Yankees, Rays play two on Labor Day
Happy Labor Day! And to celebrate, the schedule rewards with two servings of the Yankees. In the first batch of the Yankees-Rays day-night doubleheader, CC Sabathia will look for his AL-leading 17th win. He has not lost in seven starts, his last loss coming, in fact, to the Rays on July 28.
We'll also see Brad Penny's second start since joining the Giants. Going from the AL East to the NL West served him well in his San Francisco debut, as he pitched eight shutout innings against the Phillies. Which Penny do we expect to show up this time around? The rankings, my friend, tell all:
Starting pitcher rankings for September 7, 2009
Selected notes: Amazingly, Josh Beckett has allowed 14 (!) home runs in his past five starts, an average of nearly three per start. Considering he's faced some pretty good offenses -- the Tigers, the Blue Jays twice, the Yankees and the Rays -- he's lucky his ERA during that span is "only" 7.52. Fortunately, he's still struck out 33 batters in 31 1/3 innings, including nine apiece in his past two starts, so you can chalk up the homer barrage as just a blip. We expect Beckett to get his mojo back against the White Sox, who are dealing with injuries to two of their better hitters and are a much weaker offense without Jim Thome. Monday will be A.J. Burnett's fourth start against the Rays, and despite the Rays ranking fourth in the majors in OPS, Burnett has been nearly flawless, with a 2.14 ERA, 0.76 WHIP and 22 K's in 21 innings against Tampa Bay. Not a single Rays hitter is slugging better than .455 against Burnett (minimum eight at-bats), so despite Burnett's recent inconsistency, he should be good to go against this division rival. You have to go back to Mark Buehrle's perfect game to find the last time he struck out more than four batters in a start (he fanned six). He's been all over the place since that accomplishment, and although he's coming off back-to-back quality starts -- the first time he's done that since, you guessed it, his perfect game -- his 3-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio and two home runs allowed in those 12 innings don't exactly inspire confidence, making him a risky play versus the Red Sox. If you ask Cliff Lee, John Smoltz and now Jose Contreras -- not to mention Sabathia last year -- the National League really is that bad, and Brad Penny is going to do his best to take advantage of it, too. He hurled eight shutout innings on the road against the league's best offense, the Phillies, and couldn't ask for an easier matchup when he faces the Padres in the pitcher-friendly confines of Petco Park. Penny suffered from a tough schedule and awful defense when he was in Boston's rotation, so expect him to have a lot more success on the Giants, who are tied for the majors' third-best defensive efficiency (the Red Sox rank dead last). Penny is worth an immediate pickup and should make a great spot starter for the rest of the season. Matt Garza may have a 4.58 ERA and 1.36 WHIP since the All-Star break, but it's nothing to worry about -- he's faced the three best offenses in baseball in four out of his nine starts, and if you throw in the Rangers (seventh in OPS), he's faced an elite offense in more than half of his outings. Unfortunately it won't get any easier, as he draws the Yankees again, but Garza has actually been somewhat of a Yankee killer, with a 2.84 ERA and 1.26 WHIP against them this season, limiting the team to a .252 average in 139 at-bats over his career. Extremely shallow leagues may want to pass considering he'll be on the road (4.89 ERA this season) and will have a tough time picking up the win with the Yankees' Burnett on the mound, but a quality start seems fairly likely for Garza.
• Ryan Doumit, C, Pirates: Doumit has struggled most of the season, but has much more ability than he has shown to date. While it's not much, he is 8-for-20 (.400) in his past five games, so he may be righting himself; he's also 5-for-13 (.385) versus Ted Lilly in his career, so another strong game on Monday wouldn't be surprising.
• Hideki Matsui, OF, Yankees: Matsui is 5-for-15 against Andy Sonnanstine, and four of his hits have gone for extra bases, which often translate to RBIs in the loaded Yankees lineup. Two of those hits even left the park, giving Matsui a .867 slugging percentage versus Sonnanstine in just 15 at-bats.
• Ben Zobrist, 2B/SS/OF, Rays: His average is 54 points higher against left-handed pitching, adding more than 100 points of slugging along the way. CC Sabathia has been no exception, with Zobrist going 3-for-4 with a triple and a home run against him this season, bringing his career line to 4-for-8 against the southpaw.
• Victor Martinez, 1B/C, Red Sox: There is an extensive history between Martinez and Mark Buehrle from their years in the AL Central together, and Martinez, who holds a .339 lifetime average against Buehrle, normally came out ahead. That trend has also continued his season, as Martinez has gone 3-for-6 with a home run.
• Torii Hunter, OF, Angels: Hunter started off 14-for-33 (.424) in his first eight games back from the disabled list, but is now 8-for-35 (.228) in the nine games since. A favorable matchup versus Kyle Davies, however, could easily get him back on track, as Hunter has hit .357 with a home run in 14 at-bats against him, and right-handers overall are hitting .295 and slugging .482 off Davies this season.
• Carlos Pena, 1B, Rays: Although Pena has taken CC Sabathia deep two times in 28 at-bats, he's been awful the majority of the time, striking out 13 times while compiling four hits, leaving him with a .143 average. It doesn't get any better in the second half of the doubleheader, either: Pena is 3-for-27 (.111) against A.J. Burnett, striking out 12 times.
• J.D. Drew, OF, Red Sox: Drew may be swinging the bat well, but he's only 1-for-10 versus Mark Buehrle, and has been significantly worse against left-handers this season, with his average dropping 29 points and his slugging percentage decreasing by 58 points.
• Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers: Still looking for his first productive at-bat versus Chris Carpenter. Braun is 0-for-6 with two K's and no walks against the ace.
• Russell Martin, C, and Matt Kemp, OF, Dodgers: Both hitters have been totally owned by Max Scherzer, going a combined 0-for-19 with zero walks and five strikeouts. They're both 0-for-6 against Scherzer this season, although Martin, at least, reached base once (and subsequently stole second base) on a fielding error.
• Jorge Posada, C, Yankees: Posada is a combined 4-for-23 against Rays pitchers Andy Sonnanstine and Matt Garza, although, as a catcher, he won't play every inning in both games of the doubleheader anyway. Still, he's been limited to just singles, with more strikeouts (five) than hits, so there's not much upside here.
If you're hardcore
• Yadier Molina, C, Cardinals: Molina hasn't hit a home run since June 17, but that could change Monday when he faces Dave Bush, as he's gone deep three times in 14 career at-bats versus Bush.
• Mark Teahen, 3B/OF, Royals: In 17 at-bats against Ervin Santana, Teahen is hitting .353 with two doubles, which isn't too shabby. Left-handed batters have found Santana extremely hittable (.353 AVG/.416 OBP/.575 SLG), so you would think Teahen would have little problem maintaining his career rates when they face off.
• Seth Smith, OF, Rockies: Until Dexter Fowler (knee) returns from a rehab assignment to muddy the landscape, ride the hot hand of Smith, who is 7-for-9 with four doubles and a home run in his past two games. He's now hitting .370 at Coors Field, with six home runs and a .661 slugging percentage in 127 at-bats.
• Brandon Allen, 1B, Diamondbacks: Despite hitting just .217, Allen is slugging .478 thanks to six of his 10 hits going for extra bases, including three long balls. He's hit a little better against right-handers, with a .250 average and all three of his homers. A good performance against Vicente Padilla, against whom lefties are hitting .311, isn't out of the question, and playing at home in Chase Field, a hitters' park, should also help. Those in deep leagues should keep a close eye on the hulking first baseman.
• Michael Brantley, OF, Indians: With Grady Sizemore now done for the season, Brantley should pick up starts on a regular basis and, after swiping 46 bags on 51 attempts at Triple-A this season, immediately deserves a look. Indeed, manager Eric Wedge has already given him the green light, and Brantley is 7-for-19 (.368) with two stolen base attempts (one caught stealing) already.
Injury list: Out
• Jose Guillen, OF, Royals (hamstring; out for the season)
• Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers (back): Hamilton flew back to Texas to receive another epidural, and while he is expected to rejoin the team Tuesday, it's unknown whether he will be able to play.
• Chad Qualls, RP, Diamondbacks (60-day disabled list; knee)
• Grady Sizemore, OF, Indians (elbow/abdominal; out for the season)
• Alfonso Soriano, OF, Cubs (knee): Soriano will miss at least the next couple of weeks with a sore left knee, and since the Cubs have little to play for, there's a chance we've seen the last of the outfielder this season.
• Huston Street, RP, Rockies (biceps): Street is not expected to pitch before the weekend.
• Michael Young, 3B/SS, Rangers (hamstring)
Injury list: Day-to-day
• Gordon Beckham, 3B/SS, White Sox (side): Beckham said he tweaked his right side after taking a batting practice swing, but decided to give it a go in the game anyway, although he was removed in the first inning. Although Beckham will miss Sunday's contest, it doesn't sound serious.
• Alberto Callaspo, 2B, Royals (ankle)
• Jermaine Dye, OF, White Sox (back)
• Lyle Overbay, 1B, Blue Jays (finger)
• Freddy Sanchez, 2B, Giants (15-day DL, shoulder): Sanchez is expected to be activated Monday.
• B.J. Upton, OF, Rays (ankle): Upton might start one game of Monday's doubleheader against the Yankees.
• Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies (foot)
• Games in Toronto, Houston, Milwaukee and Arizona will all have the benefit of weatherproof domes.
• Scattered thunderstorms may present a problem in Cleveland (40 percent chance of rain) and Pittsburgh (50-50 chance of rain).
Adam Madison is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com.
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