Saturday's slate features a six-pack of fantasy aces, the return of a 19-game winner from last season, a home start for a pitcher who struck out 13 batters in his most recent outing and a start for a pitcher who hasn't toed the big league rubber in six years. An interesting day, to say the least.
Matchups for Saturday, July 26
Milton Bradley, OF, Rangers (forearm)
Jeff Clement, C, Mariners (fingernail)
Joe Crede, 3B, White Sox (back)
Jim Edmonds, OF, Cubs (knee)
Mark Ellis, 2B, A's (shoulder)
Mike Hampton, SP, Braves (chest/hamstring)
Orlando Hudson, 2B, Diamondbacks (shin)
Chipper Jones, 3B, Braves (hamstring)
Manny Ramirez, OF, Red Sox (knee)
Mark Teahen, OF, Royals (back)
Frank Thomas, DH, A's (quadriceps)
Start 'em, sit 'em
Hitters: You might think about benching some hitters for Texas after reviewing Justin Duchscherer's WHIP to find it is below 1.00, but keep Michael Young active. Young has enjoyed a .526 average against the A's converted reliever (10-for-19). Frank Thomas will be testing his knee Friday, and could return without a rehab assignment. Rangers' rookie Matt Harrison is on the docket Saturday, so the Big Hurt is irrelevant in the matchup (.581 OPS versus lefties this season). Edwin Encarnacion gets to face lefty Jorge De La Rosa, and therefore makes the cut for your lineup. Encarnacion is hitting .330 with a .983 OPS versus southpaws this season. Check Milton Bradley's status from Friday before setting Saturday's lineup. Bradley isn't expected to miss time after being hit by a pitch, but you never know with him. No one would blame you for benching Mark Teixeira, Kelly Johnson or Yunel Escobar. They each have an average at or worse than .100 versus Cole Hamels and each have at least 10 career at-bats against him. In fact, with Chipper Jones banged up the only Brave you should be committed to Saturday is Brian McCann. The Atlanta lineup is a combined 28-for-140 (.200) versus Hamels. Manny Ramirez needs to be watched closely after missing Wednesday's game with a sore knee. You don't want to burn a roster spot on him Saturday if he doesn't start, but Manny's been on a hot streak, so you want him in your lineup if he plays Friday, especially with David Ortiz back in the order. Expect to have Joe Crede back in your lineup by Saturday's games. He is expected to play Friday after missing two games. Crede is a decent 8-for-24 (.333) against Detroit's Justin Verlander. A few Brewers are in for a good fantasy day. Against Brandon Backe, Mike Cameron is 6-for-17 (1.206 OPS), Corey Hart is 6-for-15 (1.200 OPS) and Ryan Braun is 5-for-11 with two home runs and a double (1.591 OPS). Alex Gordon has enough trouble as it is with lefties, so it's not surprising to learn that Scott Kazmir has kept him in check (0-for-6). It is, however, surprising to learn that teammate Jose Guillen, who usually thrives off of southpaws (.913 OPS this season), is also a big 0-for-6 versus Kazmir.
Pitchers: Some great fantasy aces to choose from on Saturday's slate. Rich Harden, Cole Hamels, Justin Duchscherer, Scott Kazmir, Tim Lincecum and Brandon Webb are all no-brainer starts.
Andy Pettitte was tagged for five runs in 4 2/3 innings on July 3 against the Red Sox, and although he has pitched well since then, the lefty has a poor record against Boston. The Red Sox lineup is a combined 100-for-270 against Pettitte, for a .370 average and the team OPS is .966. Of all the current Red Sox who have faced Pettitte, only the injured Julio Lugo and the sparsely used Alex Cora don't have a .300 batting average or better against the veteran lefty.
Tim Wakefield has pitched into the seventh in 10 straight starts, allowing two runs or fewer in seven of them, and not allowing any more than four runs in the others. That is a model of consistency. Over many years, Wakefield has kept the Yankees' tough lineup in check. New York's lineup has combined for more than 500 at-bats versus the knuckleballer and has an average of just .247. Can you guess who I think wins the Pettitte versus Wakefield matchup?
He may not get you a win, but Scott Baker is a great start against the Indians. In 14 innings, he has allowed just two runs to Cleveland this season. He is 0-1 for his efforts, though.
Justin Verlander has been on a roll lately (6-0 with a 2.30 ERA in his past eight starts) and he did four-hit the White Sox on June 11, but his career numbers versus the team aren't so encouraging. Verlander is a career 2-6 with a 5.45 ERA versus the White Sox. Jermaine Dye, A.J. Pierzynski and Jim Thome all have at least 27 at-bats versus Verlander and have an OPS better than 1.000 against him (Thome has five home runs, Dye and Pierzynski with three). Throw in Nick Swisher, who is a career 6-for-25 with three home runs versus the Tigers ace (.961 OPS). I'll take Verlander on my fantasy team any day, but I'm going to usually hold him back against Chicago.
I don't want to say that John Danks has turned back into a pumpkin just yet, but he has allowed as many earned runs in his past two starts as he did in the seven starts prior to that. The Tigers have been tearing the cover off the ball lately (.936 OPS past week) and nobody will blame you for not starting Danks here.
It is exciting to get 19-game winner Fausto Carmona back for your fantasy rotation, but let's see if his control returned following two months with a hip injury. His control wasn't even there before he was injured in May, as Carmona walked 38 in 58 innings. Wait to see if the walks are down before using him.
Hitters: Ramon Hernandez has been on a hot streak of late, but is still owned in only 40 percent of ESPN leagues. Beyond his three home runs in his past four starts, Hernandez is 6-for-18 (.333) with a home run and three doubles against the Angels' Jon Garland. Jeff Mathis has homered in two straight games entering Friday. Eligible at second and third, Ian Stewart has 11 RBIs in his previous five games coming into Friday. Homer Bailey is, by no means, a tough matchup for him. Esteban German has stolen a base in three of the past five games he has started for Kansas City, and could get more playing time with Joey Gathright hitting the DL. Brad Wilkerson should get a start for the Blue Jays, as he is 10-for-18 (.556) with a 1.389 OPS versus Carlos Silva. Don't bench Randy Winn just because Brandon Webb is on the mound for Arizona. Winn is 14-for-33 (.424) with a pair of doubles and triples against the Diamondbacks ace. Jason Kubel is a .462 hitter against Fausto Carmona (6-for-13). He hasn't hit a home run since May 15, but Andruw Jones has two career home runs and a .417 average in 12 at-bats against Odalis Perez. Matt Joyce is hitting .345 with a 1.138 OPS at home, where he has hit six of his 10 home runs.
Pitchers: Dave Bush is getting the nod as fifth starter only in home starts, and he'll be in the friendly confines on Saturday. That means use him. Bush is 4-2 with a 2.49 ERA in Miller Park and is coming off an eight-inning, 13-strikeout performance June 10.
You know to take the following with a grain of salt: Mike Hampton may come off the DL and pitch in place of Jo-Jo Reyes on Saturday. Yeah, and a flying spaghetti monster might bat third in the lineup. But seriously, Hampton does look close to returning so, as always, a speculative pickup in deep leagues can't hurt as long as you keep him benched. As for Reyes, there is a reason he is the one on the bubble in the Braves rotation. He is 0-5 with a 7.65 ERA in his past five starts. You don't want to use him against a Phillies team that has 18 hits off him in 14 innings this season.
The Cubs are definitely a tougher matchup for Marlins' rookie Chris Volstad, but he is pitching to contact and racking up ground-ball outs. He has allowed 31 ground balls compared to 12 fly balls; that kind of ratio works against any offense. He may not walk away with a win, thanks to Chicago countering with Rich Harden, but Volstad should get you six quality innings with the potential for half a dozen strikeouts.
If there is one thing the Mariners' hitters have done well this season, it's hit lefties (.760 OPS). For that reason, I'm down on starting Blue Jays' rookie David Purcey. However, with 121 strikeouts and only 34 walks in 117 Triple-A innings this year, Purcey is very intriguing for deep leagues. He is expected to get a long look in the rotation.
Homer Bailey finally got back into the quality-start range in his most recent outing, but he is still a long way from being usable in everyday fantasy, especially against a team with an OPS better than 1.000 in the past week.
Feel like rolling the dice in your extremely deep league where most starting pitchers are spoken for? Try the Mets' Brandon Knight. He hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2001 with the Yankees and almost retired from baseball last offseason. Now, he is 5-1 with a 1.60 ERA for Triple-A New Orleans and is coming off a 12-strikeout, six-inning shutout performance before his call-up.
There is just a 30 percent chance of rain or isolated thunderstorms in Kansas City (Rays-Royals), Cleveland (Twins-Indians), Detroit (White Sox-Tigers) and Pittsburgh (Padres-Pirates). The chance increases to 40 percent in Cincinnati (Rockies-Reds). Weatherproof games will be played in Toronto (Mariners-Blue Jays) and Milwaukee (Astros-Brewers).
Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.