Quality abounds next week, but most of it will be accounted for.  Still, there are a few gems that can be found, particularly in the National League.  The danger now will come from expanded rosters and the rotation juggling that will inevitably ensue.

For that reason, the usual disclaimer goes double for the rest of the season:  The starters listed are subject to change.  The list is provided by Heater Magazine and covers the week beginning Monday, September 6.  Feel free to download a list of all pitchers featured in this article in an easy to use pdf file.

Happy Labor Day.

Johnny Cueto – @ COL, vs PIT
Ryan Dempster – vs HOU, @ MIL
Yovani Gallardo – vs STL, vs CHN
Tommy Hanson – @ PIT, vs STL
Tim Hudson – @ PIT, vs STL
Ubaldo Jimenez – vs CIN, vs ARI
Clayton Kershaw – @ SD, @ HOU
*Wade LeBlanc – vs LAN, vs SF
Tim Lincecum – @ ARI, @ SD
Roy Oswalt – vs FLA, @ NYN
Wandy Rodriguez – @ CHN, vs LAN
Anibal Sanchez – @ PHI, @ WAS

A fly ball pitcher, LeBlanc has been taking advantage of Petco all year, posting a 2.71 ERA in 80 IP.  Contrast that to his 5.97 ERA in 63 IP on the road.  If you’re going to start him down the stretch, now is as good a time as any.

*Joe Blanton – vs FLA, @ NYN
*Madison Bumgarner – @ ARI, @ SD
*Jhoulys Chacin – vs CIN, vs ARI
*Ian Kennedy – vs SF, @ COL
*Vicente Padilla – @ SD, @ HOU
*Mike Pelfrey – @ WAS, vs PHI
*Jake Westbrook – @ MIL, @ ATL

Since rejoining the Rockies rotation, Chacin has a 2.52 ERA, a 1.16 WHIP and has punched out 23 batters in 25 innings.  He’s struggled a bit at Coors Field, though, and makes both starts at home this week.  Kennedy has set up shop in the strike zone over his last several starts with a 2.3 BB/9.  Plus, with a 0.8 HR/9 since the break, he’s been keeping the ball in the yard as well.  However, he’s been inconsistent over the last couple of months, pairing an outstanding start like his 12 strikeout performance against the Padres on August 26 with a five inning effort where he surrendered 10 hits and three runs on August 20.  If there was ever a fit for the House Of Duncan it’s Westbrook.  His 65% GB rate since joining the Cards is exceptional, but he continues to struggle with the strand rate.  With a 3.96 SIERA, there’s still some upside.

Padilla is set to return from a DL stint due to a bulging disc in his neck. The neck is reportedly fine, but in his lone rehab start he was hit in his pitching arm by a sharp comebacker in the second inning and exited one frame later.  The Dodgers will continue to monitor his health up to his scheduled Monday start.  It would be easy to point to Blanton’s 2.1 BB/9 and his .331 BABIP as a reason for optimism.  While his hit rate of 11.1 H/9 (tops in the NL) may drop over the next few weeks, ultimately we’re talking about a fly ball pitcher who coughs up more than his share of home runs.  Traditionally, he’s been a second half pitcher.  With a .3.75 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 62.1 IP since the break, this year is no different.

Presented without comment, Pelfrey’s strikeout rate by month:

April – 6.7 K/9
May – 6.0 K/9
June – 4.9 K/9
July – 4.4 K/9
August – 3.6 K/9

Bumgarner turned 21 just last month and with a career-high 161 innings on his odometer between Triple-A and the majors, expect the Giants to be very cautious down the stretch.  The good news is, he makes both starts this week on the road where he has won five of his seven starts and owns a 2.62 ERA.

*Kevin Correia – vs LAN, vs SF
*Nelson Figueroa – @ CHN, vs LAN
*Aaron Harang – @ COL, vs PIT
*Jordan Zimmerman – vs NYN, vs FLA

Throwing 91 pitches and failing to get past the fifth inning, Harang struggled in his first start returning to the rotation after missing a couple of months with lower back pain.  He also was rocked in a pair of minor league rehab assignments prior to his return.  Don’t be surprised if the Reds shift him to the bullpen if he struggles in his Monday start against the Rockies.  Figueroa has a 1.96 ERA since moving to the Astro rotation, but a 1.2 SO/BB ratio and a .227 BABIP suggest the good times will come to an end.

Correia had a miserable August, but his strand rate for the month – 53% – was insanely low.  He makes both starts at home this week, but he’s one of the few Padre starters not to receive a Petco bounce.  Strand rate aside, he remains a risk.  

For those of you still reeling from the loss of Stephen Strasburg, why not take solace in the return of former top prospect Zimmerman?  After having the Tommy John surgery last July, he made 10 strong minor league rehab starts before joining the Nats a couple weeks ago.  Certainly, he’s not as dominant as Strasburg, but he did post a 9.1 K/9 last season in 91 innings and punched out nine in a strong six inning performance this week.  I would drop him into the “consider” category, but the Nationals are clearly going to be careful with their young starter.  At this point, it’s all about getting in some work and continuing to regain the arm strength.  But if you have a spot open in your keeper league, he’s worth an add.

On to the AL…

Brett Anderson – vs SEA, vs BOS
Dan Haren – vs CLE, vs SEA
Edwin Jackson – @ DET, vs KC
Jon Lester – vs TB, @ OAK
Francisco Liriano – vs KC, @ CLE
Shaun Marcum – vs TEX, vs TB
Ricky Romero – vs TEX, vs TB
Max Scherzer – vs CHA, vs BAL
Justin Verlander – vs CHA, vs BAL

Since returning to the AL, Jackson has a 1.47 ERA and 45 strikeouts in just 36.2 IP.  Speaking of quality returns, Scherzer has a 2.21 ERA and 1.10 WHIP while striking out 111 in 114 innings following his brief sojourn to Triple-A.

Anderson hasn’t missed a beat since returning at the end of July from the DL with tendonitis in his elbow.  His abbreviated start against Texas on July 27 was the result of hyperextending his knee.  His subsequent start proved he was fit.

*Tommy Hunter – @ TOR, vs NYA
Cliff Lee – @ TOR, vs NYA
Jeff Niemann – @ BOS, @ TOR

Lee is a “consider” after leaving the team this week to seek treatment for lower back stiffness.  He’s tentatively scheduled to make his first start on Tuesday, but that could certainly be skipped or pushed back, depending on how he feels. With the Rangers a 98.7% certainty to make the post season, they’ll focus on his readiness for October.  Hunter has surrendered 17 home runs in 99 innings, but only four of those moon shots came with runners on base.  A .254 BABIP helps, but it’s begging for a correction.  His 4.91 SIERA says one could be coming.

Let’s put this in polite terms:  Niemann has a bit of a home run problem.  He has a 1.3 HR/9 for the season, but it’s climbing.  His home run rate is a robust 1.7 HR/9 since mid-June.  Trips to Boston and Toronto aren’t going to help alleviate this issue.  

A.J. Burnett – vs BAL, @ TEX
*Carlos Carrasco – @ LAA, vs MIN
*Freddy Garcia – @ DET, vs KC
Sean O’Sullivan – @ MIN, @ CHA
*Jason Vargas – @ OAK, @ LAA

Since touting him in Planner #18, Burnett has a 7.25 ERA and 1.64 WHIP.  I try not to take such things personally.  At the time, he was coming off a hot July where he pointed to a change in mechanics as a reason for his improved performance.  Apparently, it didn’t take as now there’s talk of bumping him from the rotation.  Start at your own risk.

Garcia has been raked over his last nine starts, with a 5.80 ERA and 1.64 WHIP.  He’s getting a swing and a miss in just 6% of all strikes, but his win total has been elevated this season because the White Sox offense has been extremely generous with the support, averaging 5.6 runs per start.  Vargas hasn’t pitched particularly well over the last two months, with a 4.59 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in just under 69 innings. 

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Wow, even if Vargas is slumping lately I'd be jumping at a week which has him lined up to face both Oak and LAA. His 28 IP v. the Angels are his most against any opponent this season, yet across those 4 starts he has allowed less than 1 baserunner/inning.
Good point about his success against the Angels, but here's where I struggled... He's making a pair of starts on the road where he has a 4.95 ERA and 8 HR in 67 IP. Compare that to a 2.58 ERA and 8 HR in 97 IP at home. And of those 28 IP against the Angels, only 7 were in LA. He was close to being a "consider." We'll see...
Gallardo is not a start right now. He has been terrible over the last few weeks, and I anticipate a shutdown coming shortly.
I haven't seen anything about the Brewers thinking of shutting him down. Plus, with the Cubs out of race, expanded rosters and the Cards struggling to score (and some other issues), I'd keep Gallardo in my lineup.