Two division-series battles kick off Monday in both the AL and NL Central, as the two best teams in each respective division duke it out. CC Sabathia is going for his fourth straight complete game but this time will face the NL's best offense in the Cubs (5.19 runs per game). The Twins will try to make up ground on the White Sox as they face an elite left-hander of their own, Mark Buehrle, who could take over as the AL's premier southpaw after Sabathia's defection to the NL. In fact, pitching should dominate the landscape for the day, as a number of high-quality or streaking hurlers will take the mound Monday.
Matchups for Monday, July 28
All times are ET.
Joe Crede, 3B, White Sox (back)
Jeff Clement, C, Mariners (hand)
Jim Edmonds, OF, Cubs (knee)
Carlos Gomez, OF, Twins (back)
Jose Guillen, OF, Royals (groin)
Chipper Jones, 3B, Braves (hamstring)
Mark Teahen, 1B/OF, Royals (back)
Start 'em, sit 'em
Hitters: In raising his batting average from .216 on June 21 to its current .264, Adam LaRoche has hit .376 with eight home runs and seven doubles. LaRoche did similar things last season in late June to save his season, and the trade of Xavier Nady means LaRoche now will hit fifth behind Jason Bay, which should boost his RBI total. Orlando Hudson isn't much of a hitter on the road away from Chase Field (.287 BAVG/.332 OBP/.390 SLG with two home runs), and he's only 4-for-17 against Greg Maddux.
Pitchers: Daisuke Matsuzaka has, with the help of a weak schedule, managed to consistently mitigate his sky-high walk rate (5.67 per nine innings), but the Angels will be the best offense he's faced since he was lit up by the Cardinals in his first start off the disabled list back in June. The Angels are hitting .288 BAVG/.351 OBP/.481 SLG as a team this month, and Matsuzaka has allowed a much higher hit rate at Fenway Park in his brief career there, with a career 4.21 ERA and 1.41 WHIP.
Amid trade rumors, A.J. Burnett has a 1.79 ERA in his past three starts, each against a different divisional foe. In each of the past two seasons Burnett has managed to string together a strong second half, and his strong strikeout rate this season combined with his ability to limit home runs (just 12 in 139 innings) make it easy to believe that trend will repeat itself.
Ricky Nolasco had a seven-start stretch of quality starts in which he allowed two runs or fewer six times, but in his past two outings he's been hit hard against division foes. A 53-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio during that stretch lends credence to Nolasco's improving his game, but he faces a number of tough matchups in the near future: the Rockies, the Mets again and the Cardinals. How well he does will show a lot, but for Monday, let him prove he can conquer a team that's hitting a league-best .302 in July.
Any southpaw faces a challenge when starting against the Brewers, and with CC Sabathia nearly flawless since May, Ted Lilly doesn't even have the upside of a potential win to counteract the risk the Brewers' bats pose.
Roy Oswalt is set to return from the disabled list Monday after being sidelined just the minimum 15 days for a strained hip, an injury that forced him out of a start against the Nationals. In his previous five starts, Oswalt resumed his status as an ace, with 35 strikeouts in 33 1/3 innings and a 2.71 ERA, so feel free to activate him against the Reds.
Strikeout potential (39 in his past 36 1/3 innings) and a matchup against a poorly hitting team like the Astros make Johnny Cueto an easy start. Cueto has been lit up a few times by good offenses but for the most part has displayed the ability to impose his will on weaker teams.
Felix Hernandez's 3.00 ERA in three starts versus the Rangers this year may tempt you to keep him activated, but it's much harder to face them in Arlington: 127 points of OPS separate their offensive output when they play at home and on the road. Even for an ace, there just isn't enough upside to risk the downside of a bad outing.
Mark Buehrle was lit up by the Twins when he was in his early-season funk. But since June, he has been suffocating with a 2.00 ERA in 10 starts, including an eight-inning, one-run performance in a rematch against those Twins. With that kind of recent excellence, Buehrle's a must-start, and he's still available in a third of ESPN leagues.
Hitters: Freddy Sanchez has six multihit games in his past seven starts, and after hitting .314 from 2005 to 2007, it won't be surprising at all if Sanchez has found his stroke and continues his hot hitting. Chris Davis continues to rake his first time through the league, with an outrageous .730 slugging percentage powering his .303 batting average. There is risk -- will Davis hit for enough average to remain productive? -- and 22 strikeouts in 25 games is worrisome, but power is power, and he's not just an Arlington creation, considering he's hit .296/.333/.648 in 54 road at-bats.
Pitchers: Battling mechanical problems, Micah Owings has basically been nonexistent for the past couple of months, yet his 7.55 strikeouts per nine innings rate is a testament to his raw stuff. Owings has made it past the sixth inning just once since June but has a favorable schedule in August, so if he shows some growth in what is a particularly favorable matchup against one of the league's offensive punching bags, the Padres, Owings should regain some of his early-season value.
The 27 percent of fantasy leaguers who own Greg Maddux assuredly know Maddux's 2.51 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in the comfort of Petco Park, and the other 73 percent still have ample time to jump on the bandwagon. The paltry three wins Maddux has on the season is simply bad luck (and poor run support), but as long as he has such predictable and exploitable splits, there's nothing to do but, well, exploit them.
Hiroki Kuroda's 2.63 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in eight starts at Dodger Stadium is eye-popping, and he even shut out the Cubs in a complete-game, 11-strikeout outing back in June. If Kuroda can hold his own against one of the toughest offenses in baseball, it's a trend worth exploring against the hapless Giants, who rank 27th in runs scored.
The Orioles-Yankees (30 percent chance of precipitation) and Mets-Marlins (30 to 40 percent) are the day's only games that weather could impact. Rays-Blue Jays, Cubs-Brewers, Reds-Astros and White Sox-Twins are weatherproof.
Adam Madison is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com