Kazmir faces old AL East foes
Angels fans have to be smiling. Not only does their newest weapon, Scott Kazmir, cruise into a matchup versus the Yankees with a 1.42 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in four starts for his newest team, they also get to witness him face off against one of the teams he was acquired to beat. Kazmir has an extraordinary career 2.93 ERA against the Yankees, Red Sox and Rangers, the primary competition of the Angels (although not so much the Rangers nowadays), and it's nice to have a trump card against the majors' best offense.
Wednesday will also feature a trio of youngsters with many a fantasy hope on their back, with Rick Porcello, Jonathan Sanchez and Homer Bailey all taking the mound. All three have surprised with strong finishes, and all three have the potential for much more success in the future. Bailey and Sanchez especially should be popular sleepers in next season's drafts, too. Read on to see where they rank in the day's rankings:
Starting pitcher rankings for September 23, 2009
Selected notes: Scott Kazmir has remained true to his career and dominated the Yankees in two previous starts this season, coming away with a 2.63 ERA and 0.88 WHIP. The Yankees' .853 OPS (on-base plus slugging) against left-handers is 39 points better than second place -- greater than the difference between second and ninth -- so that's quite the accomplishment. Six Yankees regulars hit below the Mendoza line against Kazmir, so he should keep on rolling.
Chad Billingsley may have a 5.49 ERA and 1.58 WHIP, but he really hasn't pitched that poorly; he's mostly just been unlucky. Having his last start was probably a good decision, and you should expect a rebound against a Nationals team hitting .238 this month.
Homer Bailey is proving why you should rarely give up on top talent, dominating to the tune of a 1.84 ERA in his past six starts. He's fanned 39 batters in 39 1/3 innings, shutting down a number of quality offenses in the process: the Dodgers, the Rockies at Coors and, most recently, the Marlins, who are one of four teams with an OPS north of .800 in the month of September. So a matchup with the Pirates, who have the majors' worst OPS this month by 40 points, should be a walk in the park, and maybe the main concern at this point is that Bailey might be too good, raising his price in next year's drafts in the process.
Rumors of his demise have been greatly exaggerated -- with myself partly responsible for the propagation thereof -- and Rick Porcello has finished the season strong, allowing two runs or fewer in seven of his past 10 starts. With a 1.80 ERA and 0.85 WHIP in three starts against the Indians this season, Porcello is looking to make it eight out of 11. The Indians, who have collapsed to a league-worst .675 OPS this month, should provide little resistance.
Since the All-Star break, the only teams Jonathan Sanchez has allowed more than three runs against are the Dodgers and the Rockies at Coors Field. He's become a consistent option against the weaker teams in the league, and you have to love the strikeouts. With a 1.77 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and .164 opponents' batting average in three starts against the Diamondbacks, Sanchez should once again produce like an elite option.
A.J. Burnett has alternated between brilliance and disaster in his past six starts, allowing one, six, one, six, three (with 12 strikeouts) and nine runs. For a silver lining, at least the teams he's been bombed by are competent offenses; unfortunately, so are the Angels, his opponent Wednesday. Burnett is capable of shutting down any offense when he's on, but is equally capable of getting lit up, so at this point of the season, whether he's worth starting mainly comes down to whether you can afford (or need) to take the risk; for what it's worth, the Angels (.711 OPS) haven't hit particularly well in the month.
The lowly Royals ended Mark Buehrle's streak of four starts with two runs allowed or fewer, and the Twins won't be easy to rebound against. Even without Justin Morneau -- whom Buehrle may actually miss, considering Morneau's career .196 average against him -- the Twins have a litany of hitters who perform quite well against Buehrle; as a team they hit .320 off him when you take out Morneau's numbers. And considering just how hittable Buehrle has been -- he's fanned fewer than four batters per nine since the All-Star break -- there's really not much, if any, upside here.
• Mike Napoli, C, Angels: Twice Napoli has gone deep against A.J. Burnett, needing only nine at-bats to do so. That includes the damage Napoli has done this season, going 2-for-3 with a home run, and Burnett has definitely had more trouble against righties (.821 OPS allowed) than lefties (.658 OPS).
• Jorge Posada, C, Yankees: One of the few Yankees to do anything against Scott Kazmir, Posada has in fact raked, going 11-for-25 (.440). He's picked up four extra-base hits (one home run) too, so you can overlook the eight strikeouts.
• Vernon Wells, OF, Blue Jays: Wells has seven multi-hit games in his past 10 (nine of them starts), and he's crushed Jeremy Guthrie, going 7-for-16 (.438) with three extra-base hits. He's gone yard twice, including once earlier in the season; overall he's 3-for-7 against Guthrie this year.
• Carlos Quentin, OF, White Sox: Quentin has slugged two home runs in five at-bats off of Brian Duensing, one of the few pitchers he's been very productive against. He did go yard a couple of days ago, so maybe Quentin can finish strong. If you still own him, you're right to start him for at least one game.
• Denard Span, OF, Twins: A dangerous .324 hitter against lefties, Span has a special affinity for Mark Buehrle, against whom Span is 10-for-20 with two home runs. This season he's 8-for-14 with a dinger versus Buehrle, even chipping in a stolen base. There's obviously something about Buehrle that Span just feasts on, so expect Span, who is currently nursing a head injury, to do everything in his power to play Wednesday. If he can't go, you could easily substitute Carlos Gomez (8-for-20, two home runs) or Delmon Young (also 8-for-20 with two home runs) in this spot for Span.
• Justin Upton, OF, Diamondbacks: Jonathan Sanchez better watch out for Upton, who has smacked five extra-base hits off him in 15 at-bats. With three doubles and two dingers, not only is Upton hitting .400, but he has an even 1.000 slugging percentage, which is always pleasing to the eye.
• Torii Hunter, OF, Angels: In 20 at-bats versus A.J. Burnett, Hunter has a measly two hits to his name, striking out seven times. Both the hits Hunter has have left the park, so it's not all bad, but can you really start someone hitting .100 against a pitcher?
• Derek Jeter, SS and Johnny Damon, OF, Yankees: You could put nearly the whole team here, but Jeter and Damon have the most at-bats against Kazmir, with a combined 69. They have just 10 hits between them, giving them a .145 batting average, and have struck out nearly as often (17 times) as they've reached base (19 times).
• Josh Willingham, OF, Nationals: Hitless in eight at-bats versus Chad Billingsley, it doesn't help that Willingham has also gone down swinging in half of his at-bats. Righties hit only .235 off of Billingsley, and Willingham is 5-for-27 (.185) in his past eight games, so don't be surprised if he remains hitless against Billingsley.
• David Wright, 3B, Mets: Despite stepping into the batter's box 45 times against Tim Hudson, Wright has just one extra-base hit, a home run. He has otherwise been limited to eight singles and three walks, resulting in a lowly .214 average and .283 OBP. Hudson keeps the ball on the ground and it's not as if Wright has offered much power this season, so if ever there were a time to sit Wright, this would be it.
• Billy Butler, 1B, Royals: Butler has been superb since the break, but has his troubles against quality right-handers like Josh Beckett. He's 0-for-7 versus Beckett, going down on strikes four times, which suggests Beckett has just outclassed him. Righties hit a woeful .215 off of Beckett, too, so the matchup is decidedly in the pitcher's favor.
If you're hard-core• Lyle Overbay, 1B, Blue Jays: Currently sporting a seven-game hitting streak, Overbay is 10-for-23 (.435) with three doubles and a home run. Overbay is a quality option against right-handers when he's hitting well -- he currently sports a .920 OPS -- and should do well versus Jeremy Guthrie, against whom Overbay is 7-for-20 (.350) with three extra-base hits. Guthrie is also woeful (.539 SLG allowed) against southpaws, so Overbay shouldn't have trouble picking up a few more hits Wednesday.
• Luke Scott, OF, Orioles: Scott has just been on a consistently downward spiral since his amazing month of May, but he now has six extra-base hits -- three of them homers -- in his past six games. Scott Richmond is awful against lefties (.545 SLG allowed) and has been getting lit up consistently, and Scott needed only five at-bats to take him deep previously, so it looks like he has value once again.
• Chris Coghlan, OF, Marlins: He's still batting .369 in September, although he has yet to go deep. He normally struggles against southpaws, but he slugged two homers off of Cole Hamels in three at-bats when they met earlier, which is more than enough reason to make sure he's in your lineup this time, too.
• Cody Ross, OF, Marlins: Ross turns into a slugger against left-handed pitching (.578 slugging percentage), and really likes hitting against Cole Hamels, against whom Ross has three home runs in 24 at-bats. He's 3-for-5 with a dinger off of Hamels this season, too, and if you're going to knock Hamels around, this is the season to do it.
• Clint Barmes, 2B/SS, Rockies: He's been dropped in a few leagues recently, but Barmes is as valuable as his next home game, since you can live with his average (.273) at Coors Field. He even has a modest six-game hitting streak at home, and won't be facing a particularly tough pitcher Wednesday, either; righties are slugging a favorable .469 against Tim Stauffer.
• Will Venable, OF, Padres: You gotta like Venable as an option when he's on the road, where he hits .312, and it doesn't get any better than playing at Coors Field. Venable actually blasted a home run off of Jason Marquis earlier in the season, and this could be the perfect time for No. 2, considering Marquis' recent struggles.
Injury list: Out
• Milton Bradley, OF, Cubs (suspension; out for the season)
• Joe Crede, 3B, Twins (back; out for the season)
• Ted Lilly, SP, Cubs (shoulder): Lilly is suffering tendinitis in his left (pitching) shoulder, so he was scratched from his scheduled start Wednesday in favor of Jeff Samardzija.
• Nolan Reimold, OF, Orioles (15-day DL, Achilles; out for the season)
• Marco Scutaro, 2B/SS, Blue Jays (heel)
• Gary Sheffield, OF, Mets (back; limited to pinch hitting)
• Michael Young, 3B/SS, Rangers (hamstring)
Injury list: Day-to-day
• David DeJesus, OF, Royals (ankle)
• Yunel Escobar, SS, Braves (elbow)
• Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers (back, glute): On Monday Hamilton ran in the outfield, and is scheduled for batting practice Tuesday. Hamilton is adamant about returning and may be back in the lineup within the week.
• Jeremy Hermida, OF, Marlins (oblique): Manager Fredi Gonzalez said Hermida is "getting close," though it remains to be seen if the Marlins will utilize Hermida in a part-time capacity or if he will play every day.
• Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B, Padres (calf): Kouzmanoff did not return Monday, as was expected, and remains day-to-day.
• Carlos Ruiz, C, Phillies (wrist): Ruiz is going to attempt to play in the second game of Tuesday's doubleheader.
• Freddy Sanchez, 2B, Giants (knee): Sanchez's knee is once again bothering him; this time, he was pulled out of Monday's game with a "twisted" knee. It is unknown how long he will be unavailable.
• Denard Span, OF, Twins (head): Luckily, Span suffered only a slight headache after getting beaned in the head Monday. Keep an eye out for updates, but he probably won't be out long.
• Mark Teahen, 3B/OF, Royals (back; available to pinch hit)
Weather concerns• Five contests will be weatherproof: Orioles-Blue Jays, Mariners-Rays, Cubs-Brewers, Cardinals-Astros and Giants-Diamondbacks.
• The rain only gets worse, beginning in Pittsburgh, which has up to a 60 percent chance of thunderstorms. The nation's capital, Washington, D.C., and Flushing, N.Y., are both at risk (40 percent chance) of storms as well. And Miami, of course, has its nightly storms to dodge (30 percent).
• In Denver, the Padres-Rockies contest has a 50-50 shot of showers, and moving to the Midwest, thunderstorms are expected in Cleveland and Chicago. Cleveland has a significant chance of storms (40 to 50 percent), while Chicago (30 percent) has a better chance of dodging the rain.
Adam Madison is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com.