- Brian Gramling, Fantasy
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As we close in on head-to-head playoff season, the scramble is on for daily-league owners to pack their squad with waiver-wire starters in hope for some extra wins. Although there are only 12 teams in action on Thursday, half of these starting pitchers are owned in fewer than 33 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues. Keep reading to find out which ones are worth a scooping up for pitcher-starved fantasy owners.
Starting pitcher rankings for September 2
Rk.: The author's ranking of that pitcher for that day only. T: Pitcher throws left-handed or right-handed. Opp: The pitcher's opponent for the day. Rating: The starting pitcher's matchup rating -- separate from the author's ranking -- which accounts for past history (three years' worth as well as past 21 days), opponent and ballpark. Ratings range from 1-10, with 10 representing the best possible matchup, statistically speaking, and 1 representing the worst. W-L: Pitcher's win-loss record. ERA: Pitcher's earned run average. WHIP: Pitcher's average number of walks plus hits surrendered per inning.
• This first group features a foursome owned in 100 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues. CC Sabathia is clearly the top dog with his perfect 10-0 record at Yankee Stadium this year. In his last five Septembers, Sabathia is a combined 16-6 with a 2.07 ERA and a .209 opponents' batting average. Tim Hudson has been nearly unbeatable at home this season (10-3, 1.83 ERA, 1.00 WHIP) and has owned the New York Mets in 2010 (2-0, 0.69 ERA, .213 opponents' batting average). Hudson might not get much run support against Johan Santana who carts a strong 2.31 ERA in 11 career starts versus the Atlanta Braves. Santana is 4-0 with a 1.83 ERA in September outings for New York, all in 2008. Justin Verlander makes his first start at Target Field against a team he knows well. In 16 career starts versus the Minnesota Twins, Verlander is a mediocre 6-7 with a 4.00 ERA, but he has dominated in two starts this year (11 IP, 2 ER, 14 K's).
• This next tier of hurlers is big step down from the top group, but these guys are still capable of throwing quality innings. Dallas Braden has not fared well in his career against the New York Yankees (5.87 ERA, 1.81 WHIP), but he does have a sub-3 ERA and a .211 opponents' batting average in his eight day starts this season, which includes his no-hitter. Doug Fister has an impressive 2.99 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 48 K's and 12 BB at home this year, which is enough reason to think he will beat the Cleveland Indians. Although the Boston Red Sox enjoy huge fan support and great success when visiting the Baltimore Orioles, Daisuke Matsuzaka has struggled with a 7.30 ERA and a 1.91 WHIP in five career starts at Camden Yards. He's also battling back stiffness and may be limited to a pitch count. Finally, Scott Baker is now owned in nearly 75 percent of all ESPN leagues due to his success over the past seven starts (5-0, 3.02 ERA, 1.19 WHIP). He ranks so low on this list because over the past two seasons, Baker has a painful 6.32 ERA and 1.70 WHIP in seven starts versus the Detroit Tigers.
• Two other pitchers are worth considering in deeper leagues. Jhoulys Chacin carries some odd career numbers in Colorado 's thin air. His 1.29 WHIP and 53 K's in 55 innings are solid, but he also has a woeful 5.07 ERA with 28 walks. If you are one of the 0.3 percent of ESPN fantasy owners with Josh Tomlin on your roster, you're probably not in contention. So go ahead and play Tomlin since he's facing a team which ranks last in the majors in just about every offensive category.
• Finally, don't go near the Killer B's, Bergesen and Blanton on Thursday. Brad Bergesen has had mild success in four career starts versus Boston (3.71 ERA, 20 K's, 3 BB in 26 2/3 IP), but his home numbers this year are tough to stomach (5.75 ERA, .313 opponents' batting average). Joe Blanton has never pitched at Coors Field, and his 6.06 road ERA this year should make his owners very, very afraid to start him.
Hitter matchup ratings for September 2
Hitter ratings account for the opposing starting pitcher's past history (three years' worth as well as past 21 days) as well as ballpark factors. "LHB" and "RHB" ratings account only for left- and right-handed batters, respectively.
Matt Diaz, RF, Atlanta Braves: Before you think I've lost my mind recommending a sub-.240 hitting platoon player against a two-time Cy Young winner, check out these numbers: Diaz is 16-for-30 (.533 BA/.548 OBP/.733 SLG) in his career versus Johan Santana.
Carlos Beltran, CF, New York Mets: Despite his dreadful season so far (.218 BA/.329 OBP/.331 SLG), Beltran is the one player in the Mets' lineup that has actually enjoyed success against Tim Hudson, going 24-for-63 (.381 BA) with four HRs, 15 RBIs and a stellar 1.077 OPS.
Marcus Thames, LF, New York Yankees: Thames has been a solid choice in deeper leagues against lefties this year, considering his .349 BA/.418 OBP/.547 SLG against southpaws. He also has two doubles, two homers and six RBIs in 13 lifetime at-bats versus Dallas Braden.
Brian Roberts, 2B, Baltimore Orioles: Fantasy owners haven't had many nice things to say about the injury-riddled Roberts this season, but he is 7-for-15 with three doubles and three walks in his career against Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Rajai Davis, LF, Oakland Athletics: There is no shame in struggling against CC Sabathia, but Davis is 2-for-18 lifetime versus the big lefty with one just walk and one strikeout. Too bad his fantasy owners aren't rewarded for this 90 percent rate of balls hit in play.
Omar Infante, 2B, Atlanta Braves: Despite his brilliant August (.344 BA, 5 HRs, 11 RBIs, 24 runs), you are best served to sit Infante against Johan Santana. Infante is 7-for-36 (.194 BA) with zero extra-base hits, one walk and eight strikeouts lifetime versus the Mets' ace.
Michael Cuddyer, RF, Minnesota Twins: After a 32-homer season in 2009, Cuddyer only has a dozen longballs so far this year. Don't expect No. 13 against Justin Verlander, considering Cuddyer is 6-for-40 (.150 BA) with just two extra-base hits in his career against him.
David Wright, 3B, New York Mets: I doubt you have better options than Wright stashed away on your bench, but if you are ever going to sit him, now is the time. Wright is 10-for-49 with a comical .265 slugging percentage in his career versus Tim Hudson.
Baseball Challenge Pick of the Day
Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins: The reigning AL MVP is batting .393 since the All-Star Break and his .380 clip in August ranked third in the majors among players with at least 50 at-bats. Mauer is also 15-for-42 (.357 BA/.460 OBP/.643 SLG) with three home runs and nine RBIs in his career versus Verlander.
Injury list: Out
Manny Corpas, P, Colorado Rockies (15-day DL, elbow soreness)
Injury list: Day-to-day
Jason Kubel, LF, Minnesota Twins (left wrist)
Brian Fuentes, RP, Minnesota Twins (back tightness)
Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado Rockies (groin)
Matt LaPorta, 1B, Cleveland Indians (left hip)
Jose Reyes, SS, New York Mets (oblique)
Major League Baseball picked a good time to give Midwest teams the night off because rain is a good possibility in the region. Hurricane Earl is not supposed to make its presence felt until Friday. New York, Baltimore and Atlanta expect sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-90s, while it looks to be a perfect high-70s night in Colorado.
Brian Gramling is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com.
3hThomas McKean, ESPN Stats & Information