This weekend is light on the aces but heavy on the sleepers, as the rankings for both Saturday and Sunday are peppered near the top with names you're usually more comfortable seeing in the middle of the pack. That means there's something for everyone, as we are entrenched in the dog days of the season. With fantasy football around the corner, you may be tempted to divert your attention, but there are matchups to be exploited and spot starters to be streamed all throughout the weekend. We've got you covered with everything you need to know:
Starting pitcher rankings for July 25, 2009
Rk.: The author's ranking of that pitcher for that day only. T: Pitcher throws left-handed or right-handed. W-L: Pitcher's win-loss record. ERA: Pitcher's earned run average. WHIP: Pitcher's average number of walks plus
Starting pitcher rankings for July 26, 2009
Rk.: The author's ranking of that pitcher for that day only. T: Pitcher throws left-handed or right-handed. 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. K/9: Pitcher's average number of strikeouts per nine innings. OPSA: Pitcher's on-base plus slugging percentage surrendered to opponents. OPS: Pitcher's opponent's composite team on-base plus slugging percentage. CT%: Pitcher's opponent's success rate putting the ball in play (versus striking out).
Selected notes for Saturday: Erik Bedard has shown his stuff is there -- 19 K's in 14 1/3 innings, .173 batting average against -- since his return from the disabled list, so now he just needs to harness it. Eight walks have been his undoing, but one should be confident in his track record of success, and who knows, maybe the extra day of rest Bedard received helped him make some tweaks to his game. Regardless, I have confidence he'll perform much better in his rematch versus the Indians. Whenever a pitcher is getting consistently lit up, as Johnny Cueto has in his past five starts (8.32 ERA), you have to bench him indefinitely until he shows you something. Unfortunately, Cueto will be going into a hostile environment against a team he normally struggles against, as the Cubs hit .299 against him. Expect it to get worse before it gets better. The Brewers are second in the majors in strikeouts against right-handed pitching, so while Tommy Hanson may not reach double-digit strikeouts again, he should make it tough on a team whose bats leans heavily to the right. Jonathan Sanchez performed well against a streaking Braves lineup, striking out eight and walking only one en route to a quality start, but wait to see him pitch well against another good offense before trotting him out there against the lefty-mashing Rockies in Coors Field. That said, since he's only walked three batters in 15 innings since rejoining the rotation two starts ago, he may be worth stashing before his high strikeout rate attracts other astute owners. While Jorge De La Rosa -- freely available at a waiver wire near you -- tends to be hit-or-miss, the strikeouts he can pile up when he's on make it worth gambling when he'll be on. Thankfully, the Giants have made it easy this time around, as they're one of the least-threatening offenses against left-handers, their .694 OPS ranking second-to-last in the majors. The Blue Jays' offense has cratered in July, as they are one of five teams with an on-base percentage below .300 this month. David Price dominated them a couple of weeks ago, outdueling Roy Halladay in the process, so you have to like his chances. It's tough to predict Price's off days, but at least this time, he's pitching against Brian Tallet, not the Blue Jays' ace, which will dramatically increase his chances at picking up a win.
Selected notes for Sunday: Three starts into July and Joe Blanton has yet to allow more than an earned run in any start. He's gone at least seven innings each time, and is still maintaining his surprising strikeout rate, fanning at least five in each of those three starts. Backed by an offense buoyed by the return of Raul Ibanez, he's won two of his past three outings; blessed with another favorable matchup -- the middling Cardinals offense, although it just added Matt Holliday -- he's our favorite spot starter of the day. You look at Kevin Millwood's 82-to-45 strikeout-to-walk ratio and you think, he has to implode sooner or later. But just when it looked like he would, he manages to gut out another quality start versus the Red Sox, and after a brief respite comes up with the Royals next on the schedule. Even mediocre pitchers have success against the Royals, and Millwood received some extra luck with Jose Guillen -- who is 14-for-32 against Millwood lifetime -- landing on the DL. A number of owners already bailed on Millwood, so check to see whether he's available in your league and squeeze another start out of him if you can. One of our favorite things to exploit is an inconsistent but high-strikeout pitcher in a favorable matchup. More times than not they'll net a quality start or better, with the chance at a lot of strikeouts offsetting the risk. Enter Chad Gaudin, who draws the Nationals, a team largely devoid of power. Gaudin has struck out at least seven batters in five of his past seven starts, allowing three runs or fewer each time; he may be the shot in the arm your team needs to regain some ground in strikeouts. The streak is up to seven; that is, seven consecutive starts that Brian Moehler has allowed three runs or fewer. It's ugly at times, but he's getting the job done, and with an opportunity to face a decimated Mets lineup, that streak should reach eight. Chris Volstad has rebounded nicely from his uneven June, but he should still be avoided against the elite offenses in the league, which the Dodgers have rejoined thanks to the return of Manny Ramirez. Their .830 OPS ranks second in the NL, and Volstad was roughed up earlier in the year by the same offense minus Manny. It looks like Rick Porcello could be running out of gas -- or the league is just catching up to him -- as he's yet to reach the seventh inning in five consecutive starts, and he's now allowed 14 earned runs in his past 13 1/3 innings. With middling peripherals -- he hasn't struck out five batters since May 16 -- and a mediocre offense, it's definitely time to cut bait.
Now batting (Saturday)
• Aaron Hill, 2B, Blue Jays: He's slumped in July (.188 average) but has shown signs of life in his past two games, going a combined 3-for-7 with a double and a home run. Hill does his best work against southpaws, with seven home runs in 109 at-bats to go along with a .303 average.
• Placido Polanco, 2B, Tigers: Polanco has been hot recently, going 7-for-20 with three doubles and a homer his past five games. He's also done well against Gavin Floyd historically, batting .333 in 24 at-bats with three extra-base hits, including taking him deep once.
• Jim Thome, DH, White Sox: Edwin Jackson has no answer for Thome. In 10 at-bats, the future Hall of Famer already has seven hits, including two jacks. Jackson has already walked him five times, too, so Thome is left with a video game-esque 2.200 OPS.
• Franklin Gutierrez, OF, Mariners: If Gutierrez is able to return from his injuries by Saturday, you have to like his chances to come back with a bang. The soft-tossing Jeremy Sowers will be on the mound, and Gutierrez has killed left-handers this season, batting .324 with five homers in 71 at-bats.
• Jose Lopez, 2B, Mariners: And if Gutierrez can't suit up, Lopez might hit for two players anyway. He was batting .371 during his eight-game hitting streak, and although that came to an end Wednesday, he followed that up by going 1-for-4 with a double Thursday. Like Gutierrez, Lopez enjoys hitting against lefties, batting .310 against them this season.
• Gary Sheffield, OF, Mets: You'll want to keep up to date on the injury prognosis of Sheffield, because Sheffy's success against Russ Ortiz has been so great -- three home runs and a double in 13 at-bats -- that you wouldn't want to miss a golden opportunity if he should happen to return.
• Freddy Sanchez, 2B, Pirates: It's rare a hitter dominates a pitcher as thoroughly as Sanchez dominates Doug Davis; in 34 at-bats, Sanchez has 17 hits, including five doubles and a homer.
• Shane Victorino, OF, Phillies: He's been nearly unstoppable in July, batting a robust .360, but he has yet to have much success versus Kyle Lohse, going 2-for-13 (.154) with zero walks and a paltry .234 slugging percentage.
• Jhonny Peralta, 3B/SS, Indians: As if his .210 average in July wasn't enough, he has been retired by Nick Blackburn in nine of 10 at-bats, fanning three times along the way.
• Nate McLouth, OF, Braves: Even when McLouth has been successful against Yovani Gallardo, he's had only a couple of singles to show for it, as he's failed to net an extra-base hit in 17 at-bats against the ace. Instead, he's struck out five times, hitting a punchless .235 in the process.
• Mike Lowell, 3B, Red Sox: Although he's struck out only once at the hands of Jeremy Guthrie, he has otherwise been rendered useless, with a mere three hits in 17 career at-bats. Thus it might be a perfect opportunity to give him some rest and allow the Red Sox debut of Adam LaRoche.
• Luke Scott, OF, Orioles: Scott is still looking for his first hit against Jon Lester, as he's struck out three times in eight opportunities.
If you're hardcore
• Scott Hairston, OF, Athletics: Hairston loves seeing a southpaw on the schedule; he's batting an obscene .375 in 80 at-bats against lefties, launching five long balls along the way. He's faced Andy Pettitte nine times in the past, and of course he's 3-for-9 with a home run and a double to show for his efforts.
• Rod Barajas, C, Blue Jays: His average is 80 points higher when facing left-handers; he's hit four home runs off them, too, matching how many he's hit against right-handers in 105 fewer at-bats.
• Alberto Callaspo, 2B, Royals: He's a .300 hitter on the season, and the vast majority of that has come against southpaws -- his .380 average facing lefties is a full 140 points higher than his average against righties. That sound you hear is the gulp of Derek Holland, who has allowed righties to hit .319 and slug .573 against him.
• Billy Butler, 1B, Royals: That other sound you hear is of Butler licking his chops, as he, too, enjoys hitting against lefties, although not quite as much: five home runs while hitting .300 in 110 at-bats. He is also, however, coming into Saturday's contest swinging a hot bat, with 11 extra-base hits (two homers) accompanying a .324 average in July.
• Clint Barmes, 2B/SS, Rockies: He's batting a woeful .188 since the All-Star break, but there's hope, as left-handers like Jonathan Sanchez are exactly the type of pitcher he comes alive against. And we mean exactly like Sanchez, as Barmes is slugging .692 against Sanchez, with two doubles and a home run in 13 at-bats.
Now batting (Sunday)
• Pat Burrell, OF, Rays: Although he's continued to struggle to make contact, Burrell has improved in the power department in July, as nine of his 14 hits have gone for extra bases, including three homers. And as far as contact goes, right-handers are hitting .336 off Brett Cecil.
• Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies: Utley's been quiet since the break, but a tasty matchup versus Todd Wellemeyer should be the jump start he needs. Lefties have simply tattooed Wellemeyer, to the tune of 11 home runs in 206 at-bats and a .340 BA/.416 OBP/.587 SLG triple-slash line. Utley has previously been one of the many beneficiaries of Wellemeyer's poor pitching, too, with four hits in eight at-bats lifetime, two of which have left the park.
• Joe Mauer, C, Twins: He had to cool off sometime, but with how hard he was hitting the ball, it still is surprising that Mauer is slugging only .339 in July. Ervin Santana may be determined to change that, though; not only has Mauer roped four doubles in 13 at-bats against Santana, amassing seven hits in all, but lefties are also hitting a whopping .352 against him.
• Jose Lopez, 2B, Mariners: Another lefty, another recommendation, as Lopez has knocked Cliff Lee around, too, with eight hits in 22 at-bats, including a round-tripper.
• Andre Ethier, OF, Dodgers: Batters swinging from the left side slug .517 versus Chris Volstad. That's right up Ethier's alley, since 15 of his 20 dingers have come against right-handers, and he's been even more beastly at home, where he's slugging .642 in 173 at-bats.
• Miguel Montero, C, Diamondbacks: Montero is swinging a bat as blistering as the Arizona heat, hitting .365 and slugging .698 in 63 at-bats this month, going yard five times. That's bad news for Virgil Vasquez; he's had only 90 plate appearances versus left-handed batters in his career, but a .367 average against suggests his problems run deeper than a small sample size.
• Johnny Damon, OF, Yankees: Damon may be currently sporting a six-game hitting streak, but a matchup versus Dallas Braden would be a quick way to end it, as the A's lefty has mowed down left-handers this season, limiting them to a .174 average in 121 at-bats.
• Mike Cameron, OF, Brewers: With nearly twice as many strikeouts (11) as base hits (six), it's safe to say Derek Lowe has dominated Cameron in their 33 at-bats. Overall, Cameron's batting just .182, as the all-or-nothing hitter has been limited to "nothing" in his matchups against Lowe.
• Alex Gordon, 3B, Royals: Gordon is still waiting for his first multihit game this season, and chances are that Kevin Millwood will keep him waiting. Gordon has garnered only three hits in 14 at-bats versus Millwood, with more whiffs (five) than hits and walks combined (four).
• Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Mariners: Take away 60 points of batting average from Ichiro, and you'd get something like his line against Cliff Lee: .278/.333/.389 in 36 at-bats. Lee's improvement in the past two seasons is reflected in the matchup, too, as Ichiro has just one hit in his last 11 at-bats. Improvement will be hard to come by, since Lee is holding left-handed hitters to a .520 OPS this season.
• Curtis Granderson, OF, Tigers: If you don't sit Granderson against any and all left-handers, you're doing something wrong, as he can't even clear the Mendoza line. That plays into left-hander Clayton Richard's hands, as lefties hit .212 against him; no surprise, then, that Granderson is hitless in his four at-bats versus Richard.
• Edwin Encarnacion, 3B, Reds: Instead of facing Kevin Hart, Encarnacion draws Rich Harden on Sunday, a serious upgrade. Not only is Encarnacion hitless in four at-bats versus Harden, but he's gone done in the most ignominious of ways each time -- via strikeout.
• Brandon Phillips, 2B, Reds: Phillips has also remained hitless against Harden in six at-bats, although at least he's only fanned twice.
If you're hardcore
• Garret Anderson, OF, Braves: Left-handers routinely mash Braden Looper, so it's not surprising that Anderson is 2-for-4 with a home run against Looper. Lefties slug .531 off the soft-tossing righty, hitting a home run every 14.7 at-bats. Anderson, who is hitting a scorching .445 with two homers since the break, is a good bet to join the club.
• Geoff Blum, 3B, Astros: Blum is quietly putting together a solid month, batting .321 in 56 at-bats, chipping in three homers as well. He's had some prior success against Livan Hernandez, going 7-for-24 (.292) with a homer, and Lance Berkman's injury gives him a more prominent position in the lineup, batting fifth, sandwiched between Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence.
• John Buck, C, Royals: After Miguel Olivo went off while Buck was on the disabled list, Buck is the clear No. 2 catcher in Kansas City now. But he is 7-for-15 versus Kevin Millwood, and manager Trey Hillman would do well to give Buck a couple of starts a week to prevent Olivo from wearing down. It's a roll of the dice, however.
• David Murphy, OF, Rangers: Murphy has three multihit games in his past four starts, and a great way to keep swinging a hot bat is to step into the batter's box against Sidney Ponson, especially if you're a lefty: They hit .373 off him.
• Chris Iannetta, C, Rockies: Despite playing at home in 11 of his 13 games this month, Iannetta hasn't done much, hitting .233 with just two extra-base hits in 43 at-bats this month. However, he's 3-for-7 his past two games, even launching a home run, and he's still hitting .297 at home, versus .171 on the road. After Sunday, the Rockies go on the road until Aug. 7, so it may be the last productive game you can squeeze out of him for a while.
Injury list: Out
• Lance Berkman, 1B, Astros (15-day DL, calf): Berkman was scheduled to return Friday, but the Astros decided to play it safe and place him on the disabled list to ensure Berkman's health for the stretch run.
• Jason Giambi, 1B, Athletics (15-day DL, quad)
• Jose Guillen, OF, Royals (15-day DL, knee): Talk about freak injuries -- Guillen tore a ligament in his knee while putting on his shin guard. MLB.com reports that he is expected to be out six to eight weeks.
• Ted Lilly, SP, Cubs (shoulder/knee): Lilly is expected to be placed on the disabled list and will miss his next start. It's not yet known whether it's his sore knee or shoulder that is bothering him.
Injury list: Day-to-day
• Joe Crede, 3B, Twins (shoulder; doubtful)
• Franklin Gutierrez, OF, Mariners (knee/elbow): Gutierrez ended up missing Thursday's contest, as he's still suffering the effects of crashing into the outfield wall Tuesday night. Consider him questionable for the weekend.
• Felipe Lopez, 2B, Brewers (hamstring; available to pinch-hit)
• Manny Ramirez, OF, Dodgers (hand; probable)
• Edgar Renteria, SS, Giants (elbow): Manager Bruce Bochy said Renteria "should" play Friday, so consider him good to go for the weekend.
• Juan Rivera, OF, Angels (leg; available to pinch-hit)
• Aaron Rowand, OF, Giants (forearm): Rowand missed his third straight game Thursday but is a good bet to play on Friday, according to Bochy.
• Gary Sheffield, OF, Mets (hamstring)
• Five cities play in domes, so you need not worry about the weather there: Toronto, Seattle, Milwaukee, Houston and Arizona.
• Expect to see scattered storms in Denver and Detroit all weekend long, with up to a 40 percent chance in Denver and up to a 50 percent chance in Detroit.
Adam Madison is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com.