Zito best of weak starting pitcher group

Although the 43-year-old Tim Wakefield is scheduled to return from the disabled list Monday, the bigger news is the absence of five other starters who will be unavailable. Roy Oswalt was shut down for the season due to back problems, and he's joined by Brett Tomko, whose season will end due to nerve damage in his throwing arm. Rich Harden will also miss his turn in the rotation due to poor performance, although the Cubs say he will not be shut down; Gavin Floyd (hip) and Brian Tallet (foot) will also miss their scheduled turns. And that's not even including Andy Pettitte, who missed his latest start with a "fatigued" shoulder. All of this adds up to an underwhelming day of pitching, leading to a surprise at the top of the rankings:

For starters

Starting pitcher rankings for Sept. 21, 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: Coming off a dominating performance versus the Rockies, Barry Zito has done enough to earn a little faith. Zito fanned nine Rockies in seven innings, allowing just five hits and two runs, and it's Zito's uptick in strikeouts -- a now-respectable rate of more than seven per nine innings -- that, when backed by the majors' third-best defense (per defensive efficiency), make him pretty appealing. Considering the dearth of quality pitching at this point in the season, you pretty much have to start him if you still need innings or are in a head-to-head league. That said, he's not an amazing play on Monday because he has struggled a bit against the Diamondbacks, who have hit .302 off him in 149 at-bats. The D-backs are also much tougher at home, so all things considered, it's a fairly tough matchup, but since Zito has allowed two runs or fewer in 10 of his past 12 starts, you gotta keep running him out there. … Derek Lowe tossed only two innings versus the Mets in his most recent start after a blister on his ring finger formed, and wasn't doing too well beforehand, with five hits and three runs (two earned) allowed. The 4.53 ERA and 1.49 WHIP that Lowe has posted look out of place considering he's posted sub-4.00 ERAs in each of the past four seasons, and indeed, he's suffered a lot of bad luck this season. He's much better than he's shown to date, and even though he's been mediocre recently, chances are you don't have any better options. … Nick Blackburn is owned in 12 percent of leagues, making him the day's best (only?) potential spot starter. With a 2.67 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in four starts against the White Sox this season, Blackburn seems to have a good handle on his division rivals, and has netted a quality start in three of his past four outings. … Tim Wakefield has tossed at least six innings in all but two of his 19 starts, and that fact alone makes him a decent option against the Royals. Those innings are why Wakefield has 15 decisions in 19 starts, 11 of them wins, and that potential for a win -- not to mention a matchup against a mediocre, banged-up offense -- is why he's worth starting Monday. … Andy Pettitte walked eight batters in his past two starts (11 innings), so let's hope that can be blamed on his poor shoulder, an ailment that should hopefully be fixed after having his last start skipped. Pettitte will need to be on his A game against the Angels, who hit a major league-best .289 at home. Aside from that recent hiccup, Pettitte has been great, with a 3.06 ERA and 1.09 WHIP since the All-Star break. It's a tough matchup, but one you might just be forced to start him in because of the lack of decent alternatives. … And the fall of Kevin Millwood continues as he allowed another five runs in 3 2/3 innings to the Mariners. Historically, he's done well against the Athletics, but he's getting tattooed by everyone, so it's too big a risk to take. … Joe Saunders did about as well as you could possibly expect him to against the Red Sox, allowing eight hits and five runs -- two earned -- in 5 2/3 innings, striking out five while walking three. If that mediocre line is about the best you can expect Saunders to do against the elite offenses in the league, he has to be benched versus the Yankees, too, a team against which he normally implodes (career 7.97 ERA). … Normally, Doug Davis could be a decent option to spot start against a team with an offense as weak as the Giants, but for some reason the Giants just paste Davis. They're hitting a whopping .346 against him as a team in 286 at-bats, and Davis has an unimpressive 4.21 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in four starts against them this season. Only the desperate should leave him active.

Now batting

Hitters' count:

Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates: The rookie sensation has cooled off in September, hitting .203, but has been a little better of late, hitting .320 during a current six-game hitting streak. McCutchen is an entirely different hitter against lefties (.318 average, four home runs in 88 at-bats), so you have to like his chances for success versus Wade LeBlanc.
Vernon Wells, OF, Blue Jays: Saving his best for last, Wells has been on a tear, going 14-for-26 (.538) in his past seven starts. He's still offering little in the way of power, but a matchup against Chris Tillman would be a good opportunity to correct that, since righties are slugging .615 against Tillman.
Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers: Half of Braun's eight hits against Tom Gorzelanny have gone for extra bases, including a whopping three home runs -- impressive considering Braun has faced Gorzelanny only 22 times. Overall, Braun is 8-for-17 (.471) against Gorzelanny, so there may not be a hitter primed for a bigger day than Braun.
Carlos Lee, OF, Astros: Lee has creamed Kyle Lohse, going 20-for-56 (.357) with 11 extra-base hits. Five of those hits have left the park, a large reason Lohse has allowed a .732 slugging percentage to Lee.
A.J. Pierzynski, C, White Sox: The catcher is 5-for-11 with a couple of doubles against Nick Blackburn this season, continuing a career-long trend of domination for the hitter. Pierzynski is now 10-for-23 (.435) against Blackburn for his career, so you can usually expect a multihit game from Pierzynski whenever the two face off against each other.
Stephen Drew, SS, Diamondbacks: Drew is usually awful versus left-handers -- and Barry Zito is pretty competent against them, with a .659 OPS against -- but Drew has peppered Zito with hits in his career, hitting .391 in 23 at-bats. It's mostly been a death by singles, as Drew has drawn only one walk and hasn't hit for much power, but the average speaks for itself.
Bengie Molina, C, Giants: Molina is hitting a robust .386 against Doug Davis in 44 at-bats, and while most of his hits have been singles, he has blasted four home runs off Davis, including two home runs in 10 at-bats this season.

Pitchers' count:

Carlos Beltran, OF, Mets: Derek Lowe has kept the ball down against Beltran with nary an extra-base hit allowed in 27 career at-bats. In fact, Beltran has just five hits, giving him an average (.185) below the Mendoza Line.
Michael Bourn, OF, Astros: For one reason or another, Bourn has been awful against Kyle Lohse, with just one hit in 14 career at-bats.
Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox: Konerko is just 4-for-26 (.154) versus Nick Blackburn, striking out three times while failing to draw a walk. He's done slightly better this season (3-for-11), but Konerko has never been one to hit for a high average, so if he can't hit for power against Blackburn, he doesn't have much use.
Chris Young, OF, Diamondbacks: Young has never been adept at hitting Barry Zito, going 5-for-23 (.217) for his career. He has as many strikeouts as hits, unsurprising considering who we're talking about, but he hasn't made it up with any power, as a double is his lone extra-base hit.
Kendry Morales, 1B, Angels: Twenty-six of Morales' 30 home runs have come off right-handed pitching, and Morales sees his slugging percentage drop more than 100 points against left-handers. He's also 0-for-5 versus Andy Pettitte, and hasn't been doing so hot in September anyway, hitting a weak .191 average.
Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees: The slugger is just 2-for-12 against Joe Saunders in his career, including an 0-for-3 mark this season. Even the two hits he picked up were just singles, and Teixeira will have to face Saunders on the road, where he's hit .268.

If you're hardcore

Matt Diaz, OF, Braves: Despite a six-game hitting streak in which Diaz has gone 7-for-20 (.350) with a home run and a couple of doubles, Diaz has been dropped in 3.3 percent of leagues in the past week. In the meantime, he's further increased his batting average against lefties, now hitting .408 against them in 130 at-bats this season. It's a matchup that Pat Misch, the scheduled starter Monday and another lefty, is surely not looking forward to.
Martin Prado, 1B/2B/3B, Braves: Prado had been slumping for quite a while, but is apparently reinvigorated, with nine hits in his past 16 at-bats, including four doubles and a home run. We've seen him get hot before for a prolonged period of time, and he qualifies all over the infield, so check your league and pick him up if someone else dropped him.
Miguel Olivo, C, Royals: The streaky Olivo has been unbelievable this month, racking up six home runs in just 40 at-bats. Olivo has hit for power against Tim Wakefield, too, with a double and a home run among the three hits he's picked up off Wakefield in 11 career at-bats. It would be a shame if a stomach ailment kept him out of the contest, however, so check for updates.
Juan Uribe, 2B/3B/SS, Giants: With four multihit performances out of his past six games, Uribe has remained hot, and although he's faced Doug Davis only five times, he's already taken him deep once.
Mark Ellis, 2B, Athletics: Ellis is hitting over .400 versus Kevin Millwood lifetime, with 12 hits in 29 at-bats. Although his overall performance in September hasn't been great, he has been competent enough for a middle infielder, and did go 1-for-4 with a home run and two runs scored on Saturday.


Injury list: Out

• Gavin Floyd, SP, White Sox (hip): Floyd lasted just three innings in his latest outing before leaving with left hip soreness, and, as the Chicago Sun-Times reports, could be shut down for the season as a result. At the least, he'll miss his scheduled start Monday.
• Rich Harden, SP, Cubs (performance): While it's not technically an injury, Harden will have his start on Monday skipped after walking 15 batters in his past 17 innings. However, Harden denied rumors that he would be shut down for the season.
• Roy Oswalt, SP, Astros (back; out for the season)
Nolan Reimold, OF, Orioles (15-day DL, achilles; out for the season)
Gary Sheffield, OF, Mets (back; limited to pinch hitting)
• Brian Tallet, SP, Blue Jays (foot): Tallet suffered a deep bone bruise after being hit with a comebacker on his foot last week. It is unknown when he'll be able to return.
• Brett Tomko, SP, Athletics (arm; out for the season): Nerve damage in Tomko's throwing arm will end his season, and Dana Eveland will take his place in the rotation Monday.
Milton Bradley, OF, Cubs (suspended)

Injury list: Day-to-day
David DeJesus, OF, Royals (ankle)
Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers (back)
Garrett Jones, 1B/OF, Pirates (shoulder): Jones was out of Saturday's lineup and is expected to miss Sunday as well with a sore shoulder suffered on a diving catch on Friday. "It should be OK after a couple of games," Jones said.
Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B, Padres (calf): Kouzmanoff is now aiming for a return on Monday.
Adam LaRoche, 1B, Braves (back)
Andy LaRoche, 3B, Pirates (illness)
• Miguel Olivo, C, Royals (stomach)
• Andy Pettitte, SP, Yankees (shoulder): Pettitte was skipped from his last outing with a "fatigued" shoulder, but is expected to be fine for Monday.
Mark Teahen, 3B/OF, Royals (back)
• Tim Wakefield, SP, Red Sox (back, calf): Wakefield is expected to start Monday, but the Boston Globe reports he'll need about 10 days of rest afterward, leaving Wakefield with two starts (including Monday) before the end of the season.
Michael Young, 3B/SS, Rangers (hamstring): Young admitted he reinjured his hamstring when he attempted to come back Tuesday. There's no word on when -- or if -- Young may return.

Weather concerns

• The Orioles-Blue Jays, Cubs-Brewers, Cardinals-Astros and Giants-Diamondbacks will all be weatherproof Monday.
• Only two cities have any concerns, but rain looks like a near certainty in Pittsburgh and Kansas City, with a 60 to 70 percent chance of thunderstorms.

Adam Madison is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com.