Dempster, Romero rank among aces
The studs come out to play on Tuesday! Today's pitching landscape is littered with elite options ready to carry both their real-life and fantasy teams on their backs. There seem to be just as many pitchers staking their claim to be grouped among the elite, such as the Toronto Blue Jays' Ricky Romero, who is on track to be one of the season's best waiver-wire grabs. And it's just a matter of time for the likes of Brian Matusz, who is battling through a tough early-season schedule but seems to have come out no worse for the wear.
Also of note is that Cole Hamels has had his Monday start pushed back a day thanks to the return of Joe Blanton, who is expected to be activated from the disabled list. Check out our rankings to see whether Hamels maintains his lofty position near the top among all this talent:
Starting pitcher rankings for May 4
• Today's top 10 is loaded with stud after stud, so you probably don't need to be told they're good plays. The biggest surprise is Ryan Dempster; we knew he was good, but how many people actually view him as an ace? Since the Cubs turned him into a starter in 2008, he has a 3.05 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP. Oddly enough, Dempster was touched up by the Pittsburgh Pirates last season, with a mediocre 4.66 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in three starts, but against the current Pirates roster, Dempster has limited them to a .238 average in 63 at-bats, so expect his dream season to continue.
• Ricky Romero's season numbers still look sterling, but there are some signs of cracks: In his past two starts he has a 9-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 13 innings. The sooner Romero masters his command, the quicker he becomes a stud; this is just a reminder he might not be there quite yet. Fortunately, a soft road matchup against the Cleveland Indians means that even if Romero is a bit off, a quality start should be in order, but it is what prevents him from ranking even higher on the list.
• And what would a conversation about walks be if we didn't include everyone's favorite budding ace, Clayton Kershaw? After modest gains made following the All-Star break last season, it seems as if he's starting from scratch, walking an unbelievable 6.8 batters per nine innings. It's a testament to Kershaw's talent that he's been able to get by, posting a 3.07 ERA, but eventually all those walks will catch up with him. That leaves owners with a tough decision when he faces the Milwaukee Brewers, the second-best offense in the league per OPS with a .795 mark, and a team particularly adept versus left-handers. Obviously, Kershaw isn't going to continue walking nearly seven batters per nine, but he's also going to allow a few more home runs, too, and those walks leave him susceptible to a big inning. You could argue sitting him or benching him, but it's hard to sit anyone who could very well pitch a no-hitter without having you bat an eye.
• It's a pleasant surprise to see Ian Kennedy strike out so many batters, especially considering he didn't strike out many batters in the minors. The home runs are a problem, but he's also faced the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies in three of his five starts, teams that rank second, fifth and sixth, respectively, in home runs this season. The Houston Astros, however, rank dead last, just as they rank last in OPS against right-handers. Toss in the fact that Kennedy is widely available in ESPN.com leagues, and this is a great spot-start opportunity handed to you on a silver platter.
• The fact that Brian Matusz has faced the Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in four of his five starts and has managed to hold his own is a great sign that he has a ton of upside against everyone else in the league. Unfortunately, he draws the Yankees again, so his ranking is more out of respect for his ability as a pitcher than an actual recommendation to toss him out there. In his start versus the Yankees last week, he did put up a quality start but struck out only two and allowed nine hits in six innings. No matter what happens this time around, we've seen more than enough to remain optimistic, but a pounding may open the door for a great buy-low opportunity.
• It should go without saying that you don't want anything to do with Livan Hernandez, but his ownership has increased 10 percent in the past week, so maybe not. Hernandez's ERA and WHIP are still sterling, but he's struck out just 10 batters in 31 innings. He has the lowest batting average on balls in play in the league at .177 and isn't limiting his fly balls nor inducing ground balls particularly well. In short, it's a fluke, and if you pick him up hoping to milk him for all he's worth, the egg on your face will be entirely of your own doing. NL-only leagues don't have much of a choice but to throw him out there, but mixed leagues of any size should stay far away.
Hitter matchup ratings for May 4
Marcus Thames, OF, New York Yankees: The injury to Curtis Granderson opens up playing time for Thames, and against left-handers he tends to be a strong start. He's 10-for-17 (.588) with three doubles and a dinger this season and has 41 career home runs in 637 at-bats against left-handers, so deep leagues looking for cheap power should have him active against Brian Matusz.
Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Chicago Cubs: The third baseman has been consistently and frustratingly bad through the first month of the season, but don't hesitate to give him a shot versus Paul Maholm. Not only is Ramirez generally better against lefties, but he also has a good history with Maholm: 8-for-20 (.400) with two homers and a double.
Ryan Ludwick, OF, St. Louis Cardinals: On the season, Ludwick is 4-for-20 (.200) with seven K's versus left-handers, but he's showed impressive pop against Cole Hamels for his career, going 4-for-8 with a pair of long balls.
Chris Young, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks: Despite striking out five times in 13 at-bats against Roy Oswalt, Young has had surprising success, batting .385 with a double and a homer.
Brandon Phillips, 2B, Cincinnati Reds: Manager Dusty Baker has been moving Phillips' spot in the lineup in an attempt to get him going, but maybe all he really needs is a matchup versus John Maine. They've faced off in only eight at-bats, but it's tough to argue when three of Phillips' four hits have gone for extra bases, with two going the distance. Alberto Callaspo, 2B/3B, Kansas City Royals: Callaspo continues to hit the ball with authority, batting .333 with five extra-base hits (one home run) in the past week, and is a solid 3-for-7 with three extra-base hits (and one home run) against Gavin Floyd.
Scott Hairston, OF, San Diego Padres: The underrated Hairston is hot enough to deserve a spot in your lineup, especially against left-handed pitching. He has a career .287 average and 25 home runs in 492 career at-bats and gets a tasty matchup against Greg Smith, a lefty who already has allowed six home runs in 80 at-bats to righties.
Nate McLouth, OF, Atlanta Braves: McLouth has yet to get going this season, and it's not likely to start against Livan Hernandez if history is any indication. With McLouth hitting a paltry .077 average (1-for-13) while striking out five times in his career, the rubber-armed Cuban is likely to come out on top.
Adam Jones, OF, Orioles: Making contact is the problem when Jones steps in the batter's box versus A.J. Burnett, with nine strikeouts in 26 at-bats helping limit him to a .231 batting average. He's done alright when he's put the bat on the ball -- of his six hits two are doubles and one left the park -- but Burnett is pitching particularly well coming into the matchup, so Jones should probably ride your bench.
Colby Rasmus, OF, Cardinals: With Cole Hamels' start pushed back a day, Rasmus should be benched Tuesday instead of Monday, with Hamels being as tough on lefties (.128 batting average allowed) this season as Rasmus has been inept (.143 in 14 at-bats).
Grady Sizemore, OF, Cleveland Indians: On Tuesday, Sizemore draws an even tougher lefty, the streaking Ricky Romero, who has sent left-handed batters down on strikes a third of the time while limiting them to a .176 average. Considering Sizemore has already struck out nine times in 32 at-bats against lefties this season, it won't be pretty.
Kendry Morales, 1B, Los Angeles Angels: Morales tends to struggle against left-handers, but with two dingers in 35 at-bats is already halfway to his home run total from last year. Still, he's batting only .257, and it's not a great leap of faith to sit him against the toughest of lefties, of which Jon Lester certainly applies.
Mark Reynolds, 1B/3B, Arizona Diamondbacks: Although it's nice that the lone hit Reynolds has versus Roy Oswalt was a two-bagger, a 1-for-10 line doesn't inspire much confidence. Reynolds has been in the zone recently, but so has Oswalt, and this time we will defer to the old saying of good pitching beating good hitting.
Jason Kubel, OF, Minnesota Twins: Always a poor option versus left-handed pitching, Kubel is 4-for-18 (.222) this season with zero extra-base hits. Worse, Dontrelle Willis has been effective cutting lefties down to size, holding them to a .219 average in the young season.
Baseball Challenge Pick of the Day
Alfonso Soriano, LF, Chicago Cubs: The streaky Soriano is in one of his grooves (home runs in three consecutive games) and is a must-play against Paul Maholm, a lefty he's taken deep three times in just 21 plate appearances. As a bonus, he's even a threat to nab a base: Ryan Doumit has thrown out just two of 24 attempted base stealers.
Injury list: Out
Carlos Beltran, OF, New York Mets (15-day DL, knee): Word on the street is Beltran is unlikely to be ready before the All-Star break, which may be enough for you to drop him on waivers if your team is becoming beset by injuries.
Curtis Granderson, OF, New York Yankees (15-day DL, groin)
Pat Neshek, RP, Minnesota Twins (15-day DL, finger)
Kerry Wood, RP, Cleveland Indians (15-day DL, back): The Indians announced on Sunday that Wood would begin a rehab assignment Monday, so look for him to return sometime this week.
Injury list: Day-to-day
Rick Ankiel, OF, Kansas City Royals (quad): Ankiel's quad has kept him out of seven consecutive games and is limited to pinch hitting; he's questionable for Monday.
Jim Edmonds, OF, Milwaukee Brewers (back)
Yunel Escobar, SS, Atlanta Braves (groin)
Rafael Furcal, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers (hamstring): There's a very real chance Furcal will land on the disabled list Monday. He's been out since Tuesday after tweaking his hamstring, and since he plays a physically demanding position, there's a good chance the Dodgers will play it safe and ensure his injury is fully healed before returning.
Carlos Gomez, OF, Milwaukee Brewers (knee; probable)
Jeremy Hermida, OF, Boston Red Sox (side)
Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins (heel; doubtful): It's very bad news that manager Ron Gardenhire said to consider Mauer week-to-week with his bruised hell. A DL stint may be forthcoming.
Edgar Renteria, SS, San Francisco Giants (groin; probable)
Alex Rodriguez, 3B, New York Yankees (leg; probable)
Travis Snider, OF, Toronto Blue Jays (illness)
Kevin Youkilis, 1B/3B, Boston Red Sox (groin)
Jayson Werth, OF, Philadelphia Phillies (leg; probable)
Weatherproof: Diamondbacks-Astros and Rays-Mariners. Possible risks of showers in Boston (Angels-Red Sox) and Minneapolis (Tigers-Twins), both with a 40 percent chance of rain.
Adam Madison is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com.
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