Dodgers ace and reigning NL Cy Young Clayton Kershaw (11-6, 2.90 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 165/42 K-BB) has surrendered just three runs or less in seven of his last eight outings.
The following slideshow is a top-10 ranking of two-start pitchers for the week of Aug. 20-26.
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.
I will say this, though: This might be our most competitive week of two-start pitchers over the last 21 weeks. The No. 8 pitcher, R.A. Dickey, could easily finish with the most advanced stats by week's end.
For a full listing of two-start pitchers, click here.
Enjoy the show!
Skinny: Let's take the positive side of Tim Lincecum's last seven starts, which include two outings of five innings or less.
Lincecum has allowed three runs or less five times. In that span, he has a surprisingly stellar strikeout-to-walk ratio of 43/15.
Of those seven starts, Lincecum, on average, surrendered only six hits per game—a dramatic improvement from his horrific days from April, May and June.
Put it all together, and Lincecum deserves a countdown spot ahead of Ryan Dempster, Tim Hudson, Miguel Gonzalez, Wandy Rodriguez and Brandon McCarthy.
Weekly targets against the Dodgers (road) and Braves (home): one win, 3.10 ERA and 14 strikeouts.
Skinny: At first glance, the season-long tallies for Jeremy Hellickson (7-8, 3.39 ERA, 1.30 WHIP) aren't worthy of this weekly countdown.
But the second-year pitcher is hardly a lost cause in the fantasy realm.
For starters, Hellickson has won three of his last four decisions—a mini-spurt that runs in concert with the Rays' recent surge into the top wild-card spot.
Of his last six outings, Hellickson has yielded just three runs or less five times; and in that span, he's allowed three walks or less five times.
Throw in the per-outing averages of only five hits since July 18 and two home clashes with the Royals and Athletics this week, and we're good to go for Week 21!
Targets: one win, 2.90 ERA and 12 strikeouts.
Skinny: At this point in the season, I don't really care that R.A. Dickey (15-4, 2.89 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 175/38 K-BB) allowed five runs to the Reds on Aug. 15.
In roto leagues, the occasional clunker will hardly put a dent into his sublime seasonal stats, especially with Dickey notching two wins and 43 strikeouts in his last five outings (with only nine walks).
Bottom line: Dickey may never experience a run of five consecutive scoreless starts (May 27-June 18) in his lifetime, but he's still a fantasy ace and valued member of this week's countdown.
Targets against the Rockies and Astros at home: one win, 3.00 ERA and 14 strikeouts.
Skinny: Max Scherzer picked the perfect time to draw a two-start week.
Not only are the Tigers desperate for a dominant outing or two from someone other than Justin Verlander, but head-to-head league owners badly need Scherzer to bring the wood against the Blue Jays and Angels at home.
Check out Scherzer's numbers since June 23:
1. In 10 starts, Scherzer has allowed three runs or less eight times.
2. He has tallied seven or more strikeouts nine times, including a 10-strikeout, zero-run gem against the Twins on Aug. 15.
3. The Tigers right-hander has won six of his last seven decisions.
4. Since late June, Scherzer has surrendered two or less walks eight times—a telltale sign of his development into a rock-solid No. 2 pitcher in real-world and fantasy circles.
Targets: one win, 2.95 ERA and 15 strikeouts.
Skinny: Adam Wainwright has been on a tear of late—a remarkable occurrence for a pitcher who's just 17 months removed from major elbow surgery.
But then again, we're talking about one of baseball's most bankable aces when he's healthy.
Of his last eight outings, Wainwright (11-10, 3.87 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 142/37 K-BB) has allowed two or less runs seven times. In that span, he's also a perfect 8-of-8 in giving up three or less walks.
Within that time frame, Wainwright also has four victories and five outings of seven-plus strikeouts.
Targets against the Astros (home) and Reds (away): one win, 2.70 ERA and 13 strikeouts.
Skinny: Forget about Cliff Lee's lone win or 4.17 ERA since July 24.
The most revealing sign of his future success lies with an absurd 36/2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his last five starts.
Going one step further, Lee has a 23/0 ratio in the last three outings—a stat that overwhelms anything in the runs or hits allowed departments.
It also helps that Lee has home dates with the Reds and Nationals this week. Don't be surprised if he posts two starts of eight strikeouts or more.
Targets: one win, 3.10 ERA and 16 strikeouts.
Skinny: Upon trading Mike Trout to a fellow pennant contender in the SI.com & Friends league last month, I was privately happy to land Brandon Phillips, Adrian Beltre, Jason Kipnis, Marco Scutaro and Addison Reed for Trout and Lance Lynn.
But I refused to OK the blockbuster trade until Jordan Zimmermann (9-7, 2.38 ERA, 1.09 WHIP) was the final piece of the deal.
Thank god for that.
In his last 10 outings, Zimmermann has allowed zero or one run a staggering nine times. And in that span, he's a perfect 10-of-10 in yielding three or less walks.
Since June 27, Zimmermann also has a 6-1 record with five games of six-plus strikeouts.
Targets: one win, 2.65 ERA and 13 strikeouts.
Skinny: Matt Cain may have been the Giants' signature ace of the season's first half, but Madison Bumgarner has assumed that mantle for the latter half.
Since July 13, Bumgarmer (13-7, 2.97 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 150/32 K-BB) has been a perfect 7-of-7 in allowing three runs or less, sporting a 2.00 ERA. In that span, he also had an unblemished capacity of two walks or less.
Throw in three wins and an elite-level K-BB ratio of 51/9 since the All-Star break, and it was easy to attach a No. 3 ranking to Bumgarner in this week's countdown.
Targets: one win, 2.70 ERA and 15 strikeouts.
Skinny: I was happy to extend a free pass to Roy Halladay in his first two starts back from a six-week absence in the Phillies rotation (shoulder woes).
And I've been happier to reap the benefits of his production in the last four outings—a 2-2 record, 2.25 ERA, 0.71 WHIP and scintillating 27/3 K-BB ratio.
As a result, it would be a crime to devoid Halladay of a top-five ranking, even with two big starts against division leaders (Reds, Nationals).
Targets: two wins, 2.80 ERA and 13 strikeouts.
Skinny: Only the most ominous of circumstances could bump Clayton Kershaw from the top spot of any weekly countdown.
Something in the realm of two road starts...or a pair of meetings with the Rangers, Yankees, Tigers or Reds (with Joey Votto).
Thankfully, none of those factors apply to Kershaw (11-6, 2.90 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 165/42 K-BB) in Week 21. He draws the Giants (without Melky Cabrera) and Marlins in a crucial seven-day window for real-world and fantasy circles.
Here's a look at Kershaw's recent run of stellar play:
1. Of his last seven outings, Kershaw has allowed three runs or less seven times.
2. Since June 26, Kershaw is a perfect 10-of-10 in surrendering three walks or less.
3. The Dodgers ace has won his last four decisions.
4. Of his last 10 starts, Kershaw has reached the elite-level threshold of seven-plus strikeouts eight times.
Targets: two wins, 2.60 ERA and 14 strikeouts.