Did you ever think you would see a time where in your playoff races, you had Yu Darvish for two starts, and were forced to bench him both times? Or bench the Professor, Kyle Hendricks, because he could single-handedly end your run to a title? These are hard times for two-start pitchers right now.
Did you ever think you would be adding guys like Ranger Suarez to save your fantasy season?
Yeah, me neither. But that happened to many fantasy players last week.
We are getting down to the last two weeks of the season, and all of us are still looking for any slight advantage we can get to bring us that coveted championship and bragging rights for the long winter coming.
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Two-Start Pitchers for Week of September 20
Here are the top-shelf options as we wind down our seasons. Some risk here but also some upside, too. Let the debate begin.
Robbie Ray @ Tampa Bay, @ Minnesota (12-5 2.64): He’s an automatic start right now, and why not? If you rostered him all year, you are probably in your league’s playoffs. The 233 strikeouts are mind-boggling in this day and age, but Ray also has showed increased command this year with his 1.01 WHIP. Use in all formats
Tyler Mahle vs. Pittsburgh, vs. Washington (12-5 3.59): These matchups are favorable which is why I rank Mahle so high. Be aware that he has been lousy at home though, going 4-3 with a 6.09 ERA and 1.50 WHIP. There is risk here for a pitcher who has excellent numbers. And he’s been good in August and September at 4-2, 3.30 ERA, and 59 punchouts 53.2 innings. Risky, sure, but I will take this gamble.
Triston McKenzie vs. Kansas City, vs. Chicago White Sox (5-6 4.28): Serious players know this guy is legitimate. He’s 4-2 since August 5 with an ERA of 1.75 and 48 Ks in 46 innings. And he gets KC, which is a good matchup, and the White Sox, who will have likely clinched the AL Central by then, who will surely be resting hitters for the playoffs. Seems like a great place to start a budding star like McKenzie.
Carlos Rodon @ Detroit, @ Cleveland (12-5 2.38): The White Sox need to tune Rodon up before the playoffs start. Rodon has been brilliant all season and has been excellent in three starts since coming off the IL. Keep in mind that with bigger things to play for he will likely not get more than five innings. However, both matchups could easily yield wins and 5-7 strikeouts. Every stat counts now. Start with confidence.
Framber Valdez @ Los Angeles Angels, @ Oakland (10-5 3.26): Is there a better pitcher that flies under the radar than Valdez? The strikeout numbers don’t jump out at you (109 in 116 innings), but he gets wins and limits damage. The last two starts have not been good; 1-1, 6.55 ERA, 1.73 WHIP with seven walks, and two home runs. But I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt based on the body of his work, and the fact that the Astros are fighting for home-field advantage means he will get every opportunity to work these issues out. I start him if I have him, and recognize this may be controversial.
Julio Urias @ Colorado, @ Arizona (18-3 2.99): No brainer, even in Colorado. Bench a guy with 18 wins and an ERA under 3.00? Not me.
Freddy Peralta vs. St. Louis, vs. New York Mets (9-4 2.57): Peralta is the less-heralded third head of Milwaukee’s pitching Cerberus (with all due respect), but he’s been outstanding all year. What motivates me here is the strikeout potential; he’s had seven or more strikeouts in 19 of his starts. Add in that he is a good bet for a win if he goes five in each start, and he’s a top-tier option this week.
Nestor Cortes vs. Texas, @ Boston (2-2 2.60): Surprised? Yes, me too. But how can you deny how good Cortes has been? Cortes has kept the Yankees’ dimming playoff hopes aloft and has struck out 23 hitters in his last three starts, 11 in his last one against the moribund Orioles. He limits walks and has pitched at least five innings in every start since August 5th. Texas is terrible, and Boston has not been much better lately. He’s a sneaky top-tier option that no one saw coming.
Ranger Suarez vs. Baltimore, vs. Pittsburgh (6-4 1.50): I made the mistake of trading Suarez earlier in the summer to grab Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish for the stretch run. Yeah, that worked out well. All Suarez has done since then is be dominant. He doesn’t get lots of Ks (about one an inning), but no one can square him up either (94th percentile HardHit%), and he’s pitching deeper into games, giving you chances for wins. These matchups are as good as you will find for him next week. Use with confidence.
Joe Musgrove vs. San Francisco, vs. Atlanta (11-9 2.99): Musgrove has been the de facto ace of the Padres’ rotation. The 184 strikeouts have certainly helped you, too. Full disclosure: Musgrove has struggled with walks his last two starts, and that is disconcerting considering the lineups he faces this week. However he’s 2-1 over his last three and has surrendered three or fewer earned runs in five consecutive starts, and nine of his last 10. A fair bet this week to log quality innings and help your bottom line.
Kevin Gausman @ San Diego, @ Colorado (14-6 2.78): A great year by Gausman that has been somewhat tumultuous lately. He’s 2-1 in September with a 4.70 ERA, yet still shows 32 Ks in 23 innings. Pitching anyone in Colorado gives you pause, surely. Gausman acknowledged that he ahs struggled with his mechanics but seems to think he has figured it out, getting the splitter back down in the zone. The Ks are still there and this is a risk I am willing to take this week. I recognize this could be a tough call for many players.
There are some really good middle shelf options that could pay dividends this week for you, especially if some of these guys are on your waiver wire.
Alek Manoah @ Tampa Bay, @ Minnesota (6-2 3.39): Manoah was a godsend earlier this year who has now settled in as a mainstay in Toronto’s rotation. He struggled some in August. For those who thought he may be tiring down the stretch, he racked up 10 punchouts and gave up one hit in eight innings against Tampa Bay last week. Two starts before that, he laid a dud with six earned. With young arms, you just never know. That uncertainty is what make me put him on the middle shelf. He could easily be top-shelf this week but there’s always that shred of doubt in the back of my mind. Yet Manoah could win the championship for you this week.
Sean Manaea vs. Seattle, vs. Houston (10-9 3.95): Manaea is the type of glue every fantasy rotation needs. Not a superstar, but largely gives decent quality every time he goes out there. And then every third or fourth start, he issues a dud. What he does best is not surrender walks, even though his exit velocity and hard contact rates are below league average. He did not pitch great last week against KC, surrendering five earned runs. I like the matchup against Seattle better than Houston, so if you can split him, consider doing that.
Huascar Ynoa @ Arizona, @ San Diego (4-5 3.26): Ynoa is getting strikeouts in his outings, but has not earned a win since returning from the IL with a broken hand in mid-August. The concern for me here is that he has not pitched more than five innings in almost a month. That Arizona matchup is nice, but San Diego could give you pause. This one is league-dependent to me.
John Means @ Philadelphia, vs. Texas (5-7 3.41): Means has endured a weird season. He’s been effective most of the time but has not earned a win since July 31st. Isn’t that insane? You know what you are going to get: about 5-6 innings, two or three runs, and 4-5 strikeouts, and most likely, not a win. Yet these are two games he could win with some offensive help from his teammates. I am using him this week hoping for his consistent output while openly praying for wins.
Jon Gray vs. Los Angeles Dodgers, vs. San Francisco (8-10 4.16): I feel like Gray is one of those pitchers who always gets a bad rap, yet is usable on many occasions. Gray is the odd guy who pitches better in Denver than on the road. These matchups are brutal for him, but that said, he’s been good against Atlanta and San Francisco in the last two weeks, getting 15 Ks and only five runs in 10 innings. Desperate? If so you could try him but keep your fingers crossed.
Carlos Hernandez @ Detroit, @ Cleveland (6-2 3.90): Hernandez has certainly done enough to warrant a rotation job in KC next year, and he has done enough to be considered for a spot on your team this week, especially given these matchups. Add to have him as a depth option if you need him; he’s on the waiver wire in many leagues still.
Jesus Luzardo vs. Washington, @ Tampa Bay (5-8 6.81): I won’t do this to myself but recognize why better players than me would use him. The risk is high; he’s feast or famine, but more often lately, famine. Here’s the thing though: with his talent, he could surprise at any time with a gem. How much risk can you handle? He could easily shut down both of these teams, and he could just as easily get knocked out after three innings and scuttle your team. Yet the ability is so tantalizing…but not for me. He’s Scylla and Charybdis for me. Must. Not. Give. In.
Tyler Anderson @ Oakland, @ Los Angeles Angels (6-9 4.13): I like Anderson. The issue is he doesn’t go deep enough into games to get wins often enough. But he will give you a handful of strikeouts and generally worry-free innings. Think of him as a perfectly acceptable macro brew like PBR: nothing flashy, but potentially satisfying.
Marco Gonzales @ Oakland, @ Los Angeles Angels (8-5 4.05): Gonzales has provided many of us with back end of the rotation numbers this year. Keep expectations modest (similar to my wife’s marriages expectations), and you will not be disappointed.
There are options here that could help you out, but all are fraught with peril and potential danger. Use at your own risk.
Erick Fedde @ Miami, @ Cincinnati (7-9 5.16): I wish I could decide what he is, because I think he is better than this. A wise co-worker once told me years ago that when people show you what they are, believe them. The ERA in September is over 5, although he did nab eight punchouts in five innings against those same Miami Marlins last week. The home run ball has been his plague this year. You could roll the dice but depends on your league context.
Luke Weaver vs. Atlanta, vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (3-5 4.42): Oh how I want to believe that Weaver can be what he once was. He will get you a few strikeouts, but with that comes a host of other worries, the largest of which is these matchups and the fact that the Dbacks will not over-extend a guy just coming back from injury too far even if he is effective. I would pas, but he tempts me often.
Merrill Kelly vs. Atlanta, vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (7-10, 4.41): Kelly is a warrior who takes the ball rain or shine, and I appreciate that about him. He is among the league leaders in limiting walks and doesn’t often inflict damage upon himself. However, he had been out a month before coming back last week, and looked rusty, giving up ten hits and four runs to…the Dodgers, who he faces again this week. It’s a pass for me but he could surprise here too.
Touki Toussaint @ Arizona, @ San Diego (3-3 4.50): I remember watching Toussaint pitch in Kane County (Illinois) years ago and thinking he had a shot at the majors. And he has made it. But the walks in his last two outings scare me (four and three), as well as the home runs. The other issue is he is not going deep into games. So while the matchup against Arizona is a good one, he may not get you enough here to make a difference. Pass.
Eduardo Rodriguez vs. New York Mets, vs. New York Yankees (11-8 5.00): He has 11 wins and an ERA over 5. So those wins come at a price. Can you pay that price? How badly do you need wins? Can your carefully contoured ratios take that kind of hit? It’s a no for me.
Alec Mills vs. Minnesota, vs. St. Louis (6-6 4.50): Mills has been a staple this year for the Cubs as they try and sort through who will be part of this rotation next year. The guy really limits barrels (92nd percentile) and minimizes walks (80th percentile.) What he does not do is get whiffs, with only 78 in 106 innings. Based on not missing enough bats, I will pass on him this week, but can see a path to value for him as well.
Vladimir Gutierrez vs. Pittsburgh, vs. Washington (9-6 4.25): Rostered Gutierrez in a couple of leagues earlier this year, then scuttled him for what I thought were better options. The lack of strikeouts started to bother me. In his last four starts, he has only made it out of the third innings once. At this point of the season, can you afford that kind of risk, even with two good matchups? I can’t and won’t be using him this week, but again, could see the value in doing so for you depending on your league context.
Matt Manning vs. Chicago White Sox, vs. Kansas City (4-6 5.75): Manning is going to be a stud. You can see the talent and the stuff developing over time. But you are trying to win right now, this week, and I don’t think the risk of an abbreviated outing (he’s only pitched six innings in four of his 15 starts this year) helps you here. Pass.
Jake Woodford @ Milwaukee, @ Chicago Cubs (2-3 4.30): Likely won’t go long enough to get you a win, but has been decent for 4-5 innings at a time. Does that help you much?
Jon Lester @ Milwaukee, @ Chicago Cubs (6-6 4.67): I think this is the first time all year I did not place him on the lowest shelf. Lester competes with every fiber of his being and is providing quality innings down the stretch for a Cardinals team fighting for its life. He won’t help with strikeouts but has surrendered two earned or less in his last five starts, with every run except one coming on solo home runs, all while throwing at least five innings. Lightning in a bottle? I am passing but if you are breathing your last gasps, maybe?
Desperate times call for desperate measures. If you are here, best of luck to you, and hope you catch some luck this week.
Dallas Keuchel @ Detroit, @ Cleveland (8-9 5.23): No. Taking a shellacking every time out.
Chris Ellis @ Philadelphia, vs. Texas (1-0 2.39): I just can’t see starting any Baltimore pitcher other than Means with your playoff life on the line. Too many walks.
Packy Naughton vs. Houston, vs. Seattle (0-2 4.32): I won’t do this.
Adonis Medina vs. Baltimore, vs. Pittsburgh (0-0 0.00): Pitched two innings in his first start, but this isn’t going to help you this week.
Mitch Keller @ Cincinnati, @ Philadelphia (4-11 6.14): He’s just so inconsistent that you can’t count on him. I won’t use him this week.
Connor Overton @ Cincinnati, @ Philadelphia (0-0 0.00): I am intrigued by him, but three innings isn’t going to cut it.
Koji Arihara @ New York Yankees, @Baltimore (2-4 6.64): Had high hopes for him, but that fizzled quickly, and he is unusable for any of us.
Josh Rogers @ Miami, @ Cincinnati (1-0 2.60): He’s intriguing and has an opportunity with Washington down the stretch. That being said there is risk here with no real track record. However, if you need to roll the dice, this is the guy in the lowest shelf that I would try.
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