There's a full slate of good games in both leagues Tuesday, and the top pitching matchup on each circuit pits playoff hopefuls against each other. Scott Kazmir will try to help his Rays fend off Boston for the AL East crown when Tampa Bay faces Daisuke Matsuzaka and the Sox at Fenway Park. The St. Louis Cardinals, five games out of the National League wild-card slot, are running out of time to make a stand. They'll send Kyle Lohse to the mound as they host Ryan Dempster and the Central-leading Cubs.
Matchups for Tuesday, Sept. 9
All times are ET.
Carl Crawford, OF, Rays (hand)
Joe Crede, 3B, White Sox (back)
Alex Gordon, 3B, Royals (quad)
Maicer Izturis, SS, Angels (thumb)
Howie Kendrick, 2B, Angels (hamstring)
Jeff Kent, 2B, Dodgers (knee)
Melvin Mora, 3B, Orioles (hamstring)
Carlos Quentin, OF, White Sox (wrist)
Frank Thomas, DH, A's (quad)
Travis Hafner, DH, Indians (shoulder)
Erick Aybar, SS, Angels (hamstring)
Ronnie Belliard, 1B, Nationals (wrist)
Milton Bradley, OF, Rangers (wrist)
Chris Dickerson, OF, Reds (ankle)
Mark Ellis, 2B, A's (shoulder)
Jody Gerut, OF, Padres (finger)
Kevin Gregg, RP, Marlins (knee)
Carlos Guillen, 3B, Tigers (back)
Aubrey Huff, DH, Orioles (personal)
Kazuo Matsui, 2B, Astros (back)
Nate McLouth, OF, Pirates (eye)
Juan Pierre, OF, Dodgers (back)
Ty Wigginton, 3B, Astros (hamstring)
Jack Wilson, SS, Pirates (finger)
Start 'em, sit 'em
Hitters: Dustin Pedroia has been money against Scott Kazmir (13-for-21, four extra-base hits), but most of his Red Sox teammates have not. David Ortiz (7-for-37, 10 K's), Kevin Youkilis (6-for-30, 13 K's), Mike Lowell (6-for-29, 9 K's) and Jason Varitek (5-for-25, 10 K's) have all struggled badly against the Rays ace. Edgar Renteria posted his best month of the season in August, with an .849 OPS, and he's hitting .333 so far in September. The Tigers' shortstop has only one career at-bat versus A's starter Dana Eveland, but he has hit lefties well this year (.333 average, .424 OBP, .481 slugging percentage). Adrian Beltre is just 7-for-36 against Vicente Padilla, but four of those hits have been home runs. Meanwhile, Mariners teammate Ichiro Suzuki is a remarkable 19-for-34 versus the Rangers veteran. Reds first baseman Joey Votto hit .382 in August and already has three multihit games and three home runs to his credit in September. He's 5-for-12 with a home run against Milwaukee's Jeff Suppan. Teammate Jay Bruce is also hot again, belting two home runs to accompany a .350/.480/.750 line so far in September. Braves second baseman Kelly Johnson has had no luck against Rockies starter Aaron Cook, going 0-for-9 in limited exposure. Johnson, however, has really heated up in September after a poor August. He's 15-for-31 with eight extra-base hits this month. Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman hit just .257/.288/.427 in the first half before missing all of June and most of July because of a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He struggled to hit for power upon his return, failing to pop even a single home run in his first 28 games back. But Zimmerman has finally found his power stroke, as he has smacked four home runs and six doubles in his past 12 games. Cardinals right-hander Kyle Lohse is having a fine season, but he has had trouble in his career with the Cubs' middle-infield duo of Mark DeRosa (8-for-16, 2 HR) and Ryan Theriot (7-for-14). Giants outfielder Randy Winn is slugging nearly 100 points higher against lefties this year, and has owned Doug Davis in his career, hitting 11-for-27 with two home runs off the Arizona veteran.
Pitchers: Orioles right-hander Jeremy Guthrie has posted an ERA below 4.00 each month this season, but Tuesday isn't the best time to use him. After allowing 12 earned runs in his past two outings, Guthrie had his start pushed back from Monday to Tuesday because of arm fatigue. Jered Weaver has been his typical effective third-starter self this season, but a 5.50 ERA made August his worst month of the season, and he faces a team in the Yankees that beat him up for 11 runs in two recent meetings. Weaver is also healing a cut on his pitching hand that caused him to miss his last start. Rockies sinkerballer Aaron Cook was smacked around in August, accruing a 5.93 ERA and 1.79 WHIP in five starts, none of which lasted longer than six innings. Last time out, Cook was rocked for six runs on 10 hits in a three-inning disaster versus the light-hitting Giants. Be forewarned. After struggling to a 4.98 first-half ERA, Mets left-hander Oliver Perez was lights-out in July (1.38 ERA) and has been solid since then. He hasn't allowed more than four runs in a start since June and should thrive against a weak Washington lineup, especially at home, where opponents are hitting just .200 off him.
Hitters: The Marlins' John Baker looks poised to provide late-season catching help. Baker hit .318/.416/.470 in August, claiming the starting job over Matt Treanor and Paul Lo Duca. Baker has been even hotter in September, hitting .444/.474/.611. He has caught seven of Tuesday starter Chris Volstad's past nine outings. Pirates second baseman Freddy Sanchez has disappointed all year, but he quietly rebounded with a .318/.341/.489 August and is on a 9-for-18 tear since the beginning of September. Sanchez is batting .295 against left-handers this season, and has had some success in limited exposure to Astros veteran Randy Wolf. Blake DeWitt is heating up. The Dodgers' third baseman is 6-for-18 with two home runs in his past six games. He's hitting .290/.395/.478 against fellow left-handers this year and homered off Padres starter Wade LeBlanc in the rookie's rocky debut last Wednesday.
Pitchers: Nick Blackburn is sporting a 3.25 second-half ERA and has allowed just two earned runs in each of his past two starts. The Minnesota right-hander owns a 2.95 home ERA and dominated the Royals in their only meeting earlier this year. Toronto right-hander Jesse Litsch has been incredible since his return from minor league exile, holding the opposition scoreless in three of his four starts. Litsch shut out Detroit for seven innings on Aug. 14, his first start since being optioned to Triple-A on July 22. He blanked the Red Sox for six innings in his next outing, then allowed three runs to the Rays in 6.2 innings. Litsch hurled a shutout against Minnesota in his last start, giving him a 0.94 ERA since his return to the rotation. Litsch beat the White Sox with 7.1 innings of two-run ball in their only previous meeting this year.
Games in Minnesota, Seattle, Houston and Milwaukee are always weatherproof, but rain throughout the eastern half of the country will threaten games at Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Atlanta.
Will Harris is a fantasy baseball and college football analyst for ESPN.com