Kershaw in a great matchup

Major League Baseball's traditional "first half" draws to a close this weekend, and with a busy, ace-filled Sunday that includes a doubleheader between the division rival Cubs and Cardinals, no less. Fantasy owners might find it difficult picking and choosing their pitching matchups on that Sunday, especially in a Dodgers-Brewers game featuring two of the game's most exciting young hurlers, Clayton Kershaw and Yovani Gallardo. Consider it a good day to play for ratios and K's, but not wins.

Saturday's matchups aren't quite as stellar pitching-wise, not that there aren't a decent share of aces going then, including Matt Cain, Cole Hamels and Johan Santana. But the big stories on that day are Johnny Cueto's attempt to bounce back from a miserable outing at Philadelphia, an attempt which unfortunately will come against Santana and the Mets on the road; and Ricky Romero looking to extend his string of dominant starts in another challenging matchup at Baltimore.

For starters

Starting pitcher rankings for July 11, 2009

Rk.: The author's ranking of that pitcher for that day only. T: Pitcher throws left-handed or right-handed. W-L: Pitcher's win-loss record. ERA: Pitcher's earned run average. WHIP: Pitcher's average number of walks plus hits surrendered per inning. K/9: Pitcher's average number of strikeouts per nine innings. OPSA: Pitcher's on-base plus slugging percentage surrendered to opponents. OPS: Pitcher's opponent's composite team on-base plus slugging percentage. CT%: Pitcher's opponent's success rate putting the ball in play (versus striking out).

Selected notes: Johan Santana might not be getting much run support -- the Mets have scored no more than three runs in any of his past five starts and have scored seven runs total during that time -- but the Reds present the kind of offense he can dominate in a 2-1 or 1-0 game if need be. Citi Field absolutely seems to agree with him; he's 6-2 with a 2.08 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in nine starts there. … If Mike Hampton can dominate the Pirates, what do you think Cole Hamels might do against them? Pittsburgh ranks 26th in the majors in team OPS versus left-handers (.693), and Hamels has back-to-back-to-back quality starts at home, during which time he has 18 strikeouts in 21 innings. … Ricky Romero is in the midst of a streak of seven consecutive quality starts, during which time he's 5-1 with a 2.22 ERA and 1.11 WHIP, including victories over some pretty decent opponents (Phillies twice, Yankees, Rangers on the road). Baltimore ranks 27th in baseball in team OPS versus left-handers (.692), so there's no reason to expect his streak will be snapped. … Jason Marquis has had quality starts in eight of his past 10, and has a 7-2 record, 2.49 ERA and 1.23 WHIP during that span. That streak began with a victory over these Braves on May 18, when Marquis threw eight innings of one-run baseball, and he hasn't been hit hard at Coors Field since May 13 (9 ERs, 10 H's, in 3 2/3 innings versus Astros). Consider it a favorable matchup. … Mike Hampton has back-to-back quality starts since returning from the disabled list, and while those came against the Padres and Pirates, it's not like a matchup against the Nationals is all that much tougher. A hot offense from earlier in the year, Washington has seen its team OPS against left-handers slip to a 19th-ranked .743, which plays in the southpaw's favor. … Jered Weaver might have three wins in five career starts versus the Yankees, but he also has one loss, a 6.11 ERA and 1.46 WHIP in them. That it's a home start -- he has a 3.14 career ERA at home -- and has been pitching fairly effectively of late suggests you should lean more toward starting him. … Kevin Millwood might have endured his share of struggles against the division rival Angels in his past two starts (13 ERs, 11 1/3 IP), but in his six starts before that he was 4-1 with a 1.55 ERA and 1.18 WHIP, facing vastly similar offenses to that of the Mariners. Sure, he allowed five runs on eight hits, two of them home runs, in 7 1/3 innings at Safeco Field on May 4, but he won that game, and might very well win this one, too. … Andy Pettitte's matchup against the Angels is a perfect convergence of favorable factors (4-1 record, 2.79 ERA in seven road starts) and unfavorable factors (1-2 record, 7.53 ERA in six starts versus the Angels since putting back on the pinstripes in 2007). He's 3-3 with a 5.22 ERA and 1.59 WHIP in his past seven starts, though, so lean more toward it being "unfavorable." … Would you use Johnny Cueto in his very next start following a two-thirds inning, nine-run nightmare on the road? He battles Santana in his follow-up turn and the offense backing him is highly unlikely to generate many runs at pitching-friendly Citi Field, so keep him on the sidelines until after the All-Star break. … Until John Smoltz shows you he can manage at least a quality start -- he's 0-for-3 in that department -- he's a shaky fantasy option. Remember, the light-hitting Athletics got to him in his most recent start at home, so don't put a ton of stock in the Royals' low offensive ranking. … Don't fear Jair Jurrjens' matchup at Coors Field any more than just that he's pitted against Marquis. Jurrjens has a 2.45 ERA and 1.43 WHIP (respectable by Coors standards) in two career starts there, so he should be able to keep the ballgame close.

Starting pitcher rankings for July 12, 2009

Rk.: The author's ranking of that pitcher for that day only. T: Pitcher throws left-handed or right-handed. W-L: Pitcher's win-loss record. ERA: Pitcher's earned run average. WHIP: Pitcher's average number of walks plus hits surrendered per inning. K/9: Pitcher's average number of strikeouts per nine innings. OPSA: Pitcher's on-base plus slugging percentage surrendered to opponents. OPS: Pitcher's opponent's composite team on-base plus slugging percentage. CT%: Pitcher's opponent's success rate putting the ball in play (versus striking out).

Selected notes: Justin Verlander has been lights out against the Indians this season, winning both his starts against them while striking out 22 batters in 16 innings. … In that much-anticipated matchup of young starters, both Clayton Kershaw and Yovani Gallardo warrant your attention, despite the fact only one of them can actually get the win. Kershaw is 3-0 with a 0.61 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 33 strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings in his past five starts, Gallardo 3-4 albeit with a 2.62 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 55 K's in 44 2/3 innings in his past seven starts (and he's the one working at home, besides). Those are hot streaks you cannot possibly bench. … J.A. Happ is in the midst of a streak of four consecutive quality starts, during which not only does he have a 2.17 ERA and 1.17 WHIP, but has also averaged a very healthy 7 1/3 innings per turn. He'll be going up against a Pittsburgh team with a .693 OPS against left-handers, fifth-worst in the majors, so don't be afraid at all of the assignment coming at home. … Mike Pelfrey tends to be a heck of a lot safer matchups play in home starts than on the road, with a 3.43 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in 27 starts at home between this and last season. He'll also be battling a Reds offense ranked 29th in the majors against right-handers in terms of OPS (.702). … Expect Erik Bedard to have his pitch count bumped up a bit in his second start since returning from the disabled list, perhaps throwing as many as in the low-90s, maybe 95. He already limited the Rangers to one run while striking out seven in a previous meeting this season, so while he might not record that many outs on a slightly limited pitch count, the results should still be start-worthy for fantasy. … Jordan Zimmermann has a 2.41 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 31 strikeouts in 33 2/3 innings in his past six starts, and he'll be going up against an Astros team that ranks 25th in the game in OPS against right-handers (.711). That's a big-time sleeper play. … Rookie Marc Rzepczynski is coming off an astoundingly good major league debut this past Tuesday, going six innings and striking out seven while allowing only one run, and he had stellar minor league numbers before his promotion, too. If you're looking for a reason to warrant spot starting him, here it is: He'll be battling an Orioles offense that ranks 27th in the majors in OPS against lefties (.692). … What stands in Randy Wells' road to success on Sunday is that his opponent is Adam Wainwright, which is truly a brutal matchup, especially if the win is your priority. Wells does have four consecutive wins in as many starts and a 2.36 ERA during that span, so if you can live without that "W," he's worth a look except in the shallowest of mixed leagues. Still, it's not an elite matchup for him. … Kyle Lohse did throw six shutout innings of two-hit baseball in his most recent start for Triple-A Memphis, and he has a 3.21 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in his three career starts at Wrigley Field. Still, he might need a little time to get back into his groove, so while NL-only owners can consider him as a spot-start sleeper, the smarter move is to probably wait another turn on him. … John Lackey hasn't been especially sharp of late, with a 2-3 record, 5.22 ERA and 1.51 WHIP in his past six starts, and he's 4-7 with a 4.81 ERA and 1.55 WHIP in 15 career starts against the Yankees. Oh, and he'll be going up against CC Sabathia, which doesn't at all favor him on the matchups front.

Now batting (Weekend)

Hitters' count

Victor Martinez, 1B, Indians: He's got four career home runs off Justin Verlander, so definitely make sure he's in your lineup come Sunday.
Brandon Inge, 3B, Tigers: The newest AL All-Star is hitting .300 against the Indians this season.
Cristian Guzman, SS, Nationals: He's batting .313 against the Astros in 2009 and even better (.375) against Brian Moehler.
Aaron Rowand, OF, Giants: Rowand is due, in the midst of an 0-for-14 stretch. He's had success against the Padres this season, with a .316 batting average.
Ian Kinsler, 2B, Rangers: Kinsler has a .314 lifetime average against this weekend's scheduled Seattle starters.
Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Cubs: Back from injury, three games for the price of two with a Sunday doubleheader and a .344 average against the St. Louis staff. What's not to like?
Vernon Wells, OF, Blue Jays: He's in the middle of a seven-game hitting streak, and batting .474 against the combo of Brad Bergesen and Jeremy Guthrie.

Pitchers' count

Edwin Encarnacion, 3B, Reds: Good to see him back on the field, but we'll be benching him against Mike Pelfrey thanks to a .143 career mark.
Jason Giambi, OF, Athletics: He's hitting only .190 on the road this season, and is 1-for-21 against the duo of Matt Garza and James Shields.
Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Mariners: He's hitting only .268 for July despite an eight-game hitting streak, which might come to an end against Dustin Nippert, against whom he has an OBP of .143.
David DeJesus, OF, Royals: DeJesus is batting just .216 on the road this year, and only .154 against Josh Beckett.
David Ortiz, DH, Red Sox: He'll be OK against Gil Meche, but not against Bruce Chen. Ortiz sports a .231 slugging percentage against Chen in 13 at-bats.
Alex Rodriguez, 3B, Yankees: He's hit safely in 13 of his past 14 games, but A-Rod is only a .191 hitter against John Lackey in 47 career at-bats.

If you're hardcore

Luis Castillo, 2B, Mets: He's actually hitting 15 points above his season average in July, and is 8-for-13 against the combo of Johnny Cueto and Aaron Harang.
Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates: The speedy Pirates outfielder is hitting .314 on the road, and there's a lot of outfield gap to shoot for in Citizens Bank Park.
Martin Prado, 1B, Braves: There's no way you leave Prado out of your lineup with his hot .421 average over the month of June, especially not headed to Coors Field.
Ryan Spilborghs, OF, Rockies: Spilborghs is hitting .379 against the Braves since 2006, with three home runs.
Skip Schumaker, 2B, Cardinals: Another little-owned player (13.1 percent) flourishing so far this summer with a .375 July average.
Mat Gamel, 3B, Brewers: There's been a concerted effort in Milwaukee to give Gamel more playing time, and he has a hit in five of the past six games he's started.
Mike Redmond, C, Twins: His forearm has been causing him some concern lately, but if he plays against Mark Buerhle, get him in your lineup. He's a career .455 hitter against him.
Scott Podsednik, OF, White Sox: He's reached base safely in every game so far in July and 13 straight overall.


Injury list: Out

Geovany Soto, C, Cubs (left oblique strain): Almost assuredly will be rested through the All-Star break.
Fernando Martinez, OF, Mets (15-day DL, knee)
Ronald Belisario, P, Dodgers (15-day DL, elbow)

Injury list: Day-to-day

Curtis Granderson, OF, Tigers (exhaustion): Granderson just needs a rest, and with his election to the All-Star team, Jim Leyland might sit him out longer than just Friday to give it to him.
Ryan Doumit, C, Pirates (wrist): Word from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is that Doumit may be back this weekend. Very interesting!
Hanley Ramirez, SS, Marlins (hip flexor): Still battling the injury, he may finally be ready to get back into the starting lineup this weekend.
Cesar Izturis, SS, Orioles (recovery from appendectomy): Izturis is finally ready to resume play after missing more than a month. He can be activated as early as Friday.
Chipper Jones, 3B, Braves (groin): What else is new here? Chipper's going to be in and out of the lineup for the rest of the season, so it seems.

Weather concerns

• This weekend's weatherproof games: Athletics-Rays, White Sox-Twins, Dodgers-Brewers, Nationals-Astros, Marlins-Diamondbacks and Rangers-Mariners.
• Both Saturday and Sunday should be generally baseball-friendly for most of the country, except in Colorado and Baltimore which have a weekend full of thunderstorms in the forecast. Other than a few showers in Philadelphia on Saturday, and temperatures in the high-50s on tap in San Francisco, the rest of the games played outdoors should go off under sunny skies, without a hitch.

AJ Mass is a fantasy baseball, football and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here.