MLB: Every Contender's Most Valuable Pitcher Down the Stretch
There's a month and change to go, and the playoff picture is taking shape.
Even though the Phillies are on pace to win 100-plus games, the Braves are still within shouting distance. The two combatants face off in Atlanta during the last three games of the season. Whether or not those games matter, we'll see.
The most intriguing race remains out in the NL West. Will San Francisco right the ship? Can Arizona hang on? And finally, don't sleep on Colorado—'specially if San Francisco and Arizona continue to falter. The Rockies have been known to get hot during the final month. Just look at what they did in 2007 and 2009. The next two weeks will be critical for them.
In this list, I take a look at the most important pitchers down the stretch—not necessarily the best.
Boston Red Sox: Erik Bedard
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Jon Lester and Josh Beckett are undoubtedly the top two starters come postseason play, but who will be the third starter.
Clay Buchholz stated that he plans on returning this year, but if he does come back, how effective will he be? He's been on the disabled list since the middle of June with a stress fracture in his lower back. (If he comes back fully healthy, he's going to be the guy to watch, but let's get to that point first.)
John Lackey's been a mess all season long: 12-9 with a 5.98 ERA.
This leaves Erik Bedard. He's 0-2 with a 4.02 ERA in just four starts with Boston, but he's been solid all season long.
New York Yankees: CC Sabathia
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The Yankees and Red Sox square off six more times this season.
If New York wants to win the division, Sabathia has to perform against Boston. He's 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA in four starts against them.
The Red Sox lead the season series against New York 8-2.
Detroit Tigers: Max Scherzer
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Someone needs to step up behind Justin Verlander.
Max Scherzer (13-7) and Rick Porcello (11-8) have nice win-loss percentages, but both have been disappointments this season.
After a solid rookie season by Porcello in 2009 (14-9, 3.96 ERA), he's had a sophomore and now junior slump with an ERA around five the last two seasons.
Scherzer's the more promising of the two, but he's been inconsistent in both seasons with Detroit.
Cleveland Indians: Ubaldo Jimenez
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On August 19, the Indians sat just 1.5 games back with a three-game series in Detroit.
The Tigers swept Cleveland, and the Indians have lost six-of-seven to fall to 6.5 games back.
They still have six games remaining against Detroit, including a three-game set at Comerica Park to close the season.
Jimenez has pitched against Detroit twice in his four starts with Cleveland. He threw eight shutout innings against them in his first outing, but struggled in Detroit. He surrendered eight earned runs in 3.1 innings pitched.
Chicago White Sox: Mark Buehrle
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The White Sox continue to hover around the .500 mark. Alex Rios and Adam Dunn still haven't found their stroke.
Mark Buehrle's been solid all season long (10-6 3.19 ERA 1.23 WHIP), and if the White Sox happen to make a run, Buehrle will have to lead the way at the top of the rotation.
The White Sox have six games left against Detroit.
Texas Rangers: Neftali Feliz
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After a stellar rookie year where Neftali Feliz blew just three of 43 save opportunities, he's already recorded six blown saves in 31 chances this season.
The Rangers bolstered their bullpen with the acquisition of Mike Adams, but Feliz remains the closer. We'll see how he handles the final month.
Los Angeles Angels: Jered Weaver
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Fresh off a five-year $85 million extension, the Angels are looking to Jered Weaver (14-6 2.10 ERA) to continue his fine season for one more month.
Los Angeles is 2.5 games back of Texas.
Philadelphia Phillies: Roy Oswalt
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Roy Oswalt's dealt with back trouble the entire season. He's had two stints on the disabled list due to it.
He's made three starts after returning a second time. In his last start, Oswalt impressed with eight shutout innings.
The big key for the Phillies is to get everyone healthy for the postseason, and Oswalt's been the big concern all season long.
Philadelphia holds a 6.5 game advantage over Atlanta in the NL East.
Atlanta Braves: Jonny Venters
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Will the Braves catch Philadelphia? Most likely no, but stranger things have happened.
If Atlanta wants to get back in the race, they have to beat the Phillies at least five out of six times down the stretch.
The Phillies and Braves have played low-scoring, tight games all season long. The Braves have the better bullpen, and Jonny Venters is the workhorse (70 games 73.2 IP 1.10 ERA .95 WHIP). He'll be counted on in late innings to neutralize Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.
Milwaukee Brewers: Zack Greinke
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Shaun Marcum and Yovani Gallardo have been solid all season long, but Zack Greinke has yet to emerge as the ace of the staff (12-5 4.22 ERA 1.16 WHIP).
He has an outstanding strikeout rate (10.90 per nine).
The Brewers already have a formidable lineup, but if Marcum, Gallardo and Greinke pitch up to their expectations, the Brew Crew will be a tough out come posteason.
San Francisco Giants: Tim Lincecum
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The Giants have struggled in the second half, but Tim Lincecum is keeping San Francisco afloat.
He's 4-3 with a 1.13 ERA since the All-Star break. If only he could get some run support.
San Francisco is two games back of the first place Diamondbacks in the NL West.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Ian Kennedy
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The nation buzzed about the great play of the Indians and Pirates earlier on in the year, but it's been the Diamondbacks who've sustained their success throughout the entire regular season.
The emergence of Ian Kennedy is one of the reasons why. The darkhorse Cy Young candidate is 16-4 with a 3.09 ERA and 1.13 WHIP on the year.
Colorado Rockies: Jhoulys Chacin
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The Rockies don't have any starting pitching depth, but Jhoulys Chacin (10-10 3.49 ERA 1.26 WHIP) is the closest thing to an ace Colorado has.
They dealt Ubaldo Jimenez at the trading deadline and were unable to make a trade with Houston when they put in a claim for Wandy Rodriguez.
Currently, the Rockies are just 63-68, but like I stated in my intro, Colorado's stormed back in September twice in the past five years.
With the inexperienced D-Backs perched atop the division and the continuing struggles of San Francisco, Colorado is not out of this thing yet.