- Brian Gramling, Fantasy
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ESPN fantasy owners have wisely pounced on Carlos Zambrano lately, increasing his ownership by 13 percent over the past week. But Zambrano is still available in 42 percent of ESPN leagues, despite his sheer dominance since his return to the rotation. In eight outings, Zambrano is 6-0 with a 1.59 ERA, and his control has improved greatly in the past five starts (35 strikeouts and 13 walks in 34 1/3 innings). Keep reading to see who else should be in your rotation for Tuesday.
Starting pitcher rankings for September 21
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.
• Must Start: Chad Billingsley has a 2.68 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 22 career games against the San Diego Padres, and has eerily similar success (2.65 ERA and 1.20 WHIP) in his past nine starts overall. I see that 4.2 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues dropped Trevor Cahill after he was rocked for six runs at KC, but he has been a monster at home, posting the third-best ERA (1.58) among pitchers with a dozen or more starts on their home turf. Cahill is 10-2 with a 1.00 WHIP pitching in Oakland this year. Fausto Carmona threw a three-hit shutout against the Minnesota Twins on September 10, and the Twins injury-riddled lineup may not include Joe Mauer or Denard Span (both day-to-day) this time around.
• Strong Play: Mike Pelfrey's career failures at Sun Life Stadium worry me (6.45 ERA, 1.93 WHIP in four starts), but he has strung together six quality starts in his last eight outings, and may be fortunate enough to not have to face Hanley Ramirez, who is day-to-day with an elbow injury. J.A. Happ is 3-0 with a 1.53 ERA and .183 opponents' BA in eight games (two starts) against the Washington Nationals, and carries a 2.84 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in his past five overall starts. Jorge De La Rosa is 7-0 in his last nine September starts, and is 4-0 with 37 K's and eight walks in his past five starts overall. He has a 2.00 ERA in 12 career games (eight starts) against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
• Worth Considering: Armando Galarraga has dominated the Kansas City Royals, posting a 2-0 record, 1.87 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in seven career starts against KC. James Shields makes his sixth start against the New York Yankees this season, posting a 2.51 ERA and limiting New York to a .230 batting average. I'm not big on recommending Washington Nationals pitchers, but John Lannan is 6-2 with a 3.02 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in his last eight start,s and is facing a poor Astros lineup likely void of its All-Star lead-off man Michael Bourn.
• Stay Away: Bruce Chen has a 7.00 ERA and 1.60 WHIP in his career versus the Detroit Tigers (10 games, eight starts). Dave Bush has similar putrid numbers in his 12 lifetime starts against the Cincinnati Reds (7.07 ERA and 1.65 WHIP). Mike Minor has been terrible in his past three starts (14 IP, 14 ER, four homers allowed), and has serious gopher ball potential when he takes the hill at Citizens Bank Park for the first time. Paul Maholm's 5.91 home ERA is the second-worst in the majors (behind Mitch Talbot 6.37) among pitchers with 10 or more home starts, and his last eight starts overall have been abysmal (0-6, 7.88 ERA, 1.90 WHIP).
Hitter matchup ratings for September 21
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.
Jim Edmonds, RF, Cincinnati Reds: It is safe to get Edmonds back in NL-only lineups now that he has returned from an oblique injury. The 40-year-old Edmonds is 6-for-13 with three homers, 11 RBIs and a 1.885 OPS when facing Bush.
Melvin Mora, 2B, Colorado Rockies: He has been on fire with five multi-hit games and eight RBIs in his past eight contests. Mora has a favorable pitching matchup Tuesday with Joe Saunders, considering Mora is 10-for-22 with a 1.175 OPS in his career versus Saunders.
Yadier Molina, C, St. Louis Cardinals: In his past seven starts, Molina is batting .476 (10-for-21) with nine RBIs. Expect the hot streak to continue against the Pittsburgh Pirates, which have allowed him to go 14-for-32 with eight RBIs against them this year.
Jose Tabata, LF, Pittsburgh Pirates: He's coming off a 5-for-12, three-double, three-RBI performance in the Pirates series sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Tabata has an impressive .522 BA/.542 OBP/.609 SLG line in six games against the St. Louis Cardinals this year, and he's owned in less than 44 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues, so scoop him up.
Pat Burrell, DH, San Francisco Giants: In his past 13 games, Burrell has four homers and a respectable .286 average. He has feasted on Chicago Cubs pitching this year, going 7-for-16 with three homers and nine RBIs.
Brandon Inge, 3B, Detroit Tigers: As a .211 lifetime hitter in September/October, Inge is rarely a safe play in the final month of the season, especially not against Chen. Inge is an embarrassingly bad 0-for-19 with six strikeouts against the southpaw journeyman.
Curtis Granderson, CF, New York Yankees: Not only is he 9-for-45 with 12 K's in his past 13 games (11 starts), but he has been dominated by James Shields. Granderson has posted a pathetic .069 average (2-for-29) with eight whiffs in his career versus Shields.
Nick Markakis, RF, Baltimore Orioles: He's been successful against Boston Red Sox pitching this year (.355/.420/.565), but not against Clay Buchholz. Markakis is a dismal 2-for-17 with three strikeouts against Buchholz in his career.
Span, CF, Minnesota Twins: Even if his bum shoulder feels strong enough to get him into the Twins' lineup, Span's 3-for-21 career against Carmona should be enough to keep him away from your fantasy lineup.
Stephen Drew, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks: With his homer-less drought now at 18 games, don't expect a sudden power surge on Tuesday. Drew is 3-for-16 with eight strikeouts against De La Rosa.
Baseball Challenge Pick of the Day
Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals: Of course his numbers are great against most teams, but in 151 games against Pittsburgh, Pujols has a .371 BA, 43 HRs, 128 RBIs, 128 runs and a 1.063 OPS. Pujols can thank Tuesday starter Maholm for some of this success, as his career stat line versus Maholm (30 at-bats) reads: .600/.649/.867.
Injury list: Out
Tyler Colvin, LF, Chicago Cubs (chest)
Lastings Milledge, LF, Pittsburgh Pirates (strained left oblique, done for season)
Nyjer Morgan, CF, Washington Nationals (eight-game suspension)
Andres Torres, CF, San Francisco Giants (appendectomy)
Injury list: Day-to-day
Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins (sore knee)
Hanley Ramirez, SS, Florida Marlins (elbow)
Adrian Beltre, 3B, Boston Red Sox (wrist)
Michael Bourn, CF, Houston Astros (lower oblique strain)
Denard Span, CF, Minnesota Twins (shoulder)
Edgar Renteria, SS, San Francisco Giants (elbow)
Jose Valverde, P, Detroit Tigers (elbow tendinitis)
Aaron Hill, 2B, Toronto Blue Jays (hand)
Garrett Jones, RF, Pittsburgh Pirates (shoulder)
Justin Upton, RF, Arizona Diamondbacks (shoulder)
Weatherproof games: Mariners-Blue Jays, Reds-Brewers, Rockies-Diamondbacks. Tuesday's weather looks like it will cooperate for the other 12 games on the schedule. There is a 30 percent chance of rain in Minneapolis for Indians-Twins, but sunny skies should be present for every other game. The East Coast expects temperatures in the mid-70s to low-80s, and the West Coast is looking at high 60s weather on Tuesday.
Brian Gramling is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com.
2hMichael C. Wright