Dice-K finally makes return
After spending nearly three months on the shelf, Daisuke Matsuzaka will be activated from the disabled list Tuesday and take the mound versus the Los Angeles Angels. One of the biggest busts this season, Matuszaka has pitched only 35 innings due to injuries and ineffectiveness, but he looked more than competent in a number of rehab starts. There's a good chance he'll be effective for a start or two as the season wraps up, and more importantly to the Boston Red Sox, for the playoffs. How will he fare in his return on Tuesday, you ask? The skinny on all things pitching in our rankings below:
Starting pitcher rankings for September 15, 2009
Selected notes: Roy Halladay may have an uncharacteristic 4.88 ERA in his past five starts, but that's despite a brutal schedule, and he still managed to toss a complete game one-hitter versus the New York Yankees. Halladay will face them for the second time this month, but that's of little concern considering his 2.65 ERA and 0.91 WHIP in four starts against them this year. Indeed, if anything, Halladay may be the only pitcher in baseball who can reliably shut down the Yankees, with a career 2.83 ERA against the team in a whopping 241 1/3 innings. Despite allowing a total of six runs in his past four starts, Randy Wolf was still dropped in 3.7 percent of ESPN leagues recently. That's probably a result of the fact that Wolf was scratched from his start Friday with a hyperextended elbow, and although that doesn't sound so minor for a pitcher with a lengthy injury history, Wolf is nonetheless scheduled to start versus the Pittsburgh Pirates. Wolf should have no problem reaching his previous level of effectiveness against a team hitting a weak .242 since the All-Star break. While Cliff Lee has allowed 16 runs and four home runs in his past 15 innings, there's not much reason for concern. More important to note is that Lee hasn't walked a batter in five consecutive starts, and has picked up a win in six of his first eight starts since joining the Philadelphia Phillies. Expect a rebound when he faces the Washington Nationals again, this time at home. In four starts against the Cleveland Indians this season, Scott Baker has come away with a 0.93 ERA and 0.69 WHIP, even striking out 23 batters in 29 innings. It doesn't get any more dominating than that, and with a 2.78 ERA since the All-Star break, Baker has quietly been a fantasy savior in the second half of the season. Enjoy the ride. Yovani Gallardo has already tossed 65 more innings than his previous career high, and more than 150 innings than he threw in his injury-shortened season last year. The innings may have been bleeding into his performance, with Gallardo exceeding six innings just once in his past seven starts, so the Brewers wisely decided to skip his last start. With a 4.30 ERA and 1.40 WHIP since the All-Star break, Gallardo hasn't been his dominant self in a while, but the extra rest should result in somewhat of a rebound for at least a start. Considering the quality of the opponent, Jeff Niemann's last start -- a seven-inning, one-run performance against the Yankees in which he struck out eight -- has to be considered his best performance of the season. While many other young pitchers are struggling at this time of the year, Niemann only seems to be improving, and looks like an elite option against the Orioles. • Barry Zito is coming off an uninspired performance versus the San Diego Padres, unable to log even a quality start in the friendly confines of Petco Park. But as tempting as it may be, you have to throw him out there versus the Colorado Rockies, as he's been dominant in three previous starts this season, with a 0.42 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in 21 1/3 innings. Fortunately, Zito will be at home for the start, important since the Rockies' average drops to .239 on the road, which offers a nice buffer in case Zito isn't pitching particularly well. John Lackey has been close to perfect in his past three starts, pitching 26 out of a possible 27 innings with just one run allowed, but a matchup looms against the Red Sox, a team that has touched him up for a 5.54 ERA and 1.66 WHIP. He's been so good that it seems silly to bench him, but he's been even worse at Fenway Park, with a 6.34 ERA and 1.70 WHIP. This is the time of season when tough decisions have to be made, and the safe thing to do is to sit Lackey, as a quality start might be the extent of his upside here. Four straight quality starts later and Freddy Garcia looks like the real deal, even fanning 20 hitters in 24 1/3 innings. Two of those came on the road against the Yankees and Red Sox, so you would think Garcia wouldn't have a problem making it five straight when he draws the mediocre Seattle Mariners offense.
• Johnny Damon, OF, Yankees: Continuing his career trends, Damon has raked against Halladay this season, batting .357 in 14 at-bats with a double and two home runs. He's increased his lifetime average to .340 in 94 at-bats, so Damon has definitely picked up on something about Halladay.
• Lance Berkman, 1B, Astros: The schedule is offering Berkman a nice opportunity to stay in a groove, as Berkman has crushed Kip Wells in his career, too. Wells has allowed seven extra-base hits to the slugger in 38 at-bats, four of them home runs.
• Felipe Lopez, 2B, Brewers: With a .359 average in 39 at-bats versus Carlos Zambrano, Lopez has always hit Zambrano well, including going 2-for-4 with a double this season. Unlike most batters, Lopez has hit for power against Zambrano too, with a couple of doubles, a triple and two home runs making up the extra-base hits he's collected off the hurler.
• Jason Kubel, OF, Twins: Let's hope Kubel can return from his neck injury in time to face Fausto Carmona, who he's gone 10-for-23 (.435) against in his career. Considering Carmona's struggles against lefties (.964 OPS allowed), Kubel is a strong bet to keep bringing the pain, and has already gone 3-for-8 with a couple of home runs and a double against Carmona this season.
• Russell Martin, C, Dodgers: We've seen a rare display of Martin's power in recent games, with three of his past four hits going for extra bases, including two homers. He'll get a good shot to add to that when he faces Zach Duke, who he has one home run against in 12 career at-bats. Power or no power, Martin is 6-for-12 against Duke lifetime, so chances are he'll remain productive in one way or another.
• Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees: Jeter has one hit -- a single -- in eight at-bats versus Halladay this season, striking out three times. Not only is Jeter only hitting .230 against Halladay for his career, but with just four extra-base hits in 87 at-bats, he's been turned into a singles hitter to boot.
• Mike Lowell, 3B, Red Sox: Lowell has a modest four-game hitting streak going, but one can probably expect that to end if he draws the start versus the Angels' John Lackey. He's 3-for-19 (.158) against the righty, with zero walks or extra-base hits, going down on strikes five times.
• Joey Votto, 1B, Reds: The Reds' best hitter is still looking for his first extra-base hit against Roy Oswalt, compiling five singles in 20 at-bats but little else. Oswalt has struck him out four times and allowed one walk, and from first base especially, that lack of production should mean Votto finds a home on your bench for the day.
• Mike Cameron, OF, Brewers: Just a glance at how many times Carlos Zambrano has struck out Cameron -- six times in 16 at-bats -- is a strong indicator of how one-sided the matchup has been. Indeed, Cameron has only reached base twice, with a single and a walk, and a .063 batting average isn't going to win any awards.
• Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Indians: After struggling against lefties for most of his career, Scott Baker seems to have figured them out, at least judging by his line this season. Baker has limited them to a .216 average in 328 at-bats, with only four home runs allowed, and Choo has been no exception, with just one hit in nine at-bats versus Baker this year.
• Dan Uggla, 2B, Marlins: Adam Wainwright has held righties to a sub-.600 OPS this season, which, when combined with Uggla's ugly 1-for-12 career mark against Wainwright, makes the slugger an obvious candidate for the bench.
• Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Padres: If ever there were a time to bench a slugger as proficient as Gonzalez, it would be against an ace like Dan Haren. While Gonzalez has hit .286 against Haren in 28 at-bats, his on-base percentage (.300) and slugging percentage (.393) tell the real story. As another point against him, Gonzalez struggles to hit for average in Petco Park, where he's hitting .240 on the season and .263 in his career.
If you're hard-core
• Matt Diaz, OF, Braves: Incredibly, Diaz just keeps getting better and better against left-handed pitching. The outfielder is a career .344 hitter against lefties and is hitting a career-high .402 against them this season, chipping in five home runs and four steals in 127 at-bats. He's obviously a must-start against the Mets' Pat Misch.
• Billy Butler, 1B, Royals: Jarrod Washburn is one of the few lefties Butler hasn't thoroughly dominated -- he's just 2-for-8 against Washburn this season and 3-for-14 for his career. The Washburn of late, however, has been awful, with 11 home runs allowed in 42 innings since joining the Tigers, and Butler has taken Washburn deep before. It stands to reason that if ever Butler were to conquer Washburn, it would be now, when Washburn is struggling and Butler is batting .400, as he is this month.
• Pedro Feliz, 3B, Phillies: Feliz may be hitting only .216 with two home runs in September, but has done all his damage in the past six games, going 8-for-23 (.347) with three doubles and two homers. That kind of recent production is worth a gamble against the likes of Garrett Mock, against whom the league is hitting .312.
• Adam Kennedy, 2B, Athletics: Kennedy has already put together seven multihit performances this month, and although the power is lacking, the .372 average he's sporting this month will play anywhere, especially at second base.
• Jack Cust, OF, Athletics: Cust has left a little wanting in the power department all season, but it's nice to see that he has popped a couple of bombs recently, with two dingers in his past four games. It also helps that Cust went 1-for-2 with a home run against Brandon McCarthy previously, and that McCarthy tends to struggle versus lefties, with a .503 slugging percentage allowed.
Injury list: Out
• Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers (back)
• Jeremy Hermida, OF, Marlins (oblique): Hermida has been unable to begin baseball activities since suffering an oblique strain on Sept. 2 and is looking more and more likely to miss the rest of the season.
• Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B, Padres (calf)
• Gary Sheffield, OF, Mets (back; limited to pinch-hitting)
• Alfonso Soriano, OF, Cubs (knee; may be out for the season)
• Michael Young, 3B/SS, Rangers (hamstring)
Injury list: Day-to-day
• Jason Kubel, OF, Twins (neck)
• Melvin Mora, 3B, Orioles (elbow)
• Justin Morneau, 1B, Twins (back): Morneau received a day off Sunday to help him through nagging back and wrist injuries, but he's not expected to miss much, if any, more time.
• Felix Pie, OF, Orioles (back)
• Freddy Sanchez, 2B, Giants (shoulder)
• Mark Teahen, 3B/OF, Royals (back)
• Only Minnesota (Indians-Twins) and Seattle (White Sox-Mariners) have the benefit of playing in a weatherproof dome.
• Thunderstorms may present a problem in Atlanta, with about a 40 percent chance of rain. Outside of that, however, there are just a few showers to worry about in St. Louis (30 percent), and some isolated storms in Arlington that are expected to clear up as the game progresses.
Adam Madison is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com.
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