Smoltz returns to Cards' rotation
Fantasy owners no doubt will be glad to see John Smoltz toe the rubber Friday after being scratched from his scheduled start Monday. He returns a few days earlier than expected since Kyle Lohse (forearm) is unavailable for his turn. One also must figure the Cards aren't too concerned with Smoltz, who complained of shoulder tendinitis, considering they are throwing him out there despite being virtually guaranteed of making the playoffs. Unfortunately, taking the mound Friday instead of Monday means Smoltz will match up against the Cubs' Ted Lilly instead of the Marlins' Ricky Nolasco. That might very well cost him a chance to pick up a win. That doesn't concern us too much, though, as Smoltz is still near the top of the day's rankings:
Starting pitcher rankings for September 18, 2009
Selected notes: The Cardinals might be one of the most improved offenses in recent months, but they still tend to struggle against left-handers; they are tied with the Giants for the second-worst OPS in baseball against southpaws. Enter Ted Lilly, who has been dealing (1.38 ERA in six starts) since returning from a stint on the disabled list. Throw in Lilly's 2.40 ERA and 0.80 WHIP in two starts against the Cards this season and Lilly looks in line for another dominating start. Mark Buehrle might have a 2.42 ERA in his past four starts, but he still has been pretty hittable, striking out fewer than three and a half batters per nine innings. Considering the teams he faced, though -- he opposed the Yankees, Twins, Red Sox and Angels, all pretty good offenses -- it doesn't really matter how you do it, it's impressive nonetheless. On Friday he'll face the Royals, a team that hasn't had a problem hitting Buehrle (.280 batting average against this season) but, not surprisingly, have also had trouble turning those hits into runs, with Buehrle posting a 3.38 ERA in four previous starts. Part of the reason the Angels acquired Scott Kazmir was because of his career excellence against competitors like the Rangers, who as a team are hitting .175 off him in 137 at-bats. It's fortunate for his owners, too, who don't have to worry about him against a normally dangerous matchup; in fact, Kazmir has a career 2.52 ERA in four starts at Rangers Ballpark. Clay Buchholz has allowed either one run or zero runs in five of his past seven starts, picking up six quality starts along the way. He hasn't pitched quite as well as that run of effectiveness would suggest -- he has a somewhat disappointing 32-to-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 46 innings in those starts, so don't get too excited -- but he has definitely done enough to warrant a start against the Orioles. It should be a good test for the 25-year-old, in fact. Although he shut out the Orioles for seven innings a couple of starts ago, the last time he was in Baltimore, he allowed seven runs in four innings. Like most Padres pitchers, Tim Stauffer has benefitted from pitching at Petco Park, with an ERA that's three-quarters of a run lower at home, but he hasn't been all that bad on the road, where he still sports a respectable 3.69 mark. With three consecutive quality starts under his belt of allowing no more than an earned run in each outing, and the lowly Pirates on deck for Friday, Stauffer makes for a sneaky spot start in mixed leagues. Although the strikeouts Brett Anderson picks up might tempt you, his assignment versus the Indians won't be a walk in the park. Only the Yankees (.855 OPS) hit left-handers harder than the Indians (.807) do. The Indians are third in the AL in strikeouts, so Anderson definitely should get his share of K's, but he normally doesn't get much run support, making him a risky play in mixed leagues. It seems the Dodgers are Jonathan Sanchez's kryptonite; after compiling a 2.03 ERA and 41 K's in 31 innings over his previous five starts, the Dodgers roughed up Sanchez for five runs (four earned) in 4 1/3 innings in his last outing. Unfortunately, Sanchez will draw the Dodgers again, this time at Dodger Stadium, where Sanchez (8.44 ERA, 2.55 WHIP in two starts) has been tattooed. Make sure he's firmly planted on your bench. After the Padres put up five runs on eight hits (one home run) against Jason Marquis, it is now safe to bail on the pitcher, whose improbable string of luck seems to have ended. He can't be trusted on the road against the Diamondbacks, who scored six runs on nine hits (two home runs) off him in five innings in a start earlier in the year.
• David Ortiz, DH, Red Sox: Ortiz is 2-for-6 with two home runs against Jeremy Guthrie this season, bringing his career numbers to 7-for-21 (.333) against him. And with six extra-base hits (four doubles and those two dingers), Ortiz has hit Guthrie hard whenever he has made contact, and as a result sports an .810 slugging percentage.
• J.D. Drew, OF, Red Sox: Ortiz isn't the only Red Sox hitter who has killed Guthrie; Drew is 3-for-6 this season against him to boost his career line to 6-for-18 (.333). Four of those hits have gone for extra bases (two doubles, a triple and a home run), and all three of his hits off of Guthrie this season have been of the extra-base variety.
• Josh Willingham, OF, Nationals: Although Willingham has done little in recent weeks, his track record of success against Mike Pelfrey makes him worth a start Friday. He has gone 6-for-14 (.429) with two home runs, adding a double and a triple.
• Carl Crawford, OF, Rays: Crawford has already gone deep versus Scott Richmond this season, and is 4-for-7 lifetime. Picking up three extra-base hits along the way, Crawford has been a nightmare for Richmond, although we're sure the .529 slugging percentage Richmond has allowed to left-handers has something to do with it, as well.
• Adam Lind, OF, Blue Jays: With three home runs in 24 career at-bats against James Shields, you have to like Lind's chances of going deep Friday. Lind is hitting a reasonable .292 against Shields but has also added three doubles to go alongside those dingers, leading to an impressive .792 slugging percentage.
• Chris Young, OF, Diamondbacks: Although he has gone 0-for-3 versus Jason Marquis this season, Young still has three career home runs off him in just 12 at-bats. With Young "feeling it" this month (six homers in 53 at-bats), it stands to reason that he could recapture some of that prior success against Marquis, especially considering Marquis' recent hiccups.
• Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals: In 30 career at-bats versus Mike Pelfrey, Zimmerman has been limited to a lone double as his only extra-base hit. As a result, despite a decent .267 average, Zimmerman's OBP (.290) and SLG (.300) aren't up to par, so you're better off looking at alternatives for the day.
• Chipper Jones 3B, Braves: With a weak .387 slugging percentage since the All-Star break, Chipper is hardly a threat these days. Stepping into the batter's box against J.A. Happ shouldn't change anything, as Jones has two singles in 11 at-bats in his career against the lefty.
• Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies: Speaking of a lack of power, Utley is still looking for his first extra-base hit against Tim Hudson, who has limited him to eight singles in 33 career at-bats. Utley has struck out seven times, as well, so it certainly seems Hudson has his number.
• Ian Kinsler, 2B, Rangers: It's nice that both of Kinsler's hits versus Scott Kazmir have led to extra bases -- a double and a home run -- but those are his only hits in 19 at-bats against the southpaw.
• Ryan Ludwick, OF, Cardinals: Ludwick has struck out nine times against Ted Lilly, which is more times than he has reached base (eight) in 23 at-bats. He has reached base via a hit only four times, giving him a .174 average against Lilly.
• Andre Ethier, OF and Rafael Furcal, SS, Dodgers: Sanchez has owned lefties this year, with a .317 slugging percentage allowed and just two home runs in 142 at-bats, so it's not surprising that Ethier is 3-for-19 (.158) with five K's against him. Furcal, however, is even worse, going hitless in 12 career at-bats and striking out three times, so look for alternatives for both of these regulars.
If you're hardcore
• Will Venable, OF, Padres: Assuming Venable can return from the flu in time, he'll draw a favorable matchup versus Charlie Morton, whom lefties are batting a whopping .347 against. Venable, who has 11 home runs in 185 at-bats against right-handers, is also a much better hitter on the road, where he's hitting .318 in 110 at-bats this season.
• Drew Stubbs, OF, Reds: With seven home runs and six steals in just 123 at-bats since being called up, Stubbs has been a real multi-category threat. He also has attempted four steals in his past six games, with success on three of them, and couldn't ask for a better matchup for running purposes than catcher John Baker, who has thrown out just 18-of-91 would-be thieves, a subpar 19.7 caught-stealing rate.
• Matt Diaz, OF, Braves: No southpaw is free of Diaz's abuse, as J.A. Happ is one of many lefties who has been knocked around by the outfielder. Diaz has accumulated four hits in six at-bats off him this season. Only one of those hits went for extra bases, but it happened to leave the park, making Diaz a particularly good bet versus Happ.
• Mark Teahen, 3B/OF, Royals: A career .453 hitter against Mark Buehrle, Teahen should collect another couple of hits if he's healthy enough to start. This season he's gone 6-for-10 with a pair of doubles against Buehrle, and the White Sox lefty has slipped against left-handed batters this season (.851 OPS allowed).
• Scott Hairston, OF, Athletics: Although he's only 9-for-36 (.250) in his past eight games, Hairston has shown impressive power, piling up five doubles and a home run. Considering he's a .320 hitter against lefties, he's a smart bet against southpaw David Huff, especially since he is still hitting fourth or fifth in the lineup.
Injury list: Out
• Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers (back): Hamilton hopes to start swinging the bat Friday, but with the Rangers well behind in the chase for the playoffs, Hamilton might yet be shut down.
• Jeremy Hermida, OF, Marlins (oblique)
• Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B, Padres (calf)
• Kyle Lohse, SP, Cardinals (forearm): John Smoltz will fill in for Lohse after Lohse admitted to having discomfort in his forearm, a symptom which often precedes elbow troubles. It is unknown if Lohse will be available for his next scheduled start.
• Justin Morneau, 1B, Twins (back; out for the season)
• Jorge Posada, C, Yankees (suspension; eligible to return Sept. 20)
• Gary Sheffield, OF, Mets (back; limited to pinch-hitting)
• Alfonso Soriano, OF, Cubs (15-day DL, knee; out for the season)
• Huston Street, RP, Rockies (biceps): Street is in line to return to the bullpen Sunday, although he likely won't immediately return to closer duties.
Injury list: Day-to-day
• Lance Berkman, 1B, Astros (back, hip): Berkman is aiming for a Friday return from back and hip injuries that have kept him out of action since Tuesday.
• Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B/SS, Indians (knee)
• Vladimir Guerrero, OF, Angels (ribs): Guerrero was plunked in the ribs by Takashi Saito and is day-to-day, although the team is awaiting X-rays.
• Mark Teahen, 3B/OF, Royals (back; available to pinch-hit): Teahen rejoined the team Tuesday and is available, according to Royals manager Trey Hillman.
• Jose Valverde, RP, Astros (virus)
• Will Venable, OF, Padres (flu; available to pinch hit)
• Kevin Youkilis, 1B/3B, Red Sox (back)
• Five games will be played under weatherproof domes: Blue Jays-Rays, Astros-Brewers, Tigers-Twins, Rockies-Diamondbacks and Yankees-Mariners.
• Atlanta is the only city with a significant risk of rain. In fact, with a 60 percent chance of showers, Mother Nature could affect the Braves' contest versus the Phillies.
Adam Madison is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com.
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