Don't shy away from Dempster
The weekend games were made for streamers, those fantasy owners in head-to-head leagues who see a need to take some chances in pitching categories in which they're trailing and start as many Saturday and Sunday starters as they can in the hopes of catching lightning in a bottle on that day. Conversely, those owners who find themselves ahead of their opponents may well bench a questionable starter they might otherwise have started to avoid giving back ground in categories such as ERA and WHIP. For those owners, I would like to make a case in support of keeping Ryan Dempster, Sunday's starter for the Cubs, in your rotation. Look past the 4.38 ERA so far in 2010 and ignore the 4-10 lifetime mark against the Astros. In the past two seasons, his ERA against the Astros in seven starts is 3.48 and in two of his three losses, the Cubs were shut out. Take a chance, and stick with Dempster, rather than going dumpster-diving for the likes of Ian Snell or Nate Robertson. The complete rankings for both April 17 and 18 are here for your review:
For starters: Saturday
Starting pitcher rankings for April 17
Selected notes: It's pretty much a no-brainer to have Tim Lincecum at the top of our rankings. The Giants' ace is 3-1 lifetime against the Dodgers. Johan Santana has always done well against the Cardinals, with a 2-0 record and a 2.63 ERA against them. I like him to do better than Jake Peavy, who I'm counting on to be able to master the Indians and their .211 team batting average. Justin Duchscherer has never lost to the Orioles and has a 2.78 ERA against them, which is why he's finishing ahead of Ubaldo Jimenez (1-3, 5.06 ERA against the Braves) and Roy Oswalt, whose Astros have still just the one victory to their credit so far in 2010. Sometimes, it is simply a matter of the lineup they're facing, which is why Randy Wolf against the Nationals rates him higher than Ricky Nolasco against the Phillies. Clay Buchholz finishes just outside the top 10, though there's an argument for his inclusion due to a 2.39 career ERA when facing the Tampa Bay Rays. James Shields, on the other hand, is brutal against the Red Sox, 3-7 lifetime with a 5.32 ERA. Other middle-of-the-pack options: Johnny Cueto (6-2, 3.72 ERA against the Pirates) wins out over Jeremy Guthrie (1-3, 6.23 ERA facing the Athletics), and Livan Hernandez might be worth a gamble after watching him keep the Mets in check in his first outing of the season. Also to be considered, Kevin Correia against the Diamondbacks. Despite a 2-6 record, his ERA is a very respectable 3.87 against the Arizona lineup. Moving to the lower third of things, I don't like Jake Westbrook, already rocked by the White Sox once this season, or Tom Gorzelanny -- 1-4, 5.01 ERA against the Astros. Both the Pirates and the Diamondbacks are using fill-in starters Saturday, and while the current candidates are Brian Burres and Kris Benson, respectively, there's no guarantee that the teams don't change their minds, or pull them early if they struggle.
For starters: Sunday
Starting pitcher rankings for April 18
Selected notes: Not only is Adam Wainwright throwing the ball at a Cy Young level so far this season, but he squares off against John Maine and his career 6.23 ERA against the Cardinals. No. 1 is the only place for him. Clayton Kershaw is the likely Dodgers starter for Sunday, but he has been a bit wild as of late, which is the only reason for the hesitation to rank him higher than No. 4 for Sunday. After all, he struck out 13 Giants in his only previous meeting with them. The fact Barry Zito has rediscovered himself so far in 2010 also gives me a little pause here, but in the end if Kershaw goes I like him to win. Jair Jurrjens is 4-1 with a 2.94 ERA against the Rockies, and this game is not at Coors Field. That's a good combination for the Braves starter. Going forward, Wandy Rodriguez should pitch better than he has this season, but there remain issues to be worked out. Still, his 3.84 ERA against the Cubs is reason enough to be optimistic this weekend. Far more so than with erratic Cole Hamels, who is 2-6 lifetime with a 4.48 ERA against the Marlins. Strikeouts are the reason to like Max Scherzer at No. 11; the free-swinging Mariners are second in the American League in whiffs. Similarly, Jon Lester has 72 strikeouts in 72 innings pitched against the Rays. Other middle-of-the-road picks include Matt Garza, 5-2 with a 3.23 ERA against the Red Sox, and Doug Davis, who may be only 1-5 against the Nationals, but that record is accompanied by a 2.91 ERA, and the Brewers aren't shy about scoring runs of late. Andy Pettitte's 5.41 ERA against the Rangers in quite the ample sample size puts me off the Yankees pitcher today, as does Ervin Santana's 5.97 ERA against the Blue Jays. Bringing up the rear, I'm still not buying in to Carl Pavano and his 7.08 ERA facing the Royals, who themselves are batting .307 as a team this season, and Ian Kennedy, who is rocking a career ERA of 6.39 and has but one major league victory on his résumé. Tim Stauffer may or may not pick up Chris Young's start in San Diego, but regardless, he's to be ignored.
Hitter matchup ratings for April 17
Hitters' count: Saturday
Bengie Molina, C, San Francisco Giants: Molina is in the middle of an 8-for-15 streak which has raised his average to .455. Plus, if there's anyone who might be able to figure out a knuckleballer like Charlie Haeger, it's a catcher.
Orlando Cabrera, SS, Cincinnati Reds: The Pirates are reaching into their pitching depths to send Brian Burres to the mound, and that's just fine with O-Cab, who is a career .455 hitter against the well-traveled southpaw.
Ben Zobrist, 2B, Rays: His eight-game hitting streak to start the year was snapped on April 14, but Zobrist should get right back on the hitting horse against Clay Buchholz, against whom he has a .900 OPS.
Craig Counsell, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers : Be on alert for Counsell to get a spot start in this series. He's a .340 hitter against the Nationals' pitchers and a whopping .405 against Saturday's starter, Livan Hernandez.
Pitchers' count: Saturday
Ryan Ludwick, OF, St. Louis Cardinals: He's yet to hit a home run in 2010, and although he has connected against Johan Santana in the past, the .182 lifetime average isn't anything to write home about.
Hunter Pence, OF, Houston Astros: It's not that anyone expects Pence to continue to slump at this horrific .121 pace for the entire season, but until he strings together a few games where he doesn't look awful at the plate, it's probably better to look elsewhere.
Miguel Tejada, 3B, Baltimore Orioles: Don't look for any vast improvement on the .279 OBP from Tejada today against Justin Duchscherer. He has no hits or walks in five career at-bats against the A's pitcher.
Jason Bay, OF, New York Mets: Bay may be a few seasons removed from the National League, but he has not had much career success against the current crop of Cardinals pitchers, with but a .241 batting average to his name against them.
Russell Martin, C, Los Angeles Dodgers: It might be unfair to single out any individual Dodgers hitter against Tim Lincecum, but Martin is particularly gruesome, a lifetime 0-for-13 against the Giants' ace.
Jhonny Peralta, 3B, Cleveland Indians: There's a reason his ownership has taken a nosedive, down 3.6 percent this week alone. It's hard enough to justify a third baseman without a ton of power, but even harder when he's hitting .148 on the year.
Hitter matchup ratings for April 18
Hitters' count: Sunday
Magglio Ordonez, OF, Detroit Tigers: Not only does he have a .658 slugging percentage, but Ordonez is hitting .368, as well. Quite the comeback he's working on for 2010, which shouldn't slow any against Ian Snell. Ordonez has a career batting average of .571 against the Mariners hurler.
Chase Headley, 3B, San Diego Padres: Headley had 12 RBIs against the Diamondbacks last year, far and away his most against any opponent. With a.378 batting average this season so far, look to him to double his 2010 RBI output this series, and perhaps in this game alone.
Jack Wilson, SS, Seattle Mariners: Wilson is batting .188 on the year, but nearly all of that -- 2-for-23 -- came in seven games versus the Athletics. Expect better results against Max Scherzer, against whom he's a .500 hitter, in their brief encounters thus far.
Ross Gload, 1B, Philadelphia Phillies: A real deep reach here, but one that might pay off. Gload is a career .455 hitter against Nate Robertson, and if he lets Charlie Manuel know he's itching to go, perhaps he gets a few hacks in.
Pitchers' count: Sunday
Jose Reyes, SS, Mets: There's still not a lot to be happy about with Reyes' production since returning from his thyroid issues, and that .261 batting average isn't likely to get a boost against the Cardinals, whose current staff has held the shortstop to a .243 average.
Edgar Renteria, SS, Giants: He's had a hot start to the season to be sure, with a .382 batting average, but the career oh-fer against Clayton Kershaw keeps him on the bench this Sunday.
Ian Stewart, 2B, Colorado Rockies: The Rockies' second sacker, with a slugging percentage of .588 in 2010, has six strikeouts in 13 at-bats, and only one hit, against Jair Jurrjens. Look for your pop elsewhere today.
Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees: His two home runs on Jackie Robinson Day caused quite a commotion, but he'll be hard-pressed to repeat the feat against Rich Harden. Cano is a mere .111 hitter against the Rangers pitcher.
J.R. Towles, C, Astros: Not that this should be earth-shattering news, as Towles is hitting a paltry .056 this season, but we started this column with a pro-Ryan Dempster stat, and we'll throw in another one here: Towles has never had a hit off the Cubs starter.
Baseball Challenge Picks of the Weekend
Saturday: Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Padres: Gonzalez has a .999 OPS against the Diamondbacks, who are forced to reach down into their Triple-A bag of tricks to send reclamation project Kris Benson to the mound. Things could get ugly.
Sunday: Adam Dunn, 1B, Washington Nationals: Looking for a lot of total bases? Look no further than Dunn. Although he does strike out a lot, he also has three career home runs off of Doug Davis, who starts for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Injury list: Out
Jo-Jo Reyes, RP, Braves (15-day DL, strained knee)
Brian Fuentes, RP, Angels (15-day DL, back strain)
Mike Gonzalez, RP, Orioles (15-day DL, strained left shoulder)
Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies (15-day DL, calf strain)
Kelly Shoppach, C, Rays (15-day DL, right knee sprain)
Chris Young, SP, Padres (15-day DL, shoulder tightness)
Aaron Hill, 2B, Blue Jays (15-day DL, right hamstring)
Brian Roberts, 2B, Orioles (15-day DL, strained abdominal muscle)
Miguel Montero, C, Diamondbacks (15-day DL, right knee sprain)
Injury list: Day-to-day
Mike Cameron, OF, Red Sox (possible kidney stones)
Felix Pie, OF, Orioles (shoulder)
Chan Ho Park, RP, Yankees (right hamstring)
Adam LaRoche, 1B, Diamondbacks (quad)
Maicer Izturis, 3B, Angels (shoulder tightness)
Drew Stubbs, OF, Reds (back)
Weatherproof games: Angels at Blue Jays, Tigers at Mariners. The weekend is shaping up to be a pretty nice one across the country, except for those expecting to see baseball in New England. There's an 80 percent chance of rain in Boston for the Rays and Red Sox on Saturday. The only other clouds in the sky may result in some light showers in Philadelphia and New York, but nothing that should affect games in those cities.