Whatever the reason, Brandon Webb isn't only having issues with cracking the 20-win plateau; he is slowly imploding along the way. Webb has a 12.51 ERA in his past three starts, allowing four home runs in the process (he's surrendered only nine in the other 27 starts he has made). Believe it or not, though, his ERA of 3.42 is actually not at its worst point of the season. That came July 3 after a five-earned-run debacle against the Brewers which raised Webb's ERA to 3.43. Five starts later, Webb was back to a sub-3.00 ERA, though. As long as his troubles are not of a physical nature (he did take a comebacker in the ribs Aug. 21, before the slide began), he should bounce back and give his owners a few more positive starts.
But as for using him here in this matchup with the Reds, I'm the more conservative type and would recommend you wait until you see a tangible improvement in his performance before sliding him back into your lineup.
Note: The Astros-Cubs matchups have been called off for Friday and Saturday due to Hurricane Ike.
Matchups for Friday, Sept. 12
All times are ET.
Ronnie Belliard, 1B/2B/3B, Nationals (wrist)
Troy Glaus, 3B, Cardinals (shoulder)
Carlos Guillen, 1B/SS/3B, Tigers (back)
Fred Lewis, OF, Giants (foot)
Brandon Phillips, 2B, Reds (finger)
Jack Wilson, SS, Pirates (finger)
Erick Aybar, 2B/SS, Angels (hamstring)
Adrian Beltre, 3B, Mariners (thumb)
Milton Bradley, OF, Rangers (wrist)
Chris Dickerson, OF, Reds (ankle)
J.D. Drew, OF, Red Sox (back)
Mark Ellis, 2B, A's (shoulder)
Jody Gerut, OF, Padres (finger)
Torii Hunter, OF, Angels (quadriceps)
Gabe Kapler, OF, Brewers (shoulder)
Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox (knee)
Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays (wrist)
Yadier Molina, C, Cardinals (thigh)
Melvin Mora, 3B, Orioles (hamstring)
Troy Percival, RP, Rays (undisclosed)
Freddy Sanchez, 2B, Pirates (blurred vision)
B.J. Upton, 2B/OF, Rays (quadriceps)
Start 'em, sit 'em
Hitters: Carlos Pena and B.J. Upton both enjoy a contest with Sidney Ponson. Pena is batting .417 in 12 at-bats against the veteran righty, while Upton is 7-for-12 (.583). Although Gil Meche has had some success against the Indians, Jhonny Peralta consistently gets to him. In 29 career at-bats, Peralta has 12 hits (.414 BA), including a double and two home runs. Justin Verlander and the White Sox: a brief and tumultuous history. Jim Thome has six home runs and 10 RBIs in 32 at-bats; Jermaine Dye has four home runs and a .361 average in 26 at-bats; A.J. Pierzynski has a .344 average, 12 RBIs and three home runs in 32 at-bats; and Nick Swisher has three home runs in 30 at-bats. Garrett Atkins might be a bench choice. He is 0-for-13 against Chad Billingsley.
Pitchers: You know my rule with Justin Verlander by now: Don't start him against the White Sox. Well, he's up against the White Sox again in this matchup. Some of the individual numbers are noted above, and let me remind you he is 1-4 this season against Chicago with a 6.09 ERA. For his career, Verlander is 2-8 with a 6.01 ERA versus the White Sox.
Why do I still feel the need to justify Cliff Lee in some way? He's 21-2! But he is also 4-0 with a 2.15 ERA in four starts against Kansas City this season. Chad Billingsley is 6-2 with a 2.48 ERA in his past 11 outings. That's why I will offer only the facts and not an opinion here: Billingsley is 0-2 with an 8.76 ERA in three career appearances (two starts) at Coors Field. However, the Rockies have the worst OPS in the league in September (.611).
Hitters: Eric Hinske fares well against Yankees starter Sidney Ponson. In 29 career at-bats, Hinske has three doubles, a home run and a .310 batting average. Despite all his success this year, Cliff Lee still doesn't have the best of John Buck. Buck is 12-for-34 in his career against Lee (.353 BA) with three doubles (two of them this season) and three career home runs. Cleveland's impressive young outfield pair of Ben Francisco and Franklin Gutierrez can take a seat when Gil Meche is on the docket. Gutierrez is 1-for-10 against Meche, while Francisco is hitless in nine at-bats. Rajai Davis' hot streak continues, and his eight runs and eight RBIs in the past week look even better next to his three stolen bases and home run. Besides getting angry at Mike Pelfrey, Elijah Dukes has also been hitting home runs lately. Dukes has three jacks in his past four games. Getting a fair shake of the playing time behind the plate for the Rangers, Taylor Teagarden has two home runs and a .462 average in his past 13 at-bats.
Pitchers: The widely available Gil Meche (36 percent owned in ESPN leagues), is one of your better spot-start candidates Friday, but the trouble with Meche is that he cannot be counted on for a win. Meche has allowed just four total earned runs in his past four starts against Cleveland, including seven innings of one-run ball Sunday when he struck out 10. Up against Cliff Lee and his 21 wins though, all we can ask for are strikeouts and a quality start.
If you need the win that desperately, Scott Baker is your better bet, though he doesn't come with Meche's strong ratios or strikeout numbers. Baker, however, is coming off four straight quality starts and going up against an offense that is second-worst in OPS through the first 10 days of September. Baltimore is also trotting out a pitcher, Daniel Cabrera, who should allow the Twins' offense to easily back Baker for the win. Cabrera's 7.71 August ERA is quite telling, and his one start in September ended in the fourth inning when he walked his sixth batter.
I know he still seems appealing because of his 10 wins (and for some bizarre reason, he is owned in as many leagues as Meche), but Manny Parra hasn't been an asset since July. He has won only one of his past nine starts and has worked beyond the sixth inning just once in that span. Parra's most recent start went in the books as a quality start, but only because five of the six runs he allowed were unearned.
Going a little deeper, the Rangers' Matt Harrison is yet another terrific lefty-versus-Oakland matchup to exploit. The A's, remember, have the worst team OPS this season versus lefties by a decent margin (.643 OPS). Harrison already has a 7-3 record this season, thanks to his team's offense backing him up for wins even when he isn't throwing quality starts, and one of those wins already came in Oakland.
Just a reminder, after David Purcey's August 27 eight-inning gem, the Toronto rookie imploded for five earned runs in three innings in his next outing. Though coming off yet another eight-inning performance worthy of accolades, you should be wary of starting the mercurial rookie; especially against the Boston Red Sox.
Scott Olsen has been decent at home this season (3.33 ERA) and decent in three starts against the Nationals (3.48 ERA). Therefore, he should be decent at home against the Nationals, despite the fact he is 0-6 in his past nine starts.
Jeff Francis is up to five straight quality starts in a row, and he has a 2.49 ERA in four starts against the Dodgers this season. He is worth some attention here, though I might hold off until he is on the road again.
Troy Percival was pulled for undisclosed injury reasons Wednesday. Consider Dan Wheeler for your lineup in the hunt for saves.
Showers could affect a wide swath of the country Friday. Most significant would be Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Denver. There is a 70 percent chance of showers forecast for the Cardinals-Pirates contest, and a 60 percent chance of rain for the games in Cleveland (Royals-Indians) and Denver (Dodgers-Rockies). There is a 50 percent chance of showers in the morning in Chicago, so the field should be OK by the time the Tigers-White Sox game starts. A 40 percent chance of scattered thunderstorms in Miami could affect the Nationals-Marlins game, and a 30 percent chance of evening showers in Baltimore could impact the Twins-Orioles contest. The Reds-Diamondbacks matchup is weather proof. The Astros-Cubs games for Friday and Saturday have been called off due to Hurricane Ike.
Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.