far in August. Color us impressed.
Kendry Morales, 1B, Angels: Morales has been streaking with a .341 August batting average and he's a perfect 3-for-3 against Trevor Cahill, including a home run.
Jeremy Hermida, OF, Marlins: The Marlins outfielder has been rocking a .328 average since July was ripped off the calendar, and he's 10-for-17 (.588) with nine RBIs lifetime against Tim Redding.
Daniel Murphy, 1B, Mets: Tuesday saw the end of Murphy's 10-game hitting streak, but he could start up a new one against Anibal Sanchez of the Marlins, against whom he's 2-for-4 with a double.
Franklin Gutierrez, OF, Mariners: With multi-hit games in four of his past nine appearances, Gutierrez seems to have turned a corner. Plus, he's 6-for-10 in his career facing Kyle Davies -- expect at least two more hits Thursday.

Pitchers' count:

Hank Blalock, 1B, Rangers: Chris Davis is back, and Blalock should be riding the bench, even more so due to the .143 average against A.J. Burnett.
Ryan Doumit, C, Pirates: The dog days of summer have not been kind to Doumit: He's hitting only .182 in August. The .154 average against the current Phillies staff isn't going to help ease his pain.
Kurt Suzuki, C, Athletics: We can't exactly recommend a guy who is 1-for-20 lifetime against Thursday's scheduled starter (Ervin Santana) with a straight face now, can we?
Michael Bourn, OF, Astros: Bourn has been playing great lately, reaching base safely in 17 straight games. The pitcher who last kept him off the bases? Chris Carpenter.
Victor Martinez, C/1B, Red Sox: John Danks brings out the best and the worst in V-Mart. Although he's hitting only .182 against him, all of Martinez's hits off Danks have been homers, but none so far this season.
Ryan Ludwick, OF, Cardinals: Ludwick has never found a groove against Brian Moehler, batting only .143 for his career with five strikeouts.
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals: He's had oh-fers in every other start since Aug. 13, and Thursday is an "off day." Give him a rest.
Adam Jones, OF, Orioles: A nagging back has kept Jones sidelined for a few days, and a .200 average against the Indians' current staff doesn't make us want to demand his speedy return.

If you're hard-core

Everth Cabrera, SS, Padres: Cabrera had raised his average 14 points this month before Tuesday's 0-for-6 , so as long as strikeouts don't count against you, he might be worth a shot.
Reid Gorecki, OF, Braves: He was batting .338 in August before his promotion to the Braves, and with Nate McLouth still on the DL, he should see many more at-bats this week.
Josh Anderson, OF, Royals: Anderson is hitting .333 in four starts since Aug. 21, so why not give him a shot against Doug Fister and the Mariners?
Juan Castro, SS, Dodgers: Castro has a .400 batting average against Jorge De La Rosa. Maybe he gets the call with the Dodgers' needing to shake things up a bit?
Matt LaPorta, OF, Indians: He's hitting .318 this time around the Cleveland rodeo. Sure it's too little and too late for Rookie of the Year consideration, but to help your fantasy team … right on time.
Trent Oeltjen, OF, Diamondbacks: Not nearly as good as he was the first week of his call-up, when he smacked three homers in four games, and not nearly as bad as he's been since then. Perhaps he finds a happy medium against Joe Martinez of the Giants.
Gaby Sanchez, 1B, Marlins: With Nick Johnson hurt, Sanchez should see plenty of action, and this might be the day he gets his first hit of the season. After all, he has three career hits, and one came off Tim Redding in 2008.

Triage

Injury list: Out

• Nick Johnson, 1B, Marlins (15-day DL, hamstring)
Andruw Jones, DH, Rangers (15-day DL, hamstring)
Johan Santana, P, Mets (15-day DL, elbow)
Dexter Fowler, OF, Rockies (15-day DL, bruised knee)
Freddy Sanchez, 2B, Giants (15-day DL, shoulder)

Injury list: Day-to-day

Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Mariners (calf): He'll get back into the lineup eventually, but how soon depends on how quickly he can run with no discomfort.
Carl Crawford, OF, Rays (back): Tampa Bay has Thursday off, so perhaps Crawford will be rested enough to back in the Rays lineup come Friday.
Gary Sheffield, OF, Mets (back): He should be back in the lineup Thursday, but the way the Mets' season has gone, he'll probably spontaneously combust sometime in the third inning.
John Baker, C, Marlins (back): A stiff back is not something a catcher can easily ignore. Expect more Ronny Paulino than usual this week.
Ronny Cedeno, SS, Pirates (fractured finger): That hairline fracture in his pinky finger has rendered him useless to Pittsburgh. He'll likely give it a go soon, but that doesn't mean you should be in a hurry to get him back in your lineup.
Joe Crede, 3B, Twins (back): An MRI has been ordered on Crede's ailing back, so it looks like Brendan Harris could be in the Minnesota lineup for a few more days.
Alfonso Soriano, OF, Cubs (knee): It might be time for Soriano to suck it up and have knee surgery. As it stands, the outfielder is in tons of pain, and out of the Chicago lineup for the near future.

Weather concerns

• Thursday's two weatherproof games: Reds at Brewers and Royals at Mariners.
• Some possible rain in the forecast for the Southeast, with games in Atlanta, Florida and Baltimore all possible casualties.
• St. Louis and Pittsburgh also may see some isolated thunderstorms, but the riskiest locale for a complete nine-inning affair is Wrigley Field, where temperatures will dip into the 60s in addition to the expected raindrops.

AJ Mass is a fantasy baseball, football and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can follow AJ on Twitter or e-mail him here.

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