Berkman, Branyan set to return


Pitching in both leagues gets a little more difficult Tuesday, as sluggers Lance Berkman and Russell Branyan are both expected to return from the disabled list. Berkman's return couldn't come soon enough, since the Houston Astros offense has reached laughable depths in his absence, including 14 runs scored in their first eight games. Things aren't quite that bad for the Cleveland Indians, but they could use some bop in the middle of their order, too. The big question is whether Branyan's career year was a fluke; he hit .193 in 145 at-bats after the All-Star break last season with the Seattle Mariners. We'll find out sooner or later as we move on to another day of baseball.

For starters

Starting pitcher rankings for April 20

Rk.: The author's ranking of that pitcher for that day only. T: Pitcher throws left-handed or right-handed. Opp: The pitcher's opponent for the day. Rating: The starting pitcher's matchup rating -- separate from the author's ranking -- which accounts for past history (three years' worth as well as past 21 days), opponent and ballpark. Ratings range from 1-10, with 10 representing the best possible matchup, statistically speaking, and 1 representing the worst. W-L: Pitcher's win-loss record. ERA: Pitcher's earned run average. WHIP: Pitcher's average number of walks plus hits surrendered per inning.

Selected notes: On paper, the Tampa Bay Rays would seem to be a tough matchup for John Danks, but in five career starts against them, Danks has walked away with a 2.67 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. He has allowed his fair share of walks, understandable when facing a patient team, and that could end up costing him when a few more hits drop in than normal. All in all, however, Danks has proved himself capable of conquering good offenses and should remain active in all formats.

" Somehow Jonathan Sanchez gave up four home runs at Petco Park last year in just 16 innings. Sanchez actually got bombed in Petco, with a 5.06 ERA and 1.31 WHIP in three starts. But then you look at his microscopic batting average against -- the Padres hit .167 off him at home, and .110 overall -- and all the strikeouts (15), and you just can't resist. Once again thanks to the matchup, Sanchez is a top-5 option masquerading as a third or fourth starter.

" The strikeouts are nice, but the home runs are becoming worrisome for Carlos Zambrano. He's allowed one in each of his three starts, totaling four in all; he allowed all of 10 in 169 1/3 innings last year. He did the same thing last April, allowing four home runs, so hopefully he fixes that problem soon. The Mets aren't a team with a lot of power, so it would be something of a red flag if his gopher-ball syndrome persists for another start. It's something to keep an eye on, but otherwise he should be good to go.

" OK, Javier Vazquez, let's try this again. Early season struggles, not much to worry about, patience is a virtue, etc. This time around Vazquez has his easiest opponent yet, the Oakland Athletics, and while he may be on the road, he's on the road in a pitchers' park. Keep him active (how else will he lower your ratios?) and begin to panic if he throws up another stinker.

" Is it any surprise that a team that has featured Pedro Feliz (.222 AVG/.229 OBP/.289 SLG) and Hunter Pence (.156 AVG/.156 OBP/.222 SLG) has been the worst hitting team in the majors so far? With both Pence and Carlos Lee (.116 AVG) struggling immensely, there's no way you can resist throwing Chris Volstad out there and hoping he can take full advantage of an easy matchup. The 'Stros tend to perform poorly against right-handers, too (.719 OPS last season, 25th) so it should be like shooting fish in a barrel, right?

" If Justin Masterson can ever figure out how to solve left-handed hitters, watch out. He'll get a stiff test in that department against the Minnesota Twins, who feature a murderer's row of power lefties including Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel (and can we throw Jim Thome in there, too?). If he can conquer -- or at least hold his own -- against a credible Twins lineup, then all aboard the bandwagon. There is significant downside, however, so try to exercise patience if you're still on the fence or even in an AL-only league.

" It was just two starts, but Kevin Slowey had a 1.84 ERA and 1.09 WHIP last season against the Indians. Slowey is a solid pitcher in his own right and the Indians are a mediocre offense presently, so it is reasonable to expect Slowey's best performance of the young season Tuesday.

Now batting

Hitter matchup ratings for April 20

Hitter ratings account for the opposing starting pitcher's past history (three years' worth as well as past 21 days) as well as ballpark factors. "LHB" and "RHB" ratings account only for left- and right-handed batters, respectively. "Steals" is a base stealing matchup rating, which accounts for the opponent's catchers' ability to gun down opposing base stealers.

Hitters' count

Chris Iannetta, C, Colorado Rockies: You don't keep Iannetta around because of his average, but because of his light-tower home run power. Despite the slow start, he's still slugging .476, and don't be surprised if he goes deep off Scott Olsen, too: He's 2-for-7 with two long balls against him.

Jose Guillen, OF, Kansas City Royals: It's hard to believe Guillen hit .181 against lefties last season; in 2007 and 2008 combined, for instance, he hit .330 against them in 312 at-bats. Guillen battled injuries last season and if the early returns this year mean anything, he deserves a mulligan. Expect him to continue to terrorize pitching, with the Blue Jays' Dana Eveland the next potential victim.

Jason Bay, OF, New York Mets: In 12 games, Bay has not been anything but a big fat bust, but he couldn't ask for a better matchup Tuesday. He'll face a personal version of batting practice when he goes against Carlos Zambrano, whom he's tattooed for 14 hits (five home runs) in 39 at-bats. His slugging percentage alone is just a few points south of .900 against Zambrano, good news when he's had just two extra-base hits in 46 at-bats this season.

Nate McLouth, OF, Atlanta Braves: It didn't take long for 12.3 percent of owners to lose faith in McLouth, as that's the amount of players in the ESPN fantasy universe who have dropped him in the past week. But if you've decided to hang on through the thick and thin, McLouth may yet reward you, at least against Kyle Kendrick: McLouth is 3-for-8 lifetime with two homers, and Kendrick (.915 OPS allowed to lefties the past three seasons) is ripe for the picking.

Michael Bourn, OF, Astros: He hasn't taken off on the basepaths despite a hot start (.381 OBP), but that could change in a blink of an eye against the Florida Marlins. Few catchers are as inept at throwing out runners than John Baker, who started 99 games last season and had 99 runners attempt a stolen base against him; 79 were successful.

Dan Uggla, 2B, Marlins: If history repeats itself, then go ahead and pencil in a big day for Uggla. He's taken Brett Myers deep five times in just 37 at-bats, hitting .378 overall off Myers. Uggla has struck out nine times, but 14 hits and a sick .892 slugging percentage make up for it.

Brandon Inge, 3B, Detroit Tigers: Remember Inge? He's not going to hit 20-plus home runs before the All-Star break anytime soon, but he's been solid so far, hitting .286 with six doubles and eight walks. That has some use in deep or AL-only leagues, and he does hit left-handers well. Throw him out there against Scott Kazmir; while the average may not be pretty (he's 3-for-14 against Kazmir), the power potential is real (all three of his hits have gone for extra bases), and this isn't the Kazmir of old.

Pitchers' count

Nyjer Morgan, OF, Washington Nationals: In 103 at-bats versus left-handers last season, Morgan hit below the Mendoza Line, coming in at .175. Meanwhile the opposing pitcher Tuesday, Jorge De La Rosa, limited southpaws to a .204 average in 152 at-bats. The rest, as they say, is history.

David Wright, 3B, Mets: Wright is 3-for-18 (.167) with a whopping nine strikeouts against Carlos Zambrano. All three of his hits have been singles, and although he has added a few walks over the years, a .471 OPS isn't going to get it done.

Brandon Phillips, 2B, Cincinnati Reds: Yup, even fantasy stars can get stifled by strong pitching. Chad Billingsley has righties hitting .222 during the past three seasons, and Phillips is no exception, batting .143 (2-for-14) lifetime. He's still looking for his first extra-base hit, and he's gone down on strikes five times, so there isn't much hope to grab onto from Phillips' end.

Michael Young, 3B, Texas Rangers: Young tends to struggle versus Tim Wakefield's knuckleball, going 10-for-43 (.233) with six strikeouts, although he has shown decent power (two home runs, one double). That's an even more paltry line, however, when you take into consideration that they face off only in extreme hitters' parks. Chances are another quiet day is in store for Young.

Jhonny Peralta, SS/3B, Indians: Considering his eight walks in 37 at-bats -- he accumulated just 51 walks in 582 at-bats last season -- you would expect a little more success than Peralta's had so far. Unfortunately, he won't get any help from Kevin Slowey, who has sent him down on strikes four times in 14 at-bats, limiting him to two hits in all.

Curtis Granderson, OF, New York Yankees: We're only 12 games into the season, and Granderson is continuing his old ways. He has six extra-base hits but only one against a left-hander, for example, and seven of his nine strikeouts have come against lefties. So yes, even against Gio Gonzalez (against whom he is 1-for-4) Granderson should be benched.

Carl Crawford, OF, Rays: Even if Crawford was able to get on base against John Danks -- not an easy task, by the way, considering Crawford is 2-for-12 with no walks and a couple of K's against Danks -- it's fairly difficult to nab a base from Danks. In 200 innings last year, only 25 runners even tried, and seven were thrown out.

Baseball Challenge Pick of the Day

Vladimir Guerrero, DH, Rangers: The free-swinging Vladdy turns into a marksman against Tim Wakefield: Six of his nine hits have gone for extra bases, five leaving the park; he has as many walks as hits; and overall he's hitting .429. What's not to like?


Injury list: Out

Carlos Beltran, OF, Mets (15-day DL, knee)
Joey Devine, RP, Athletics (15-day DL, elbow)
Chris Getz, 2B, Royals (15-day DL, oblique)
Mike Gonzalez, RP, Orioles (15-day DL, shoulder)
Aaron Hill, 2B, Blue Jays (15-day DL, hamstring): Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston expects Hill to return as soon as he's eligible on April 23.
Ian Kinsler, 2B, Rangers (15-day DL, ankle)
Brad Lidge, RP, Phillies (15-day DL, knee/elbow)
Miguel Montero, C, Diamondbacks (15-day DL, knee)
Felix Pie, OF, Orioles (15-day DL, shoulder)
Brian Roberts, 2B, Orioles (15-day DL, abdominal)
Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies (15-day DL, calf)
Aaron Rowand, OF, Giants (15-day DL, head): Rowand will not need surgery to mend broken bones in his face, so expect to see him some time in early May.

Freddy Sanchez, 2B, Giants (15-day DL, shoulder/knee)
Kelly Shoppach, C, Rays (15-day DL, knee)
Huston Street, RP, Rockies (15-day DL, shoulder)
Michael Wuertz, RP, Athletics (15-day DL, shoulder): Wuertz is on a rehab assignment in Triple-A and is still expected to return before the end of the month.

Injury list: Day-to-day

Daric Barton, 1B, Athletics (elbow): Barton will undergo an MRI on Monday, which will help determine just how much long Barton will be out.
• Lance Berkman, 1B, Astros (15-day DL, knee): "I anticipate being in the lineup on Tuesday and not coming out of it until the end of the year." You heard it from the horse's mouth, folks, so expect Berkman to return Tuesday for a team in dire need of hitting.
Milton Bradley, OF, Mariners (calf)
• Russell Branyan, 1B, Indians (15-day DL, back): The Indians demoted Michael Brantley to Triple-A to clear a spot for Branyan, who is expected to be activated from the disabled list Tuesday. If you're quick, you can still add him from your league's free agency and stash him on your disabled list indefinitely; he did hit 31 home runs last year.
Mark DeRosa, 3B/OF, Giants (hamstring): DeRosa pinch-hit Sunday and is expected to return to the Giants' lineup Monday.
Mark Ellis, 2B, Athletics (hamstring)
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Red Sox (ribs)
Edwin Encarnacion, 3B, Blue Jays (arm)
Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees (illness): "I could've played [Sunday], but you have two days, so that's pretty much it." Expect to see him back Tuesday.
Adam LaRoche, 1B, Diamondbacks (quadriceps)
Andy LaRoche, 3B, Pirates (back)
Pat Neshek, RP, Twins (finger): Twins manager Rod Gardenhire said Neshek could be headed to the disabled list if his right (pitching) middle finger doesn't improve.
Nick Punto, 2B, Twins (groin)
Manny Ramirez, OF, Dodgers (calf; probable)
Scott Rolen, 3B, Reds (back)
Miguel Tejada, SS/3B, Orioles (leg)

Weather concerns

Of all places to ruin our (mostly) rain-free month, it's a couple of West Coast cities that threaten our clear skies Tuesday. Expect showers when the Yankees and Athletics face off in Oakland (60 percent chance), while in San Diego (Giants-Padres) the probability of rain is more manageable (30 percent).

Royals-Blue Jays, Marlins-Astros, Cardinals-Diamondbacks and Orioles-Mariners will be weatherproof.

Adam Madison is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com.