Plenty of division battles on tap
Welcome to rivalry week! Well, not really, considering the dearth of pennant races to add any tension, but seven of Monday's 10 contests will be between intra-division foes. What does that mean for fantasy? Due to the unbalanced schedule, starters face their division rivals often enough to build a decent sample size of results. In other words, it allows us fantasy players to make more informed decisions about who or who not to start. That's the main reason you might be surprised to find a couple of starters farther down the day's rankings than you would think:
Starting pitcher rankings for September 28, 2009
Selected notes: John Danks went into his Sept. 22 start with eight consecutive quality starts, but that run of effectiveness came to a screeching halt after allowing seven runs in six innings to the Minnesota Twins. Although Danks was bombed by the Cleveland Indians in his only start against them in June, don't hold much stock in that -- that was back when Victor Martinez, Mark DeRosa and Ryan Garko (the latter two both going deep) -- were still on the team. Now it's an offense with the second-worst OPS in September, so Danks should rebound. Jeff Niemann may have a 6.14 ERA against the Baltimore Orioles this season, but the one time he faced them at home, he allowed just one run in seven innings. With a severe home split this season (2.63 ERA, 1.16 WHIP), it's probably safe to use Niemann, but the Orioles have a better offense than you think, so don't expect miracles. With a 2.58 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings in seven starts since the All-Star break, Anibal Sanchez makes for a quality streaming option against the Atlanta Braves. It definitely comes attached with a few risks -- he's walked 13 batters in 28 2/3 innings this month, and he'll be on the road -- but the strikeouts are nice and the Braves don't have a great offense. On the other hand, it's probably not worth using Nick Blackburn because he doesn't strike enough people out to possibly buffer a mediocre performance. Blackburn is too hittable to risk playing him against the Detroit Tigers in Comerica Park; he actually sports a 8.00 ERA in 18 innings there. Life in the AL East -- not to mention all the home runs he's allowed -- tends to make Josh Beckett prone to blowups here and there. He's allowed five runs or more seven times this season, and the last time came against the same opponent he'll face Monday, the Toronto Blue Jays. Unfortunately, the Blue Jays have just crushed Beckett -- in his last four starts against them, he has an unsightly 13.16 ERA. Stay far, far away. In 210 career at-bats against the current Texas Rangers roster, Ervin Santana has allowed 15 home runs. Even pitching at home won't save him; in six home starts against the Rangers in his career, Santana still has a 4.94 ERA with five home runs allowed in 38 2/3 innings.
• Russell Martin, C, Los Angeles Dodgers: Like many catchers, Martin has worn down throughout the season, but if you still own him, he draws a good matchup against Zach Duke on Monday. A .292 hitter against lefties (as opposed to .244 versus righties), Martin is also 7-for-15 (.467) with three doubles and a home run against Duke in his career.
• Hanley Ramirez, SS, Florida Marlins: Mentioning a player of Ramirez's caliber feels a bit easy, but he's earned it: All five of his hits have gone for extra bases against Jair Jurrjens, including a whopping three home runs in 14 at-bats.
• Gordon Beckham, 3B/SS, Chicago White Sox: Although Beckham has swatted six home runs this month, doubling his output from the previous two, he's only hitting .250. Fortunately, righties are hitting .305 off Aaron Laffey, and since Beckham is batting .320 against left-handers, chances are he'll see that average increase by the end of the day.
• Delmon Young, OF, Minnesota Twins: Finishing the season on a high note, Young is 12-for-28 (.429) over his past seven games. With a 3-for-6 mark versus Rick Porcello, don't expect the rookie to faze him, and Young should be brimming with confidence, as he's hitting .328 in September.
• Jason Kubel, OF, Minnesota Twins: Young's teammate, however, has been even better against Porcello; in eight at-bats he's been held without a hit just once. He's also picked up a pair of doubles, and has hit so well against Porcello that he hasn't even needed to earn a walk.
• Chris Davis, 1B, Texas Rangers: Teams love to stack lefties against Ervin Santana, and when you see his numbers against them (.336 AVG/.398 OBP/.551 SLG), you would too. But Davis has been particularly lethal against Santana, going 3-for-8 (.375) with two home runs and a double, making him one of the best bets of the day.
• Vernon Wells, OF, Toronto Blue Jays: Josh Beckett has been crushed by Wells, allowing five home runs in 33 at-bats. Seven of Wells' 10 hits against Beckett has gone for extra bases, so not only is Wells hitting .303, he's slugging over .800, too.
• Rafael Furcal, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers: Furcal may be hitting .341 this month, but he's just 2-for-16 lifetime (.125) versus Zach Duke, including a 0-for-3 mark this season. And if he gets on base, don't expect to see Furcal running on the base paths -- Ryan Doumit and Zach Duke are fairly difficult to steal against, with Doumit throwing out nearly 28 percent of would-be thieves and Duke with as many stolen bases allowed (seven) as caught stealing.
• Cody Ross, OF, Florida Marlins: With six doubles and four home runs in September, Ross has continued to show impressive power, but don't expect much success when he faces Jair Jurrjens. His power tends to dissipate against right-handers (.425 slugging percentage in 424 at-bats), and his 21-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio this month sure isn't pretty.
• Jhonny Peralta, 3B/SS, Cleveland Indians: This won't take much convincing after Peralta went hitless from Sept. 16 to Sept. 24, a span of 25 at-bats. While he's picked up a couple of hits since, those will be hard to come by versus John Danks, who's limited him to a .150 average (3-for-20). He's also struck out six times, suggesting Danks does indeed have his number.
• Hunter Pence, OF, Houston Astros: Normally quite dangerous against left-handed pitching, Pence has instead been limited to one hit in nine at-bats against Cole Hamels. He has two strikeouts and zero walks, and since even his lone hit was a single, you should lower your expectations.
• Brandon Inge, C/3B, Detroit Tigers: Despite the 27 home runs, Inge has been one of the worst regulars for half a season, with a sub-.200 average three months running. Despite that, he's owned in 83.5 percent of leagues, so someone must be starting him. Well, don't, especially against Nick Blackburn, who he's 1-for-11 against in his career.
• Nelson Cruz, OF, Texas Rangers: Although Ervin Santana has served up a meatball to Cruz, the slugger has otherwise been stopped in his tracks by Santana, with only three hits in 16 at-bats. Cruz has been sent down on strikes six times by Santana, a large reason his average stands at .188 versus the righty.
If you're hardcore
• Kelly Shoppach, C, Cleveland Indians: A high-risk, high-reward play against the Chicago White Sox's John Danks, it might be worth it because of Shoppach's proficiency against left-handers. With five home runs in 52 at-bats, he's slugged .673 against lefties this season, hitting a robust .327 as well. Few catchers have that kind of power, and he's also gone deep against Danks before, so you know it can happen.
• Clete Thomas, OF, Detroit Tigers: While Nick Blackburn tends to struggle against lefties, the damage Thomas has done is ridiculous: he's gone 6-for-12 with four extra-base hits, including one home run. Usually when a batter is hitting .500 off a pitcher, he'll get a spot start against them, even if he's not a regular, and since Monday is an off day for a handful of teams, chances are you can squeeze Thomas in your lineup.
• Hank Blalock, 1B/3B, Texas Rangers: Ditched in many leagues due to poor performance and decreased playing time, Blalock is now back with a vengeance, going 9-for-27 (.333) with a couple of home runs and three doubles since Sept. 18. That's trouble for Ervin Santana, who is regularly bombed by left-handed hitting (.949 OPS against) and who Blalock has roughed up for a .400 average in 30 career at-bats.
• David Murphy, OF, Texas Rangers: Murphy has been hitting the cover off the ball, batting .333 with four home runs in 78 at-bats this month. Murphy has some value against right-handers, as he is hitting .285 with 13 home runs against them in 302 at-bats, but it's specifically the matchup against Santana that makes him a strong play. Murphy has only faced Santana six times, but he's earned two hits, one of them a homer.
• Jeff Francoeur, OF, New York Mets: A .319 hitter since the beginning of August, Francoeur has been the lone bright spot for the lowly Mets. He's batting a superb .347 against left-handed pitching this season, making for a tasty matchup against the Washington Nationals' Ross Detwiler.
Injury list: Out
• Freddy Sanchez, 2B, San Francisco Giants (knee; out for the season): As if we didn't see this coming: Sanchez will undergo surgery next week and will miss the rest of the season.
• Gary Sheffield, OF, New York Mets (back; limited to pinch-hitting)
Injury list: Day-to-day
• Casey Blake, 1B/3B, Los Angeles Dodgers (hamstring): Blake missed Saturday's contest in Pittsburgh, as the Dodgers didn't want to test his injury on a wet field. Blake missed the previous three games as well, but is expected back as early as Sunday.
• David DeJesus, OF, Kansas City Royals (illness): The flu is going around the Royals clubhouse, and DeJesus, Miguel Olivo and Mark Teahen all sat out Saturday. They're all day-to-day.
• Jeremy Hermida, OF, Florida Marlins (oblique)
• Nick Johnson, 1B, Florida Marlins (illness)
• Miguel Olivo, C, Kansas City Royals (illness)
• Felix Pie, OF, Baltimore Orioles (hamstring): Pie tweaked his hamstring on Friday while trying to beat out a double play, but hopes to return early this week.
• Jorge Posada, C, New York Yankees (neck)
• Cody Ross, OF, Florida Marlins (hand): Hit in the hand by a pitch Saturday, Ross was removed and replaced by Cameron Maybin. X-rays were negative, so it's not too serious.
• Carlos Ruiz, C, Philadelphia Phillies (wrist)
• Mark Teahen, 3B/OF, Kansas City Royals (back, illness)
• Michael Young, 3B/SS, Texas Rangers (hamstring): On Saturday, Young ran the bases for the first time since he re-injured his hamstring. He could return as soon as Monday.
• The Orioles-Rays contest is the only weatherproof game of the day.
• Showers are expected to pour in Pittsburgh throughout the afternoon (60 percent chance), but should taper off around 3 to 4 p.m.. New York may also experience a delay or two as the city deals with a 50 percent chance of rain and 20 mph winds; by 10 p.m., the odds drop to 30 percent. Be wary of thunderstorms in Philadelphia as well; both storms (40 percent) and high winds (20 mph) are expected, although the weather should lessen in severity around 10 p.m.. It's a similar story in the nation's capital, with high winds and thunderstorms, albeit only a 30 percent chance from 7 to 9 p.m. Finally -- at least as far as the Northeast is concerned -- Boston also has a 30 percent chance of showers.
• High winds and precipitation may also present a problem in Detroit and Cleveland, with the odds of rain only increasing further into the night. With winds over 20 mph throughout the night, game conditions might not be pretty.
Adam Madison is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com.
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