Don't forget about Hughes, Marcum
A ton of aces will take the mound Wednesday, but make sure not to overlook a couple of budding aces flying under the radar. Phil Hughes is still available in more than 40 percent of ESPN leagues, while Shaun Marcum is floating on waiver wires in more than 70 percent of leagues. OK, "budding ace" may be a bit too strong to describe Marcum, but for a guy who was on average the 220th pick in leagues, his numbers (4.05 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 17 K's in 20 innings) are as comforting as any ace's. As for Hughes, well, he's facing the Oakland Athletics, so this may be your last chance to get him before he's hot. And you'll want to get him when you see what's expected out of him Wednesday:
Starting pitcher rankings for April 21
Selected notes: The Texas Rangers have been transitioning from a team predicated on tremendous hitting to one with more balance, and the result means their offense is no longer one to fear. While they did finish in the top 10 in OPS last season, much of that is predicated on their home park; on the road, they finished 21st in OPS, one point behind the Athletics. It's a small sample size, but Josh Beckett has thoroughly owned most of the Rangers' hitters (.197 average in 76 at-bats), so don't be shocked if he turns in a similar performance to his latest outing (eight strikeouts in seven innings pitched with zero earned runs).
• Now Mark Buehrle's dominance of the Tampa Bay Rays, on the other hand, is even more convincing: In 201 teamwide at-bats, he's limited them to a .249 average and a .603 OPS. Remember who Buehrle had that perfect game against? The Rays. The lack of strikeouts are the only thing that prevents him from being ranked higher.
• Five percent of ESPN leaguers dropped Hughes at the perfect time -- for you to be able to pick him up and spot start him against the Athletics. Could you set it up any more perfectly? A high-strikeout pitcher on the "road" in a significant pitchers' park against a poor offense, and backed by the best offense in baseball to boot. Toss in his long-term upside and he's looking a lot like a must-grab for Wednesday.
• It's a bit perplexing that a pitcher that has performed as solidly as Marcum -- both this season and in the past -- is owned in fewer than two-thirds of ESPN leagues, but those are the breaks. It just presents another opportunity for savvy owners to pick up some extra value, because Marcum has been really good -- 17 strikeouts and three walks kind of good -- in his three starts. Unfortunately, he happens to catch the Kansas City Royals when they're actually hitting the ball well -- their .801 OPS ranks fifth this season -- but that's a chance I'm perfectly willing to take when you consider Marcum is proving himself to be much better than the average pitcher. He's yet to pick up a win, but the bright side is that he's gone at least six innings in each of his starts, making a win an eventual inevitability if he continues to pitch well.
• The last time Kevin Millwood threatened to strike out a batter per inning for a whole month was way back in September 2006. The shocking thing is that, despite the gaudy strikeout rate, Millwood has still been quite hittable, with the opposition hitting .295 against him, along with the four gopher balls he's served up. That makes it tough to gauge how well he will do against the Seattle Mariners, a team that has hit him around (.321 average in 243 at-bats). In a head-to-head league, it may be worth it to take the gamble, since a bad start would only hurt you for that week, but in a roto league that potential damage lasts the whole year, and hence caution should be exercised.
• Most of the time Tim Hudson is a solid, dependable pitcher, but against the very best offenses he can become a liability. The Philadelphia Phillies can definitely bring the pain, and have to Hudson specifically, hitting .290 against him in 210 at-bats. Last year, Hudson limited the Phillies to three runs in seven innings, but even then he didn't pitch all that well, allowing two home runs. And since Hudson doesn't get many strikeouts, the potential reward here is not worth the risk.
Hitter matchup ratings for April 21
Lyle Overbay, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays: If it sounds like a joke to play a dude hitting .080 against maybe the best pitcher in the AL, bear with me. Overbay just seems to have Zack Greinke figured out judging by his career 7-for-15 (.467) line, one that features him going deep twice. Overbay even touched up Greinke last year, going 2-for-5 with a double, a home run and a walk.
Will Venable, OF, San Diego Padres: Venable has been ice cold recently but a matchup against Todd Wellemeyer (.520 slugging percentage allowed to left-handers the past three seasons) is tempting. The outfielder did bop 12 home runs in 222 at-bats versus right-handers last season, so he makes a reasonable spot start if you're looking for power.
Rafael Furcal, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers: As you can see from Aaron Harang's bloated 7.88 ERA, now's a pretty good time to face him, and it's not like Furcal, who is 5-for-12 (.417) with a double off him, needed more incentive. Stealing a base may be difficult -- Ramon Hernandez threw out 18 of 51 (35.3 percent) would-be base stealers last season -- but Furcal should set the table at the top of the order nicely.
Shane Victorino, OF, Philadelphia Phillies: In the past seven days, Victorino is 7-for-21 (.333) with two home runs and a double, and he should keep that power up against Tim Hudson. Victorino is slugging .640 off Hudson thanks to two home runs and a triple in 25 at-bats. Overall, he's 8-for-25 (.320) against Hudson, including three stolen bases in four attempts.
Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence, OF, Houston Astros: We're talking about a measly sample size here, but Lee and Pence are both 1-for-2 with a home run against Josh Johnson. Of course, in their other at-bat they both struck out, so there's that. At this point, though, we're sure their starving owners will take anything they can get.
Kelly Johnson, 2B, Arizona Diamondbacks: With seven extra-base hits and eight walks in his first 47 plate appearances, Johnson has been scorching hot, and not even Chris Carpenter is enough to cool him down. That's because Johnson is 4-for-7 (.571) with a home run and a double off of Carpenter to go along with a pair of walks.
Colby Rasmus, OF, St. Louis Cardinals: Rasmus has been a beast against right-handers, with five of his eight hits going for extra bases (three home runs) and an impressive nine walks versus seven strikeouts. Somehow, he has been dropped in nearly 20 percent of leagues, but we already knew he couldn't hit left-handers (0-for-9 this season). He's worth keeping active versus Edwin Jackson, against whom he's 2-for-3 with a triple.
Casey Kotchman, 1B, Seattle Mariners: How in the world has Kevin Millwood allowed three home runs to Kotchman in just 15 at-bats? And don't look now, but Kotchman is red-hot, going 7-for-17 with two home runs and a couple of doubles in the past week.
Ty Wigginton, 1B/3B, Baltimore Orioles: Oh, why the heck not? All five of Wigginton's home runs and all 11 of his RBIs have come in the past seven days, and considering his success against King Felix -- 3-for-5 with a double and a dinger -- why not try to get in on the hot streak while you still can?
Jose Guillen, OF, Royals: It's nice that the one hit Guillen has against Shaun Marcum is a home run, but going 1-for-11 doesn't cut it. Considering Guillen normally isn't all that great an option against solid right-handed pitching (no matter how hot he is) and the fact he's due for regression soon, think about your alternatives.
Marlon Byrd, OF, Chicago Cubs: Unless you're in an OBP league, Byrd probably won't be of much help to you, as he's had trouble making contact versus Oliver Perez, with just one hit in nine at-bats. He has four walks (zero steals) but has also struck out four times.
Michael Young, 3B, Texas Rangers: A pair of singles in 16 at-bats is the best Young has been able to accomplish versus Josh Beckett. Young's secondary skills (zero walks or extra-base hits) go kaput against Beckett, and for good measure Beckett has struck him out three times, too.
Grady Sizemore, OF, Cleveland Indians: Sizemore is 1-for-18 (.056) against left-handers to begin the season and hit only .216 off them last season, so his lifetime numbers against Francisco Liriano -- 3-for-14 with four K's and no extra-base hits -- raise concern. The only bright side is that he has worked four walks which has helped result in two stolen bases.
Carlos Pena, 1B, Rays: Although Pena has hit a respectable .275 versus Mark Buehrle, the power hasn't been there, with only two extra-base hits (one home run) in 40 at-bats. Worse, he's struck out 11 times, especially notable considering Buehrle isn't known as a strikeout artist.
Johnny Damon, OF, Detroit Tigers: Damon's got a little five-game hit streak going on, which is a start. He still sports a robust .404 on-base percentage, but the power is nowhere to be found, and remember, before joining the Yankees he topped a .477 slugging percentage just once. The power sure won't be there versus Jered Weaver, who has limited Damon to three singles in 19 at-bats, fanning him six times.
Baseball Challenge Pick of the Day
Hideki Matsui, DH, Los Angeles Angels: Quality designated hitters can be tough to come by, so it's nice when you can pencil one in for a strong game just by virtue of the matchup. Matsui has absolutely hammered Jeremy Bonderman in 24 at-bats, hitting .500 with three home runs and a double.
Injury list: Out
• Carlos Beltran, OF, Mets (15-day DL, knee)
• Mike Cameron, OF, Red Sox (15-day DL, abdominal)
• Coco Crisp, OF, Athletics (15-day DL, finger)
• Joey Devine, RP, Athletics (15-day DL, elbow)
• Chris Getz, 2B, Royals (15-day DL, oblique)
• Mike Gonzalez, RP, Orioles (15-day DL, shoulder)
• J.A. Happ, SP, Phillies (forearm): The Phillies are skipping Happ's turn in the rotation due to elbow and forearm soreness. He's not expected to land on the disabled list, however. Roy Halladay will take his turn in the rotation.
• Aaron Hill, 2B, Blue Jays (15-day DL, hamstring)
• Conor Jackson, OF, Diamondbacks (15-day DL, hamstring)
• 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, back): An MRI suggests that Pie could miss up to three months with an injury to the latissimus dorsi muscle in his back.
• Brian Roberts, 2B, Orioles (15-day DL, abdominal)
• Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies (15-day DL, calf)
• Aaron Rowand, OF, Giants (15-day DL, head)
• Freddy Sanchez, 2B, Giants (15-day DL, shoulder/knee)
• Kelly Shoppach, C, Rays (15-day DL, knee): Shoppach had knee surgery Monday and is expected out for the next 4-6 weeks.
• Huston Street, RP, Rockies (15-day DL, shoulder)
• Michael Wuertz, RP, Athletics (15-day DL, shoulder)
Injury list: Day-to-day
• Daric Barton, 1B, Athletics (elbow): Barton's MRI was negative and Barton is considered day-to-day with an elbow contusion.
• Mark DeRosa, 3B/OF, Giants (hamstring)
• Mark Ellis, 2B, Athletics (hamstring)
• Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Red Sox (ribs)
• Edwin Encarnacion, 3B, Blue Jays (arm)
• Brian Fuentes, RP, Angels (15-day DL, back): Fuentes is on a rehab assignment and is expected to return from the disabled list as soon as he's eligible on Wednesday.
• Adam LaRoche, 1B, Diamondbacks (quadriceps)
• Andy LaRoche, 3B, Pirates (back)
• Pat Neshek, RP, Twins (finger; doubtful)
• Nick Punto, 2B, Twins (groin)
• Manny Ramirez, OF, Dodgers (calf; probable)
• Scott Rolen, 3B, Reds (back)
• Miguel Tejada, SS/3B, Orioles (leg)
The contests between the Royals-Blue Jays, Marlins-Astros, Cardinals-Diamondbacks and Orioles-Mariners are the four weatherproof games for Wednesday.
Showers will continue on the West Coast, with San Diego and Anaheim (60 percent chance for thunderstorms) taking the brunt of it. Oakland is also expected to be wet for much of the day, although the skies are expected to clear by game time. However, our nation's capital joins the fray, too, with a coin flip's chance at showers from 7 to 9 p.m.
Adam Madison is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com.
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