The Memorial Day weekend kicks off with the remarkable comeback story of Doug Davis, who will make his first start since recovering from surgery for thyroid cancer. It's a heartwarming tale and should be the focus of much attention on Friday.
Beyond that we have another matchup of Cubs-Pirates, one that the Cubs have dominated of late, winning seven of eight meetings this season; Joe Saunders trying to overcome the flu, not to mention the challenge of pitching at U.S. Cellular Field; and the Red Sox having to deal with Rich Harden for the third time already this season.
Matchups for Friday, May 23
All times are ET.
Erick Aybar, 2B/SS, Angels (finger)
Gary Bennett, C, Dodgers (foot)
Andrew Brown, RP, A's (appendectomy)
Eric Gagne, RP, Brewers (shoulder)
Austin Kearns, OF, Nationals (elbow)
Donnie Murphy, 3B/SS, A's (elbow)
Adam Everett, SS, Twins (shoulder)
Moises Alou, OF, Mets (calf)
Rick Ankiel, OF, Cardinals (shoulder)
Josh Bard, C, Padres (ankle)
Ryan Church, OF, Mets (concussion)
Doug Davis, SP, Diamondbacks (thyroid cancer)
Mark Ellis, 2B, A's (hamstring)
Yunel Escobar, 2B/3B/SS, Braves (knee)
Rafael Furcal, SS, Dodgers (back)
Jerry Hairston Jr., OF, Reds (dizziness)
Start 'em, sit 'em
Hitters: Milton Bradley is a man who's all about motivation, and this will represent only his second trip back to Cleveland since the Indians gave up on him following the 2003 season. He's a .339 hitter with six homers and 16 RBIs in his past 17 games -- numbers that make him a must-start for the foreseeable future (read: until he next gets hurt). ... The Yankees have struggled mightily against left-handers this season (.225 team batting average, .628 team OPS), and the Mariners' Erik Bedard should actually make a few of them sits for once. In shallow formats, consider reserving Bobby Abreu (4-for-20 lifetime against Bedard), Robinson Cano (3-for-14) and Johnny Damon (3-for-20). ... Surprisingly, the two Mariners who hit the Yankees' Andy Pettitte best are left-handers: Raul Ibanez (5-for-12, .417 AVG) and Ichiro Suzuki (10-for-23, .435). ... Keep in mind the Mariners now plan Jamie Burke as the personal catcher for Erik Bedard, Friday's starter. Not that you want Burke, but this means sit Kenji Johjima, too, in all Bedard and Jarrod Washburn starts. ... Not many Pirates hit the Cubs' Carlos Zambrano well, but here are two who do: Jason Bay, 12-for-36 (.333 AVG) with five homers and 16 RBIs lifetime; and Xavier Nady, 8-for-22 (.364) with seven RBIs. ... The Cubs boast baseball's best team OPS against left-handers (.848), so expect them to feast on Pirates pitching this weekend, as they'll be throwing three southpaws. It all begins with Zach Duke on Friday, and the Cubs' standouts against him include Alfonso Soriano, who is 10-for-18 (.556) with two homers. ... Eric Byrnes, Stephen Drew and Chris Young each homered against the Braves' Jo-Jo Reyes in their most recent meeting last July 27, and there really isn't a right-handed Diamondbacks hitter I don't like in this matchup. ... The same goes for Brewers right-handed batters against the Nationals' Odalis Perez, as they generally hit lefties pretty well. Bill Hall, in particular, stands out (.371/1.190 rates against lefties). ... Garrett Atkins is a .519 hitter with three homers and a 1.422 OPS against left-handers this season, and 3-for-6 with a double and a homer lifetime against the Mets' Oliver Perez. Toss Clint Barmes in there, too, as he's a .300/1.064 hitter against southpaws. ... Not surprisingly, the only two Red Sox hitters who have historically gotten to the A's Rich Harden are the two you'd never bench: David Ortiz, 5-for-8 with two homers lifetime against Harden; and Manny Ramirez, 3-for-8 with three homers against the right-hander. Bench Jason Varitek, 0-for-7 against Harden in his career. ... The Dodgers hope to get Rafael Furcal back in the lineup, and if they do, he's a must-start even in his first game off the DL. He's 5-for-9 with a triple lifetime against the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright.
Pitchers: Always start Fausto Carmona in a home game: He's 13-5 with a 2.93 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 21 starts at "The Jake" since the start of last season. Keep in mind, too, that he had a 1.50 ERA and 0.80 WHIP in two starts against the Rangers in 2007. ... The Indians could have Joe Borowski back from the disabled list in time for Friday's game, and with the way their bullpen has been performing in his absence, it's a good bet that he'll be tossed right back into the closer role. The smart play in shallow formats, though, is to take a patient approach with slotting him back into your lineup. ... Erik Bedard held the Yankees to three runs (one earned) on four hits in seven innings at Yankee Stadium on May 2, and there's no reason to expect any less from him in the rematch. ... Of course, Andy Pettitte should be able to keep the Mariners close in a home start, even though the M's generally hit left-handers pretty well (.284/.762 team rates). I'd pick Bedard for the "W," which diminishes Pettitte's shallow-mixed league appeal, but remember, I play for ERA, WHIP and K's, and the lefty shouldn't be bad in those. ... Zack Greinke has eight quality starts in nine tries for the season, including one against the Blue Jays on April 25 (7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER). That's a hot streak you must continue to exploit. ... What a matchup for Scott Olsen, facing the woeful Giants offense at home, where he's 3-1 with a 2.72 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in six starts this season. ... For as feel-good a story as Doug Davis' is, I'm paying heed to his doctors' warnings that he might feel fatigued coming off surgery for thyroid cancer. The smart play in his first start back is to keep him reserved and evaluate his progress. ... Don't worry about Joe Saunders at a homer-friendly ballpark like U.S. Cellular Field. He fared fine there last Sept. 16 (6 IP, 2 H, 1 ER), and is 10-4 with a 3.91 ERA and 1.39 WHIP in 17 career road starts. More troubling: Will he be at full strength due to the flu, which pushed him back in the rotation by a day? It's a risk I'm willing to take. ... In shallow leagues, consider sitting Gavin Floyd. Not to bust on his performance to date, but much of it has been matchup-based, and this one represents one of his worst thus far. ... I want no part of Oliver Perez at Coors Field, where he's 2-3 with a 7.24 ERA and 1.76 WHIP in six career starts. Sure, much of that came back in his terrible years, but he's not exactly stellar with his command lately. It's way too much risk for my taste. ... Rich Harden sure looked healthy his most recent time out, and he held the Red Sox to a combined one run on seven hits while striking out 15 in 11 innings in two starts against them to begin the season. Take a shot on him. ... Edinson Volquez, coming off a string of six consecutive quality starts, is a must-start pitching at San Diego's Petco Park. Heck, is there a pitcher around who isn't a must-start facing the Padres in that canyon of a park? ... Derek Lowe might be struggling thus far, but take a look at his home numbers: He's 2-1 with a 3.70 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in four starts at Dodger Stadium. That's plenty good enough to make him worth your consideration in NL-only and deep-mixed formats.
Hitters: Franklin Gutierrez is 2-for-3 with a home run lifetime against the Rangers' Kason Gabbard, and he's a .284 hitter with a .813 OPS against left-handers for his career. The one concern: Ben Francisco has started ahead of him in five straight games, so check the early lineup. ... Reed Johnson has started all 15 of the Cubs' games against a left-hander this season, so count on him being in there again facing the Pirates' Zach Duke. He's 4-for-8 with a double lifetime against Duke. ... Cody Ross has started all 10 of the Marlins' games against a left-hander this season, and should get another against the Giants' Barry Zito, against whom he's 3-for-3 with a home run in his career. ... Surprisingly, Luis Gonzalez is 7-for-15 with two homers lifetime against Zito, and he started the most recent time the Marlins faced a left-hander. It's something to think about. ... Eric Hinske might be 2-for-11 lifetime against the Orioles' Jeremy Guthrie, but both of those hits were home runs, and one of them came in their March 31 meeting. Hinske is a .295 hitter with a 1.005 OPS against right-handers for the season, so get him in there. ... In my book, Matt Diaz is a must-start against every left-hander in leagues that allow daily transactions. He's a .356/.841 hitter against that side this season, even as he's performing horribly against the other side. ... Dmitri Young is finally getting a chance to play with Nick Johnson hurt, and keep in mind he's 4-for-8 with a home run lifetime against the Brewers' Dave Bush. ... Obviously you know to use the most prominent left-handed hitting Phillies, but one you might not think of immediately: Geoff Jenkins, who is 4-for-9 with two doubles lifetime against the Astros' Brandon Backe, and a .297/.742 hitter against right-handers this season. ... Check the Mets' early lineup, as Marlon Anderson would be worth a look if included. He's a .407 hitter with four homers and a 1.179 OPS in 16 career games at Coors Field. Check the Mets' early lineup, as Anderson would be worth a look if included, and he probably will be with Moises Alou likely out for Friday. ... I always say play the career trends against a knuckleballer, in which case the A's Jack Cust, Mark Ellis (if healthy) and Frank Thomas warrant your attention. Against the Red Sox's Tim Wakefield in their careers, Cust is 3-for-8 with two doubles, Ellis is 6-for-14 and Thomas is 12-for-50 with six homers. ... Ryan Freel has started each of the Reds' past nine games against a left-hander, and he's 4-for-7 lifetime against the Padres' Shawn Estes. Don't be afraid of the ballpark matchup; Freel is a fine spot start. ... Adam Kennedy hits the Dodgers' Derek Lowe remarkably well: He's 11-for-25 (.440) with two doubles and a triple against the right-hander for his career.
Pitchers: Armando Galarraga has four quality starts in six tries, and he limited the Twins to two earned runs on six hits in six innings in a losing effort in Minnesota on May 2. Back at home against the Twins, he should be good for at least those numbers. ... If Barry Zito is going to extend his major-league leading loss total to nine, he might need to work extra hard to do it pitching at Florida's Dolphin Stadium -- where he tossed seven shutout innings of one-hit baseball Aug. 17 -- against a Marlins team with a .673 OPS against left-handers. I cringe at the idea of anything resembling a Zito endorsement, but let's face it, he has averaged 5 1/3 innings, seven hits and two earned runs allowed in his past three starts, and that doesn't seem an outrageous expectation here. I'll leave it up to you whether that's useful in your league. ... Matt Garza has historically dominated the Orioles, with a 4-0 record, 3.54 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in five career starts against them. You know what to do. ... With Eric Gagne's shoulder acting up, expect Salomon Torres to get the call should the Brewers have a save chance on Friday. ... Oakland's offense isn't one of the better ones in the game, making Tim Wakefield a decent deep-mixed and AL-only option. Really, the least appealing part of his matchup is that Rich Harden is his counterpart.
Three Friday games are weatherproof: Royals-Blue Jays, Orioles-Rays and Phillies-Astros. But who needs weatherproofing when you've got weather as clean and crisp as Friday's? Only five cities have even a chance of rain, and none more than 30 percent. Florida, San Diego and Los Angeles are three of those, yet those three cities have seen a grand total of four postponements since Opening Day 2004, three of them as a result of Hurricane Frances in Florida in September 2004. In other words, the only real threats of bad weather are to Diamondbacks-Braves and Mets-Rockies, and they're slim threats at that.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.