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Welcome to the Weekly Pitching Planner! It’s that magical time of year when the calendar flips to September and the playoffs wander into town like a surly drunk in fantasy leagues near and far. There’s a decent crop of two-start options this week, as a handful of rainouts and wrap-around series have extended the options for some teams, while only the White Sox and Astros will be limited to five-game schedules. The Tigers still haven’t confirmed a starter for their Tuesday/Sunday slot in the wake of Anibal Sanchez’s setback, but given the collective performance of their no. 5 starters over the last few weeks (8.44 ERA over nine starts totaling just 37 1/3 innings), whoever it is will be unlikely to warrant consideration. As always feel free to use the comments section to request additional ramblings on a certain pitcher not covered in the write-ups below.

On to the nuts and bolts: Outside of the elites, two-start pitchers are often as much or more trouble than they’re worth. Rare is the week in which the stars align to offer your starters not just one but two consecutive tasty matchups. As a result you’ll notice that sometimes the better starters will find themselves in the “consider” category, because they might have one good matchup but a second tough one. And similarly, less-talented hurlers might just meander their way into “start” territory on account of a plum schedule. The pitchers will be split by league, and then by categories:

Auto-Starts – These are your surefire fantasy aces. You paid a handsome sum for these guys, either with an early draft pick, high dollar auction bid, or significant haul of prospects. These are the top 20 or so starters in baseball, so you’re starting them anywhere, anytime. Guys can emerge onto or fall off of this list as the season evolves. There won’t be many—if any—notes associated with these groupings each week, unless a player has just moved up or is in imminent danger of moving down.

Starts – These are the guys I’m recommending you put into your lineup this week. Some will be obvious, but not quite auto-start excellent, while others will be waiver-wire fodder who find themselves with a pair of favorable outings that you can take advantage of in your league. There will be accompanying notes supporting the decisions.

Considers – As mentioned earlier, these guys will be on the fence and your league settings and position in the standings will really be the decider here. A pitcher in this category can be your number two starter with a tough week of matchups in Cincinnati and Colorado. Or conversely if the Minnesota Twins fifth starter is slated to face the Astros at home followed by an interleague trip to San Diego, he will appear on this list because the matchups are great even though he might not be. Your particular league settings will have a lot to say here; if you are in a 10-team mixed league you probably don’t need to take the risk, but a 10-team AL-only leaguer might see it as a nice opportunity to log some quality innings from a freely available resource.

Sits – These are the guys I’m staying away from this week. They will range in talent from solid to poor. With mixed leagues larger than 10 teams my default position for all two-start pitchers who rank outside of the top 60 or so is to sit them unless the matchups dictate otherwise. Additionally, mid-rotation starters who face a couple tough draws will find themselves in this category more often than not.

As always the standard disclaimer applies to these match-up previews that all start schedules are subject to change on account of rainouts, injuries, managers arbitrarily shuffling their rotations, etc.

And with that, on to our Week 23 pitching planner.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Julio Teheran

PHI, @MIA

Cole Hamels

@ATL, @WAS

Tyson Ross

ARI, @COL

Adam Wainwright

PIT, @MIL

Notes:

It is definitely worth noting that Adam Wainwright is decidedly on the border of auto-start status at this point. In what may or may not be a big ol’ coincidence, since Yadier Molina hit the shelf with a busted thumb in early July Wainwright has made nine starts wherein he’s posted an even 4.00 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and entirely pedestrian 39-to-18 K:BB ratio over 63 innings. Those are numbers more befitting a mid-rotation “consider” option than one of the best pitchers in baseball. And while the narrative is a little too convenient, and it very well may just be that it’s just a case of last year’s 270-some-odd innings catching up with him—he did cop to a “dead arm” after his last start, after all—there may just be something to the notion. A big piece of Wainwright’s struggles have been related to a stark and rather dramatic collapse of his first-pitch strike and general zone percentages. And it just so happens that while Yadier Molina is one of the better per-pitch framers in baseball, Tony Cruz and A.J. Pierzynski have been among the worst. If current reports prove accurate it sounds like Molina just may be back in the saddle for both of Waino’s starts this week though, and that should be welcome news to his owners on the off chance this correlation actually has an element of causation.

START

Gerrit Cole

@STL, @CHC

Zack Wheeler

@MIA, @CIN

Mat Latos

@BAL, NYM

Lance Lynn

PIT, @MIL

Gio Gonzalez

@LAD, PHI

Notes:

Gerrit Cole is back, baby! After turning in an uneven (though still not bad) performance in his first start back from the DL he dominated the Cardinals in his last turn, flashing his standard upper-band velocity and the return of a filthy swing-and-miss slider. Cole’s owners are going to need him down the stretch, as his underwhelming first half and missed time have torpedoed his overall value to date. All signs point to go with his repertoire, and with a combination of match-ups that tilts towards favorable he’s a must-run in all formats.

Maybe it just feels like Zack Wheeler has snuck up on the fantasy world this year because I don’t personally own him anywhere, but it still doesn’t quite feel like he’s gotten his just recognition over the past couple months after an uneven first half. Since the calendar flipped to July Wheeler has gone 6-0 with a 2.20 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 53 strikeouts over 57 1/3 innings. That’s just about a best-case fantasy scenario from a rookie pitcher, and it’d be reason enough to trust Wheeler with even mediocre match-ups this week. Fortunately for his owners he draws the lowly Reds along with a middle-of-the-pack Marlins team that he’s bossed around to the tune of a collective .162/.239/.192 line over 110 total plate appearances to date. Giddy up.

I don’t like that @BAL start for Mat Latos any more than you do, but it’s an awfully tough thing to sit your number two or three starter on account of one bad match-up out of two this deep into the season, and owners will be rewarded with a tasty Mets draw on the back end. Latos still isn’t back to pitching at quite peak value, but he’s been plenty steady over the past month. There’s nothing in his peripherals or profile to suggest he shouldn’t be counted on as a mid-rotation staple down the stretch.

CONSIDER

Yovani Gallardo

@CHC, STL

Jimmy Nelson

@CHC, STL

Tim Hudson

@COL, @DET

Wade Miley

@SDG, @LAD

Nathan Eovaldi

NYM, ATL

Odrisamer Despaigne

ARI, @COL

Trevor Cahill

@SDG, @LAD

Roberto Hernandez

WAS, ARI

Notes:

Since a disastrous May Yovani Gallardo has quietly rebuilt himself into a legitimate fantasy starter. Over his last 16 starts and 100 innings on the nose since the beginning of June he’s posted a 3.06 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 76 strikeouts. Not otherworldly numbers, mind you, but perfectly steady number three starter stats for a medium-depth league. A significant piece of this evolution has been a gradual but consistent movement away from his four-seamer in favor of a groundball-inducing two-seamer. It’s resulted in fewer strikeouts, but owners will surely take the tradeoff of a few whiffs for some semblance of usable consistency. In theory he’s got two favorable draws this week, though it should be noted that both the Cubs (.320/.372/.432 collective line) and Cardinals (.291/.340/.590 ) eat him alive, with the latter highlighted by personal nemesis Matt Holliday (1.175 OPS and four homeruns in 43 plate appearances). Basically it’s a tougher schedule than it appears, and owners should approach with caution despite the likely impetus to start him anyway.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Nelson continues to plug along with a stellar rookie campaign. He continues to benefit greatly from pitching to Jonathan Lucroy, as he’s stolen an inordinate amount of called strikes to prop up a whiff rate that, given his swing-and-miss and chase numbers, probably shouldn’t be sitting above 19 percent. He won’t dazzle, but thus far he’s provided consistent starts, and that counts for a lot. It should be noted that his one true clunker did come against the Cardinals he’ll see again this week, and while one start should not a decision make it should certainly be taken into account. I’ll lean towards running Nelson this week, but if I’m in a shallower league with options he may just be the bubble boy.

Wade Miley is where he is on the “consider” list in large part due to one man, and that man is Scott Van Slyke. There are certain guys out there that inexplicably own other guys, and then there’s what Scott Van Slyke has done to Miley. In 18 at-bats (21 plate appearances) he has eight hits, including five homers and three doubles. Beyond that madness, Miley really could go either way depending on your particular wants and desires. By now you know the deal: the strikeouts are great, but they’re offset by significant WHIP risk and a diminished Win potential on account of the terrible Diamondbacks offense in support. If strikeouts are a difference-maker for you he’s a decent option. Otherwise the hot-hitting Padres and the Scott Van Slyke Show make for a tough slate to gamble the rest of your statline on.

After putting together a run of three straight excellent starts and looking like he may be finally on the verge of regaining his early-season form, Nathan Eovaldi has been tattooed in his last two outings to tumble right back down to the bottom of the mountain. These starts are choice, you couldn’t ask for a better schedule, and yet this might be the one guy outside of Shelby Miller whom you’d least want to see draw this docket.

SIT

Jacob Turner

MIL, PIT

Franklin Morales

SFG, SDG

Notes:

I continue to want to pull for Jacob Turner, as I was a fan of the package when he was a prospect, and I’m glad to see him getting a shot in the North Siders’ rotation. But until he shows something—anything, really—over a couple of starts, there’s just no reason to think about him even in streaming terms, especially against two of the tougher lineups in the National League.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Corey Kluber

DET, CHW

David Price

@CLE, SFG

Notes:

Corey Kluber is very, very good.

STARTS

Drew Smyly

BOS, BAL

Phil Hughes

@BAL, LAA

R.A. Dickey

@TAM, @BOS

Bud Norris

CIN, @TAM

Notes:

I’ve been waiting for Drew Smyly’s innings jump to catch up with him for a while now, and it just hasn’t. He’s been absolutely outstanding since arriving in Tampa, posting three wins in five starts to go along with a 1.50 ERA, 0.69 WHIP, and 29 strikeouts over 36 innings. The Rays appear to like his cutter, and an increased usage has helped his fastball play up significantly since the trade. Whether that’s small sample noise or not remains to be seen, but there does appear to be a correlation there. He gets the battered carcass of the defending champs, followed by a tricky return date with a Baltimore lineup he managed to hold at bay in his last turn. He’s a hot hand right now, though, and deserves the trust.

As most head-to-head leagues makes their way into the playoffs it officially becomes the worst time of year to own R.A. Dickey, as his maddening start-to-start inconsistency makes him a terrifying option to trust in such formats. Still, with two of the worst offenses in baseball over the past month digging in against him this week it’s probably a best-case scenario for running him. He’s certainly worth the risk if you own him in a roto format, and in all but the absolute shallowest of head-to-head formats owners should set him into their lineups and immediately move on to something else so as to avoid dwelling on the decision.

After a bumpy patch in late June and the first half of July, Phil Hughes has been back to kicking neck and taking names over the past six weeks. He was cruising along with a two-hit shutout into the eighth inning of his last start, en route to what would have been his sixth consecutive quality start, before three infield hits and his bullpen conspired to tag him with four runs and a loss. The trip to Baltimore—does it feel to you like every pitcher with two starts this week has to go through the Oriole gauntlet? Because it feels that way to me)—is not ideal, but the Angels continue to be a bit of a mess offensively in the second half, and Hughes has pitched so well of late that it shouldn’t much matter.

CONSIDER

Yordano Ventura

TEX, @NYY

James Paxton

@OAK, @TEX

Hector Santiago

@HOU, @MIN

Carlos Carrasco

DET, CHW

Jason Hammel

SEA, HOU

Kevin Gausman

MIN, @TAM

Jeremy Hellickson

TOR, BAL

Nick Tepesch

@KCR, SEA

Shane Greene

BOS, KCR

Rubby de la Rosa

@TAM, TOR

Tommy Milone

CHW, LAA

Roenis Elias

@OAK, @TEX

Notes:

After getting scratched from his last start because of reported “mid-back stiffness” Yordano Ventura gets downgraded from what would possibly have been a straight “start” recommendation against a plus two-start schedule. The mid-back is, after all, connected to the shoulder, and that’s never a part of a pitcher’s anatomy with which to trifle. It’s unfortunate, as Ventura had really been putting together an impressive stretch of late. He’d found an extra couple notches of velocity on his change-up, and while he threw it much more often inside the zone early in the season he’s been living with it outside the zone about 75 percent of the time of late. It’s led to a welcome spike in his whiff rate with the pitch, and coupled with more selective deployment of his curveball his overall strikeout rate has seen a nice boost. If signs over the weekend point to the back issues as the minimal precaution Kansas City has led us to believe he’ll make for a nice play, otherwise I’d approach with extreme caution.

Jason Hammel has been quite the divisive little character since his move to Oakland, but after a skipped turn to catch his breath he returned to the rotation and dazzled Houston in his last start. Whether or not it was enough to make you trust him for his next two against the Mariners’ offensive mediocrity and those same Astros…well, that’s a decision only you can make.

Kevin Gausman continues to toy with my emotions, as high-end prospects who are still a ways away from actualizing at the big league level are want to do. He just hasn’t pitched consistently crisp ball of late despite not-terrible results. At first glance his matchups for the week might look fine enough to run him anyway, but pop quiz: who has scored (considerably) more runs than any team in baseball over the past month? That’s right, it’s your Minnesota Twins. They’ve gotten on base at a collective .346 clip over the past month, and as a team that’s been absolutely pounding right-handed fastballs they pose a particular threat to pitchers of Gausman’s ilk.

SIT

Joe Kelly

@NYY, TOR

Colby Lewis

@KCR, SEA

Notes:

Maybe if you’re totally out of the running and want to give Colby Lewis a proper send-off in your rotation before the Rangers boot him from yours, you could use him here; otherwise, I can’t see any reason to consider him at this juncture.