The first weekend in September features eight weekend series involving division foes. That means many of these pitchers and hitters have large, and likely more recent, sample sizes against their opponents. Considering there is a wealth of questionable starters taking to the hill on Friday, many of our rankings determinations are based on a pitcher's recent success or failure against his familiar foe.
Starting pitcher rankings for September 3
Editor's Note: Nick Blackburn has been pulled from Friday's start after pitching in Thursday's game. The Twins will call up a starter from Triple-A Rochester to make Friday's start.
• Must Start: Where is the love for Daniel Hudson? He has six quality starts in six tries since his trade to Arizona (4-1, 1.85 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 42 K's, 8 BBs), but he's still available in 52 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues. Same goes for R.A. Dickey. Despite a 2.30 ERA since July 1, Dickey is owned in fewer than 45 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues. Gio Gonzalez also joins this trio of unappreciated starters. In his past five starts, he is 3-1 with a 2.33 ERA and 1.08 WHIP, and three of these outings have come against division leaders Texas and Minnesota. Despite his recent success and a season ERA among the top 10 in the AL, Gonzalez is still available in nearly 40 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues.
• Strong Play: John Danks is a must-start in most leagues, but smaller mixed-league owners can justify benching him based on his 1-4 record and 5.08 ERA in five career starts versus Boston. Same goes for Bronson Arroyo, who is 4-5 with a 4.77 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in the past three seasons against St. Louis. Ivan Nova faces the Blue Jays for the second time in 12 days, after limiting them to two runs in 5 1/3 innings at Toronto on August 23. Nova is owned in just two percent of ESPN fantasy leagues so pick him up.
• Worth Considering: Former first-round draft pick Cory Luebke is worth a flier in deeper leagues as he makes his major-league debut. The 6-foot-4 southpaw finished his stint at Triple-A Portland with a 14-inning scoreless streak and posted a 2.97 ERA, 44 K's and 17 BBs in nine starts with Portland. Fausto Carmona could break out of his five-game losing skid against Seattle, considering he threw a quality start (6 IP, 2 ER, 4 K's) when he faced the Mariners on August 13. Brandon Morrow faces the Yankees for the fifth time this season, all since June. He has tallied 36 strikeouts and just six walks over these 24 1/3 innings, but Morrow has a 7.94 ERA in two starts at Yankee Stadium. This will be Morrow's final start of the season as the Jays will be shutting him down due to the number of innings he's pitched this season.
• Stay Away: Jeremy Bonderman's sore ribs feel good enough to start versus Kansas City, but fantasy owners should not feel good about the matchup, considering his 7.29 ERA over the past three seasons versus the Royals. If Bonderman is unable to go, Alfredo Figaro will make the spot start. Barry Zito's recent string of horrible outings (0-4, 9.61 ERA, 2.24 WHIP in past five games) is enough reason to bench or waive him. Livan Hernandez is a tempting play against Pittsburgh, but consider his 5.10 lifetime ERA in seven starts at PNC Park before you take the plunge. Derek Holland was raining threes in his last outing at Minnesota. Fantasy owners who tried out Holland on May 30 watched him surrender three hits, three runs and three walks while retiring just three batters as the Rangers lost by three, 6-3. I don't mean to waste time for the 69 percent of ESPN fantasy players that have wisely kept Scott Kazmir on the waiver wire. But for you others still holding out false hope, please read this: Kazmir is 1-7 with an 8.29 ERA and a 1.76 WHIP in his past nine starts, including an 11-hit, 13-run meltdown at Oakland on July 10.
Hitter matchup ratings for September 3
Adam Dunn, 1B, Washington Nationals: Dunn has been locked in over the past five games (through Sept. 1), going 9-for-15 with five walks, two homers and nine RBIs. And don't dare sit him against Zach Duke because of the lefty-lefty matchup. Dunn is 7-for-14 with two homers and four RBIs when facing Duke in his career.
Chase Headley, 3B, San Diego Padres: After an 0-for-11 series versus Pittsburgh in mid-August, Headley has heated up with a .309 average, two homers, 11 RBIs and nine runs in 18 games started (through Sept. 1). He's batting .314 in 12 games against Colorado this year and is 6-for-14 in his career versus Aaron Cook.
Matt Kemp, RF, Los Angeles Dodgers: His cold streak over the past three weeks (.188 BA, 21 K's in 69 ABs through Sept. 1) should end this weekend. Kemp is hitting .317 in 12 games against rival San Francisco this year, and he is 17-for-40 (.425 BA) lifetime versus Barry Zito.
Curtis Granderson, CF, New York Yankees: In the past three seasons, he is 14-for-84 (.167 BA) with 23 K's against Toronto. These numbers are even worse in his career versus Brandon Morrow (1-for-11, 8 K's).
Nick Markakis, RF, Baltimore Orioles: Despite his 10-game hitting streak (through Sept. 1) you might want to give Kakes the weekend off. He is 7-for-47 (.149 BA) with zero RBIs against Tampa Bay this season, and a dreadful 4-for-31 with zero extra-base hits when facing Matt Garza in his career. That's a .129 slugging percentage for all you math majors out there.
Kelly Johnson, 2B, Arizona Diamondbacks: If his four straight 0-fers through Sept. 1 (0-for-15 total) haven't soured fantasy owners, maybe this will: Johnson is 4-for-26 (.154 BA) with one RBI, one walk and eight strikeouts in his career versus Brett Myers.
Kurt Suzuki, C, Oakland Athletics: He has been swinging a hot bat (10-for-24 in past six games through Sept. 1), but expect that to end Friday when he faces Scott Kazmir. Suzuki is a lifetime .105 hitter (2-for-19) against Kazmir.
Bobby Abreu, RF, Los Angeles Angels: He has been scuffling lately, going 3-for-31 in his past nine games (through Sept. 1). Don't expect him to bust out of his slump against Gio Gonzalez based on his 0-for-9, five-strikeout history against him.
Baseball Challenge Pick of the Day
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, San Diego Padres: I can see why many of you would choose the other great Gonzalez in this game (Carlos), but I'm taking Adrian who has also been sizzling of late (.333 BA, 5 HRs, 12 RBIs in past 14 games). He has also loved facing Aaron Cook in his career, posting a stat line of .364 BA/.462 OBP/.545 SLG in 33 at-bats.
Injury list: Out
Ricky Nolasco, SP (torn meniscus in right knee)
Jerry Hairston Jr., SS, San Diego Padres (15-day DL, elbow sprain)
Injury list: Day-to-day
Brandon Phillips, 2B, Cincinnati Reds (wrist)
Cliff Lee, SP, Texas Rangers (back stiffness)
Orlando Hudson, 2B, Minnesota Twins (right ankle)
Jay Bruce, RF, Cincinnati Reds (pain in right side)
Jason Kubel, LF, Minnesota Twins (left wrist)
Brian Fuentes, RP, Minnesota Twins (back tightness)
Yunel Escobar, SS, Toronto Blue Jays (back)
Weatherproof games: Astros at Diamondbacks, Indians at Mariners.
Hurricane Earl could wipe out the East Coast games on Friday, including Rays-Orioles, White Sox-Red Sox, Brewers-Phillies and Braves-Marlins. But clear, sunny skies are in the forecast for the Midwest and West Coast games on Friday.
Brian Gramling is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com.
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