Fantasy Game Notes for Thursday: American League
Game Story: Jays rookie Banks makes his first big league start in this game, after a decent Triple-A season, filling in for the injured Shaun Marcum. Banks has excellent control and should be well-motivated to boot as he hails from the Baltimore area and will have hundreds of family and supporters in the crowd. Banks is worth a flier in this matchup. Guthrie is making his first start in two weeks due to a muscle strain, and he too is worth a shot against a Blue Jays team that struggles to hit right-handed pitching. Play the usual hitters from both sides.
Game Story: Bonser was pulled from the rotation earlier this month, but he'll get one more chance with Scott Baker out due to a bruised hand. He's not a good bet in Fenway. Beckett leads the majors in wins and is 4-0 in September with a 2.25 ERA. Play only the star Twins hitters. Red Sox outfielders J.D. Drew and Jacoby Ellsbury have the hot hand for Boston and should be picked up for this matchup.
Game Story: Kazmir has been outstanding recently, and he still has a chance to lead the American League in strikeouts. Play only the best Yankees hitters. Hughes has been a big asset for the Yankees down the stretch, posting a 3.18 ERA in September. Pick him up for this game if you're seeking a starter. The Rays' Delmon Young is hitting .309 in the second half and is also a solid pickup.
Notable Injuries: none
Game Story: Rookie pitchers collide in this matchup, and while neither has pitched poorly in his limited major league action, neither is a great pickup. Buckner and Broadway have struggled in the high minors this year, and it looks as though both will need more seasoning before reaching the majors for good. The best bets from this matchup are the Royals' Mark Teahen, who's heating up with a .360 average this week, and Sox outfielder Jerry Owens. Owens is still on fire, hitting .330 with nine stolen bases during the past 30 days. He's hit .417 with two of those steals during the past week.
Game Story: Baek was in the Mariners' rotation from late April to mid-June, but managed only a 5.74 ERA in 11 starts. He'll get another chance Thursday, but you should avoid him. Byrd has been steady all year, but is not in his best form recently, having been roughed up in three of his past four starts. Look to grab the red-hot Raul Ibanez, hitting .346/.393/.547 during the past week, as well as Indians shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who is having his best month since May.
Fantasy Game Notes for Thursday: National League
Game Story: Maholm has been a disaster lately, allowing 22 hits and 17 runs in his past two starts. He's still very much in the Pirates' plans for next year and the team wants to give him the chance to close the season on a positive note. He shouldn't be in your lineup, however, so stack your team with all possible Diamondbacks hitters. Be sure to grab Mark Reynolds, who has two home runs and an impressive .500/.609/.944 line this week. Webb isn't pitching quite as well as he did during his 42-inning scoreless streak, but he's still performing like an ace, so play only the essential Pirates hitters.
Notable Injuries: Josh Willingham, OF, (back, day-to-day)
Game Story: Trachsel hasn't started in two weeks, but had allowed more than three runs only once in his previous nine starts. Olsen, meanwhile, has been torched for 39 runs in his past six starts. Neither the veteran right-hander nor the young lefty is pitching well enough to merit a pickup in this matchup, although Trachsel can be used if you're desperate. Grab the Marlins' Jeremy Hermida, who is hitting .335/.399/.547 since the All-Star break.
Game Story: Smoltz hasn't allowed more than three earned runs since Aug. 3, and has done so only three times all year. Bench all but the very best Phillies against the Atlanta ace. Kendrick has also been very consistent, allowing more than four runs only once in his 19 starts. He was outstanding in his last start, and can be picked up and used against the Braves in this matchup. Play the Braves' hitters whom you normally would.
Notable Injuries: Adam Dunn, OF, (knee, out)
Game Story: Both of these hurlers have been inconsistent, and neither is a good bet in Great American Ball Park. Instead, look for hitters from this matchup, including stolen base source Norris Hopper of the Reds. Hopper has great speed and has been leading off every day. He's also a good choice for owners chasing runs scored. Infielders Ty Wigginton and Edwin Encarnacion are swinging hot bats for their respective teams as well.
Notable Injuries: none
Game Story: Pineiro hasn't been bad, allowing more than three runs only twice in 10 starts since joining the Cardinals. He's not shown quite enough to be recommended against the Mets, however. Martinez has been hittable since returning from injury, but he's shown sharp command, striking out 24 against only six walks. Use Pedro if you have him, but he hasn't pitched so well that you should be shy about playing Cardinals hitters, including the red-hot Ryan Ludwick. The Mets' hitter you want is Moises Alou, batting .427/.457/.640 in September and .360/.408/.575 since the All-Star break.
Miller Park (indoor/retractable roof) 8:05 p.m.
Notable Injuries: Johnny Estrada, C, (knee, day-to-day)
Game Story: Gallardo has been untouchable lately, allowing only two runs in four September starts! Somehow he's owned in fewer than half of ESPN leagues, so grab him for this matchup. Cassel has pitched decently since joining the Padres, but he's not worth using against the Brewers. Both of these clubs have struggled offensively down the stretch in the playoff race. Use only the very best Padres against the red-hot Gallardo, and play the Brewers' hitters whom you normally would.
Game Story: I've been touting the talented but inconsistent Morales for some time now, and he's delivered on his potential lately, allowing only seven hits while tossing shutout ball in his past three starts. Grab Morales and play only the best Dodgers hitters against the red-hot rookie. Loaiza can be used if you're desperate, but he's a poor bet considering the way the Rockies have been pounding the ball recently. Instead, grab the Rockies' leadoff hitter Kazuo Matsui, who has been hitting well and stealing bases since returning from injury last week.
Waiver Wire Pickups
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, BOS versus Minnesota Twins
J.D. Drew, OF, BOS versus Minnesota Twins
Delmon Young, OF, TB versus New York Yankees
Phil Hughes, SP, NYY @ Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Jerry Owens, OF, CHW versus Kansas City Royals
Mark Teahen, OF, KC @ Chicago White Sox
Raul Ibanez, OF, SEA versus Cleveland Indians
Jhonny Peralta, SS, CLE @ Seattle Mariners
Mark Reynolds, 3B, ARI @ Pittsburgh Pirates
Jeremy Hermida, OF, FLA versus Chicago Cubs
Edwin Encarnacion, 3B, CIN versus Houston Astros
Norris Hopper, OF, CIN versus Houston Astros
Ty Wigginton, 3B, HOU @ Cincinnati Reds
Ryan Ludwick, OF, STL @ New York Mets
Moises Alou, OF, NYM versus St. Louis Cardinals
Yovani Gallardo, SP, MIL versus San Diego Padres
Kazuo Matsui, 2B, COL @ Los Angeles Dodgers
Franklin Morales, SP, COL @ Los Angeles Dodgers
Please Note that the notable injuries are not meant to be a comprehensive report of each team's disabled list. For brevity, we include only day-to-day injuries or new DL additions for players you might otherwise consider using in these games. Long-term DL or day-to-day injuries to starting pitchers who were not scheduled to appear are omitted.
Will Harris is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at willharris@TalentedMrRoto.com