Though eight teams will return to the field Thursday, the traditional "second half" of the baseball season begins for the other 22 squads on Friday. Among the key series kicking off Friday: Red Sox-Angels, a possible American League playoff matchup; and Dodgers-Diamondbacks, a battle for the National League West lead (albeit a somewhat uninspiring one, seeing as both teams enter the series beneath .500).
Many teams shuffled their rotations to get their better starters more turns sooner; CC Sabathia, for instance, will pitch for the Brewers on Friday on exactly four days' rest. The Blue Jays' A.J. Burnett and Pirates' Ian Snell will do the same. And among the other notable starters bumped up in the rotation to pitch Friday: The Mariners' Felix Hernandez, Dodgers' Hiroki Kuroda, Padres' Greg Maddux and Rays' James Shields.
Matchups for Friday, July 18
All times are ET.
Hank Blalock, 3B, Rangers (wrist)
Coco Crisp, OF, Red Sox (forearm)
Yunel Escobar, 2B/3B/SS, Braves (shoulder)
Brian Giles, OF, Padres (hamstring)
Bobby Jenks, RP, White Sox (back)
Magglio Ordonez, OF, Tigers (oblique)
Troy Percival, RP, Rays (hamstring)
Edgar Renteria, SS, Tigers (hamstring)
Alex Rios, OF, Blue Jays (personal)
Justin Upton, OF, Diamondbacks (oblique/rib cage)
Randy Winn, OF, Giants (knee)
Kerry Wood, RP, Cubs (finger)
Dmitri Young, 1B, Nationals (back)
Start 'em, sit 'em
Hitters: Carlos Delgado finished off his first half by batting .328 with six home runs, 17 RBIs and a 1.119 OPS in his final 18 games, and is a .324 hitter with four homers, 10 RBIs and a 1.078 OPS in eight career games in Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park. Expect his hot streak to continue against the shaky Bronson Arroyo. Another case of "obvious start," though the track record is relevant: Brandon Phillips is 3-for-5 with a double, two home runs and seven RBIs in his career against the Mets' John Maine. It's an "obvious start" kind of day, with Hanley Ramirez another -- he's 9-for-27 with four home runs lifetime against the Phillies' Jamie Moyer -- but the other Marlins track record of relevance against Moyer is that of Mike Jacobs. He's 5-for-11 with a double, three homers and six RBIs in his career against Moyer, despite the lefty-versus-lefty matchup. Jimmy Rollins is a historic second-half standout, and might kick off a fifth consecutive great second half with a favorable matchup against the Marlins' Ricky Nolasco, against whom he's 4-for-11 with a double and two home runs lifetime. Another obvious "must-start": Chipper Jones, who has ripped the Nationals' Tim Redding for a 7-for-9, two-homer, six-RBI lifetime performance. The Twins routinely light up the Rangers' Kevin Millwood as a team, batting .318 (47-for-148) with an .851 OPS lifetime against him. Home Run Derby champ Justin Morneau is a standout, in particular; he's 5-for-13 with a double, three home runs, five walks and 10 RBIs in his career against the right-hander. The White Sox as a whole hit the Royals' Zack Greinke well, especially at home, where they've treated him to an 0-5 record, 6.62 ERA and nine home runs allowed in 34 innings in seven career games (five starts). You're going to want Jermaine Dye (10-for-29, 3 doubles, 3 HR lifetime against Greinke), Alexei Ramirez (2-for-6 with a double and a homer) and Nick Swisher (4-for-11 with a homer) in your lineup for this one. The one White Sox hitter who struggles against Greinke: Paul Konerko, 4-for-33 with one homer and nine strikeouts in his career against the right-hander. And yes, this does mean Greinke is a must-sit. Still more from the "obvious start" class: Adrian Gonzalez is 5-for-10 with two doubles and two home runs in his career against the Cardinals' Braden Looper. It sure helps his cause that he's a .314 hitter with a .963 OPS against right-handers this season, too. Brad Hawpe is 3-for-6 with a triple and a home run lifetime against the Pirates' Ian Snell, and remember, the game is at Coors Field, so advantage Rockies. Be aware that Hawpe's home OPS (.894) is more than 100 points higher than his road mark (.780). Another Rockie must-start: Willy Taveras, 7-for-13 in his career against Snell, and don't read too much into the fact that he has been caught stealing three times with Snell on the mound. Matt Kemp continues to mash left-handed pitching, with a .343 batting average and .915 OPS against that side for his career, and -- surprise, surprise -- he's 5-for-11 with two triples in his career against the Diamondbacks' Doug Davis. But take a look at James Loney, too, despite it being a lefty-versus-lefty matchup. Loney is 3-for-6 with a double in his career against Davis, and a scorching .475 hitter (19-for-40) with three homers and nine RBIs in 10 career games at Arizona's Chase Field. Casey Kotchman is a perfect 3-for-3 with two doubles lifetime against the Red Sox's Clay Buchholz. The Red Sox, incredibly, have a stunningly good track record as a team against the Angels' John Lackey; they're batting a combined .315 (51-for-162) with eight homers and a .968 OPS against him lifetime. Not that this makes it an easy matchup for their hitters, but it should inspire more confidence in owners of Red Sox hitters, especially Manny Ramirez (10-for-23, 3 doubles, 4 HR lifetime against Lackey) and J.D. Drew (5-for-11 with a double and a triple). Granted, it's in limited action, but Adrian Beltre is 4-for-5 with two doubles in his career against the Indians' Aaron Laffey. It makes sense; the Mariners do hit left-handers quite a bit better than right-handers, and that very much applies to Beltre, a .351 hitter with a 1.021 OPS against that side this year. A must-sit: Mike Cameron, 2-for-22 with one extra-base hit (a double) and nine strikeouts in his career against the Giants' Matt Cain.
Pitchers: Of Mike Mussina's past eight starts, seven were quality starts, including two against the potent Rangers and Red Sox offenses. He has a 2.77 ERA and 1.13 WHIP during that span and is 3-1 with a 2.19 ERA and 0.89 WHIP in five starts against the Athletics since the beginning of 2005, so keep him in there. James Shields is 16-7 with a 3.23 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 37 career starts at Tropicana Field, including 5-1 with a 2.12 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in 10 starts this year, making him a must-start anytime he's scheduled to pitch at home. It sure helps, though, that the Blue Jays aren't great offensively, and that he's 3-0 with a 2.70 ERA in four career starts against them. And, of course, if Shields makes for a good fantasy start, opponent A.J. Burnett becomes a noticeably less appealing pick. Mark Buehrle is 16-7 with a 3.26 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 31 starts against the Royals since the beginning of 2001, including a 7 1/3-inning, six-hit, two-unearned-run outing for a hard-luck loss July 10. He has a 2.35 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in his past 11 starts, and should be a standout again Friday. If you scooped up Damaso Marte recently, this is a good game in which to use him. The Pirates should be able to get to the Rockies' Glendon Rusch, and it's clear at this point that Marte is the team's main ninth-inning guy. Hiroki Kuroda has three consecutive quality starts since his return from the DL, and is 2-0 with a 1.19 ERA and 0.66 WHIP during that span. Considering the Diamondbacks are in a real funk offensively -- they're averaging 3.54 runs per game since June 1 -- Kuroda should be in for another strong outing. I've already mentioned John Lackey's career struggles against the Red Sox -- he's 1-6 with a 6.27 ERA in 11 starts against them -- and he's coming off a dreadful outing against the Rangers (5 2/3 IP, 15 Hs, 6 ERs on July 10). It's tough to say sit the guy, especially since the struggling Clay Buchholz is his opponent, but if you're in a league with an innings/starts cap, it should be a consideration. Felix Hernandez actually has a better road ERA (2.24) than home (3.56), but for his career he has a 3.44 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 47 career starts at Safeco Field. This year's mediocre Indians offense shouldn't pose him any problems. Though the Giants do hit left-handers (.722 team OPS) better than right-handers (.695), those splits aren't severe enough to be a problem for CC Sabathia. He's 5-0 with a 1.96 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in his past seven starts, a hot streak way too good to ignore. Matt Cain should keep the score close, as he has a 3.47 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 49 career starts at home, though he's the less appealing option of the two from a wins perspective.
Hitters: Matt Joyce started each of the Tigers' final eight games of the first half against a right-hander, and is batting .261 with a .953 OPS and all of his nine home runs against that side. Keep him in there against all righties in AL-only and deep-mixed leagues, at least until Magglio Ordonez is officially activated from the DL. Not that this particular matchup is extraordinary -- at Tampa Bay against those tough-as-nails-at-home Rays pitchers -- but Adam Lind is a must-add anytime he's slated to face a right-hander. He's a .281 hitter with an .809 OPS against that side so far this year, and has considerable upside from there. Though Jim Edmonds is generally a better player at Wrigley Field than on the road, it's tough to ignore his track record against the Astros' Brian Moehler. He's a lifetime .353 hitter (12-for-34) with four doubles, five home runs, 10 RBIs and a 1.333 OPS against the right-hander. Sticking with the Cubs, check the early lineup because if Daryle Ward can sneak in a start in left field, he'd warrant NL-only and perhaps deep-mixed consideration. He's 6-for-14 with three doubles and four RBIs in his career against Moehler. Returning to that Twins-hit-Millwood thought, Jason Kubel is 3-for-7 with two doubles in his career against the right-hander. Kubel also wrapped up the season's first half batting an impressive .303 (27-for-89) with seven home runs, 15 RBIs and a 1.003 OPS in his final 28 contests. Snatch up Denard Span, too. He's playing regularly now, every inning, in fact, since his promotion June 30, and batting .375 (15-for-40) in 13 games during that span. Plus, he's a left-handed hitter who's speedy, and it's not like Millwood and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (or even Max Ramirez) represent a formidable battery in preventing opposing baserunners from stealing. Mark Teahen is a lifetime .424 hitter (14-for-33) with five doubles and three RBIs against the White Sox's Mark Buehrle, another of those rare instances of lefty-versus-lefty success. Jack Wilson is a lifetime .444 hitter (16-for-36) with two doubles, a triple and a home run without a single strikeout against the Rockies' Glendon Rusch, and a .291 hitter (25-for-86) with nine RBIs in 20 career games at Colorado's Coors Field. In an NL-only or deep-mixed format, those are trends I'd certainly exploit.
Pitchers: I'm calling Jamie Moyer a must-start for his game at Florida's Dolphin Stadium, for two reasons. One, he's a perfect 4-0 with a 1.30 ERA and 0.83 WHIP in four career starts at that ballpark, including a masterful eight-shutout-inning, two-hit effort there on June 12. Two, the Marlins don't hit left-handers especially well, with a .701 team OPS against that side that ranks them 26th in the majors. The Rays could get Troy Percival back in time for Friday's game, but more likely will wait until deeper in the weekend to activate him. Since James Shields stands the better chance at departing with the lead than the Blue Jays and A.J. Burnett, both Grant Balfour and Dan Wheeler make for useful deep-league saves bets. My choice: Wheeler. With Bobby Jenks' status for Friday 50/50 at best, both Octavio Dotel and Scott Linebrink warrant attention if you're desperate for saves. The White Sox have the starting pitching matchup advantage, yet face a Royals opponent (Zack Greinke) who could keep the score close. My choice: Dotel. I'll take Braden Looper based on the matchup, since it's a weaker day for matchups among under-the-radar starters. He's 11-8 with a 3.69 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 25 starts at home since the beginning of last season, and he'll be facing the Padres, the game's second-weakest offense in terms of runs per game (3.68). If you haven't already snatched up Jonathan Broxton, boy, you sure were napping during the All-Star break (though I could forgive those who fell asleep late Tuesday!). Race to your league's free-agent list to see if he's still out there, as he's the favorite for saves in the wake of Takashi Saito's elbow injury.
Five Friday games are weatherproof: Blue Jays-Rays, Cubs-Astros, Rangers-Twins, Dodgers-Diamondbacks and Indians-Mariners. Plus, for once, the entire northeast is scheduled to see positively brilliant weather: Temperatures around 80 degrees, clear skies, light wind. The only even moderate concern for rain is in Atlanta, where chances are 40 percent for showers and thunderstorms. There's also a 20 percent chance of rain in South Florida -- but boy, is that not shocking: a brief drizzle in South Florida.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.