Jon Lester, Tim Lincecum square off Sunday
Sunday marks the end of another season of interleague play and it goes out with a bang, as Jon Lester squares off against Tim Lincecum in a battle of Cy Young candidates, each looking for that feather in their proverbial cap.
Incidentally, ESPN has a nifty Cy Young predictor here, and the current American League favorite is David Price (10-3), who goes up against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Saturday. Is he my favorite for the day? Not quite, as you'll see in the complete rankings below:
For starters: Saturday
Starting pitcher rankings for June 26
Top of the charts: As you can see, Price ends up as our No. 2 selection for today, as Josh Johnson gets the top spot against the San Diego Padres, a team he has already defeated this season, allowing just one run on three hits. Clay Buchholz, the other 10-game winner on the docket Saturday, takes home the bronze.
Johan Santana gets a chance to face his former team for the first time, and that should provide the left-hander with a little extra pep in his fastball. The worst-hitting team in the National League is the Houston Astros, so it should come as no surprise to see C.J. Wilson so high on our list.
Cole Hamels is facing Shaun Marcum, and both of them have an ERA over 5.00 against their respective opponent for their career. I'll give the edge to the pitcher throwing in his home stadium, which is Hamels, even though the Toronto Blue Jays have last licks.
Rounding out the top ten: Jon Garland has already defeated the Florida Marlins once this season, allowing just one run over six innings, and he's 3-1 lifetime with a 2.14 ERA against them. A.J. Burnett has a 2.45 ERA against the Los Angeles Dodgers, though he hasn't won a game all month long.
Middle-of-the-road options: Could Freddy Garcia be for real? He has won five straight decisions and is 4-0 lifetime with a 1.25 ERA against the Chicago Cubs. That looks a lot more convincing than Carlos Silva's 4-11 career record against the Chicago White Sox, to be sure. Trevor Cahill hasn't lost a game since May 16, and he gets the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are batting just .239 as a team.
Streamers on alert: Doug Fister appears ready to return to the rotation for the Seattle Mariners. He was pitching well this season before shoulder fatigue shut him down for almost a month. Aaron Cook is 2-0 versus the Los Angeles Angels, with a respectable 2.57 ERA. Livan Hernandez is 3-1 when facing the Baltimore Orioles, with an ERA of 3.69.
Thanks, but no thanks: I'm going to avoid Ian Kennedy against the Rays, as his 6.64 ERA in four starts in his career against them is a bit too bothersome to me. Kenshin Kawakami remains near the bottom of the rankings unless and until he gets his first victory of the season.
Josh Banks is expected to get the start for Houston, replacing the injured Felipe Paulino. Banks was 7-2 in Triple-A since May 1. With Dana Eveland designated for assignment, Daniel McCutchen is the likely recall when the Pirates need to fill Zach Duke's spot in the rotation.
For starters: Sunday
Starting pitcher rankings for June 27
Top of the charts: After Lester and Lincecum, we have Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers, who is coming off his worst start of the season (five earned runs in only two innings against the New York Mets). Expect a solid rebound. For all their hits, the Kansas City Royals don't really score much, so Jaime Garcia should be more than able to keep his ERA under 2.00.
Mat Latos has been more than impressive this season, but the Marlins have been a bit of a bugaboo over the years. In two starts against the team, Latos is 0-2 with an unbelievable 16.50 ERA. Tommy Hanson's last outing was appallingly bad (nine runs and 13 hits in 3 2/3 innings pitched). There's no way he'll repeat that kind of disaster, right?
Rounding out the top ten: Roy Oswalt has a losing record against the Texas Rangers, but a not-so-bad 3.99 ERA in nine career decisions. Andy Pettitte is 2-0 lifetime against the Dodgers, with a 3.33 ERA. Even better is John Danks against the Cubs; he's 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA.
Middle-of-the-road options: Ryan Dempster has pitched better of late, but he's 1-4 with a 5.09 ERA in his career against the White Sox. Bronson Arroyo is 5-2 in his career against the Cleveland Indians, and already has a victory against them in 2010. Anibal Sanchez lost to the Padres earlier this season but allowed only two earned runs in more than six innings of work.
Thanks, but no thanks: Wade Davis simply isn't finding the plate, and until he does, you need to stay away. Tommy Hunter's recent hip problems are raising red flags. Even though he seemed fine against the Pirates on Tuesday, discretion may be the better part of valor here. As for Bruce Chen, the 0-3 career record and 5.71 ERA against the St. Louis Cardinals speaks for itself.
Hitter matchup ratings for June 26
Hitters' count: Saturday
Ty Wigginton, 2B, Orioles: He has hits in five of his past six games and is a healthy 7-for-21 lifetime against Livan Hernandez.
Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals: The "Machine" went 5-for-13 against the Blue Jays, righting the ship in time to face the Royals, whose staff he has hit for a .346 average in his career.
David Ortiz, DH, Red Sox: Although he has to play the field in order to get the at-bats in San Francisco, it's just hard to imagine that not happening at least once this series -- it'd be better for him if the start was against Joe Martinez, rather than Tim Lincecum.
Cliff Pennington, SS, Athletics: Those of you looking to replace Troy Tulowitzki what's wrong with Pennington? He's hitting .328 for the month of June and has raised his average 35 points since the calendar turned. Plus, he even steals the occasional base.
Pitchers' count: Saturday
Shane Victorino, OF, Phillies: In a horrific 6-for-43 (.143) tailspin, Victorino is hitting only .167 against the current Blue Jays pitching staff.
Chase Headley, 3B, Padres: He has two hits in his past 10 at-bats, which is a huge improvement over the prior 23 (hitless) trips to the plate. Who are we kidding? No way he touches Josh Johnson.
Jason Kendall, C, Royals: The catcher continues to get the bulk of the playing time behind the plate, but after a 1-for-12 series against the Nationals, it's hard to understand why that continues to be the case.
Chris Young, OF, Diamondbacks: Young went 2-for-12 against the Tigers and then 2-for-12 against the Yankees. Sense a pattern here?
Alex Rodriguez, 3B, Yankees: Hip or no hip, the.238 average he has posted in June is not a good sign, and a long West Coast road trip certainly isn't going to help him feel any better as it wears on.
Hitter matchup ratings for June 27
Hitters' count: Sunday
Hank Blalock, DH, Rays: It's been a while since Blalock has had his licks, thanks in large part to interleague road games. With a .467 lifetime mark versus Rodrigo Lopez, he should get a crack this Sunday.
Cristian Guzman, 2B, Nationals: He's hitting .346 since June 16 and has a .438 lifetime OBP versus Jeremy Guthrie, including a rare home run.
Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Mariners: Just another month at the office for Ichiro, who is hitting .337 so far in June. Against this Brewers staff, he's "only" batting .429 for his career.
Jason Kubel, OF, Twins: Two straight games with hits after a 12-game streak was snapped, Kubel is hitting .307 over the past month, and is as hot as anyone in the game right now.
Chris Coghlan, OF, Marlins: OK, Coghlan has been hotter than Jason Kubel -- much hotter. He's hitting .405 this month and batted .346 against the Padres last season.
Pitchers' count: Sunday
Lance Berkman, 1B, Astros: Berkman is warming up, with nine hits in his past nine games. But as warm as he has been, he's still hitting only .244. Plus, he's just 4-for-35 against the Rangers over the past two seasons.
Bobby Abreu, OF, Angels: take away a four-hit game against the Cubs and Abreu is batting just .225 for the month of June. That noise you hear is the clock ticking on Abreu's fantasy usefulness.
Melky Cabrera, OF, Braves: Cabrera has been stealthily good this past month, hitting .315 overall, but he's only 2-for-11 lifetime against Justin Verlander. Keep him grounded this Sunday.
Brandon Inge, 3B, Tigers: The Braves seem to bring out the worst in Inge, who has managed only a .167 batting average in 30 at-bats against the Braves' current pitching staff.
Rafael Furcal, SS, Dodgers: With a 1-for-12 track record against Andy Pettitte, there are bound to be better choices for you to insert at shortstop this Sunday.
Baseball Challenge Picks of the Weekend
Saturday: Julio Borbon, CF, Rangers. One of only a handful of players with a batting average over .400 for the month of June, Borbon gets to feast on an untested Josh Banks to add to his 2010 average of .462 versus the Astros.
Sunday: Brandon Phillips, 2B, Reds: Hitting .369 for the month of June, Phillips is hitting .325 versus the Indians since 2007, including 5-for-13 with a home run this season.
Injury list: Out
Mike Lowell, 3B, Red Sox (15-day DL, strained hip)
Chad Durbin, P, Phillies (15-day DL, right hamstring)
Zack Duke, P, Pirates (15-day DL, strained elbow)
Tommy Manzella, SS, Astros (15-day DL, fractured finger)
Yorvit Torrealba, C, Padres (three-game suspension)
Carlos Ruiz, C, Phillies (15-day DL, concussion)
Carlos Monasterios, P, Dodgers (15-day DL, blister)
Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Rockies (15-day DL, fractured left wrist)
Clay Hensley, P, Marlins (15-day DL, neck strain)
Injury list: Day-to-day
Weatherproof games: Diamondbacks at Rays, and Mariners at Brewers. Thunderstorms are expected the entire weekend in Chicago, Miami and Atlanta. New York joins the precipitation party Saturday, but yields to the Kansas City umbrellas on Sunday. Meanwhile, the thunderstorms expected on Saturday in Texas will do nothing to lower the mercury, as the entire weekend has 100 degrees on tap.