Can Lincecum bounce back?
It's a bit ironic that for a season where pitching has been so dominant, more than a few of baseball's great pitchers have struggled. Dan Haren just recently rebounded after a slow start, Johan Santana may be finished as an elite pitcher and now even the great Tim Lincecum looks mortal. His owners may actually have to make a decision whether or not to start him Wednesday when he heads to Milwaukee to face the Brewers, one of the league's better offenses. Just another reason to keep in mind that pitching will forever be high variance. We do our best to help with our daily rankings, but the top looks a little different today:
Starting pitcher rankings for July 7
• In his past two starts -- admittedly tough matchups against the Boston Red Sox and Colorado Rockies -- Tim Lincecum has allowed 14 hits, eight runs, seven walks and two home runs in nine innings. He won't get a respite against the Brewers, either, one of the National League's best offenses, ranking second in the league in home runs. But bench Lincecum? Hardly. While his walk rate is definitely worrisome, sometimes you just have to roll with your studs. A pounding here and I'll be singing a different tune next week, but no doubt Lincecum is as disgusted with his own performance as his fickle fantasy owners are. He's a strong bet to rebound.
• Jaime Garcia owners are undoubtedly happy to see him shutout the Brewers for seven innings, as that's quite a tough matchup for southpaws. But are they prepared to risk him against the Rockies in an environment that is often regarded as the toughest in which to pitch? There may not be a conclusive answer, as yes, the Rockies do rake at home (.834 OPS), but they are also susceptible to lefties (.726 OPS, 16th). That latter fact puts me in Garcia's corner, especially since the league still hasn't figured him out. No NL team has scored more than two runs off him.
• As far as regular-season statement games go, A.J. Burnett's last start versus the Toronto Blue Jays was a big one, at least from a fantasy perspective. Allowing 29 runs in his past 23 innings, Burnett responded by shutting down a Blue Jays offense that is second in the league in slugging percentage. Sure, it is a struggling Jays offense right now, but qualifier or no, Burnett will take what he can get. It makes the choice to start him against the Oakland Athletics a lot easier if you ask me; come on, you can't pass up a matchup against the third-worst offense in the league, can you?
• A 47-year-old with a 1.06 WHIP is just amazing, and don't look now but Jamie Moyer has been even better in recent weeks, with a 1.86 ERA and a 0.65 WHIP over his past four starts. With numbers like that, he has to be considered a must start against the Atlanta Braves, a team that isn't all that good versus lefties (.683 OPS). The danger is that more than a few Braves have done well against Moyer; overall the team, in 236 at-bats, has a scary-looking .297 AVG/.351 OBP/.517 SLG. As a result I may regret such a recommendation tomorrow, but every now and then I defer to superb pitching, and Moyer has been on some kind of roll.
• It will be mighty tempting to start Jonathon Niese versus the Cincinnati Reds -- look at that shiny 2.46 ERA he has in his past six starts! -- but part of being a good fantasy owner is having that steely resolve to avoid the pitfalls of bad matchups. No team in the National League has a better OPS against lefties than the Reds' .793, and while Niese has looked great in recent weeks, he may be pitching a bit above his head. The same poor matchup spiel applies even more so for Kevin Slowey. Right-handers have hit for power off Slowey all season (.555 opposing slugging percentage), so it makes little sense to throw him out there against a team with the most right-handed power in the majors.
Hitter matchup ratings for July 7
Troy Glaus, 1B/3B, Atlanta Braves: OK, let's try this again. The swelling in Glaus' knee has been reduced and the slugger said he hopes to return Tuesday, so penciling him in for Wednesday doesn't seem to be a stretch. Just in time, too, as Glaus wouldn't want to miss facing Jamie Moyer considering his .350 career average against the southpaw. He has five home runs in his 60 at-bats, too, so expect Glaus to return with a bang.
Chipper Jones, 3B, Atlanta Braves: Might this be the beginning of a hot streak for Mr. Larry Jones? Chipper has gone 8-for-24 (.333) versus Jamie Moyer in his career, chipping in three doubles and a dinger, so the on-paper matchup sure looks promising. Toss in his career .309/.416/.617 line at Citizens Bank Park, and this is his chance to show everyone that he isn't done quite yet.
Jose Bautista, 3B/OF, Toronto Blue Jays: You had to figure Bautista was due for a brutal slump, and he delivered in June, batting .179. But in July, he already has six hits in four games, including a double and a home run, so he won't go down that easy. He draws a good matchup against Kevin Slowey considering right-handers are slugging .555 off Slowey; 10 of the 13 home runs Slowey has allowed have come against righties. That's especially notable considering 17 of Bautista's 21 long balls have come versus right-handers.
Jonny Gomes, OF, Cincinnati Reds: He's already 2-for-3 with a home run against Jonathan Niese, which gives you an idea of his potential. A quick start in July (6-for-18 with four extra-base hits) could be an indication he's ready to heat up again; if not, his .280/.361/.537 line against lefties will suffice.
Dexter Fowler, OF, Colorado Rockies: Since returning from the minors, Fowler has been scorching hot, reaching base in every contest while picking up 10 hits in his past four games. Lefties better watch out for his .333 average in 54 at-bats. He may not swipe a base against Yadier Molina, who has caught 18 out of 38 attempts, but Fowler is still capable of a strong game against Jaime Garcia.
Carlos Pena, 1B, Tampa Bay Rays: No, the knuckleball is not the solution to any of Pena's problems, as the slugger is a woeful 6-for-32 (.188) in his career against Tim Wakefield. It's the usual story: When he makes contact the ball tends to fly far (two home runs and a double among his six hits), but contact is too few and far in between.
J.D. Drew, OF, Boston Red Sox: Patently useless against southpaws, Drew should be on your bench when he squares up versus David Price. They have yet to face each other, but Drew's .184 average against lefties this season should give you a strong indication of what's to come.
Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Colorado Rockies: Jaime Garcia conquers the vast majority of the lefties he faces, with southpaws hitting below the Mendoza Line against him this season and most teams doing their best to get their lefties out of the lineup when Garcia starts. In fact, left-handed hitters have mustered just two extra-base hits all season off Garcia, so feel free to sit Gonzalez for the day.
Coco Crisp, OF, Oakland Athletics: Between his sore hamstring and a couple of poor matchups, don't be surprised if Crisp cools off this week. A.J. Burnett has a history of success against Crisp, holding him hitless in 12 of 13 at-bats; it was the least Crisp could do to leave the park with his sole hit. One somewhat redeeming factor, however, is that Crisp is a threat to nab a base if he gets on. Burnett leads the majors in stolen bases allowed.
Curtis Granderson, OF, New York Yankees: Mired in another brutal slump, it's an easy decision to bench Granderson versus the lefty Gio Gonzalez. Granderson is "batting" .192 off southpaws this season, a mark he will be lucky to maintain against Gonzalez as the latter is holding lefties to a .142 average.
Baseball Challenge Pick of the Day
Brennan Boesch, LF, Detroit Tigers: Compared to other elite options, Boesch is quite cheap, so there is extra incentive to use him as your everyday left-fielder until he cools off. Not even Cliff Lee could slow him down, as Boesch went 2-for-3 with a double off him. Good luck to Brad Bergesen then, who has allowed left-handed hitters to hit .343 and slug .607 against him.
Injury list: Out
Clay Buchholz, SP, Boston Red Sox (15-day DL, hamstring)
Injury list: Day-to-day
Troy Glaus, 1B/3B, Atlanta Braves (knee)
Brad Hawpe, OF, Colorado Rockies (rib)
Aaron Hill, 2B, Toronto Blue Jays (illness)
Matt LaPorta, 1B/OF, Cleveland Indians (head)
Jorge Posada, C, New York Yankees (finger; doubtful): Posada could miss a couple of games with his finger injury according to Yankees manager Joe Girardi. "I think we'll know in the next 24 or 48 hours if we need to do something," Girardi said. Hopefully that "something" doesn't include the disabled list.
Juan Rivera, OF, Los Angeles Angels (eyes): Rivera may be ready to start by Tuesday.
Ian Stewart, 2B/3B, Colorado Rockies (elbow)
Vernon Wells, OF, Toronto Blue Jays (illness)
Contests in Toronto (Twins-Blue Jays), Tampa Bay (Red Sox-Rays), Houston (Pirates-Astros), Milwaukee (Giants-Brewers), Arizona (Cubs-Diamondbacks) and Seattle (Royals-Mariners) remain weatherproof. Thunderstorms in Arlington could be a problem, with a 50 to 60 percent chance of precipitation clouding the Indians-Rangers game. Chicago (Angels-White Sox) also has a 50-50 chance of rain.
Adam Madison is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com.
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