Lots of fireworks for the 4th
It's July 4th weekend! It's a time for backyard barbecues and tons of fireworks. It's also the only time I ever hear of people breaking out their Lee Greenwood. The singer has released more than 20 albums over the years, yet if not for "God Bless the USA" -- a favorite choice of those in charge of scoring the "simulated bombs bursting in air" -- I'd have no idea who he is. In many ways, he reminds me of Manny Parra. His career is pretty milquetoast, with a 23-25 record and a 5.01 ERA. Yet he always seems to be pitching against the St. Louis Cardinals, and actually has an ERA of 3.00 against them. Not only that, but his career ERA for July is 3.62, the only month in which he's below 4.50. It looks like for at least a few starts you should proud to be a Manny Parra fan! Hey, at least (in most leagues) you know he's free.
For starters: Saturday
Starting pitcher rankings for July 3
• Top of the charts: Ubaldo Jimenez threw a four-hit shutout against the San Francisco Giants at the end of May and has a career .279 ERA against the team. ... Chris Carpenter should be fine after getting hit with a comebacker on Monday. ... Jon Lester once again puts his mastery of the Baltimore Orioles on the line. He's 11-0 for his career (2.06 ERA) and has thrown 12 scoreless innings against the Birds this year.
• Justin Verlander has been shaky against the Seattle Mariners in 2010, losing twice and posting a 5.02 ERA. ... Clayton Kershaw beat the Arizona Diamondbacks back in April, but did not finish out the sixth inning as he walked five batters in the process. ... Every Chicago White Sox pitcher seems to be on a tear, after the team's recent 15-1 stretch, but keep in mind John Danks has a career 4.38 ERA versus the Texas Rangers and the Sox have now lost three of four.
• Rounding out the top 10: Tommy Hanson has never lost to the Florida Marlins, including a 7-3 victory on May 26, when he allowed just four hits in six innings. ... Struggling Ervin Santana should be able to find his way against the same Kansas City Royals team he held to just a single run over seven innings on May 31. ... Andy Pettitte has 20 career victories over the Toronto Blue Jays, but is only 5-5 against them since 2007.
• Middle-of-the-road options: Francisco Liriano is 2-1 with a 2.39 ERA lifetime against the Tampa Bay Rays. ... Sure, Stephen Strasburg is fantastic. But if the Washington Nationals continue to refuse to score when he pitches, he's not going to win. ... Anibal Sanchez has looked a little more like the pitcher who went 4-0 in May of late, and has a victory against the Atlanta Braves under his 2010 belt already.
• Streamers on alert: The confounding Barry Zito is 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA in two starts against the Colorado Rockies this season, and is 5-2 against them for his career. ... Kyle Kendrick is 3-0 with a 2.45 ERA facing the Pittsburgh Pirates, including an eight-inning victory earlier this season in which he allowed just two runs. ... Johnny Cueto wins a lot, but rarely against the Chicago Cubs. He's 2-5 for his career with a 4.59 ERA against the Cubs. Still, 8-2 overall is hard to ignore.
• Thanks, but no thanks: In addition to having a tender left elbow, Dallas Braden also has a hideous 11.42 ERA when going up against the Cleveland Indians. ... Jeremy Guthrie is 1-6 with a 4.52 ERA against the Boston Red Sox. ... R.A. Dickey not only appears to throw about 30 mph slower than his Saturday opponent, but he has an 8.38 ERA against the Nationals.
For starters: Sunday
Starting pitcher rankings for July 4
• Top of the charts: Adam Wainwright, who beat the Milwaukee Brewers on a two-hitter just one month ago, battles Yovani Gallardo, who has never defeated the Cardinals. Edge: Wainwright. ... Meanwhile, while trade-bait Cliff Lee attempts to put his best foot forward against the Detroit Tigers.
• Dan Haren has a 3.35 career ERA against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and we're still technically in the first half of the season, right? ... Matt Cain has lost three in a row, but is 2-0 facing the Rockies in 2010, with a miniscule 0.56 ERA. ... Tim Hudson is a lifetime 8-2 with a 2.99 ERA against the Marlins.
• Is it too early to start worrying about Phil Hughes' pitch count? If the Yankees take an early lead, expect Hughes to get an early hook. ... Fausto Carmona held the Oakland Athletics to only one run over seven-plus innings in a victory back in April.
• Rounding out the top 10: Don't look now, but my preseason favorite, Joel Pineiro, is 5-0 since, well, a shellacking at the hands of Sunday's opponent, the Kansas City Royals. ... Chad Billingsley makes his second start since returning from the disabled list. This is already his fourth start against them this year. He has 23 strikeouts in those games, but also a 5.68 ERA.
• Middle-of-the-road options: Reversing recent trends, perhaps, Brett Myers is 2-1 with a 2.81 ERA against the San Diego Padres, while Ted Lilly is 2-6 lifetime with a 4.06 ERA against the Reds. ... John Lackey is 9-3 facing the Orioles, including 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in three starts this season.
• Streamers on alert: Joe Blanton is 1-0 with a 1.77 ERA when the Pirates are at the plate. ... Mike Leake has struggled as teams have started to get a little more tape to review, but he does have a 2.63 ERA against the Cubs in two starts. ... Brandon Morrow allowed only one run to the Yankees over seven innings earlier this season and has a 3.13 ERA against them for his career.
Thanks, but no thanks: Jeremy Bonderman has a 6.55 ERA against the Mariners in 2010, though this is the first time he's facing them at home. ... Nick Blackburn has been dreadful against the Rays, with a 6.28 ERA. ... Similarly, Vin Mazzaro's 7.50 ERA against the Indians says to stay far away today.
Hitter matchup ratings for July 3
Hitters' count: Saturday
David DeJesus, OF, Kansas City Royals: Does he have an encore prepared after his .410 month of June? Well, he faces Ervin Santana, against whom he is hitting .458 lifetime in 24 at-bats. Start clapping now.
Alfonso Soriano, OF, Chicago Cubs: Soriano's middle name is Guilleard. It may as well be "Go Yard" when facing Johnny Cueto. Three times in 18 at-bats is not too shabby.
Ryan Church, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates: Hopefully his knee allows him to get back into the outfield this weekend, because there are few better times to play him than against Kyle Kendrick, against whom he's a .417 career hitter.
Pitchers' count: Saturday
Nick Markakis, OF, Baltimore Orioles: With 10 strikeouts in 41 at-bats and only eight hits, the writing is on the wall in permanent magic marker and ALL CAPS.
Chris Young, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks: Not only mired in 3-for-28 slump, Young is also only a .143 hitter against Clayton Kershaw.
Alcides Escobar, SS, Milwaukee Brewers: He closed out June with a 1-for-17 run and though he had three hits to kick off July, Chris Carpenter -- whom Escobar has never hit safely against -- should kill that noise real quick.
Carlos Pena, 1B, Tampa Bay Rays: Pena is still dancing around the Mendoza Line, and one home run since June 12 is simply not cutting it.
Angel Pagan, OF, New York Mets: With Carlos Beltran inching closer to a return to the Mets' outfield, now is not the time for Pagan to be missing time with a sore side. Yet the injury is clearly impacting his performance, when he even plays, that is.
Hitter matchup ratings for July 4
Hitters' count: Sunday
Kevin Cash, C, Boston Red Sox: Assuming he doesn't get hurt between the time you read this and Sunday, at least you know there aren't any other catching options with major league experience in Boston.
Dane Sardinha, C, Philadelphia Phillies: Another "Spinal Tap" position in the majors, Sardinha likely takes over at catcher for the injured Brian Schneider, himself filling in for the injured Carlos Ruiz. Hey, Sardinha's slugging percentage goes up to .611!
Cristian Guzman, SS, Washington Nationals: It's understandable that the lack of power in Guzman's bat scares fantasy players away, but the .369 batting average against the current Mets pitching staff should lure a few of you back.
Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Seattle Mariners: Ichiro is batting .350 for his career against Jeremy Bonderman and .300 overall against the Tigers in 2010.
Pitchers' count: Sunday
Johnny Damon, OF, Detroit Tigers: Damon is hitting just .091 (2-for-22) against Cliff Lee, who is pretty good against his fair share of hitters.
Cody Ross, OF, Florida Marlins: Very quietly, Ross has compiled an 11-game hitting streak. Unfortunately, Tim Hudson has an 83 percent success rate in sending Ross back to the dugout unsatisfied.
Randy Winn, OF, St. Louis Cardinals: Sunday is usually a day that managers trot out the fourth outfielder. However, five strikeouts in 15 at-bats against Yovani Gallardo should put the kibosh on that idea for Winn.
Brandon Phillips, 2B, Cincinnati Reds: Sorry, Brandon, but the .120 lifetime batting average against Ted Lilly overshadows your recent nine-game hitting streak that coincidentally came to an end the minute you set foot in Wrigley Field.
Baseball Challenge Picks of the Weekend
Saturday: Bobby Abreu, RF, Los Angeles Angels: Abreu has hits in five of his past six games, and more importantly, simply owns Bruce Chen. He's 7-for-10 facing the Royals pitcher lifetime with three doubles and seven RBIs.
Sunday: Vladimir Guerrero, DH, Texas Rangers: With 14 hits in his past eight games, it's clear Vlad is on fire. Staying hot against Mark Buehrle? Not a problem thanks to four home runs and an .833 slugging percentage in 30 at-bats.
Injury list: Out
Jason Varitek, C, Boston Red Sox (broken foot, DL pending)
Luke Scott, DH, Baltimore Orioles (15-day DL, left hamstring)
Placido Polanco, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies (15-day DL, left elbow)
Chase Utley, 2B, Philadelphia Phillies (15-day DL, sprained thumb)
Joel Zumaya, P, Detroit Tigers (15-day DL, right elbow)
John Grabow, P, Chicago Cubs (15-day DL, knee sprain)
Tyler Walker, P, Washington Nationals (15-day DL, right shoulder)
Victor Martinez, C, Boston Red Sox (15-day DL, fractured thumb)
Jason Heyward, OF, Atlanta Braves (15-day DL, bruised thumb)
Injury list: Day-to-day
Jose Reyes, SS, New York Mets (side soreness)
Brian Schneider, C, Philadelphia Phillies (hand injury)
Manny Ramirez, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers (right hamstring)
Daric Barton, 1B, Oakland Athletics (right knee)
Conor Jackson, OF, Oakland Athletics (hamstring)
Weatherproof games: Dodgers at Diamondbacks. As is the case throughout most of the country on a July 4th weekend, Arlington and Denver will serve as the backdrop for lots of aerial noise all weekend long. Unfortunately, it won't be colorful fireworks, but thunder and lightning that will be on display. Minnesota joins the precipitation party in time to celebrate the nation's birthday on Sunday.