Fantasy Baseball: Ranking Best Starting Pitcher Matchups for September 23-29

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistSeptember 22, 2013

Fantasy Baseball: Ranking Best Starting Pitcher Matchups for September 23-29

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    It's been said that pitching wins championships—and that theory will be put to the test this week as fantasy teams look to jump over the last obstacle standing between you and a championship.

    Between you and being able to send videos like this to your fellow owners. 

    The seemingly endless cycle of research, number-crunching and hair-pulling comes to a merciful end this week, one that, if your team is still playing, likely finds you with less hair and more pent-up aggression than you had back in March.

    Allow me to try and ease your burden as we take a look at the 25 starting pitchers that are best equipped to carry out your more-than-reasonable demands: Go out and win me a championship.


25. Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds

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    Expected Starts This Week

    Monday, Sept. 24 vs. New York (1 GS, 1-0, 5.40 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 5.0 IP, 4/8 BB/K)

    Sunday, Sept. 29 vs. Pittsburgh (2 GS, 1-0, 0.73 ERA, 0.41 WHIP, 12.1 IP, 2/9 BB/K)


    It has been a frustrating fantasy season for Johnny Cueto owners, with Cincinnati's ace limited to only 10 starts on the season due to injury, missing nearly a total four months of action in the process.

    But he was excellent in his return to action against Houston last week, scattering five hits and a walk over five shutout innings, striking out eight in a start shortened by his high pitch count (82 in five innings.)

    It's not knowing just how many pitches Dusty Baker and the Reds will allow him to throw down the stretch that makes him a bit of a risky proposition this week. But two starts are valuable, and when he's on, Cueto has the ability to shut down any lineup in baseball.

24. A.J. Griffin, Oakland Athletics

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    Expected Starts This Week

    Monday, Sept. 24 at Los Angeles (3 GS, 1-1, 3.32 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 19.0 IP, 4/12 BB/K)

    Sunday, Sept. 29 at Seattle (3 GS, 1-2, 5.00 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 18.0 IP, 8/13 BB/K)


    A.J. Griffin was great against the Los Angeles Angels in his last start, tossing six innings of one-hit, two-run ball with six strikeouts. This week, he gets to face the free-swinging Angels and the Seattle Mariners in his last two starts of the regular season.

    While both teams boast lineups that are capable of scoring runs in a bunch—especially Los Angeles—Griffin has been dealing in September, pitching to a 2.77 ERA while averaging a season-high 10.4 K/9.

    With the potential for a pair of quality starts and high strikeout totals, Griffin is a solid two-start option in any league.

23. Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Expected Starts This Week

    Tuesday, Sept. 25 at New York (4 GS, 2-0, 3.55 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 25.1 IP, 8/18 BB/K)

    Sunday, Sept. 29 at Toronto (2 GS, 2-0, 2.45 ERA, 1.82 WHIP, 11.0 IP, 10/13 BB/K)


    While he's only recorded two wins over his last six starts after getting the victory (and extra points for fantasy owners) in 13 of his first 19 starts on the season, Matt Moore remains one of the better pitching options for the upcoming week.

    He faces a pair of AL East foes against whom he's not only had success this season, but that both are without key pieces in their respective lineups—Brett Gardner for the Yankees and Jose Bautista for the Blue Jays—which makes his two starts less daunting than they would be otherwise.

    When you throw in how much better Moore has been on the road this year than at Tropicana Field, it makes his fantasy outlook this week look that much better: 


    That said, both the Yankees and Blue Jays are capable of putting runs on the board in a hurry, even without their ailing stars, and Moore has continued to struggle with his command at points this season, walking four or more batters in seven outings.

    Still, two-start pitchers are always a valuable commodity to have in your lineup, and Moore remains a solid No. 3 starter for fantasy rotations this week.

22. James Shields, Kansas City Royals

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    Expected Starts This Week

    Friday, Sept. 27 at Chicago (5 GS, 1-1, 2.18 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 33.0 IP, 7/29 BB/K)


    For as impressive as James Shields' numbers are against the Chicago White Sox this season, he's been even more dominant when he faces them at U.S. Cellular Field, allowing only one earned run in 13 innings of work.

    While Chicago's offense has shown signs of life lately, scoring 30 runs over its last five games, it's hard not to like Shields' chances of success against a rebuilding team, especially with Kansas City still playing for a spot in the postseason.

21. Marco Estrada, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Expected Starts This Week

    Monday, Sept. 24 at Atlanta (Has not faced)

    Sunday, Sept. 29 at New York (Has not faced)


    It's not often that I'd recommend starting a pitcher making his season debut against not one, but two teams in the final week of the season, but in Marco Estrada's case, it's simply a case of riding a hot arm.

    The 30-year-old has been pitching as well as he ever has since the All-Star break, going 2-0 with a 2.62 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and 42 strikeouts over 44.2 innings of work, walking only eight batters.

    While Atlanta's lineup is capable of knocking around even the best starting pitchers in baseball, the Mets' is not. And with the way that Estrada has been dealing of late, there's no reason to expect things to take a turn for the worse in the final week of the season.

20. Clay Buchholz, Boston Red Sox

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    Expected Starts This Week

    Sunday, Sept. 29 at Baltimore (1 GS, 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 7.0 IP, 4/8 BB/K)


    Clay Buchholz hasn't missed a beat since returning from injury earlier this month, allowing two earned runs and 11 hits over his last 17 innings of work. Only once in his 15 starts this season has he allowed more than two earned runs, and that came back on May 6 against Minnesota.

    He tossed seven scoreless innings against Baltimore earlier this season and, while the Red Sox already have the division wrapped up and will surely be resting some of their regulars down the stretch, Buchholz figures to be on a normal pitch count and remains a quality starting option this week.

19. Francisco Liriano, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Expected Starts This Week

    Wednesday, Sept. 25 at Chicago (4 GS, 3-0, 1.24 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 29.0 IP, 14/28 BB/K)


    It's been a terrific season for fantasy owners who grabbed Francisco Liriano late in their drafts this season, with the 29-year-old southpaw recapturing some of the magic that made him one of the hottest pitchers in baseball when he broke out with Minnesota in 2006.

    While there's always the risk for the kind of underwhelming four-walk, four-strikeout performance that he delivered the last time he faced the Cubs, Liriano is more than capable of repeating the success that he had against them on May 22, when he tossed seven scoreless innings, allowing two baserunners and fanning nine.

    After counting on Liriano to deliver for much of the season, now isn't the time to send him to the bench.

18. Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants

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    Expected Starts This Week

    Wednesday, Sept. 25 vs. Los Angeles (4 GS, 3-1, 1.93 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 28.0 IP, 3/26 BB/K)


    Despite having awesome numbers against the Dodgers this season, it's hard to rank Madison Bumgarner any higher than 18th on our list this week simply because of how potent we know the Dodgers lineup can be.

    That said, Bumgarner remains a must-start regardless of who he's facing, as the 24-year-old hasn't allowed more than three earned runs in any of his last 19 starts and remains firmly entrenched as one of the game's premier left-handed hurlers.

17. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

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    Expected Starts This Week

    Sunday, Sept. 29 vs. Oakland (2 GS, 2-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.68 WHIP, 14.2 IP, 2/16 BB/K)


    Felix Hernandez is set to return from his three-week absence on Sunday, setting him up to make Seattle's final start of the season against Oakland, a team that he has dispatched with relative ease this season.

    A healthy Hernandez is automatically a top-tier starting option regardless of the competition, and with his success this season against the A's, he becomes an even more attractive option.

    That said, he is coming off of an injury, and Seattle is sure to pull him quickly if there's the slightest bit of suspicion that he may be less than 100 percent healthy.

16. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

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    Expected Starts This Week

    Friday, Sept. 27 at Arizona (1 GS, 0-0, 2.57 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 7.0 IP, 2/4 BB/K


    While he's been tagged for four earned runs or more in two of his last four starts, Stephen Strasburg is always a quality starting option, especially against a team that he's had success against before.

    Strasburg made only one mistake in his only start against the Diamondbacks this season, a sixth-inning pitch to Aaron Hill that the second baseman took deep for a two-run blast.

    With the ability to dominate any lineup at any time, and the way that the Nationals have been playing this month, he's a must-start for anyone still playing for something this week.

15. Mat Latos, Cincinnati Reds

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    Expected Starts This Week

    Wednesday, Sept. 25 vs. New York (1 GS, 0-0, 5.40 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 6.2 IP, 1/4 BB/K)


    Mat Latos got hit hard by the Mets back on May 22, but the New York lineup that he'll face on Wednesday is far different—and far less dangerous—than the one that picked up four runs and eight hits off of him last time.

    With no Marlon Byrd, John Buck and, likely, David Wright to be concerned with, his chances of a far more Latos-like performance increase considerably. Look for seven quality innings from Latos with close to double-digit strikeouts.

14. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

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    Expected Starts This Week

    Tuesday, Sept. 24 vs. Kansas City (3 GS, 1-1, 0.75 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 24.0 IP, 2/19 BB/K)


    As good a starting pitcher as you'll find in the American League, Chris Sale has been stellar against Kansas City this season. He's pitched at least seven innings in each of the three starts, never allowing more than one earned run while sending at least five batters down on strikes.

    Despite Kansas City's push for a playoff spot, Sale is going to put up excellent numbers against any competition. He may not get the win given Chicago's mediocre offense, but the rest of his numbers still make him a must-start.

13. David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Expected Starts This Week

    Wednesday, Sept. 25 at New York (2 GS, 1-1, 3.21 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 14.0 IP, 1/10 BB/K)


    David Price has always had a rough time at the new Yankee Stadium, pitching to a career 4.28 ERA and 1.48 WHIP over the course of his career. 

    But this isn't a typical Yankees lineup that he'll be facing.

    With the Rays fighting for their playoff lives and the Yankees all but assured of watching the playoffs from the comfort of their living rooms, the Yankees may not have enough left in them to play the role of spoiler.

    Expect Price to deliver a vintage Price performance, which makes him a quality start any day of the week.

12. Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Expected Starts This Week

    Friday, Sept. 27 at Atlanta (4 GS, 3-1, 2.63 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 27.1 IP, 2/30 BB/K)


    Cliff Lee hasn't allowed more than three earned runs in a start since the beginning of August, and he hasn't allowed more than two earned runs in a start since August 21.

    Despite Atlanta's talented lineup, Lee has been outstanding against the likely NL East champions this season, and there's no reason to believe that his success—both recently and against the Braves—is going to all of a sudden disappear in his final start of the season.

11. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Expected Starts This Week

    Wednesday, Sept. 25 at Miami (4 GS, 1-2, 2.00 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 27.0 IP, 4/32 BB/K


    Cole Hamels' two losses to Miami this season are more a result of Philadelphia's inept offense, not the 30-year-old southpaw having been less than stellar against the cellar-dwellers in the NL East.

    Coming off one of his worst outings of the season, watching the Mets pick up six earned runs and 10 hits over six innings of work, Hamels is sure to be looking for a strong finish to the season. When you consider his numbers against Miami this season, there's no reason not to like his chances of getting it.

10. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Expected Starts This Week

    Tuesday, Sept. 24 at San Francisco (4 GS, 1-2, 2.81 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 6.0 IP, 9/12 BB/K)

    Sunday, Sept. 29 vs. Colorado (1 GS, 1-0, 3.00 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 6.0 IP, 2/12 BB/K)


    One of the more underrated rookie pitchers in the game, Hyun-Jin Ryu has pitched better than the 1-4 record over his last five starts would indicate, allowing only six earned runs over his last 20.1 innings of work.

    While he's struggled with his command against the Giants, Ryu still managed to keep them from running up the score, and he's proven time and time again that he's capable of delivering quality starts every time out.

    With a legitimate chance to pick up a pair of wins this week, Ryu is a top-10 option for fantasy owners as they set their final lineups of the year.


9. Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants

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    Expected Starts This Week

    Tuesday, Sept. 24 vs. Los Angeles (4 GS, 1-1, 3.97 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 22.2 IP, 9/18 BB/K)

    Sunday, Sept. 29 vs. San Diego (1 GS, 0-0, 2.57 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 7.0 IP, 2/10 BB/K)


    Few pitchers in baseball have pitched as well as Matt Cain has since the All-Star break. San Francisco's ace has pitched to a 2.34 ERA and 1.09 WHIP over his last 10 starts, spanning 65.1 innings of work.

    While his numbers against the Dodgers don't exactly fill you with a warm, fuzzy feeling, he shut down the potent Los Angeles attack on Sept. 12, allowing only two runs (one earned) and six hits over seven innings of work in a 3-2 loss. 

    With the way he's been throwing the ball, Cain is a must-start each and every week.

8. Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers

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    Expected Starts This Week

    Wednesday, Sept. 25 at Minnesota (2 GS, 2-0, 2.70 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 13.1 IP, 3/16 BB/K)


    Baseball's only 20-game winner this season, Max Scherzer will look to put an exclamation point on what may very well be a Cy Young Award-winning season for the 29-year-old right-hander.

    He hasn't seen Minnesota since the end of May, when he held the Twins to one earned run and three hits over six innings of work, walking three and striking out six.

    With Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit the two "big bats" left standing for the Twins, as Justin Morneau in Pittsburgh and Joe Mauer is on the disabled list, Scherzer should be able to equal, if not exceed, his previous numbers against Minnesota this week.

7. Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Expected Starts This Week

    Saturday, Sept. 28 vs. Colorado (3 GS, 2-0, 4.19 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 19.1 IP, 11/16 BB/K)


    Colorado's lineup is a formidable one that demands respect, but with the way that Zack Greinke has been throwing the ball over the past two months, not even the Rockies pose a significant threat to the former AL Cy Young Award winner.

    Over his past 10 starts, dating back to July 30, Greinke has gone 7-0 with an 1.70 ERA, holding the opposition to a .210/.257/.310 slash line over that stretch.

    Were this game being played in Coors Field, he would probably be a borderline top-10 selection this week.

    But with the game being played at Dodger Stadium, where Greinke owns an 8-1 record, 2.16 ERA and 0.92 WHIP this season, the Rockies don't stand much of a chance, making him a top-10 pick for fantasy owners this week.

6. Anibal Sanchez, Detroit Tigers

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    Expected Starts This Week

    Saturday, Sept. 28 at Miami (Not yet faced)


    Making his first appearance against his former team, the Marlins, since the last season's trade that sent Anibal Sanchez from Miami to Detroit, the American League leader in ERA is sure to be fired up when he makes his final start of the regular season.

    Despite the presence of Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton, Miami's lineup remains one of the more putrid ones in baseball, a group that will prove to be no challenge for Sanchez to slice and dice with relative ease.

5. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

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    Expected Starts This Week

    Monday, Sept. 23 vs. Minnesota (3 GS, 2-0, 3.32 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 19.0 IP, 7/21 BB/K)

    Sunday, Sept. 29 vs. Miami (Has not faced yet)


    No pitcher has been more maddening this season for fantasy owners than Justin Verlander, who has only shown flashes of his brilliance and has not been able to sustain it over multiple starts when he looked like his usual world-beating self.

    While Minnesota hit him hard the last time the two met, with Verlander allowing six earned runs and 10 hits over seven innings on August 22, it's his second start of the week against a hapless Miami lineup that makes Verlander such a solid option this week.

    Even if he has a so-so outing against the Twins, the potential for a vintage Verlander outing against the Marlins—eight innings, only a handful of hits and double-digit strikeouts—that makes it impossible to not run him out there this week and hope for the best.

4. Mike Minor, Atlanta Braves

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    Expected Starts This Week

    Monday, Sept. 23 vs. Milwaukee (Not yet faced)

    Saturday, Sept. 28 vs. Philadelphia (1 GS, 0-1, 2.57 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 7.0 IP, 1/9 BB/K


    Mike Minor has been scuffling a bit over his last four starts, going 0-2 with a 4.50 ERA—a stretch that included a loss against his second opponent this week, Philadelphia. It wasn't his fault that Atlanta fell victim to its division rivals, however, as Minor tossed seven innings of four-hit, two run ball, walking one and striking out nine.

    With the potential for a repeat performance at home against the Phillies—and a favorable home start against the Brewers—Minor is one of the five best starting options in fantasy this week.

3. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Expected Starts This Week

    Friday, Sept. 27 vs. Colorado (4 GS, 2-1, 3.54 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 28.0 IP, 4/27 BB/K)


    You can bet that Clayton Kershaw hasn't forgotten the beating that Colorado handed him when the two last met on Sept. 2, tagging MLB's ERA leader for a season-high five earned runs and 11 hits in only five innings of work. And that sweet, sweet revenge is on the Cy Young Award-contender's mind.

    I don't need to sell you on the idea of starting Kershaw this week—it goes without saying that he belongs in your starting rotation each and every week. The only reason he ranks third this week instead of residing in the top spot is his lack of a second start, something the two arms ahead of him have to offer.

2. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Expected Starts This Week

    Monday, Sept. 23 vs. Washington (1 GS, 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 8.1 IP, 1/9 BB/K)

    Sunday, Sept. 29 vs. Chicago (3 GS, 1-1, 4.05 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 20.0 IP, 2/18 BB/K


    After watching Cincinnati crush him in a pair of starts at the end of August and beginning of September, tagging him for 15 earned runs and 17 hits in only eight innings of work, Adam Wainwright has returned to throwing the ball like he has all season long.

    Over his last three starts (22.2 innings), Wainwright has allowed only four earned runs while striking out 22 batters. With a pair of free-swinging teams on tap this week and St. Louis looking to clinch the NL Central, expect nothing but continued dominance from the Cardinals ace.

1. Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers

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    Expected Starts This Week

    Tuesday, Sept. 24 vs. Houston (4 GS, 3-1, 2.73 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 29.2 IP, 8/43 BB/K)

    Sunday, Sept. 29 vs. Los Angeles (3 GS, 3-0, 3.00 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 18.0 IP, 9/23 BB/K


    While Yu Darvish hasn't quite been his awesome self lately, setting and then tying a career-high with six walks in two of his last four starts, he gets the perfect cure for what ails him in the first of his two starts this week against the Houston Astros.

    The 27-year-old ace of the Rangers rotation, Darvish has had more success this season against the Astros than any other team, twice taking no-hitters into the eighth inning.

    It's the potential for that kind of dominant performance that vaults Darvish into the top spot this week, despite having to face a streaking Angels squad that has won eight of its last 10 and gone 13-6 in the final month of the season.