Sunday brings its typical 15-game schedule, but only a few include potential shutdown aces, so there are a lot of matchups to play around with. Some of the more intriguing storylines include Pedro Martinez attempting to parlay a recent increase in strikeouts (14 in his past 12 innings) into consistent success, and Carlos Zambrano trying to correct his recent struggles as he faces a tough Phillies lineup. The day's premier pitching matchup probably would be the nightcap, as Derek Lowe and Brandon Webb face off in Arizona.
Matchups for Sunday, August 31
All times are ET.
Miguel Cabrera, 1B/3B, Tigers (pectoral)
Ray Durham, 2B, Brewers (shoulder)
Mark Ellis, 2B, A's (shoulder)
Carlos Guillen, 1B/SS/3B, Tigers (back)
Matt Joyce, OF, Tigers (flu)
Casey Kotchman, 1B, Braves (bereavement)
Fred Lewis, OF, Giants (thigh)
Melvin Mora, 3B, Orioles (hamstring)
Dioner Navarro, C, Rays (hamstrings)
Start 'em, sit 'em
Hitters: Jay Bruce has seen his average drop 36 points since the All-Star break, thanks in large part to an awful 40-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. With a stat like that, it makes sense to sit him at least against the tougher pitchers in the league, and Sunday's matchup versus Matt Cain, who strikes out his fair number of batters, should serve as a good chance to do that. The Mariners are hitting a respectable (and surprising) .291 as a team in August, and the few fantasy-worthy hitters on the team are particularly adept at hitting southpaws: Adrian Beltre hits .311, Raul Ibanez .317 and Jose Lopez a robust .323. Victor Martinez was activated from the disabled list Friday after going 8-for-26 during his rehab assignment, and he went 1-for-3 with a walk Friday while playing first base. It's safe to get him back in your active lineup. Roy Halladay has a 2.48 ERA against the Yankees in four starts this season, which shouldn't come as any surprise. Halladay usually pitches well against the Yankees, as the head-to-head matchups of some of the Yankees' vets display. Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Robinson Cano have been the only regulars to have much success against Halladay, with Bobby Abreu (4-for-24), Hideki Matsui (10-for-43) and Derek Jeter (19-for-75) notably struggling. Tim Wakefield simply owns Jim Thome and Jermaine Dye. Thome is 6-for-49 (.122) against him, and Dye is only slightly better (.214 in 42 career at-bats). Luke Scott is a productive fantasy outfielder, at least when he's hitting against right-handed pitching (.283 average, 17 home runs in 307 at-bats). He has been in the zone of late, too, hitting .351 with a 13-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio so far in August. Troy Glaus has been wholly ineffective against lefties this season, hitting 70 points worse than against righties, and his slugging dropping is 100 points lower. It would be a good idea to sit him against Sunday's opposing pitcher, Wandy Rodriguez. Russell Martin (6-for-18), James Loney (6-for-15) and Andre Ethier (7-for-15) are the only Dodgers who don't mind facing Brandon Webb, who has an unbelievable 1.19 ERA his past nine starts against the Dodgers (spanning four years).
Pitchers: Although Pedro Martinez was touched up for seven hits -- including two home runs -- and five runs in five innings against the Phillies in his most recent start, there's reason for optimism. All the damage occurred in the final five batters of his outing: a sacrifice fly to Feliz, a double, a home run, a walk and another home run. Considering he was perhaps fatigued while tossing 110 pitches, and had eight strikeouts, he could be in line for a nice bounce-back outing against the Marlins, whose offense has collapsed in August and has struck out more than any other team in the majors this season.
Jair Jurrjens has allowed 12 runs (10 earned) in his past two starts, which is quite worrisome, especially when you consider his lackluster peripherals have had owners waiting for the other shoe to drop for quite some time. Considering he lasted just three innings versus the Marlins in his most recent start, not even a matchup against the Nationals makes him worth the risk.
Gavin Floyd got roughed up for seven hits and five runs in a start earlier this month versus the Red Sox, and that doesn't seem far off from expectation for Sunday's start now that Floyd's luck has regressed to the mean a bit. Even a banged-up Red Sox lineup is a patient and dangerous team, so don't try your luck this time around either.
James Shields has a 3.00 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in three starts against the Orioles, but it's worth noting that he also has allowed four unearned runs and has just nine strikeouts against 20 hits allowed in 21 innings. Plus, the Orioles have been flat-out raking in the second half, so don't think it's automatic that you start Shields.
Wandy Rodriguez's impressive 3.18 ERA the past two years when pitching in Minute Maid Park normally makes him an ideal pitcher to spot-start, and fortunately a normally tough matchup versus the Cardinals' offense is negated considering they don't hit southpaws well. Rodriguez is sporting a 1.45 ERA and 0.96 WHIP after three previous meetings versus the Cards this season, so start him and reap the benefits.
You really have no choice but to bench Carlos Zambrano versus the Phillies. Zambrano's past four starts have been beyond ugly, soaring past putrid, leaving his owners well into the blank-look-of-disbelief stage. To review the damage: He has issued 14 walks to 16 strikeouts, has six home runs allowed and 21 runs allowed in 21 2/3 innings. Worse, the Phillies' bats have come alive after slumbering for much of August; they're hitting .281/.369/.458 as a team over the past week.
It seems every time I dare to recommend even the most promising starters in a matchup against the Rangers, the Rangers do what they normally do and knock that guy around. So even though Lackey is sporting a sub-3.00 ERA, the smart thing to do is sit him, and if you need a reminder, the Rangers' bats knocked him around for 15 hits in a single start earlier this season.
Scott Baker has a good shot at one of the day's best starts, facing a hapless A's squad.
Hitters: Since being called up from Double-A on August 14, Pablo Sandoval has started six games at first base, five at catcher and three at third base, proving that the Giants are committed to getting him in the lineup. Currently he qualifies in fantasy leagues at the scarcest of those positions, catcher, and Sandoval is also intriguing with his bat, too: He hit .351 in 390 at-bats between Single-A and Double-A before his call-up, is just 21, and is hitting a sparkling .372 with five extra-base hits (one home run) since joining the Giants. After Sean Allen noted Elijah Dukes' increased production in his Saturday notes, Dukes followed up with a two-homer, four-RBI game, with a steal to boot. Consider that recommendation seconded; he's available in a ridiculous 95.8 percent of leagues, but not for long. Justin Upton was activated from the disabled list Friday, but the 27 percent of the ESPN owners who held on to him might not find much use for him, considering his playing time is uncertain. He has been useless on the road, and mostly useless against right-handers, and the D-Backs have plenty of alternatives when Upton is not hitting.
Pitchers: After allowing an absurd 19 home runs in 104 innings in 20 starts prior to the All-Star break, Bronson Arroyo has limited the damage to just five homers in 55 2/3 innings in eight starts since. He has seen an increase in his walk rate and a decrease in his strikeout rate, but he also has allowed two runs or less in four of his past five starts, making him a safe play versus the Giants.
Gil Meche was roughed up by the Rangers in his latest start, ending a 14-start stretch of effectiveness that saw his ERA decline from 5.54 to 4.01. Facing the Tigers on the road seems like a tough follow-up assignment, but curiously enough, Meche has been better on the road since joining the Royals, allowing just 13 home runs in a healthy 187 innings. Just as impressive, and maybe more pertinent, are his 54 strikeouts and three home runs allowed in 52 innings since the All-Star break.
Jeff Francis shut out the Padres in a dominating outing (seven innings, four baserunners allowed and seven strikeouts) all the way back in April, but it's not unreasonable to expect a similar net result Sunday. He's still facing a mediocre offense, and Francis gets to pitch in Petco for this start.
The only worrisome area is, not surprisingly, Miami, where the Mets and Marlins are scheduled to play. There's a 40 percent chance of showers expected to last throughout the day, which if anything threatens Pedro Martinez's odds for a strong start more than the Marlins' lineup. As always, there are weatherproof games in Tampa Bay (Orioles-Rays), Houston (Cardinals-Astros) and Arizona (Dodgers-Diamondbacks).
Adam Madison is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com.