Hamels primed for solid matchup
In his last start, Cole Hamels got touched up for eight hits and six runs (all earned) in six innings, including four (!) home runs allowed, yet I'm not worried in the slightest about him. His pitching coach, Rich Dubee, agrees: "I don't think there's anything wrong with him. It's just execution." And execution-wise he did have seven strikeouts to one walk; in fact, he has a sterling 26-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 24 2/3 innings to date. But since he struggled last year, and in turn was only drafted around the 100th pick in fantasy leagues, maybe you can snatch him up on the cheap from a worrying owner. But you better do it soon, because we really like him to perform well on Wednesday. See for yourself:
Starting pitcher rankings for April 28
• It's great news for Cole Hamels that possibly the biggest threat he'd face, Juan Uribe (hold your laughter), might not be able to play. Aside from Pablo Sandoval, the San Francisco Giants really don't have much offense; Bengie Molina and Mark DeRosa, their two best hitters outside of Sandoval, are a combined 1-for-23 against Hamels. So the fact that the Giants are hitting .294 against left-handed pitching should be discounted, especially since Hamels isn't your average left-hander. Though the start may be on the road, it's on the road in a pitchers' park, hardly a cause for concern. Expect a strong rebound start and, hopefully, no home runs allowed.
• Even though Max Scherzer has allowed home runs in three consecutive starts, it hasn't come to bite him, partially due to an improved walk rate. Scherzer has yet to walk more than two batters in any start and is walking 2.6 batters per nine innings this season compared to last year's 3.3 rate. Maybe it's a small sample size or it could just be outright improvement, a scary notion to consider. The Minnesota Twins will be the toughest offense Scherzer has faced to date, but he'll be doing it at home and the Twins are merely above-average, not elite. It will be a good barometer to help see just how far along Scherzer is coming.
• Ervin Santana is applying for Gopher Balls Anonymous with all the home runs he's served up to date. He's up to six in 26 2/3 innings and has yet to escape a start without serving up at least one. So why is he our eighth-ranked pitcher? Aside from all the home runs, Santana is actually pitching pretty well, and while it's doubtful he'll be as solid as he was in 2008 (3.49 ERA, 1.12 WHIP) he could easily be somewhere in the middle between that and his injury-riddled '09 (5.03 ERA, 1.47 WHIP). That's still productive as long as you're careful about the matchups, and you can't very well bench Santana against the lowest-scoring team in the league.
• So if Santana is ranked eighth and Jake Peavy is ninth, there must be little difference between them, right? Well, not exactly, as the rankings suffer a steep drop-off right where Peavy lies. Intuitively speaking, there's no way you can have any confidence in starting a guy who has allowed seven earned runs twice already. Peavy could very well turn in a gem -- the Rangers' offense can be had and they are also prone to the strikeout -- but we need to wait for Peavy to show us something first. The matchup isn't too challenging for Peavy to put in a quality performance but it isn't quite a walk in the park -- many a disastrous start happens in Rangers Ballpark -- making it a good opportunity to reserve him and wait to see if he can turn his season around.
• A quality start versus the New York Yankees is always worth celebrating, but it wasn't all good for Dallas Braden since he still served up two home runs and fanned only two hitters. Getting out alive is an accomplishment, but should you keep Braden in your lineup when he faces another tough opponent in the Tampa Bay Rays? The four home runs he's allowed on the season cause me to think not, and like the Yankees, the Rays are a patient team too. And since Braden has totaled just eight strikeouts since his double-digit strikeout performance versus the Seattle Mariners in his first start, well, we could easily see some regression to the mean for Braden on Wednesday.
• There's no such ambiguity when it comes to Scott Baker. The decision is simple: Leave him on your bench because the Detroit Tigers pound him. In five starts last year, Baker scooted away with a 6.23 ERA and a 1.62 WHIP. In two starts at Comerica Park, it wasn't much better, with a 5.79 ERA and 1.82 WHIP to his name alongside a .341 opponent batting average. And he's coming off his worst start of the season versus the Cleveland Indians, heretofore the worst offense in the AL, so the decision is pretty black and white.
Hitter matchup ratings for April 28
Rafael Furcal, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers: Furcal may not be a big threat to swipe a base Wednesday -- Rod Barajas threw out over 50 percent of would-be thieves last season -- but against John Maine he can do it with power: he's 6-for-11 (.545) with a double and a home run.
Corey Hart, OF, Milwaukee Brewers: He may be struggling against righties, but he's earned his starts versus lefties, hitting .316 with a home run in 19 at-bats so far. Hart is comfortable versus Paul Maholm, picking up 11 hits in 34 lifetime at-bats, adding four doubles, four walks and a home run. And since Maholm is a southpaw, there's a good chance Jim Edmonds (2-for-12 versus left-handers) will find himself on the bench.
Billy Butler, 1B, Kansas City Royals: Quietly heating up, Butler is 9-for-22 (.409) with a pair of doubles in his past five games and even went deep Monday. Therefore, he should be prepared to keep it up against Ryan Rowland-Smith; they've met only nine times but Butler has gone 4-for-8 with a walk and a double, and Butler tends to feast on left-handers (career .335 average).
Russell Branyan, 1B, Cleveland Indians: So far so good for Branyan, who has picked up a hit in all five games since returning from the disabled list, including three doubles. It may be time to get him into your lineups, and a matchup against Ervin Santana is a good start. Santana often struggles with power from the left side, and true to form, Branyan is 2-for-6 with a pair of doubles and two walks off Santana; don't be surprised if Branyan takes him deep.
Nick Swisher, 1B/OF and Curtis Granderson, OF, New York Yankees: Do Swisher and Granderson knock Jeremy Guthrie around or what? In just 19 at-bats, Swisher is hitting an unbelievable .474 with six extra-base hits: four doubles and two dingers. Granderson is slightly worse but not shabby either: 4-for-11 (.364) with a pair of doubles and a long ball of his own.
J.D. Drew, OF, Boston Red Sox: Few outfielders are stinking it up as badly as Drew, but for a day at least, there may be some solace: Drew is a perfect 2-for-2, with both of his hits leaving the park.
Jay Bruce, OF, Cincinnati Reds: Bruce is slowly but surely getting turned around, and a matchup versus Felipe Paulino may expedite his turnaround. A 3-for-8 (.375) career line doesn't hurt, but it's what he's done with those hits that matters: two dingers and a double.
Ty Wigginton, Baltimore Orioles: Wigginton's motto: Can't stop, won't stop. This April's Brandon Inge, Wigginton is coming of a 4-for-5 game (one home run) as recently as Saturday, yet he's still not garnering everyday starts. He has to be in the lineup against CC Sabathia though; he's normally adept versus lefties and is especially good against Sabathia, hitting .318 in 22 career at-bats, chipping in a double and a home run along the way.
Andre Ethier, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers: When a power hitter is limited to two measly singles in 13 at-bats, he's probably a bit uncomfortable in the matchup. But John Maine has gone a bit further, striking out Ethier four times without giving up a walk, leaving Ethier with a weak .154 AVG/.154 OBP/.154 SLG.
Prince Fielder, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers: You need a darn good reason to bench Fielder, right? Well here you go: He's a woeful 3-for-33 (.091) against Paul Maholm, and it's not as if he's currently tearing the cover off the ball. Heck, Maholm has struck him out 10 times, quite the accomplishment for a pitcher with a career 5.7 K/9.
Franklin Gutierrez, OF, Seattle Mariners: Gil Meche may be struggling but can you still start Gutierrez with confidence? The outfielder has accomplished little, picking up three singles in 15 career at-bats, going down on strikes four times.
Mark DeRosa, 3B/OF, San Francisco Giants: Cole Hamels often has reverse-platoon splits, meaning lefties hit better against him than right-handers, and that trend is on display in this matchup. DeRosa, who normally crushes southpaws, is an intolerable 1-for-11 versus Hamels, although at least his one hit was a double.
Raul Ibanez, OF, Philadelphia Phillies: With six hits -- including two doubles and a homer -- in his past six games it seems Ibanez is preparing to break out. Well, let's put that plan on hold for a day while he meets Tim Lincecum; Ibanez is 1-for-7 with three K's in their meetings.
Nick Markakis, OF, Baltimore Orioles: CC Sabathia has really done a number on Markakis. He hasn't struck him out a bunch of times, but he has prevented nearly any kind of damage, leaving Markakis to go 2-for-17 (.118) with zero walks or extra-base hits.
Aaron Hill, 2B and Adam Lind, OF, Toronto Blue Jays: This pretty much says it all: In 31 combined at-bats, Hill and Lind have struck out in nearly half of them (15) against Jon Lester. It shouldn't be too surprising to learn that both are hitting below the Mendoza Line in this matchup: Hill at .118 and Lind at .143.
Paul Konerko, 1B, Chicago White Sox: Konerko is going to have to hope Rich Harden doesn't have his command, because his results against the hurler haven't been inspiring: one single in 15 at-bats while striking out four times. A pair of walks help, but even that isn't enough to get his OPS above .300, to say nothing of his .067 average.
Baseball Challenge Pick of the Day
Magglio Ordonez, RF, Detroit Tigers: Ordonez is "only" 4-for-14 (.285) in his past four games, but with six walks and two doubles, he's definitely not cooling off yet. If anything he should only heat back up versus Scott Baker, who he hammers: In 42 at-bats Ordonez has a .452 average supported by three doubles, two home runs and a triple.
Injury list: Out
Joe Blanton, SP, Philadelphia Phillies (15-day DL, oblique): Blanton is set to make a rehab start in Double-A on Wednesday and looks on track to return in early May.
Brad Hawpe, OF, Colorado Rockies (15-day DL, quad)
Felipe Lopez, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals (15-day DL, elbow)
Dioner Navarro, C, Tampa Bay Rays (suspension): Navarro was given a two-game suspension for bumping into an umpire Friday, so he will be out both Tuesday and Wednesday.
Injury list: Day-to-day
Rick Ankiel, OF, Kansas City Royals (quad): Ankiel missed Monday's game and is still day-to-day, but hopes to play Tuesday.
Daric Barton, 1B, Oakland Athletics (finger): Barton has a small fracture on the middle finger of his right hand, but may yet avoid the disabled list considering he is traveling with the team and will be re-evaluated Tuesday.
Nelson Cruz, OF, Texas Rangers (hamstring): Cruz aggravated his right hamstring Monday, bad news considering he's been fighting it since last week and hamstrings tend to nag. Let's hope it doesn't turn into anything serious.
Nick Johnson, 1B, New York Yankees (back): Johnson has yet to swing a bat, although he will attempt to before Tuesday's contest. Considering his lengthy injury history, maybe that means he won't return Tuesday as originally planned. Keep an eye on him.
Ivan Rodriguez, C, Washington Nationals (back)
Kurt Suzuki, C, Oakland Athletics (side)
Juan Uribe, 2B/3B/SS, San Francisco Giants (elbow)
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Washington Nationals (hamstring): It's a good sign that Zimmerman appeared as a pinch-hitter Monday, so maybe he can get back into the starting lineup within the next couple of days.
Milwaukee (Pirates-Brewers), Toronto (Red Sox-Blue Jays), Tampa Bay (Athletics-Rays) and Houston (Reds-Astros) remain weatherproof. Fortunately the skies are clear Wednesday for all teams because no one appreciates a rainout.
Adam Madison is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com.
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