Commentary

Hanson leads thin crop of starters

Updated: April 7, 2010, 1:44 PM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com

Thursday's action brings us a somewhat shortened schedule, with only 11 games on tap, and not many of the aces we tend to rely on for our fantasy teams. It's only the first week of the season, and several teams aren't even out of their first series, but we're already seeing that some teams have a lot of question marks in their rotations. Jonathon Niese? Craig Stammen? Dontrelle Willis? This could be a long season for the streamers of the world. Let's take a look at the complete rankings below:

For starters

Selected notes: Young Tommy Hanson has only the one season under his belt, but outside of games against the Philadelphia Phillies, he was virtually unhittable last season. The Chicago Cubs will be seeing him for the first time, so we'll give Hanson top honors today. … Chad Billingsley has a 6.75 ERA at PNC Park, which is why we won't put him at the head of the class, but we still like his chances at the start of the season with a fresh arm. … We're in the Brett Anderson fan club this season, and while the Seattle Mariners had a complete makeover in the offseason, the Oakland Athletics hurler had more strikeouts against the Mariners in 2009 than any other foe. … Randy Wells had a 2.08 ERA in two starts versus the Atlanta Braves last season. … C.J. Wilson is making a transition from the bullpen to the rotation, but a strong strikeout-to-walk ratio in the spring is promising. He's worth a flier, as is Justin Masterson, who held the Chicago White Sox to a .174 batting average last season in 13 IP. … To give you an idea on how shaky the pitching is today, we've got Jeff Niemann at No. 10 overall, and he had a 2.01 WHIP versus the Baltimore Orioles last season. … We'll take a chance on Brian Bannister, whose ERA was a run better at home last season plus the fact he was 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA last April. Doug Fister of the Mariners is also intriguing, having posted a 1.40 ERA against Oakland last season in two starts. Other middle-of-the-pack options include Bronson Arroyo, Ricky Romero and Kevin Slowey, all of whom posted double-digit victory totals last season, but are facing some of the stronger lineups, St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Angels, respectively. … Kyle Kendrick doesn't strike out too many hitters, and couldn't beat out Jamie Moyer for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. He's only getting the call due to Joe Blanton's injury. We're not excited here. … Brian Matusz may well end up winning Rookie of the Year honors, but we're not expecting him to be Cy Young out of the gate. The Tampa Bay Rays scored four runs off the youngster in 5 1/3 innings when they faced him last season. Show some patience. … We're already thinking about possibly benching good pitchers against the Phillies, let alone the likes of Craig Stammen. As for Dontrelle Willis? Well, if you think his 7.49 ERA last season is truly a thing of the past, you are more than welcome to start him. We're going to make him prove it.

Now batting

Hitters' count:

Evan Longoria, 3B, Tampa Bay Rays: Longoria has nine career home runs against the Baltimore Orioles, most against any opponent. In three at-bats against Brian Matusz, he has two doubles. Expect the slugfest to continue.

Bobby Abreu, OF, Los Angeles Angels: What's not to like with a .400 batting average and an .800 slugging percentage against Kevin Slowey?

Josh Willingham, OF, Washington Nationals: He had five home runs in 2009 against Phillies pitching -- including one against Kyle Kendrick -- which gives Philadelphia most favored piņata status in Willingham's eyes.

Luis Castillo, 2B, New York Mets: Nate Robertson may be a fresh face to many National Leaguers, but Castillo remembers him fondly from days gone by, toting a .350 lifetime batting average against the former Detroit Tiger.

Jason Kendall, C, Kansas City Royals: We're not sold on Dontrelle Willis being "back" just yet, and Kendall, with his .400 career mark against him, is one of many very startable Royals on Thursday.

Felipe Lopez, SS, St. Louis Cardinals: Look for Tony La Russa to get Lopez's bat in the lineup against Bronson Arroyo. He not only hits .448 against the Reds' starter, but also has a .793 slugging percentage against him.

Ryan Garko, 1B, Texas Rangers: Possible spot start alert! Garko hit .400 against the Toronto Blue Jays last season, and is a perfect 3-for-3 against Ricky Romero.

Pitchers' count:

James Loney, 1B, Los Angeles Dodgers: He's 0-for-his career against Paul Maholm, and his lifetime batting average sits around 30 points lower against southpaws.

Ryan Church, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates: It's hard enough for Church to see the field with Garrett Jones blasting home runs without factoring in his .182 average against The Buzzsaw.

Lyle Overbay, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays: Don't look for a breakout day from Overbay, who is 0-for-6 lifetime against C.J. Wilson and hit only .250 in a slow April start in 2009.

Brian McCann, C, Atlanta Braves: The catcher has hit only .222 against the Cubs over the past three years, and is a meager 1-for-6 against Randy Wells.

Ryan Theriot, SS, Chicago Cubs: Theriot hit just .200 at Turner Field last season, and .179 overall against the current Atlanta Braves staff.

Alexei Ramirez, SS, Chicago White Sox: He's not so sexy against Justin Masterson (1-for-7). There must be something Masterson is doing right, as Ramirez has an overall batting average of .311 against the current Cleveland crop of arms.

Baseball Challenge Pick of the Day

Hanley Ramirez, SS, Florida Marlins: Han-Ram wasn't bothered playing at Citi Field in its debut season, hitting .417 in seven games at the Mets' new digs. Thursday, he gets Jonathon Niese and his 5.30 home ERA. We'll take our chances.

Triage

Injury list: Out

Brandon Webb, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks (15-day DL, previous shoulder surgery)
Marc Rzepczynski, SP, Toronto Blue Jays (15-day DL, fractured middle finger)
Dustin McGowan, SP, Toronto Blue Jays (15-day DL, previous shoulder surgery)
Daisuke Matsuzaka, SP, Boston Red Sox (15-day DL, neck strain)
Hong-Chih Kuo, RP, Los Angeles Dodgers (15-day DL, tender elbow)
Cliff Lee, SP, Seattle Mariners (15-day DL, abdominal strain)
Jose Reyes, SS, New York Mets (15-day DL, thyroid condition)
Daniel Murphy, 1B, New York Mets (15-day DL, sprained right knee)
Jesus Flores, C, Washington Nationals (60-day DL, right labrum surgery)
Chien-Ming Wang, SP, Washington Nationals (60-day DL, previous shoulder surgery)
Coco Crisp, OF, Oakland Athletics (15-day DL, fractured pinkie finger)
Trevor Cahill, SP, Oakland Athletics (15-day DL, left scapula)
Matt Joyce, OF, Tampa Bay Rays (15-day DL, strained right elbow)
Kerry Wood, RP, Cleveland Indians (15-day DL, strained muscle)
Russell Branyan, 1B, Cleveland Indians (15-day DL, herniated disc)
Ian Kinsler, 2B, Texas Rangers (15-day DL, sprained right ankle)

Weather concerns

Weatherproof games: Orioles at Rays. There's a 70 percent chance of showers in Pittsburgh and Atlanta, and even greater odds of at least some sort of delay in Cincinnati. Washington is due for some late thunderstorms, so with the afternoon start, there's a chance the game may reach at least five innings before the skies open up.

AJ Mass is a fantasy baseball, football and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can follow AJ on Twitter or e-mail him here.

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