Tigers ace Justin Verlander (46 strikeouts, 2.31 ERA since July 31) draws the Royals and White Sox this week.
The following slideshow is a top-10 ranking of two-start pitchers for the week of Aug. 27-Sept. 2.
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 window of two-start pitchers over the last 22 weeks. The No. 10 pitcher, Chris Sale, 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: You know it's a super-deep week when a supreme talent like Chris Sale is bringing up the rear.
Seriously, anyone could make a rational argument for Sale (15-4, 2.65 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 150/36 K-BB) occupying the top spot, let alone the No. 10 slot. He's been that good...and he could be that dominant in the short-term future.
In his last four outings, Sale has tallied three wins and two double-digit strikeout efforts. And of his previous 10 appearances, the lanky southpaw has surrendered just two runs, less seven times.
So, why the middling ranking? Sale has two road outings against playoff-contending teams (Orioles, Tigers) with a knack for hitting the long ball.
Targets: One win, 3.00 ERA and 14 strikeouts.
Skinny: Remember when Kyle Lohse stifled the Miami batters for the Marlins' stadium-christening opener on April 4?
Since that night, it's essentially been clear sailing for Lohse, who has surrendered two or less runs in 10 of his last 11 starts.
Of equal importance, he has allowed only 15 combined hits in his last four outings (26.2 innings) while racking up two wins and 18 strikeouts.
Confession time: When Lohse collected 15 wins and a 3.78 ERA for the Cardinals in 2008, I chalked it up to being a fluke...or merely prospering from a drop-off in quality hitting when switching leagues.
But in time, Lohse has proven to be a rock-solid asset in the fantasy realm, with this season (13-2, 2.61 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 104/32 K-BB) easily standing out as his greatest triumph.
Targets against the Pirates and Nationals on the road: One win, 2.90 ERA and 12 strikeouts.
Skinny: You'd be hard-pressed to find a hotter pitcher flying under the radar than Yovani Gallardo (13-8, 2.62 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 163/62 K-BB).
Since July 31, Gallardo is a perfect 5-for-5 in surrendering three runs or less and three walks or less. Within that span, the Brewers ace has a 5-0 record, 2.02 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 35/10 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Put it all together, and Gallardo is just as likely to finish No. 1 among this week's two-start pitchers—as the eighth slot.
Targets against the Cubs and Pirates: One win, 2.85 ERA and 13 strikeouts.
Skinny: One month ago, Jered Weaver was sitting pretty as the presumptive pick for American League Cy Young honors.
But it's a funny how one nine-run meltdown against the Rays (Aug. 17)—and a perfect game from the No. 2 asset in this countdown—can muddle that picture rather quickly.
In Weaver's case, his recent numbers have been unfairly skewed. Since July 2 (spanning 10 outings and 66.1 innings), he has surrendered three runs or less, eight times. And in that span, he's a perfect 10-for-10 in yielding three or less walks.
One more thing: Weaver also has eight wins in that time frame.
Weekly targets: One win, 2.85 ERA and 13 strikeouts.
Skinny: If Stephen Strasburg (15-5, 2.85 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 183/43 K-BB) had the freedom to pitch seven, eight or nine innings on a regular basis, he'd likely boast a top-three ranking for each two-start week.
But without the opportunity to accrue five, six or seven more outs per outing, compared to the other elite pitchers, it's smart to project less strikeouts and insist upon a smaller margin of error on the ERA front.
That said, Strasburg remarkably posted double-digit strikeouts in his last six-inning appearance (Aug. 21).
Bottom line: If anyone has the potential to be the premier two-start pitcher off only 12 innings of work, it's Strasburg.
Targets: Two wins, 2.85 ERA and 14 strikeouts.
Skinny: With each successive talent, this countdown gets more and more absurd.
In the last 30 days, James Shields has a 4-0 record, 2.15 ERA, 0.66 WHIP and scintillating 34/3 K-BB ratio. And before that, Shields became the year's first MLB pitcher to record double-digit strikeouts in three consecutive outings.
All this begs the question: With such a microscopic WHIP since July 28, how does Shields garner a lower ranking than teammate David Price?
My sheepish answer: They can't both share top billing.
Targets against the Rangers and Blue Jays: One win, 2.70 ERA and 14 strikeouts.
Skinny: Of the aces listed in this countdown, David Price has the most flawless resume over the last two months.
Since June 29, Price (16-4, 2.28 ERA, 1.07 WHIP) is an immaculate 10-for-10 in allowing three runs or less, including four scoreless gems. In that span, he's also unblemished in giving up three walks or less.
Of equal importance, Price has a 7-0 record in that span. As the coup de grace, he notched seven or more strikeouts, eight times.
For the week, Price draws two road encounters with the Rangers and Blue Jays, which may explain why he's not sitting at No. 1.
Targets: Two wins, 2.80 ERA and 15 strikeouts.
Skinny: While no one would dispute that Strasburg, Price, Gallardo and Shields have tallied better numbers than Matt Cain in the last two months, the Giants pitcher has one significant feather in his cap this week:
A pair of juicy matchups against the anemic Astros and Cubs.
That's not to say Cain will post another perfect game against Houston (like he did on June 13), but it's a fun slate to think about over the next seven days.
Targets: Two wins, 2.50 ERA and 14 strikeouts.
Skinny: The June-July-August numbers involving Felix Hernandez and David Price are remarkably similar.
So, it only makes sense to rank them back-to-back in this week's countdown.
Of his last 10 outings, King Felix (12-5, 2.54 ERA, 1.04 WHIP) yielded just two runs or less, eight times. He was also a perfect 10-for-10 in surrendering three walks or less in that span.
Of equal importance, Hernandez has won eight straight decisions, along with five double-digit strikeout efforts for the season.
Targets against the Twins (road) and Angels (home): Two wins, 2.30 ERA and 15 strikeouts.
Skinny: This is a good time to be Justin Verlander.
His Tigers, sporting a 30-16 record in their last 46 games, have surged into primary contention in the American League Central and wild-card races.
And from an individual standpoint, the reigning Cy Young (AL) has amassed 46 strikeouts in his last six outings, with two games of 12-plus strikeouts in that period.
Obviously, I could have gone with just about any of the 10 aces here to fill the penthouse vacancy.
But right here, right now, Verlander (12-7, 2.50 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 192 K) feels like the safest bet for monster numbers.
Targets against the Royals and White Sox: Two wins, 2.45 ERA and 16 strikeouts.