Monday and Tuesday featured a healthy share of teams' fourth and fifth starters, and because Wednesday represents the sixth games of many teams' second halves, a number of aces will return to the hill for start No. 2 since the All-Star break. Two of them will square off in a battle of National League Central foes, as the Cardinals' Chris Carpenter and Astros' Roy Oswalt are set to tangle in Houston.
Not every team will throw an ace, though. Two pitchers will make their first starts of the second half because they were bumped back in the rotation: The Indians' Carl Pavano and Red Sox's Tim Wakefield. In Wakefield's case, he was pushed back after the Red Sox decided to give their pitchers a little extra rest coming out of the break, though it now means a tricky matchup for him in Texas.
Starting pitcher rankings for Wednesday, July 22
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: Not that you need us to tell you to start Tim Lincecum, but the numbers are interesting at least. He's a perfect 5-0 with a 2.08 ERA in his five career starts versus the Braves. Ricky Nolasco seems to have finally cooled off in his past two starts, but a trip to Petco Park should get him right back in a hot streak. Even counting his past two turns, he's 4-2 with a 3.06 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 58 K's in 53 innings in his past eight starts, so expect another dominant performance. John Danks has never had any trouble with the Rays, with four consecutive quality starts against them between this and last season, during which he's 3-1 with a 1.78 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 28 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings. Such mastery against that talented an opponent can't be ignored in fantasy. Joe Saunders hasn't pitched at Kauffman Stadium since Sept. 19, 2006 (a decision he won), but he faced the Royals on May 9 and shut them out on five hits. Expect more of the same. The Diamondbacks remain a strikeout-prone offense and have whiffed 46 times in Ubaldo Jimenez's 39 1/3 innings in his six career starts against them. The right-hander has a 2.75 ERA in those outings, so have no fear of the Coors Field assignment. Although most believe the new Yankee Stadium has worked very much against A.J. Burnett thus far, the stats don't support that; he's in a streak of four straight quality starts there and has a 3.81 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in nine turns at home overall. Yes, he could be pitching better at home than he has, but consider that since becoming a member of the American League East in 2007, Burnett has defeated the Orioles in seven of nine starts and registered 58 strikeouts in 55 2/3 innings. Sure, his ERA in those is 5.01, but it still supports this being a decent enough matchup for him. Besides having Danks as his opponent, James Shields is six games under .500 (14-20) with an ERA more than a run and a half higher on the road (4.78) than at home (3.20) for his career. AL-only owners can feel free to keep him active, but those in mixed leagues might want to tread carefully, especially if your league has an innings/starts cap. Jeff Suppan isn't much of a fantasy consideration most of the time, but because NL-only owners need to be picky and dig deeper for spot starts, keep in mind that he has won three consecutive starts and six consecutive decisions against the Pirates. He's also 12-2 with a 4.57 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 17 starts versus Pittsburgh since his migration to the National League Central in 2004. Jamie Moyer has won five consecutive starts, and although he'll have a tough time beating the Cubs' Carlos Zambrano head-to-head, the hot streak is difficult to ignore in NL-only formats. Besides, the Cubs have totaled only 37 runs in their past 10 games against left-handed starters and a so-so 50 in their past 12 contests overall (coinciding with Aramis Ramirez's return date). It's odd scheduling that the Red Sox decided Tim Wakefield's first start of the second half would come at Rangers Ballpark: Since 2003, he has made nine starts there, and only three of them have been quality starts. He's 3-6 with a 6.31 ERA and 1.31 WHIP in those nine starts, as the venue serves as one place you simply never want to use the knuckleballer.
• Adam LaRoche, 1B, Pirates: He's a career .333 hitter (8-for-24) with one double and two home runs versus Jeff Suppan.
• Mike Cameron, OF, Brewers: One of the primary reasons the Brewers have a fair share of success historically against Pittsburgh's Paul Maholm is players like Cameron; he's a .458 hitter (11-for-24) with three home runs, nine RBIs and one walk in his career against the left-hander.
• Corey Hart, OF, Brewers: He's a .344 hitter (11-for-32) with four doubles and one homer in his career against Maholm.
• J.J. Hardy, SS, Brewers: Keeping things rolling, Hardy is a .308 hitter (8-for-26) with one triple and one homer in his career against Maholm.
• Luke Scott, OF, Orioles: He hit a home run off A.J. Burnett in their April 9 meeting and is 4-for-8 (.500 BA) with two doubles, one home run and two walks in his career versus the right-hander. And don't forget, new Yankee Stadium favors lefties!
• Brian Roberts, 2B, Orioles: Although his .300 batting average and two home runs in 30 career at-bats versus Burnett might not be extraordinary numbers, he also has five steals in six chances. Burnett isn't the most apt at holding on baserunners, having allowed 15, seventh-most in the majors.
• Milton Bradley, OF, Cubs: He's 7-for-20 (.350 BA) with one double, one triple and two home runs in his career against Jamie Moyer, and in six career games at Citizens Bank Park, he's a .304 hitter (7-for-23) with three home runs.
• Derrek Lee, 1B, Cubs: He's 4-for-8 with three doubles in his career versus Moyer.
• Randy Winn, OF, Giants: He's 5-for-6 with two doubles in his career against Jair Jurrjens, but perhaps more importantly, he's a .379 hitter (25-for-66) with four homers and 11 RBIs in 18 career games at Turner Field.
• Curtis Granderson, OF, Tigers: He's 8-for-18 (.444 BA) with one double and one home run in his career versus fellow American League All-Star Felix Hernandez.
• David Ortiz, DH, Red Sox: He's 5-for-15 (.333 BA) with two doubles, two home runs and three walks in his career against Vicente Padilla, not to mention a .286 hitter with six homers and 16 RBIs in his past 17 games at Rangers Ballpark.
• Ivan Rodriguez, C, Astros: He's 9-for-26 (.346 BA) with four doubles and one triple in his career against Chris Carpenter.
• Mark DeRosa, 2B/3B/OF, Cardinals: He's a career .435 hitter (10-for-23) with four doubles versus Roy Oswalt.
• Jermaine Dye, OF, White Sox: He's 5-for-10 (.500 BA) with one double and one home run in his career against James Shields, who, as noted above, tends to perform significantly worse on the road than at home.
• James Loney, 1B, Dodgers: He's 7-for-12 (.583 BA) with two doubles and one home run in his career against Bronson Arroyo.
• Prince Fielder, 1B, Brewers: Paul Maholm is one tough cookie versus left-handers, limiting them to a .568 OPS in his career. Therefore, it's no surprise that Fielder is 3-for-27 (.111 BA) with eight strikeouts in his career against the lefty.
• Aubrey Huff, 1B/3B, Orioles: He might be a noted Yankee killer, but not in games versus A.J. Burnett. Huff is a career .146 hitter (7-for-48) with only two extra-base hits (neither a home run) and 12 strikeouts against the right-hander.
• Adam Jones, OF, Orioles: Jones hit a three-home run off A.J. Burnett in their meeting on July 9, 2008, but outside that, their battles have been advantage Burnett. Jones is 2-for-14 (.143) with six K's in his career against the righty.
• Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies: The Phillies as a whole have struggled historically against Carlos Zambrano, their active hitters combining for a .520 OPS in 94 career at-bats versus the right-hander, and Rollins is one of the ones who struggles most. He's 3-for-17 (.176 BA) in his career against Zambrano.
• Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Cubs: Incredibly, Jamie Moyer is one left-hander Ramirez cannot hit; he's hitless in 10 career at-bats versus the veteran.
• Justin Upton, OF, Diamondbacks: Few pitchers give Upton trouble these days, but Ubaldo Jimenez is one of them. Upton is hitless in seven career at-bats versus the right-hander, including five strikeouts.
• Hank Blalock, 1B/3B, Rangers: Always trust the track record facing a knuckleballer, and Blalock is 8-for-34 (.235 BA) with only two extra-base hits, both doubles, in his career against Tim Wakefield.
• Mike Lowell, 3B, Red Sox: Fresh off the disabled list, Lowell might have hits in each of his first three games back, but expect him to cool somewhat against Vicente Padilla. He's a .195 hitter (8-for-41) in his career against the right-hander.
• Carlos Lee, OF, Astros: Few pitchers handle him as aptly as Chris Carpenter does; Lee is 3-for-23 (.130 BA) with nine strikeouts in his career against the righty.
• Miguel Tejada, SS, Astros: He's 4-for-20 (.200 BA) with four strikeouts and no extra-base hits in his career against Carpenter.
• David DeJesus, OF, Royals: He's hitless in eight career at-bats versus Joe Saunders, including two strikeouts.
• Orlando Hudson, 2B, Dodgers: As you'll see below, manager Joe Torre has a tough decision to make at second base on Wednesday. OK, maybe not so tough. Hudson is 7-for-30 (.233 BA) in his career against Bronson Arroyo.
• Brandon Phillips, 2B, Reds: He's hitless in nine career at-bats versus Chad Billingsley, including four strikeouts.
If you're hard-core
• Brandon Moss, OF, Pirates: Though the Pirates haven't been playing him as much lately, they have granted him starts against each of their past six right-handed opponents, and he has responded in kind with home runs in three of them. He's also 3-for-7 with one double and one home run in his career against Jeff Suppan.
• Bill Hall, 3B, Brewers: He starts only against left-handers, but he always starts against left-handers, including in each of Milwaukee's 23 games against a lefty starter this season. Hall assuredly will be in there against Paul Maholm, as he's a .552 hitter (16-for-29) with four doubles, three home runs, eight RBIs and three walks in his career against the lefty.
• Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies: He's still getting adapted to life in the majors, but back in their American League West days, Gonzalez owned Jon Garland. He's 5-for-8 (.625 BA) with three doubles in his career against the righty, all in 2008.
• Ryan Church, OF, Braves: Hard to say that any hitter who isn't an obvious fantasy start warrants consideration versus Tim Lincecum, but for the record, Church is 4-for-6 with one triple in his career against the defending Cy Young winner.
• Omar Vizquel, SS, Rangers: Might manager Ron Washington grant Vizquel the start at shortstop over Elvis Andrus facing knuckleballer Tim Wakefield? It's possible, considering Vizquel has batted .364 (20-for-55) with four doubles in his career against the right-hander.
• Mark Kotsay, 1B/OF, Red Sox: Keep tabs on the early lineups, as the Red Sox might slot him in against Vicente Padilla, accounting for his career .385 batting average (10-for-26) and two home runs versus the right-hander.
• Jose Guillen, OF, Royals: If there is one Royal who gives Joe Saunders problems, it's Guillen. He's 5-for-10 with two doubles in his career against the lefty.
• Dioner Navarro, C, Rays: He's 5-for-11 (.455 BA) with two doubles in his career against John Danks.
• Mark Loretta, 2B, Dodgers: Torre needs to give serious consideration to starting Loretta against Bronson Arroyo. Loretta is 13-for-26 (.500 BA) with two doubles in his career versus the right-hander.
Injury list: Out
• Darin Erstad, OF, Astros (hamstring, 15-day DL)
• Frank Francisco, RP, Rangers (pneumonia, 15-day DL): He's eligible to be activated as early as Sunday.
• Jason Giambi, 1B, Athletics (quadriceps, 15-day DL)
• Edgar Gonzalez, 2B, Padres (concussion, 15-day DL)
• Ramon Hernandez, C/1B, Reds (knee, 15-day DL): He's out four to six weeks following knee surgery.
Injury list: Day-to-day
• Lance Berkman, 1B, Astros (calf)
• Joe Crede, 3B, Twins (shoulder)
• Nelson Cruz, OF, Rangers (finger)
• Orlando Hudson, 2B, Dodgers (wrist)
• Jonathan Papelbon, RP, Red Sox (illness)
• Juan Rivera, OF, Angels (hamstring)
• Aaron Rowand, OF, Giants (elbow)
• Gary Sheffield, OF, Mets (hamstring): Might be available to pinch hit
• Vernon Wells, OF, Blue Jays (illness)
• Two games are weatherproof: Indians-Blue Jays and Cardinals-Astros.
• Expect some rain up and down the East Coast, though nothing that seems like a high probability to wash out a ballgame. Day contests in New York (Orioles-Yankees) and Philadelphia (Cubs-Phillies) might battle some thunderstorms, although each city has less than a 50 percent chance of rain overall. The night game in Washington (Mets-Nationals) has a 30 percent chance of rain, hardly a lot.
• Detroit (Mariners-Tigers) and Pittsburgh (Brewers-Pirates) bear watching as well, although again, neither stands a great chance at a rainout. There's a 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms in Pittsburgh after noon, and a 60 percent chance of the same in Detroit at night.
• Texas (Red Sox-Rangers) will face a 40 percent chance of rain.
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.