I’m not going to lie: it’s not easy to come up with impactful topics to help you with your chase for the pennant in mid-September. The biggest issue is that the tiny sample of time remaining makes variance a major factor. We could see some 25th guy (or 35th guy given expansion) on the roster run off two weeks of .400/.500/.600 with a handful of homers and RBI, and the season will end before regression to the mean can catch him.
So what I did for y’all was forecast every rotation from here on out and pluck out the best potential remaining schedules. This is essentially an extension of the piece I did a month ago where I pointed out the best team schedules and discussed some potentially available arms from those teams. I ended up with 24 pitchers, 15 in the National League and nine in the American League, who should have a nice pair or trio of starts to close out the season. This is very much subject to change, but at the very least you can start looking out for some of these names and then if you have to dump one because he falls off-kilter from the projection, you can scoop up another guy.
I started the schedule forecasting with Monday since a lot of leagues are weekly transactions only, but obviously you daily transactions folks have an even greater chance to take advantage of this list. These pitchers are on no more than 60 percent of ESPN rosters and only a few will be available in single leagues so this is more for you mixed leaguers. (The write-ups for those beyond the top five in the NL and top three in the AL will be shorter by design and the pitchers are ranked in the order I would acquire them.)
Jon Niese, NYM (SF, MIL) – Niese does have a matchup against the Reds in Cincinnati in between these two gems that you may want to avoid, but these two starts should be enough to make up for it if you are forced to use him in Cincy. As an added bonus for you daily leaguers, he is set to face to the Marlins on Friday, so act now if your league allows it. Even with four and five earned run outings bookending his six starts since returning from the DL, he still has a 2.95 ERA in 39 2/3 innings.
Dillon Gee, NYM (at PHI, MIL) – Gee also goes in that Marlins series so he’s another one to act on now if you league rules permit as much, otherwise your first usage of him will be next Saturday. Even with Tuesday night’s mediocre effort against the Nats, Gee has a 2.47 ERA in 69 1/3 innings over 10 starts since the All-Star break.
Gerrit Cole, PIT (SD, at CHC) – Like our first two guys, Cole also has a favorable outing later this week as the Cubs visit PNC Park to face him on Saturday. Cole is coming off of the best start of his career on Monday night as he battled Yu Darvish toe-to-toe turning in seven shutout innings with a career-best nine strikeouts. He has allowed more than three earned just once in 16 MLB starts (four v. MIA of all teams on August 8).
Tyson Ross, SD (at PIT, LAD, at SF) – After a couple of wobbly starts to close August (four earned in each) Ross has allowed just one run in 12 innings to start September with 15 strikeouts and three walks. One of those outings was in LA against the Dodgers where he fanned a season-high of 10. While he’s been better at home with a 2.18 ERA, his 3.26 mark on the road is quite formidable, too.
Roy Halladay, PHI (MIA, at MIA, at ATL) – We’ve seem two quality starts and one total dud from Halladay since his return from the DL and even the latest quality start wasn’t exactly vintage Halladay as he walked five Nationals, but it’s hard to ignore the upcoming schedule. Even the trip to Atlanta isn’t terribly daunting as they have been well below league average in wOBA against righties over the last month and right around league average since the break.
Marco Estrada, MIL (CHC, at ATL, at NYM) – Estrada against Atlanta is a little scarier than some of the others because while their wOBA against righties of late is low, they do hit home runs and Estrada loves to give ‘em up.
Kyle Lohse, MIL (CHC, at ATL) – Lohse is doing his best to ruin a great season with outings of five and seven earned runs among his last three, but a friendly stretch run will hopefully get back below 3.50 ERA for the year.
Zack Wheeler, NYM (SF, at PHI, MIL) – Wheeler had 28 innings left as of September 3rd and he used five of them on the September 6. That leaves 23 for four starts including Wednesday against the Nats. He should make all three of these.
Tanner Roark, WAS (ATL, MIA, at ARI) – Roark’s 0.94 ERA and 0.87 WHIP in 28 2/3 innings jump off the page, but 22 2/3 of them came in relief. He went six shutout innings against Miami in his only start.
Ian Kennedy, SD (at PIT, ARI, at SF) – If I can’t get Kennedy at home, I’ll take PNC and AT&T Parks as strong secondary options.
Scott Baker, CHC (at MIL, PIT) – Baker was strong in his 2013 debut with five scoreless innings against Milwaukee. He also starts in Pittsburgh this weekend.
Yusmeiro Petit, SF (at NYM, SD) – There is a trip to the Bronx in between these two starts, but you might not want to skip it if he stays strong.
Kyle Kendrick, PHI (MIA, at MIA, at ATL) – The Braves start is the last game of the year and you may be inclined to skip it as he has a 6.55 ERA against them in two starts this year.
Tyler Thornburg, MIL (CHC, at ATL) – He only has four starts, but he’s posted a 1.13 ERA in the 24 innings. His 1.38 WHIP and 1.5 K/BB ratio suggest the ERA might be a little flimsy, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be serviceable.
Ivan Nova, NYY (SF, at HOU) – After a brilliant August during which he had a 2.08 ERA in six starts, Nova has started September off with a pair of shaky outings against divisional rivals Boston and Baltimore. Given how well he was throwing I wouldn’t say they were expected, but they are excusable given the potency of those offenses. San Francisco and Houston are markedly worse than both and after a trip to Fenway this weekend, it’s smooth sailing for Nova. Even with the two September outings Nova has a 2.70 ERA in his last 96 2/3 innings dating back to late-June.
Sonny Gray, OAK (LAA, MIN, at SEA) – Gray has been very impressive in his MLB debut with excellent work in seven of his eight appearances so far. A shellacking in Baltimore at the hands of the O’s is his only blemish (6 ER in 3 1/3 IP). Beyond that, he’s limited runs, suppressed hits, not allowed walks, and missed bats. His home/road splits are skewed by that trip to Baltimore, but he’s definitely been exceptional in Oakland with a 1.21 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, and 6.0 K:BB ratio in 29 2/3 innings.
Ubaldo Jimenez, CLE (HOU, CWS) – Yes, that Ubaldo. I know, I’m just as surprised as you are. Honestly, he’s been great for over four months now with a 2.97 ERA in 130 1/3 innings dating back to May 6, but his recent performance has been particularly noteworthy with three 10-strikeout games among his last four outings, not to mention a 1.73 ERA in those 26 innings. We live in a world where Francisco Liriano and Ubaldo Jimenez are not only fantasy assets, but prime ones.
Corey Kluber, CLE (at KC, HOU, at MIN) – He picked up where he left off with a solid five-inning outing in his return from the DL last Saturday. Most importantly, he struck out five batters giving him 45 in his last 46 innings.
Andy Pettitte, NYY (at TOR, SF, at HOU) –A trip to Toronto wouldn’t seem appetizing, but they’ve been baseball’s worst team in wOBA against lefties since August 1 with a .253 mark.
Scott Kazmir, CLE (at KC, HOU, at MIN) – Check that, we live in a world where Liriano, Jimenez, and Kazmir are all fantasy assets. Kazmir has a 3.42 ERA since the break.
Danny Duffy, KC (at SEA, at CWS) – You need to wait a while on Duffy because he has a start against Cleveland next week and they generally rip lefties.
Dan Straily, OAK (LAA, at LAA, at SEA) – He’s been prone to disaster start at times this year and this slate isn’t exactly easy, but the Angels have only been league average against righties over last month.
Martin Perez, TEX (at KC, HOU) – He’s given up eight hits or more in four of his last five and been a bit fortunate to escape with a 3.94 ERA, but these two matchups give him a chance to end on a high note.