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If we could end Friday's rankings after 10 pitchers, we would, as the pickings get quite slim as teams throw out their back-end starters. Even some of those we think will be the day's best are no sure things, as our No. 2-ranked pitcher has an ERA north of six. Even Javier Vazquez, one of baseball's best pitchers this season, might have some trouble against a red-hot Marlins offense. Owners have innings limits to keep in mind, so maybe this is the day you refrain from the usual streaming. Of course, there are always some spot-start options out there and if you just can't resist, we still have you covered; although one of our recommendations is coming off a seven-run implosion. The dog days of summer indeed!
Selected notes: Scott Kazmir has yet to go more than two starts without a blowup, and the last team that lit him up was the lowly Mariners, who scored seven runs in 4 1/3 innings. Still, while it looks unlikely he will become a consistent pitcher any time this season, he's striking batters out, so he has value if you play the matchups. He has done particularly well against the Rangers, with a career 2.06 ERA in eight career starts, and as a team the Rangers are hitting .173 against him in 110 total at-bats. Kazmir seems as safe a bet to do well as he'll ever be. Despite allowing 11 runs in his past 11 innings, Roy Oswalt is still one of the day's top pitchers because the others have so many warts attached. Fortunately, he should rebound versus the Diamondbacks, who have cooled down and are hitting .191 in the past week. They're also an awful road team, with their .700 road OPS ranking ahead of only the Giants and the Pirates. Awful starts do happen from time to time, especially when you pitch to contact like Aaron Cook. Since he was coming off a toe injury, you could connect the dots and say he was pitching hurt, but the Marlins, who posted seven runs in 2 1/3 innings, are also hot, hitting a major league-leading .325 this month. If Cook gets plastered by a mediocre Giants offense, sure, something might be wrong, but he tends to pitch well against the weaker offenses of the league, so we'll take our chances. It seems like Cole Hamels is really paying the price of all those innings he tossed last year, though if anything, we should be grateful the once-fragile pitcher hasn't truly broken down. Hamels has an ugly 8-10 strikeout-to-walk rate in 16 1/3 innings this month, also allowing three home runs, and even getting pasted by one of the worst-hitting teams in the league, the Giants, at the beginning of the month. Fortunately, he's dodging the Mets players who tend to hit him hard -- because they're all out injured, of course -- which almost forces you to keep him active on Friday, but with the way he's pitching, he's really skirting by on reputation nowadays. Sure, Kyle Lohse allowed five runs to the Padres -- his second time in three starts allowing five runs to a mediocre offense, as he also allowed five runs against the Mets -- a reminder that spot starting mediocre pitchers can occasionally backfire. We still like Lohse in the rematch, however, as the Padres' OPS is 83 points worse at home than on the road. It's not for the faint of heart, however, as Lohse's 6.56 road ERA this season may scare away some folks. Andy Pettitte has been on a run of quality pitching his past six starts, lowering his ERA by more than three-quarters of a run and striking out 43 batters in 39 2/3 innings, but it's just too much of a risk to play him against Boston. He might have shut the Sox out for seven innings just 12 days ago, but they're a much different beast at Fenway Park, and all his performance means is that the Red Sox are now hitting "only" .333 against him.
• Kelly Shoppach, C, Indians: It's only 43 at-bats, but so far Shoppach is slugging .721 against left-handed pitching, with five home runs and a .329 average. Since he's killed lefties the past few years (.621 slugging from 2006 to 2008), it's probably not a fluke, either.
• Franklin Gutierrez, OF, Mariners: Gutierrez draws another lefty on Friday, this time David Huff, against whom righties have posted an .815 OPS. Gutierrez hammers left-handers, and is already 1-for-3 with a homer against Huff as well.
• Juan Rivera, OF, Angels: Rivera can be as streaky as anyone, and is slumping in August. However, he's been usually productive against lefties this season, hitting .337 with six home runs in 92 at-bats, and could have a nice game against rookie southpaw Marc Rzepczynski.
• J.D. Drew, OF, Red Sox: Lefties are hitting only .253 off Andy Pettitte this season, but Drew has been an exception, going 3-for-6 with a double to bring his career numbers up to 12-for-32 (.375) against Pettitte. Half of his hits have been of the extra-base variety, including three homers, and on top of that Drew is also hitting 43 points better at home.
• Carlos Quentin, OF, White Sox: With two home runs in his past two games -- and six extra-base hits in 56 at-bats in August -- it looks like Quentin is finally beginning to heat up again and draws a matchup against Jeremy Guthrie, against whom he's 3-for-6 with a home run. And this should come as no surprise, but he's also a much better hitter at U.S. Cellular Field, with 28 home runs in 359 career at-bats, further increasing his chances of a big day.
• Jim Thome, DH, White Sox: Left-handed hitters are slugging an ungodly .579 versus Guthrie this season, with 18 home runs allowed in 266 at-bats. One of those culprits is Thome, who is 2-for-4 with a dinger against Guthrie this season, giving him two in 12 career at-bats.
• Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Red Sox: Thirty-two at-bats is probably enough to conclude that Andy Pettitte, who has held Pedroia to a .188 average, has his number. Although Pedroia has struck out only once, the only extra-base hit he's compiled is a double, and he is therefore left with an ugly .406 OPS against, including an 0-for-6 mark this season.
• Shane Victorino, OF, Phillies: Mike Pelfrey has limited Victorino to four hits -- all singles -- in 17 lifetime at-bats, which isn't too surprising considering Pelfrey has held right-handers to a sub-.700 OPS in his career. It also doesn't help that the Mets' catching combination, Omir Santos and Brian Schneider, has thrown out 34.3 percent of steal attempts, limiting any value Victorino could have if he did get on base.
• Michael Young, 3B/SS, Rangers: Young has two measly singles in 15 at-bats while striking out a third of the time against Scott Kazmir.
• Todd Helton, 1B, Rockies: Helton has been sent down on strikes seven times in 18 at-bats versus Jonathan Sanchez, and has just three singles and a double. He's shown little power against left-handers all year, so make sure to bench him.
• Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Cubs: He has been quiet in August, hitting .229 so far. Against Randy Wolf, Ramirez has more strikeouts (six) than hits (five) in his career. Overall, he's hitting just .227 in 22 at-bats against the lefty.
• Curtis Granderson, OF, Tigers: With the Tigers facing lefties on both Thursday and Friday, manager Jim Leyland has opted to sit Granderson in an effort to give the slumping slugger a mental break. He is hitting .178 against lefties this season, so you won't miss him.
• Ryan Church, OF, Braves: With hits in exactly half of his 16 at-bats against Anibal Sanchez -- and four extra-base hits including a long ball -- Church seems like a nice bet for a productive game.
• Miguel Olivo, C, Royals: Olivo is 6-for-11 with two homers and a triple versus Nick Blackburn, and has already gone 3-for-4 with a home run against him this season. With that kind of track record, it's worth picking up Olivo just for the day.
• Joe Crede, 3B, Twins: While not exactly the most extensive track record against a pitcher, Crede is 2-for-2 with a double and a home run against Luke Hochevar. Since Hochevar isn't anything special in his own right -- right-handed batters are slugging better than .500 against him -- there's little downside to gambling on Crede.
• Clint Barmes, 2B/SS, Rockies: It is a perfect storm of events on Friday when Barmes faces Jonathan Sanchez. He is slugging .632 against left-handers, hitting 63 points higher at home compared with the road and has three extra-base hits, including one home run, in 15 previous at-bats against Sanchez.
• Kyle Blanks, 1B/OF, Padres: Blanks is 11-for-31 (.354) his past eight games, and he's now up to eight home runs since the All-Star break after hitting two in a recent series versus the Cubs. His opponent Friday, Kyle Lohse, has his troubles against right-handers (.467 slugging percentage allowed) and Blanks, at least, has seen him before, going 2-for-3 with a double.
Injury list: Out
• Nate McLouth, OF, Braves (15-day DL, hamstring)
• Willy Taveras, OF, Reds (15-day DL, quadriceps): The Reds decided to send Taveras to the disabled list so they could bring up Drew Stubbs to patrol center field. Taveras should return sometime in September.
Injury list: Day-to-day
• Nelson Cruz, OF, Rangers (15-day DL, ankle)
• Scott Hairston, OF, Athletics (quadriceps)
• Nick Johnson, 1B, Marlins (hamstring): Johnson will attempt to take batting practice Thursday, and if all goes well could return to the lineup by Friday.
• Justin Morneau, 1B, Twins (illness): While Morneau's ear infection has cleared up, he is still suffering from lightheadedness and dizzy spells, making his return questionable.
• Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Red Sox (personal)
• Martin Prado, 1B/2B/3B, Braves (illness): Prado was diagnosed with "exertional headaches" after visiting a neurosurgeon Wednesday. He should avoid the disabled list, but might not play until Saturday.
• Freddy Sanchez, 2B, Giants (shoulder)
• Rafael Soriano, RP, Braves (shoulder)
• Jim Thome, DH, White Sox (heel): The injury isn't serious and Thome should return by Friday.
• Jason Varitek, C, Red Sox (neck)
• Only three games will be weatherproof: Angels-Blue Jays, Rangers-Rays and Diamondbacks-Astros.
• The Northeast has most of the day's concerns, with Washington, D.C., Boston and Pittsburgh all potentially affected. The nation's capital has the largest chance of rain, with a coin flip's chance of thunderstorms. Boston has scattered storms to worry about (30 percent), while the forecast in Pittsburgh suggests most of the storms may cease right before game time.
• Elsewhere across the states, thunderstorms pose a risk in Atlanta (40 percent), while Chicago may experience a few showers (40 percent).