Neither Texas nor Minnesota was expected to be a factor in its respective division race this year, but now in the eighth week of the season, both clubs are within shouting distance of their division leaders. On Thursday, these two teams send starters with improbable 6-2 records to the mound when Vicente Padilla and the Rangers visit the Twins and Livan Hernandez. Neither of these veteran right-handers -- both sporting ERAs under 4.00 -- was drafted in mixed leagues, but now the pair is owned in about a quarter of ESPN leagues. But it's not as if Padilla or Hernandez has found the fountain of youth or developed any new skills. Hernandez is surviving on a career-best walk rate but isn't striking anyone out. Padilla, meanwhile, is displaying his traditional shaky command. Both pitchers are likely to have negative value from this point forward, both are likely to end the season with ERAs over 5.00, and both should be avoided in mixed leagues.
Matchups for Thursday, May 22
All times are ET.
Daryle Ward, 1B, Cubs (back)
Jeff Keppinger, SS, Reds (knee)
Andruw Jones, OF, Dodgers (knee)
Mark Ellis, 2B, A's (hamstring)
Jake Peavy, SP, Padres (elbow)
Ronnie Belliard, 2B, Nationals (calf)
Austin Kearns, OF, Nationals (elbow)
Nick Johnson, 1B, Nationals (wrist)
Rick Ankiel, OF, Cardinals (shoulder)
Erick Aybar, SS, Angels (finger)
Ryan Church, OF, Mets (head)
Yunel Escobar, SS, Braves (knee)
Eric Gagne, RP, Brewers (shoulder)
Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees (hand)
Kevin Mench, OF, Blue Jays (knee)
Joe Saunders, P, Angels (flu)
Juan Uribe, 2B, White Sox (hamstring)
Roy Oswalt, SP, Astros (hip)
Start 'em, sit 'em
Hitters: Several Mariners hitters have had success against Jeremy Bonderman, but second baseman Jose Lopez is just 2-for-12 versus the Tigers' starter. The current Tigers roster is hitting .320/.374/.580 off Seattle starter Miguel Batista. Leading the way is the middle-infield combination of Edgar Renteria (8-for-25, 9 RBIs) and Placido Polanco (8-for-21). Baltimore left-hander Brian Burres isn't nearly as good as his 3.47 ERA suggests, but he has managed to keep Bobby Abreu hitless in 11 plate appearances. Grady Sizemore belongs on the bench Thursday against the White Sox. The Indians center fielder might be a fantasy star, but he's really just a platoon player in shallow standard leagues at this point. Sizemore, who sports a miserable .239/.325/.391 line versus left-handers in his career, is hitting only .190 against them this year. He's a woeful 9-for-43 (.209) with one walk versus Chicago lefty Mark Buehrle. Jeff Suppan isn't exactly the picture of a dominating starter, but Pirates outfielder Jason Bay might say otherwise. The Brewers veteran has held Bay to four hits in 31 at-bats, while fanning the Pittsburgh slugger eight times. Mike Cameron is beginning to heat up, slugging .700 during the past week. Pirates left-hander Tom Gorzelanny is a good matchup for the Brewers center fielder. The Mets' Carloses, Beltran and Delgado, are off to slow starts this year, but both should be in your lineup Thursday when the Mets face Tim Hudson. Both Mets sluggers have logged more than 60 plate appearances against Hudson, with Beltran sporting a career line of .339/.413/.546 and Delgado smacking six homers en route to a 1.115 OPS versus the Atlanta right-hander. Arizona boasts baseball's most productive offense, and right now it's the double-play combination of Orlando Hudson and Stephen Drew leading the way for the first-place Diamondbacks. Both players have been hot during the past week, slugging .558 and .550, respectively, and both should be in the lineup Thursday against struggling Marlins rookie Andrew Miller.
Pitchers: Jeremy Bonderman appeared to improve last time out when he allowed three runs on the road against the potent Arizona offense. Bonderman still walked four, however, displaying more of the control issues that have plagued him all year. He's a risky play until he gets the wildness under control, especially Thursday against a Mariners squad that torched him for 14 earned runs in 14 innings in 2007. Brian Bannister has exceeded expectations so far this season, but Fenway Park isn't the place to push your luck. Reserve the Royals right-hander for his Thursday meeting with undefeated Daisuke Matsuzaka and the potent Red Sox. Finesse lefty Mark Buehrle had an encouraging start last week, but his numbers are still woeful on the season. Buehrle is 8-11 with a 4.93 ERA versus Cleveland, the only AL Central foe against whom he has a poor track record. Astros ace Roy Oswalt is probable for Thursday's start with a hip injury. Given his early-season struggles it's not wise to use him when he's not 100 percent healthy.
Hitters: Rangers outfielder Marlon Byrd isn't mixed-league material in the long term, but he's hit well since returning from injury on May 15 and is 8-for-17 lifetime versus Livan Hernandez. Minnesota outfielder Jason Kubel has the talent to succeed and has been breaking out of his season-long slump of late, posting a 1.246 OPS during the past week. Kubel is 0-for-8 versus Rangers starter Vicente Padilla, however, so wait a day to pick him up. Boston catcher Jason Varitek is having a monster week, going 8-for-16 with two home runs and three doubles. He's owned in only 60 percent of ESPN leagues. Orioles center fielder Adam Jones has nine hits in his past 17 at-bats. Unowned in most leagues, Jones has legitimate power potential that makes him worth tracking despite a meager .391 slugging percentage thus far in 2008. Cleveland first baseman Ryan Garko has owned White Sox starter Mark Buehrle, collecting eight hits and two walks in 14 plate appearances versus the Chicago left-hander. He should be picked up for Thursday's game, as should hot-hitting reserve Tribe outfielder Ben Francisco. The 26-year-old Francisco has been earning more playing time lately, and he certainly made the most of the 22 at-bats he was given during this past week, posting an impressive line of .409/.435/.682. The right-handed Francisco was called up to platoon with David Dellucci, and will be in the lineup Thursday against the left-handed Buehrle. Houston starter Roy Oswalt has an unlikely nemesis in Pedro Feliz. The Philadelphia third baseman is 12-for-28 in his career versus Oswalt, with six extra-base hits and seven RBIs. Feliz is rightfully unowned in most mixed leagues but makes for a great spot start Thursday versus the ailing Oswalt and the Astros. Matt Stairs and Brad Wilkerson are the only Blue Jays to have hit home runs off of Ervin Santana. Stairs has two in 10 at-bats, Wilkerson three in 15.
Pitchers: Outstanding control makes Cleveland left-hander Aaron Laffey worth a shot despite a low strikeout rate. The 23-year-old rookie probably will have his greatest success in his initial tour of the league, and Thursday's clash with the White Sox is his first with the division rival. Randy Wolf's season numbers don't look impressive, but like most San Diego starters, he has been rock-solid at Petco Park, where he's fanned a batter per inning en route to a 3.18 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and a mere .200 batting-average-against. He's a solid bet Thursday versus the Reds and their woeful road record.
Games in Toronto, Houston and Minnesota are always weatherproof. Scattered thunderstorms throughout much of the country will threaten many of Thursday's games, including American League contests at New York and Boston, along with National League games at Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Florida.
Will Harris is a fantasy baseball and college football analyst for ESPN.com