Commentary

Haren looks to end second-half woes

Updated: August 28, 2009, 4:49 PM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com

Daily Notes

Watch out for Danny this weekend! We're not talking about the tropical storm that is working its way up the Atlantic coastline, though certainly he might well have an impact on the weekend's schedule, depending on when, where and if he decides to come ashore. Instead, we're talking about Arizona starter Dan Haren. The rap on Haren is well documented: "Steer clear of him once the second half starts." True, he has a 4.17 ERA after the All-Star break as opposed to a 3.08 ERA prior to the Midsummer Classic for his career, but I think people are making way too much of this statistical anomaly. In his past three starts -- all against teams who are in thick of the playoff chase -- Haren has looked every bit the ace, allowing one run in a win over the Dodgers and two runs in a no-decision against the Giants. True, he took the loss in Philadelphia, but many a pitcher has succumbed to the long ball there. It's not a "curse." It's not a factor of the calendar. It's just baseball. So to reiterate, this weekend, watch out for Danny! As for the rest of our rankings, batten down the hatches. Here they are:

For starters

Selected notes for Saturday:

It's hard to argue with Cliff Lee getting top honors for Saturday the way he has been lights out, a perfect 5-0 with a 0.68 ERA since joining the Phillies. We'll take him over Yovani Gallardo, who should be able to improve on his 2.66 career ERA against the Pirates. … Jason Marquis is 2-0 with a 2.14 ERA in his past three starts, and is 4-1 with a 1.97 ERA lifetime at AT&T Park. We'll rank him next, just ahead of Jered Weaver, who should have an easy time with the Oakland Athletics, who barely avoid the AL cellar in terms of batting average. However, historically, Weaver's struggled against the A's, with a 4.32 ERA in his past three starts against them. … Ricky Nolasco has had some clunkers of late, but he was cash money against the Padres the last time they met, taking a two-hit shutout into the seventh. Lather, rinse, repeat. … Scott Feldman is 2-0 with a 2.89 ERA in his past three starts and should be able to get a win against the Twins, who send Carl Pavano to the mound. Pavano is better than his career 25.20 ERA against the Rangers, and even a little better than the 6.00 ERA he's posted over his past three starts. But he's definitely not that much better than the 4.32 ERA with the Twins so far in 2009. … Derek Lowe has struggled lately, but he's always managed to keep the Phillies in check, beating them once already this season, and notching a 5-1 career mark against them. Going against Cliff Lee, he may not win, but he should keep it interesting. … Barry Zito checks in next on our list. He's facing the hot Rockies, but even though he hasn't won a game since Aug. 8, his ERA this month is only 2.17. Not bad, Mr. Z. … Ryan Dempster's numbers aren't the greatest, but at this stage of the season, we're definitely elevating any pitcher going up against the Mets, even more so with Bobby Parnell on the hill for New York. He's had a few good moments, but for the most part has struggled, as evidenced by the 9.00 ERA is his past three starts. … If we had to draw a line in the sand, this would be the place, with nobody left on the list being too great an option, in our estimation. Jon Garland rates as high as he does more because Bud Norris has been so abysmal this season; an 11.57 ERA in his past three doesn't bode well for the Houston chances of victory. … Similarly, Gil Meche hasn't been the same since getting hurt earlier this season, but has managed to win two of his past three starts despite allowing four runs in each. We tend to think his "battle" against Ian Snell will turn out to be more of a "who lasts longer" sort of deal. Edge: Meche. … Clay Buchholz has pitched well against Toronto, with a 2-0 record and 1.54 ERA against them this season. So we'll give him a leg up on his mound foe, Ricky Romero, whose success seems to be more smoke and mirrors than the real thing to us. Plus, the game is at Fenway. … Craig Stammen has a 3.71 ERA in his past three, and is facing a less-than-intimidating Mitchell Boggs. … Jeremy Sowers and Chris Tillman is a "who cares?" kind of outing between pitchers with little fantasy upside for the rest of 2009. … Vin Mazzaro could be a nice spot start here, but it's hard to like him against the Angels, who had four earned runs and ten hits off of him in July. … Charlie Haeger is a knuckleballer, making him completely unreliable, but if you're willing to gamble -- who knows? When the knuckleball works, it's unhittable. But be clear, Haeger is not Tim Wakefield. … As for likely "emergency" starters -- Matt Maloney (replacing Micah Owings), Carlos Torres (the likely candidate to replace a not-yet-ready Jake Peavy), Nate Robertson (subbing for an injured Armando Galarraga) and Edward Mujica (somebody has to start on Saturday with Cesar Carrillo sent to Triple-A) -- there's a reason these guys haven't been rotation regulars. Five average innings from any of the quartet is likely as good as it gets.

Selected notes for Sunday:

In stark contrast to Saturday's action, there's an embarrassment of riches to be found on Sunday. After Dan Haren, we've got several legitimate Cy Young candidates in Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Adam Wainwright and Matt Cain. Really, we're splitting hairs with those guys. All are must-starts regardless of the foe. … After that, we like Jon Lester against the Blue Jays, whom he's already beaten three times this season, with a 1.98 ERA. … Scott Baker also has had prior success against his opponent, with two wins under his 2009 belt facing the Texas Rangers. Plus, he's hot, with three wins and a 2.11 ERA in his past three starts. … Jair Jurrjens has owned the Phillies, with a 2-0 record and a 0.92 ERA against them in 2009, but with the game at Citizens Bank Park, we lowered him a bit. … Clayton Kershaw has good overall numbers, but the recent run of starts with a 5.02 ERA in his past three drops him to the bottom of the top 10. … Joe Blanton has been solid of late, with a 3.00 ERA in his past three starts, so we place him just ahead of double-digit winners Jeff Niemann (5.00 ERA in his past three) and Kevin Millwood (5.82 ERA in his past three). … Bronson Arroyo is always a hit-or-miss option, and we expect "miss" against the Dodgers, who he is 1-4 lifetime against, including a 7.88 ERA his past three times facing Los Angeles. … Ross Ohlendorf has been a surprise of late and is 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA against the Brewers this season. Plus, he faces a shaky Jeff Suppan, still not fully in rhythm after a lengthy DL stay. … John Lackey is 1-3 in August but should have a chance to register a victory over Brett Anderson, who has been equally as generous with hitters of late. Both pitchers have a plus-five ERA in their past three outings. … With Carlos Zambrano, it's a case of us simply not trusting him yet. Allowing eight runs to the Nationals in 4 1/3 innings doesn't make us want to throw him back into our rotation anytime soon, even against the Mets. … With Joba Chamberlain, there's equal trepidation, as you never know which Joba you're going to get. We like the Yankees to give him run support against the not-so-great Freddy Garcia, but whether it will enough is a big question mark with that 9.00 ERA and two losses in his past three. … Mat Latos versus Sean West may end up being a feature matchup in 2011, but for now, it's probably best to sit tight with these two youngsters. Ditto for the Justin Masterson-Brian Matusz showdown. … Nelson Figueroa has never won at Wrigley Field, but at least his ERA of 3.45 is respectable. He should be able to do better than Felipe Paulino, who is expected to get a spot-start for Houston against the Diamondbacks. The Astros want to save Wandy Rodriguez for the Chicago series starting on Monday.

Now batting (Saturday)

Hitters' count:

A.J. Pierzynski, C, White Sox: This AJ likes Chicago's A.J. not only because of the .338 batting average for August, but also the .571 average against the Yankees so far in 2009.
Andre Ethier, OF, Dodgers: It's hard to not like the six August home runs, and hitting .364 against the Reds this season isn't too shabby, either.
Joey Votto, 1B, Reds: Votto has smashed Dodgers pitching this season at a .455 clip. We expect that trend to continue against the knuckleballer, Charlie Haeger.
Brian Roberts, 2B, Orioles: Not only is he slugging .630 this month, but Roberts also has a lifetime OBP of .600 against Jeremy Sowers.
Ian Kinsler, 2B, Rangers: He's reached base safely in 10 of his past 12 games and has hit two home runs in four career at-bats against Carl Pavano.
Michael Bourn, OF, Astros: Bourn has failed to reach base safely only once in the past 25 games, and has a .571 lifetime batting average against Jon Garland.
Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Mariners: Yes, he's missed several games due to a sore calf, but we're counting on Ichiro to be back in action against Gil Meche. What better way to get your timing back than to face someone you're 9-for-14 against?

Pitchers' count:

Jorge Posada, C, Yankees: Not only is he bothered by a bad finger, but Posada is also hitless against the White Sox this season.
Jason Bartlett, SS, Rays: Would you believe Bartlett is 0-for-22 against Nate Robertson? Neither did I, but apparently it's both true as well as sad.
Everth Cabrera, SS, Padres: Cabrera is only a .091 lifetime hitter against the Marlins, and it's not like he has much else to offer if he doesn't get on base.
Ryan Howard, OF, Phillies: Howard's average against Derek Lowe is, itself, quite low. We're talking .136 and no home runs in 22 at-bats against the Braves starter.
Lastings Milledge, OF, Pirates: Milledge has struggled this month, with a .250 batting average, and faces tough Yovani Gallardo, against whom he's 0-for-3. Not a lot of at-bats, but enough to make us leery, given his recent results.
Brad Hawpe, OF, Rockies: Hawpe's average has dropped 13 points this month, and threatens to dip below .300 for the first time since April 24. Plus, he's only 3-for-17 when Barry Zito takes the mound.
Bengie Molina, C, Giants: Even if he were at full strength -- which he's not -- we'd sit him Saturday against Jason Marquis due to the .111 lifetime average.
Mark Ellis, SS, Athletics: Ellis has been hitting the ball, but never seems to do so against Jered Weaver. The Angels pitcher has retired Ellis in 12 of the 14 at-bats in which they've done battle.

If you're hardcore

Aubrey Huff, 1B, Tigers: His new role in Detroit has seen a huge drop in production and opportunity, but he has hit .301 against the Rays since 2006. Not bad for a guy stuck at .244 in 2009.
Ronny Paulino, C, Marlins: He's already hit one home run while John Baker rests his weary back. Perhaps there's more to come this weekend.
Omar Infante, OF, Braves: Hitting .321 since August 19, Infante has a .400 average in 20 at-bats against Cliff Lee.
Matt LaPorta, OF, Indians: His hitting streak is now at seven games since his August recall, with a .346 batting average. Hello? Is this thing on?
Frank Catalanotto, OF, Brewers: He's come around to score in each of his past three starts, so if you see him in there against Kevin Hart, why not give him a shot?
Michael Cuddyer, OF, Twins: With a .545 average and two home runs against Scott Feldman, perhaps Cuddyer can work his way up to 50 percent ownership in ESPN standard leagues this weekend.
Randy Ruiz, 1B, Blue Jays: With a .918 OPS over the past two weeks, Ruiz is a source of cheap alternative power just waiting for someone to grab off the waiver wire.
Brayan Pena, C, Royals: He has hit three of his seven career home runs this month. This unexpected power surge is unlikely to continue, so grab on tight and ride it while it's still around.

Now batting (Sunday)

Hitters' count:

Paul Konerko, OF, White Sox: Konerko has enjoyed lots of success against the pinstripes this season, with a .429 batting average on his résumé.
James Loney, 1B, Dodgers: Loney has pummeled Bronson Arroyo, with five RBIs and eight hits in 14 career at-bats, plus a 1.671 OPS.
Marco Scutaro, 2B, Blue Jays: Scutaro has a .318 career batting average against Jon Lester, and has scored in five of the past seven Blue Jays games.
Adam Dunn, 1B, Nationals: The home runs keep on coming (34 so far in 2009) and his .320 batting average in August is off the charts. Did we mention he's a .467 career hitter against Adam Wainwright, to boot?
Torii Hunter, OF, Angels: He's rocking a nine-game hitting streak since returning from the disabled list, with a .405 average.
Billy Butler, DH, Royals: Ryan Rowland-Smith is not likely to slow down Butler, who is sporting a .330 average this month. His .479 batting average against the current Mariners' staff is pretty scary.
Pat Burrell, DH, Rays: Have you noticed the recent surge from "The Bat" -- .400 over his past nine games? We'll be starting him on Sunday, even against Justin Verlander.
Brian McCann, C, Braves: He has hits in nine of his past 10 games, and should make it 10-of-11 against Joe Blanton, against whom he has posted a .462 batting average.

Pitchers' count:

Jason Varitek, C, Red Sox: Neck problems are one reason to sit him. The other? How about a .213 batting average in 75 career at-bats against Roy Halladay?
Joe Crede, 3B, Twins: Assuming the Twins haven't placed him on the DL, with his back being so darn balky, you'd still want to sit him against Kevin Millwood. Crede's average versus the Ranger pitcher is only .217.
Derrek Lee, 1B, Cubs: Nelson Figueroa might not send shivers down the spine of most hitters, but he's clearly in the nightmares of Lee, who has hit a mere .083 against Figueroa for his career.
Raul Ibanez, OF, Phillies: April seems so long ago for Ibanez, who has hit only .213 this month. The 1-for-8 against Jair Jurrjens doesn't inspire us to remember the springtime with Raul, either.
Hunter Pence, OF, Astros: Where'd that .320 average go? Pence is a .212 hitter since July turned into August and he's never had a hit off Dan Haren.
Justin Upton, OF, Diamondbacks: He's back in action, that's the good news. Unfortunately, the bad news is he's facing the Astros, against whom he's hit only .182 for his career.
Jose Lopez, 2B, Mariners: Lopez has had six 0-for-4 days so far this month, and the seventh might well be on the horizon with a scheduled faceoff with Zack Greinke, who has retired the Seattle second baseman in 10 of 11 at-bats.

If you're hardcore

Nolan Reimold, OF, Orioles: He may not get a lot of press playing in Baltimore. Heck, even in Baltimore he's not the lead story. However he has hit safely in 17 of his past 18 starts.
Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates: He's hitting .313 in August and is working on a nine-game hitting streak. He's a star in the making.
Brendan Ryan, SS, Cardinals: Ryan is batting .367 in August and also working on a nine-game hitting streak. If you like the McCutchen pick, then this one's right up your alley.
Cory Sullivan, OF, Mets: Sullivan is hitting .400 against the Cubs' current staff, and let's face it … he's healthy. That's the only requirement to get into the Mets' lineup these days.
Fred Lewis, OF, Giants: Considering his playing time has been spotty at best, you have to admire his ability to post a .394 batting average this month. He's 5-for-6 lifetime against Jason Hammel, so it might be "one of those days."
Nomar Garciaparra, 1B, Athletics: Yes, the career is headed toward its final days, and starting Nomar is now an act of the hardcore. But with a .313 average against John Lackey, perhaps there's room for one more curtain call.
Ryan Spilborghs, OF, Rockies: He still loses that staring contest with Dinger every time … but he's staring down opposing pitching of late, with a .300 average this month. A .444 batting average and two homers off Matt Cain make us keep staring at his name.

Triage

Injury list: Out

Nyjer Morgan, OF, Nationals (broken hand): Morgan slid headfirst into third base on Thursday and broke a bone in his left hand. Consider him done for the season, so if you're not in a keeper league, get thee to a waiver wire.

Injury list: Day-to-day

• Bengie Molina, C, Giants (quad): MRI results showed a mild strain, but Molina is trying to take things slow so he'll be able to play the entire month of September. Expect him to make only one start in the series against the Rockies.
Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Giants (calf): Since he's not crouching behind the plate, he's far more optimistic about getting back into the lineup in the series against Colorado after being MIA since Monday.
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Red Sox (ankle): Ellsbury tweaked the ankle when he slid into home plate and made contact with A.J. Pierzynski. While the injury doesn't appear to be serious, for a guy who relies on his speed for success, he might need to sit out a few days.
Adam Jones, OF, Orioles (back): He appears ready to take the field again after back spasms caused him to leave last Sunday's game in the first inning, but with nothing to play for, the Orioles are being extremely cautious.
Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies (thumb): First he cuts his hand, then he gets back into the lineup and immediately bruises his thumb diving in the outfield. As soon as he can grip the bat again, he's going to play, but that might be a few days off.

Weather concerns

• The weekend's weatherproof games: Astros-Diamondbacks, Pirates-Brewers, Rangers-Twins, and Royals-Mariners.
• With tropical storm Danny on its way toward the East Coast, expect rain to be the order of the weekend for scheduled contests in New York, Boston, Florida, Philadelphia and Baltimore. These storms can be unpredictable, so if it strengthens a bit or changes its trajectory, there could well be some cancellations. Check with your local weatherman for more information.

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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