Commentary

Jon Lester to finish strong again

Updated: August 26, 2010, 1:33 PM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com

Daily Notes

This is it for the Boston Red Sox. If they don't sweep this series against the Tampa Bay Rays, you can all but write off their postseason chances for 2010. Even though the calendar has yet to turn the page, Jon Lester certainly knows how to step up his game late in the season, as he's 11-2 lifetime with a 2.64 ERA in September. It's time for him to step up, and who am I to think he won't? The Red Sox need to go big or go home, and I'll take that advice to heart and rank Lester, a perfect 3-0 at Tropicana Field, as my No. 1. As for the complete rankings for Friday, read on:

For starters

Selected notes:

Also at the top: Mat Latos faces a Philadelphia Phillies team that has scored only 16 runs in its past 70 innings. He'll get the nod over Ubaldo Jimenez who, as good as he has been in 2010, has struggled in the past against the Los Angeles Dodgers, thanks to a 5.37 ERA.

Tim Lincecum is 5-1 with a 2.35 in his career against the Arizona Diamondbacks but has allowed seven earned runs in 13 innings against them this season. Jered Weaver's lifetime stats against the Baltimore Orioles are odd, since they're so "even" -- 2-2 with a 4.44 ERA.

Tommy Hanson is 2-0 this season against the Florida Marlins with a 1.42 ERA. Roy Oswalt is 10-2 with a 2.56 ERA against the San Diego Padres, but run support has been a problem against them this season, with no decisions in two starts despite a 1.80 ERA.

Middle of the road options: The St. Louis Cardinals' concern about Jaime Garcia's workload makes me concerned enough to lower him a bit on the list. David Price is ranked low because of the Lester factor, and for no other reason. Both Shaun Marcum and Scott Baker have wins this season against their Friday foes, but both did so without completing the sixth inning of those games.

Record isn't everything: Teams are hitting .294 against Tommy Hunter in his past four starts, .301 against Johnny Cueto, and .310 against Freddy Garcia in that same time. None of the three are good picks right now, even with the double-digit win totals.

No thanks: Chris Narveson has a 5.25 ERA against the Pittsburgh Pirates in three appearances against them this season. Scott Olsen is a career 1-4 with a 6.10 ERA against the Cardinals.

Hitters' count:

Scott Rolen, 3B, Reds: Rolen had eight RBIs on the Reds' recent road trip and should keep the production coming along with a .385 lifetime average against Tom Gorzelanny.

Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees: With a .311 batting average against the current White Sox staff, and two home runs off Freddy Garcia in his career, this could be a good day for the Yankees' captain.

Juan Rivera, OF, Angels: He's got a .386 batting average against the Baltimore Orioles' staff and will now be getting more playing time, with time at first base added to the mix.

Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Cubs: August has been good to Ramirez, with a .329 average, and in 20 plate appearances versus Johnny Cueto, he has a .750 slugging percentage .

Mark Ellis, 2B, Athletics: Our gut call of the day is Ellis. Though the sample size is small, the .400 batting average against Tommy Hunter is far and away his best facing any Rangers starter.

Pitchers' count:

Jason Kendall, C, Royals: Kendall is only 2-for-11 in his past few games, and his .219 average against the Indians' staff isn't boding well for an uptick in results.

Mike Stanton, OF, Marlins: Hitting only 1-for-18 against the Braves this season and in a 1-for-28 slump, you might want to look elsewhere for your outfield offense Friday.

Ryan Howard, 1B, Phillies: A frustrating series against the Astros is almost over for Howard, who had eight strikeouts in his first 11 at-bats. A suspension is looming, so perhaps it is best to sit him until he gets his head back on straight.

Chris Young, OF, Diamondbacks: Not only is Young hitless in his past 15 at-bats, but Tim Lincecum simply owns him. Young is 3-for-31 against the two-time Cy Young winner with 11 strikeouts.

Manny Ramirez, OF, Dodgers: If he's not already on a plane to Chicago by the time this game starts, Ramirez may well "not show up" at the plate to ensure a trip to the airport is forthcoming.

Baseball Challenge Pick of the Day

Matt Holliday, LF, Cardinals: Holliday is on a seven-game hitting streak, which should continue against Scott Olsen of the Nationals, based on the outfielder's .583 career batting average against him.

Triage

Injury list: Out

Manny Corpas, P, Rockies (15-day DL, elbow soreness)
Ross Ohlendorf, P, Pirates (strained shoulder)
J.J. Putz, P, White Sox (15-day DL, left knee)
Matt Thornton, P, White Sox (15-day DL, sore forearm)
Jim Edmonds, OF, Reds (15-day DL, right oblique)
Stephen Strasburg, P, Nationals (15-day DL, right forearm)
Jeff Clement, 1B, Pirates (15-day DL, sore left knee)
Scott Feldman, P, Rangers (15-day DL, right knee)
Guillermo Mota, P, Giants (15-day DL, left leg)
Travis Schlichting, P, Dodgers (15-day DL, right shoulder)
Maicer Izturis, P, Angels (15-day DL, right shoulder)
Ron Mahay, P, Twins (15-day DL, right shoulder)
Kevin Slowey, P, Twins (15-day DL, right triceps)

Injury list: Day-to-day

Jim Thome, DH, Twins (sore thigh)
Frank Francisco, P, Rangers (rib cage)
Brandon Phillips, 2B, Reds (wrist)
Nick Swisher, OF, Yankees (sore knee)
Adam Jones, OF, Orioles (shoulder)
Nyjer Morgan, OF, Nationals (possible suspension, under appeal)

Weather concerns

Weatherproof games: Tigers at Blue Jays, Red Sox at Rays, Pirates at Brewers and Twins at Mariners. As we head closer to the start of September, most of the country will be in the 70's and 80's as far as the mercury goes, with nary a cloud in the sky.

AJ Mass is a fantasy baseball, football and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can follow AJ on Twitter or e-mail him here.

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