This is the worst time of the year for two-start pitchers. Rosters expanded in September, so now there’s a new crop of unknown starters to guess on. Some teams are competing for a division title or wild-card berth, so rotations can be shuffled around at any time — I had to redo four pitchers from changes made between Saturday afternoon and evening. Once those teams lock in their playoff spot, there will be an additional shuffle that will be felt more next week — another reason to have your playoff in Week 24 and not 25.
On top of all that, we have an extremely thin week for two-start pitchers. This is the first time since April that there are fewer than 40 starters — 36 to be exact. Several of those are already in question, and I would not be surprised if there are a few more shuffles before the day is through. Of those 30-plus starters, I would trust about half of them. Weigh your options carefully; some of your one-start options may be better than your two-start guys. Double-check all your starters on Monday morning and again in the evening before rosters lock. Good luck to you all.
This week’s notes
– San Francisco Giants are off Monday and Thursday, so no two-start pitchers here. There is an outside chance that Tuesday’s starter, Johnny Cueto, could start Sunday if the Giants skip Chris Stratton. He would get Colorado at home Tuesday and potentially the Dodgers on the road Sunday. Cueto is a semi-solid option for this week with one start, so keep this in mind when setting your lineup.
– Houston Astros are listing no starter for Tuesday’s game against the Chicago White Sox. Lance McCullers was scratched from his Wednesday start and his return to the rotation is dependent on how things go after his weekend bullpen session. Should McCullers need more time, expect Brad Peacock to take his slot with a follow-up game Sunday against the Angels. Peacock is a must start; McCullers is solid provided he is 100 percent.
– Cincinnati Reds shut down Tuesday’s schedule starter, Tyler Mahle, for the season. He was scheduled for two home starts against the Cardinals and Red Sox. The Reds were already scraping the bottom of the barrel for starters, so do not gamble on whomever they throw out there this week.
– St Louis Cardinals are still listing Jack Flaherty as the starter Tuesday at Cincinnati. The team already expressed concern about his innings and has skipped several of his starts. The Cardinals will probably do that again this week, especially with Adam Wainwright slated to return. Expect Luke Weaver to take the mound if they skip Flaherty on Tuesday. If that happens, he would get a second start at Pittsburgh on Sunday.
- Clayton Kershaw @PHI, vs. SF
- Yu Darvish @PHI, vs. SF
- Marcus Stroman vs KC, vs. NYY
- Jon Lester @TB, @MIL
- Gio Gonzalez @ATL, @NYM
- Patrick Corbin @SD, vs. MIA
The above players are top-tier pitchers and got you where you are today. Their seasonal numbers, recent performance and, in some cases, record against their opponent, make them the best starting options this week. Granted, even good pitchers can have a bad game. However, you can’t kick yourself when this happens, but you will beat yourself up for the next three months if such a player pitches a gem on your bench.
- Jose Berrios @NYY, @DET
- Chase Anderson @PIT, vs. CHC
- Mike Clevinger @LAA, @SEA
- Aaron Nola vs. LAD, @ATL
- Mike Leake vs. TEX, vs CLE
- Chris Archer vs. CHC, vs BAL
- Kevin Gausman vs. BOS, vs. TB
- Martin Perez @SEA, @OAK
- Doug Fister @BAL, @CIN
The Minnesota Twins’ Berrios facing the New York Yankees could be a preview of the American League wild-card matchup. This game worries me, but I think any damage will be absorbed by the Detroit start. The only thing keeping Anderson from the must-start category is innings. His season numbers, and with the exception of one bad game against Chicago, are solid. I don’t know how, but they are. Clevinger has the road advantage (2.56 ERA), and a 4.26 ERA in June is his highest monthly total. The Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels are fighting for a postseason berth, which does add an element of danger here.
Prior to August 17, Nola had an ERA of 3.26. He has gotten back on track after a few bad starts, has dominated the Atlanta Braves and gets a Los Angeles Dodgers team batting .216 in September. The wheels were starting to fall off in St. Louis, but Leake has been rejuvenated in Seattle. I am confident in his combined numbers even with stiff competition from Cleveland. Two subpar starts in a row for Archer combined with bad luck against Baltimore have me worried. The strikeout and quality start potential ease some of my concerns, as does his 3.45 home ERA.
Gausman has a 3.44 ERA in the second half and a 3.86 against the Boston Red Sox through three starts. Baltimore has an outside chance at a wild-card spot, which should give Gausman some added incentive. Playing in favor for Perez are his road ERA, two pitcher parks, weak opponents against lefties and strikeout potential despite not generating many strikeouts. He will destroy your WHIP though; something to keep in mind. I’m willing to overlook Fister’s hiccup against the Oakland Athletics last time out. He has quality starts in six of his last eight and should be dialed in as Boston attempts to lock up its division.
- Jaime Garcia vs. MIN, @TOR
- Wade Miley vs. BOS, vs TB
- German Marquez @SF, @SD
Is Garcia adjusting to life in the American League? His last two starts, while short, were good. I don’t know if he will throw enough innings to be useful and would sit him if you use quality starts. Miley shut out Tampa Bay in both his starts this year and held his own against Boston. On paper, he has the advantage, but the potential for a blowup given his inconsistencies is better than average. Marquez draws the perfect opponents in two of the best parks. Sadly, he bombed in his only start against the Giants and allowed nine runs over 11.2 innings in two starts against the San Diego Padres.
- Lucas Giolito @HOU, vs. KC
I might be willing to move Giolito up to solid if his first game was against anyone but the Astros. I would easily stream him against the Kansas City Royals even with the team swinging a hot bat in September. If you are feeling confident, then start him against Houston. Just don’t blame me if things go south.
START AT OWN RISK
- Steven Brault vs. MIL, vs. STL
- Luiz Gohara vs. WSH, vs. PHI
- Brent Suter @PIT, vs. CHC
- Sam Gaviglio @TOR, @CHW
- Odrisamer Despaigne vs. NYM, @ARZ
- Luis Perdomo vs. ARZ, vs. COL
Brault faces two wild-card contenders that are struggling in September and are average at best against lefties. He posted a 1.94 ERA through 20 starts in Triple-A, but has made only two starts in the majors. That being said, Gohara was a minor league strikeout artist, but the control and home run rate spiked in Triple-A. The matchups are decent based on current offensive production, but there is no guarantee what you’ll get. By all rights, Suter should not be started. With the Milwaukee Brewers limiting his innings, both games likely will add up to one start. Given that, it would be safer to go with a one-start option.
You will get the occasional good game from Gaviglio. When you factor in the walks, home runs, lack of strikeouts and potential for a short game — is he worth the gamble? Take everything I said about Gaviglio (minus the home runs) and apply it to Despaigne. Even his home game against the Mets is risky the way New York is hitting lately. A best case scenario for Perdomo would be a textbook quality start. The 22 runs allowed over 21.1 innings in five starts against both teams negate the Petco factor.
- Matt Harvey @MIA, vs WSH
- Buck Farmer vs OAK, vs MIN
- Chad Bell vs OAK, vs MIN
- Jharel Cotton @DET, vs TEX
- Nick Pivetta vs LAD, @ATL
- Travis Wood vs ARZ, vs COL
- Tyler Skaggs vs CLE, @HOU
On the opposite end of the spectrum of must-start pitchers, these players should be avoided at all costs. There is no reason to go into details about why they should not be started. A quick look at their seasonal numbers, recent production, matchups and, in some cases, ownership rate, should offer all you need to know. Even if you think the matchup looks good — don’t do it! The competition for waiver wire pitchers is nonexistent at this point giving you free rein, and I am confident you can find better options.
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