Mariners ace Felix Hernandez (8-5, 2.82 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 143/36 K-BB) has allowed just eight runs in his last seven starts (spanning 53 innings).
The following slideshow is a top-10 ranking of two-start pitchers for the week of July 23-29.
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.
Enjoy the show!
It's weird to say, but Zack Greinke just doesn't resemble an elite fantasy pitcher at this time—and I'm not sure if a change of scenery (before Aug. 1) would put an abrupt end to all the struggles.
Since June 27, Greinke has surrendered 16 runs in 20 innings. By comparison, in his previous five starts (May 31-June 22), Greinke allowed just six runs in 37 innings (1.46 ERA), while collecting four victories and 37 strikeouts.
As a fantasy optimist, it would be convenient to chalk Greinke's recent woes up to the stress of the Brewers' fading playoff hopes and the possibility of being traded to a pennant contender in the next eight days.
But if these factors were really hindering Greinke's performance, wouldn't that be a red flag to major league execs and fantasy GMs chasing him for the final stretch?
On reputation alone, Greinke earns the final countdown.
Weekly targets against the Phillies and Nationals: One win, 3.20 ERA and 13 strikeouts.
We couldn't have a countdown without a reasonably healthy Roy Halladay, even if he's only one start back (six strikeouts, two runs allowed) from a six-week stint on the disabled list (shoulder).
Even if it means putting stalwarts like Gio Gonzalez, Josh Johnson, Jeremy Hellickson, Adam Wainwright, Doug Fister, Ryan Vogelsong and Wandy Rodriguez on the top-10 back-burner for Week 17.
From 2007 to 2011, Halladay was the best pitcher in real-world and fantasy circles, and despite a truncated 2012 campaign that includes a losing record (4-5) and ERA near 4.00 (3.96), the veteran right-hander (1.14 WHIP, 62/14 K/BB ratio) is still a good bet for solid numbers, when healthy.
Targets: One win, 3.10 ERA and 13 strikeouts.
Here are three reasons why it's easy to look past Mat Latos' clunker from July 18 against the Diamondbacks (five runs, six hits allowed in 4.2 innings):
1. Latos had gone exactly three months to the day without incurring a loss.
2. From May 6 to July 13, spanning 13 starts and 81 innings, Latos held the opposition to three runs or less 11 times, while racking up five or more strikeouts nine times in that span.
3. The Reds pitcher has endured shaky starts in consecutive outings only once this season.
To be fair, though, Latos' back-to-back struggles did occur against the Rockies (May 27) and Astros (June 2)—this week's opponents. So, maybe there's a tale of redemption in here as well.
Targets: One win, 3.05 ERA and 13 strikeouts.
James McDonald (10-3, 2.93 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 104/40 K/BB) may be on track to break personal records in wins, ERA, WHIP and strikeouts, but he's still no lock to finish August and September in a blaze of glory.
That's what makes this week's double feature against the Cubs (home) and Astros (away) so important to his fantasy standing.
If he can dominate these bottom-feeder clubs, it'll make McDonald more attractive for the upcoming fantasy trade deadlines.
And if McDonald should falter against Chicago and Houston, perhaps the foibles from his last two starts (10 runs allowed, four strikeouts) will warrant more exploration from fantasy gurus.
Targets: One win, 2.90 ERA and 12 strikeouts.
There are a few good news/bad propositions on C.J. Wilson's resume:
Wilson won five straight decisions from May 22 to June 26...but he's winless in the month of July.
Wilson allowed just three runs or less once in his last nine starts...but his most recent outing included seven runs and eight hits surrendered.
Wilson has seven games of seven or more strikeouts this season...and yet, he has only replicated the feat once in back-to-back appearances.
Put it all together, and it's fair to ask if Wilson (9-6, 2.82 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 102/56 K/BB) is a cinch for success against the Royals and Rays this week.
Based on caliber of opponent and that both starts are at home, this seems like a good time to go all-in on the southpaw.
Targets: One win, 2.90 ERA and 14 strikeouts.
The depth of this countdown shines through with Jordan Zimmermann garnering a pedestrian ranking.
But tough choices had to be made somewhere.
In his last nine outings, Zimmermann (7-6, 2.35 ERA, 1.09 WHIP) is a perfect 9-for-9 in allowing three runs or less.
And since June 27, covering five starts and four victories, Zimmermann has yielded an absurdly low total of three runs.
All this begs the question: If Zimmermann has been one of the baseball's most effective pitchers in the last month, why is he toiling at No. 5 this week?
The answer comes in the form of two road clashes against the Mets and Brewers.
Targets: One win, 2.70 ERA and 13 strikeouts.
Forget about R.A. Dickey's one-inning, two-run relief stint against the Dodgers on Saturday.
As the undisputed first-half fantasy Cy Young among National League pitchers, Dickey (13-1, 2.84 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 132/29 K/BB) has more than earned the right to only be judged on starts from this point forward.
That aside, there is some trepidation about Dickey from his three previous outings, totaling 13 runs and 29 hits over 19.1 innings. On the positive side, he had 18 strikeouts and four walks in that three-start run.
Regarding Dickey's future, it's safe to say he won't go five consecutive starts again without allowing a run, but he is a good bet for solid numbers against the Nationals (home) and Diamondbacks (away) this week.
Just watch out for Jason Kubel in Arizona.
Targets: One win, 2.80 ERA and 15 strikeouts.
Show me someone who questions Francisco Liriano's lofty spot in this countdown...and I'll show you a fantasy owner who hasn't been paying attention in recent weeks.
Here are some of his highlights since May 30:
1. In his last 10 starts, Liriano hasn't allowed more than four earned runs at any time; more impressively, he hasn't surrendered more than five hits in any of the outings.
2. In that span, Liriano has a 2.90 ERA.
3. Liriano has the highest strikeout total in back-to-back games of any pitcher in baseball (25 for July 13 and 18).
4. From my research, Liriano is only one of three active starting pitchers to tally five or more strikeouts in his last 10 appearances (along with Cole Hamels and Clayton Kershaw).
Targets: Two wins, 3.10 ERA and 16 strikeouts.
Don't look now, but the reigning National League Cy Young is making his case for back-to-back trophies in that realm.
Of his last six starts, Clayton Kershaw (7-5, 2.74 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 132 K's) has allowed just one or two runs five times, and in that span, he boasts a 37/10 walk-to-strikeout ratio.
And since May 25, Kershaw has a streak of 11 consecutive starts with at least five strikeouts.
Put it all together, and this is the right time to expect big things from baseball's premier southpaw...even with the tough weekly slate of roadies against the Cardinals and Giants.
Targets: Two wins, 2.60 ERA and 14 strikeouts.
The reasons for Felix Hernandez locking up the No. 1 spot are threefold:
1. In his last seven starts, spanning 53 innings, King Felix has a 4-0 record, 1.36 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 59/7 strikeout-to-walk ratio—a stretch that includes three double-digit efforts in strikeouts.
2. Hernandez (8-5, 2.82 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 143/36 K/BB) is the current MLB leader in strikeouts (just ahead of Justin Verlander) and remains a dark horse in the race for the American League Cy Young.
3. Felix is only one of two pitchers in the countdown to have both starts at home this week (Yankees, Royals). At Safeco Field, Hernandez has a 4-3 mark, 2.21 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 84/14 K/BB ratio.
Targets: Two wins, 2.30 ERA and 15 strikeouts.