Fantasy Baseball 2012: Top 10 2-Start Pitchers for July 2-8

Jay Clemons@ATL_JayClemonsFantasy Sports Lead WriterJuly 2, 2012

Fantasy Baseball 2012: Top 10 2-Start Pitchers for July 2-8

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    The following slideshow is a top-10 ranking of two-start pitchers for the week of July 2-8.

    The listing does not necessarily account for a pitcher's season-long prospects, nor does it promise sustained dominance from this point forward. It's merely an educated guess of which starters will shine the brightest over the next seven days.

    For a full listing of two-start pitchers, click here. (This might be the most impressive list of two-start performers we've had all season...a slew of tough cuts.)

    Enjoy the show!

10: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants

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    Forget about Lincecum's wretched numbers from a 30-day (5.16 ERA) or seasonal perspective (3-8, 5.60 ERA, 1.49 WHIP). Forget about how his top-10 preseason stock may have lost 80 percent of its original value back in March.

    As long as Lincecum (lifetime 3.19 ERA/back-to-back Cy Young awards in 2009-10) is healthy, as long as he demonstrates the ability to go six or seven innings at every turn, as long as he's completely focused on helping the Giants win a highly competitive National League West, I will never turn my back on this extraordinary talent.

    It's as simple as that.

    Of course, that doesn't always mean I'll support his top-10 candidacy for isolated two-start weeks. But with two roadies against the Pirates and Nationals this week, I like Lincecum's chances of building off last week's zero-run, eight-strikeout gem against the Dodgers.

    Targets: One win, 13 strikeouts and 3.00 ERA.

9: Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers

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    Max Scherzer (114/32 K-BB ratio) stands as the highest-ranked strikeout leader who didn't make the Top 30 Starting Pitchers countdown, but that isn't a referendum of his 30-day progress (3.86 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 36/11 K-BB ratio).

    Within these steady improvements, Scherzer garners a countdown nod over James Shields, Jon Lester, James McDonald, Dan Haren and Matt Moore, among others. In the last 11 starts, he's surrendered just three runs or less nine times, and in that span, he's tallied seven-plus strikeout six times.

    It also helps that Scherzer draws the Twins and Royals at home this week. On paper, it might be the easiest slate of any top-10 pitcher listed here.

    Targets: One win, 15 strikeouts and 3.25 ERA.

8: Tommy Hanson, Atlanta Braves

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    Just like Scherzer, Tommy Hanson's case for Week 14 is boosted by two attractive matchups with the Cubs (home) and Phillies (away).

    And similar to Scherzer, I'm a little bothered by Hanson's random approach with walks (six on June 15) and working deep into games (only two outings into the seventh inning since late May) in the last six weeks.

    However, for this countdown, every Monday represents a golden opportunity for pitchers to start anew and construct a new baseline of expectations. To wit, this is the perfect time for Hanson to cement his standing with the Braves' injury-depleted rotation.

    Targets: One win, 14 strikeouts and 2.95 ERA.

7: Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds

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    I'm not one to lament certain pitchers or hitters getting snubbed from the MLB All-Star Game, but Johnny Cueto (9-4, 2.26 ERA, 1.14 WHIP) certainly had a good case for making the National League squad.

    After all, what's not to like about a name-brand pitcher allowing just three runs or less in all but one start since May 20 while routinely collecting six strikeouts per outing?

    But we can't whine about the past here. We can only use it as a tool for predicting one's future, and I like Cueto's two road clashes with the Dodgers and Padres this week.

    The Dodgers, minus Matt Kemp, have dropped eight of 10 games, and the Padres rank dead last among NL offenses, in runs, homers, RBI and batting average.

    Targets: One win, 13 strikeouts and 2.70 ERA.

6: A.J. Burnett, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    From one All-Star snub to another...we have the intriguing case of A.J. Burnett and his eight straight victories.

    Check out Burnett's progress in his last 10 starts: Since May 8—just six days after Burnett imploded against the Cardinals (12 runs and 12 hits)—he has allowed only 16 runs in 66 innings (2.18 ERA). In that span, he collected 52 strikeouts and the aforementioned eight wins.

    Now, am I ready to guarantee that Burnett will replicate his two-month success for July, August and September? Absolutely not.

    But he's certainly a reasonable weekly bet for one victory, 13 strikeouts and a 2.80 ERA against the Astros and Giants at home.

5: Jordan Zimmermann, Washington Nationals

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    Here's the tricky part with assigning a high weekly ranking to Jordan Zimmermann (2.77 ERA, 1.15 WHIP:

    Yes, he's allowed three or less runs in eight of his last 10 starts, and yes, he yielded just three or less walks in that same span.

    But for this week's ultra-competitive survey, Zimmermann is the least dangerous strikeout artist. He has the longest odds to roll up 10 strikeouts against the Giants and/or Rockies this week—even at home.

    The best method for distracting fantasy gurus from strikeouts: Hold the opposition to three or less combined runs for the week.

    Targets: One win, 10 strikeouts and 2.35 ERA.

4: Chris Capuano, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    I already have the matchup of high-profile All-Star omissions cued up on the DVR: Johnny Cueto vs. Chris Capuano for Tuesday night.

    Both pitchers should be extremely motivated to pitch well, even though they can't be livid with one particular person about their personal snubs.

    That's the world we live in these days: It takes a village of fans, players and mangers to justify how Capuano (9-3, 2.69 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 89/31 K-BB ratio) warranted exclusion from the National League's pre-eminent collection of pitchers.

    On the positive side, he was a prominent member of some guru's Top 30 fantasy countdown.

    Targets: One win, 15 strikeouts and 2.85 ERA against the Reds (home) and Diamondbacks (away).

3: Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

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    I didn't think it was possible for Sale (9-2, 2.27 ERA, 0.97 WHIP) to replicate his amazing spurt of May 12-June 9: A 5-0 mark, 0.98 ERA, 0.71 WHIP and 43/7 K/BB ratio.

    (In that span, he also ranked second in wins, third in ERA, fourth in K/BB ratio, second in opponents' batting average and second in WHIP among starting pitchers.)

    But in his last two starts (following a June 15 clunker against the Dodgers), Sale has a 1.27 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 12/2 K-BB ratio. He's just four outings away from mirroring the run that clinched a spot on the American League All-Star team.

    Not bad for a first-year starter in the majors and one-appearance flop as the White Sox's closer (May 8), huh?

    For the week, Sale draws two tough home matchups against the Rangers and Blue Jays. But he's too hot to bench or even denigrate at this time.

    Targets: One win, 15 strikeouts and 2.65 ERA.

2: Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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    If Jered Weaver hadn't gone 28 days between quality starts (thanks to a stint on the disabled list) or his recent strikeout rate hadn't been so sluggish, he'd be the primary candidate for the top spot.

    In his last 10 outings, Weaver has allowed two or less runs nine times, and in that span, he has also yielded three or less walks nine times.

    But these aren't the biggest feathers in Weaver's cap: On April 21 and 27, he had a stellar two-start stint against the Orioles and Indians (one win, 1.80 ERA, 13 strikeouts), and as luck would have it, Weaver will enjoy the same slate for Week 14.

    Targets: Two wins, 14 strikeouts and 2.50 ERA.

1: Zack Greinke, Milwaukee Brewers

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    With the Brewers stuck in fourth-place purgatory in the NL Central and Zack Greinke (9-2, 2.82 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 102/22 K-BB) on the brink of unrestricted free agency, he's a prime candidate to be moved before the July 31 trade deadline—in the absence of a long-term contract extension.

    And just like the case of Cliff Lee getting traded from Seattle to Texas two summers ago, it's hard to predict how Greinke might fare during August and September, especially if he cannot control his destination for the final two months.

    Here's something Greinke can control—his fate against the schizophrenic Marlins (home) and Astros (away) this week.

    It's in his grasp to continue that eight-outing trend of three runs allowed or less since April 18.

    It's also in his grasp to maintain that uncanny stat line of double-digit strikeouts every fifth start (he's due for that on Monday).

    Targets: Two wins, 16 strikeouts and 2.65 ERA.