Jeremy Hellickson set up to dominate
Not only does a six-man rotation upon the eventual returns of Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis seem inevitable from a forward-thinking team such as the Rays, new O's manager Buck Showalter admitted to tossing around the idea of the team implementing a six-man rotation in September. Teams are becoming vigilant about protecting and limiting the stress on their top prospects' arms, so it is a sensible compromise. Let the Hellickson reign continue!
For starters: Saturday
Starting pitcher rankings for August 14
• Derek Lowe's superb ground ball rate (58 percent, fourth best in the majors) and the Braves' strong defense keeps the veteran in most of his starts, so he's an above-average option versus the Dodgers. He has been a bit more consistent at home (3.88 ERA, 1.25 WHIP), and the Dodgers' offense has been paltry (.641 OPS, 28th) since the break.
• The past three starts for Madison Bumgarner have been a bit of a reality check for the rookie (5.92 ERA), but if you have faith in his talent, you have to figure he'll adjust and get better. A matchup versus the Padres at home isn't as easy as it used to be, not with Jerry Hairston Jr. hitting the cover off the ball and Ryan Ludwick now in the lineup, so it's still something of a test for the phenom. In the end, however, bet on Bumgarner posting a solid outing.
• Don't be fooled into thinking Edwin Jackson is any sort of consistent starter but, hey, sometimes he has streaks, too. You just sit back and revel in it. It would be silly to bench him versus the Tigers when he's been pitching so well of late, but I can't begin to guess when the hourglass will run out, either.
• On a day of fairly mediocre pitching, Jason Vargas is worth a gamble if you're into the spot-start thing. A matchup against the Indians automatically qualifies as tempting, and he has been pretty effective for more than a month now.
• Much of the same applies to Brett Cecil, who possesses immense potential but has yet to fully harness it. On a start-to-start basis, he's still volatile, so this isn't for the faint of heart. But he has a strong offense backing him and could easily toss up a gem on a good day against a middling Angels offense.
• The Twins roughed up Gavin Floyd, who was on quite a roll himself, so don't think Trevor Cahill is untouchable. In fact, the Twins now rank first in OPS since the All-Star break, so you shouldn't feel bad about playing it safe.
For starters: Sunday
Starting pitcher rankings for August 15
• It's Jeremy Hellickson's world, we're just living in it. Considering the opponent -- the aforementioned Twins -- his debut start was superb, but he left no doubt in his follow-up, shutting out the Tigers for seven innings, fanning seven batters. Hellickson has pushed his way into the rotation, and he should be owned and started in every league unless we see him falter.
• Even though C.J. Wilson has struggled in recent starts -- he hasn't pitched out of the sixth inning in three consecutive starts -- he should still be kept active versus the Red Sox. Without Dustin Pedroia, who is expected to be out through the weekend, and Kevin Youkilis, the Red Sox have a vulnerable lineup, especially so considering Wilson is murder on left-handers. Wilson also has a 0.68 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in two starts against the Red Sox this season, so he must be doing something right.
• Kevin Slowey sports a 3.73 ERA and 1.19 WHIP at home this season, so expect him to bounce back nicely versus the Athletics. Slowey has walked just three batters in 30 1/3 innings since the All-Star break, the main reason his WHIP is a fantastic 0.99 during that span. The A's, meanwhile, rank 25th in OPS against righties.
• Ranking Wade LeBlanc ahead of Ryan Dempster and Dan Haren isn't meant to imply that LeBlanc is a money start, but more of an indication that the latter two should be considered unstartable. In two starts versus the Cardinals, Dempster has a 5.93 ERA, while Haren has allowed 26 home runs in 168 innings this season and will face the team that is pacing the majors in home runs and slugging percentage. Neither has proved their merit against elite offenses.
Hitter matchup ratings for August 14
Hitters' count: Saturday
Chris Young, OF, Diamondbacks: The majors' first 20-20 player, Young has been particularly hot of late, going 9-for-24 (.375) with five walks, three home runs and three doubles in the past week. Don't be surprised if he continues his tear against Jason Marquis, whom he's taken deep three times in 16 career at-bats.
Michael Young, 3B, Rangers: It's not common to find any hitter with a 9-for-20 (.450) line against Jon Lester, who has held righties to a .223 average this season. But Young has hit him often, and hard, too, adding two doubles and a home run for good measure.
David Ortiz, DH, Red Sox: He has just two hits versus Colby Lewis, but he has made them count; both have left the park. Plus, Ortiz is still "Big Papi" against right-handers (.282 AVG/.407 OBP/.635 SLG).
Adam Lind, OF, Blue Jays: Slowly but surely, Lind is figuring things out; he's now batting .304 with seven doubles and four home runs since the break. You'd like to see fewer strikeouts from him (20 in 24 games) and a tad more power, but beggars can't be choosers! He is 4-for-11 (.364) with a couple of dingers against Ervin Santana, so he should keep rolling.
Pitchers' count: Saturday
Aubrey Huff, 1B/OF, Giants: He has faced Mat Latos nine times and has zeroes across the board. He has failed to reach base in any form, although that can't be too surprising considering Latos is holding all hitters to a nifty .191 average.
Johnny Damon, OF, Tigers: Almost always an easy target, Damon is batting an empty 9-for-36 (.250) with one walk and two doubles this month. Plus, he's a lifetime .167 hitter versus Edwin Jackson in 30 career at-bats. So keep him reserved.
Carlos Lee, OF, Astros: It's shocking that Lee is batting just .195 in 41 at-bats against soft-tossing lefty Paul Maholm. Lee has just two extra-base hits and one walk, so it's quite the empty average to boot.
Jay Bruce, OF, Reds: Let's be honest: Bruce shouldn't even be owned in shallow mixed leagues anymore. A .257 average, 10 home runs and five steals? Even Hunter Pence outclasses that kind of production. Bruce is even worse against southpaws (.236 average), so don't get your hopes up when he faces Sean West on Saturday.
Troy Glaus, 1B/3B, Braves: A couple of tasty matchups against left-handers haven't been enough to set Glaus back on course; he still is batting .190 since the beginning of July, with one home run. Facing Ted Lilly on Saturday, it will get worse before it gets better: Glaus is just 2-for-20 (.100) with seven K's against the southpaw.
Hitter matchup ratings for August 15
Hitters' count: Sunday
Omar Infante, 2B/3B/SS, Braves: The popular pickup is only 7-for-30 (.233) in his past seven games, but he's batting .360 against righties this season and is 2-for-7 with a home run off Vicente Padilla.
Jason Kubel, OF, Twins: Kubel is officially scorching, going deep in four of his past six games. Don't be shocked if he takes Freddy Garcia deep, too; he's 7-for-11 (.636) with a pair of doubles and a home run, as well as three walks, versus the right-hander.
Alex Gordon, 3B, Royals: He's only 2-for-12 (.167) off A.J. Burnett, but one of his hits did leave the park, so he's got that going for him. But this is more an expression of faith in Gordon than a simple matchup exploitation. Burnett isn't in top form, and has allowed a mediocre .285 AVG/.367 OBP/.453 SLG batting line to left-handed hitters this season. Meanwhile, Gordon is batting .294 with five extra-base hits, including three long balls, in August.
Nick Swisher, 1B/OF, Yankees: He has alternated hot and cold months all season, and is starting off cold this month, batting .250 with three extra-base hits in 44 August at-bats. But he has absolutely crushed Brian Bannister, going 6-for-14 (.429) with two homers and a double. And his newly acquired teammate, Lance Berkman, is 3-for-3 with a pair of homers off Bannister.
Vernon Wells, OF, Blue Jays: Wells has hit for average (.333) and power (.714 slugging percentage) against Dan Haren, blasting seven hits, including two home runs and a triple, in 21 at-bats. Teammate Fred Lewis (9-for-23, .391 average) has also gotten the best of Haren, although Lewis has also struck out eight times against him.
Pitchers' count: Sunday
Chone Figgins, 2B/3B, Mariners: Figgins is batting .310 since the break but has surprisingly been dominated by Justin Masterson. He has reached base just once (a walk) in 10 plate appearances; he's 0-for-9 with four strikeouts lifetime.
Orlando Hudson, 2B, Twins: For whatever reason Hudson has been a nonfactor against Freddy Garcia, accumulating as many hits (three) as strikeouts in 21 at-bats.
David Ortiz, DH, Red Sox: As I noted, Ortiz should be in for a fine day Saturday, but against lefty CJ Wilson on Sunday, well, that's another matter entirely! Ortiz sports a replacement-level .225 AVG/.272 OBP/.342 SLG in 120 at-bats against lefties, and Wilson might be the toughest pitcher in the league on southpaws, holding lefties to a miniscule .317 OPS. Left-handed hitters have mustered just 11 hits (zero home runs) in 107 at-bats against Wilson. So bench J.D. Drew (1-for-6) while you're at it, too.
Bobby Abreu, OF, Angels: The outfielder is 2-for-7 with a double off Ricky Romero this season, and that's pretty much his upside considering his .230 average against southpaws this season. Abreu is just 1-for-4 in stolen bases since the All-Star break, too, so it seems his 36-year-old body is finally catching up to him.
Ryan Ludwick, OF, Padres: Tim Lincecum has struck out Ludwick in half of their matchups, so obviously Ludwick is a poor bet. Overall he has mustered just one single in 10 career at-bats off Lincecum, so keep him reserved.
Baseball Challenge Picks of the Weekend
Saturday: Andre Ethier, OF, Dodgers. His brutal slump in June and July lowered his price, so now Ethier is cheaper than, say, Garrett Jones or Nick Markakis. But he should be an elite option against right-handers from here on out; he's batting .327 against them, with all but two of his 18 home runs coming off righties. Meanwhile, he's 3-for-6 with a home run and a triple versus Derek Lowe.
Sunday: Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox. Pick a day, any day, with Konerko and you can't go wrong! Not only is he 5-for-10 with two doubles and a homer against Saturday's opponent, Rick Porcello, but he outdoes himself against Armando Galarraga. Konerko is 6-for-11 with six walks, two doubles and a homer off the right-hander, so expect the slugger to leave his mark this weekend.
Injury list: Out
Chipper Jones, 3B, Braves (15-day DL, knee; out for the season)
Injury list: Day-to-day
Weatherproof: Orioles-Rays and Pirates-Astros
Storms will crop up in Atlanta throughout the weekend, potentially affecting both contests between the Dodgers and Braves. Other than that, Cleveland (Mariners-Indians) and Cincinnati (Marlins-Reds) should both see some precipitation Sunday, with Cincinnati bearing the brunt of it.
Adam Madison is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com.
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