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Well, we’ve done it. We’ve reached the end of the line for another fantasy season, and hopefully you’re in a position where this column is still relevant to you because you’re in a dogfight for a title or three. I will say that as much as I enjoy writing this column, this week is my least favorite of the year, and not for sentimental reasons. I don’t like writing this one because it’s an utter and total crapshoot as to whether scheduled two-start guys will actually end up making both turns, not to mention what kind of lineups they’ll face if and when they do. You’ll have cases where a borderline starter has a difficult-looking slate of games on paper, but then game day will come and he’ll face six dudes fresh off the bus from Double-A while Bryce Harper sits on a bucket and spits sunflower seeds all night. Defensive numbers are pretty much out the window, as are all stats related to recent lineup performance.

So, these recommendations will be more heavily focused on the pitchers themselves with significantly less attention paid to contextual factors than I’d otherwise incorporate. I’ll also give more weight to the first matchup, as the back half of the scoring period will bear the brunt of the uncertainty.

In terms of the actual raw numbers, it’s already shaping up to be slim pickin’s in the National League. The Diamondbacks, Marlins, Mets, and Pirates all have six starters scheduled, while the Rockies haven’t named a starter for their final game. Only 15 options are on the books, and several of those—particularly at the top of the pile—are highly suspicious. Only the White Sox plan on going with six in the junior circuit, helping push the tally to 21 scheduled two-start options overall.

As far as the nuts and bolts guidelines for what lies within, 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 or MLB talent. 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.

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 Boston and Colorado. Or conversely if the Cincinnati Reds’ fifth starter is slated to face the Braves at home followed by a stop-over in Philadelphia, 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 smaller than 16 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.

At the season’s outset the majority of these recommendations will come to pass as a combination of ADP/auction price and PECOTA projections for opponent strength. As the season rolls on and we get some more concrete data points for how both the pitchers themselves and their opponents are actually performing, the formula will gradually evolve into a performance-based projection.

As a general frame of reference, when I talk about “deep” leagues I’m talking very broadly about mixed leagues with at least 16 teams and –only leagues with at least 10. “Medium-depth” leagues refer to mixed 12- and 14-teams and –onlies with eight or nine. “Shallow leagues” will refer to mixed 10-teamers and –only leagues with less than eight teams.

As always the standard disclaimer applies to these matchup previews that all start schedules are subject to unfortunately frequent change on account of rainouts, injuries, managers arbitrarily shuffling their rotations, etc. And of course, if you have questions about any of the starters I don’t expand upon in the body of the article feel free to inquire in the comments.

With that, on to our final Starting Pitcher Planner!

NATIONAL LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Clayton Kershaw

@SFG, SDG

Zack Greinke

@SFG, SDG

Madison Bumgarner

LAD, COL

Max Scherzer

@ATL, @NYM

Notes:

Don’t hold your breath for any of these Dodgers or Giants starts. Greinke’s coming off a missed turn and the utility of starting Kershaw on the last day of the season with the division on lock is… well, there is no utility. Also, Madison Bumgarner threw 4,643 1/3 innings last year, and once the Dodgers lock down the division, there really won’t be any incentive at all for Bochy and company to run him on the last day. Get whatever you get out of these three and be happy.

START

Jake Peavy

LAD, COL

Notes:

Don’t let Jake Peavy’s lack of overall value this year fool you; he’s basically been John Lackey Light. He hasn’t gone less than five innings in any of his starts since returning from the disabled list at the beginning of July, and he’s unlikely to get blown up in any given start. He’s generally good for five or six innings, and he’ll pitch both games in his home cavern. He’s one of the more stable if unspectacular options to close out your seasons.

CONSIDER

Lance Lynn

@PIT, @ATL

Tanner Roark

@ATL, @NYM

Andrew Cashner

MIL, @LAD

Zach Davies

@SDG, CHC

Kyle Hendricks

KCR, @MIL

Dan Haren

KCR, @MIL

Matt Wisler

WAS, STL

Brandon Finnegan

@WAS, @PIT

Notes:

Lance Lynn is probably the biggest conundrum of the week for managers to figure out. His first start will come against Pittsburgh, with whom he has a relationship of extremes. He’s absolutely owned half of the Pirates’ lineup, including Andrew McCutchen. Unfortunately, the other half has absolutely crushed him. Fittingly, he’s put up a gnarly 6.94 ERA and 1.80 WHIP against the Bucs in three starts this year, while also striking out 16 in under 12 innings. The matchup is dodgy enough that coupled with his inconsistent performance of late, it’s probably enough for me to sit him, especially when his tasty second start is no guarantee to happen, depending on how the Cardinals set up their staff for the postseason.

Andrew Cashner’s been a disappointment to many this season (don’t say I didn’t warn you). He’s been worth about as much as guys like Tim Hudson and Danny Duffy in mixed leagues, and his struggles have continued of late, as he’s walked 16 in his last four starts. He’s managed to stay relatively healthy this year in a shocking turn of events, and he’s raised his whiff rate significantly. These are both good things. His sinker and change have both met fairly disastrous fates when they’ve been put in play, however, and he just hasn’t shown the kind of depth or consistency in his arsenal to get big-league hitters out consistently every five days. All of this said, he has what should theoretically be a very nice set of starts this week, and NL-only and deeper-mixed leaguers could probably do worse.

Zach Davies is an interesting name for those in need of a stream. He has struggled uncharacteristically with his control since arriving in Milwaukee, but he’s produced quality starts in all three of his starts against not the Pirates. San Diego makes for a welcoming inaugural start of the week, and then the Cubs’ JV team on the last day of the season should theoretically make for survivable opposition as well.

Matt Wisler’s introduction to MLB hitters has been a fairly rough process for most of the season, but he’s shown some interesting progress over his past three starts. He’s struggled both to miss bats and induce weak contact this year, but in five September starts now, he’s jumped the whiff rate on his slider north of 20 percent to drive a spike in his overall strikeout rate to almost 8.0 per nine. He’s still walking too many guys, but his hard-hit rate has settled down a bit and he has benefited from some expected regression of an out-of-control HR:FB rate as well. None of this is to say he’s suddenly developed into a good option for two starts, but as a Hail Mary in an NL-only league, he has to be at least on the board at this point.

Brandon Finnegan is a great example of the folly of possibility in the season’s final week. He’ll face the Pirates on the second-to-last day of the season, and they may or may not have any interest in fielding a legitimate big-league lineup against him that day. He’s got a reliever’s arsenal, and until two weeks ago, that’d been his roll. He leans on his fastball almost three out of every four pitches while strategically deploying a slider with an elite whiff rate to complement it. He tried to work in his changeup with greater regularity in his last start, but that didn’t go so hot. All of this is to say he’s not a guy that I’d typically be interested in deploying for two starts against a tough-on-paper schedule, but there’s some whiff potential here along with the possibility he faces two gutted lineups, so he’s at least on the table in NL-only and deep mixed formats.

SIT

Josh Smith

CHC, @PIT

David Buchanan

NYM, MIA

Notes:

Those of you who’ve been riding David Buchanan in HACKING MASS or a razz league or something have to be disappointed in what you’ve seen over the past couple of starts, as he’s allowed just three runs over 11 innings to bring his ERA back down south of 8.00. It’s still the worst figure in the majors by almost a run among pitchers with at least his 63 innings, but that’s cold comfort at crunch time. The Mets pummeled him in their only meeting this year, so fingers crossed.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Corey Kluber

MIN, BOS

Masahiro Tanaka

BOS, @BAL

Cole Hamels

DET, LAA

Notes:

Assuming Cleveland doesn’t win every game between now and then, I wouldn’t throw Corey Kluber in the second-to-last game of the season if I were Terry Francona. He’s coming off a groin injury, he’s thrown almost 450 innings over the past year and a half, and his velocity’s been down 2.5 mph this month since his return. He’s somebody you probably still run if he goes, but banking on him for the elite production to which you’re accustomed at this stage of a likely-lost season for Cleveland would be poor planning on your part.

You can probably file Cole Hamels in with the “unlikely” pile of guys who probably won’t make a second start, though that will likely depend almost entirely on the state of the race in the West. The Detroit start is a little tricky, but regardless, you still run him for whatever you can get out of him.

STARTS

Johnny Cueto

@CHW, @MIN

Marcus Stroman

@BAL, @TAM

Notes:

I have an extremely hard time imagining Johnny Cueto makes the second of his two scheduled starts on the last day of the regular season unless it’s an extremely limited engagement to keep in game shape for the postseason. Either way it’s probably just as well for the frustrated owners—particularly those who blew their entire FAAB budget on him in AL-only leagues—who have endured his terribleness over the past month. He’s lost his auto-start status to be sure, but speaking of terribleness the White Sox offense has been consistently poor for the majority of the season. Regardless of who they run out there Cueto should in theory make for a solid bet for the week. Then again I’d have said the same thing before they lit him up and knocked him out after three innings in their last matchup. So who really knows?

Marcus Stroman is back in the nick of time! Rejoice and be merry!

CONSIDER

Lance McCullers

@SEA, @ARI

Michael Pineda

BOS, @BAL

Colby Lewis

DET, LAA

Kyle Gibson

@CLE, KCR

Roenis Elias

HOU, OAK

Rick Porcello

@NYY, @CLE

Wade Miley

@NYY, @CLE

Hector Santiago

OAK, @TEX

Daniel Norris

@TEX, @CHW

Matt Moore

MIA, TOR

Phil Hughes

@CLE, KCR

Cody Anderson

MIN, BOS

Jered Weaver

OAK, @TEX

Notes:

On his merits, Lance McCullers ostensibly makes for a solid play this week. Since laying an egg in Arlington at the beginning of August he’s put up a 3.31 ERA and 1.11 WHIP with a whiff an inning over his last six starts. The Mariners have been absolutely crushing the ball lately, however, leading the majors in offensive efficiency over the past few weeks. Still, working in McCullers’ favor is his second start, which is likely to involve limited exposure either because the AL playoff picture is settled and he doesn’t make it, or it’s not and he’s pulled at the first sign of trouble in an “all-in” play-in game. I’d be strongly tempted in leagues where I need a roll of the dice to get over the top.

Michael Pineda hasn’t quite been the same guy since returning from the DL in late August, largely on account of lacking the same kind of crisp movement and finish with his pitches. Between pitching less efficiently and some post-injury kid gloves he has struggled to work deep into games, and his home-run rate has spiked. Despite the tiny sample involved, that last point is relevant insofar as the Orioles have one of the highest Guillen Numbers in baseball. It’s very possible you need him to come through for you if you’re going to win, in which case go ahead and give him a whirl. For everyone else, tread cautiously.

One thing about Rick Porcello’s bummer of a season, you can’t accuse him of not trying to cure what’s been ailing him. He’s fiddled around with his pitch mix and even his release point considerably over the past couple months in an effort to find better consistency, and in broader terms he has. His second-half numbers are skewed on account of the beautiful absurdity of his career-best start against the Yankees a couple turns ago (eight innings of one-run ball with 13 strikeouts), but he’s quietly posted a 3.51 ERA and 1.31 WHIP with a whiff per inning in his nine starts since the break. Most notably, he’s returned to his sinker-dominated approach of yore in September, and his groundball rate has in turn spiked north of 50 percent for the first time all year.

Meanwhile, Porcello’s rotation-mate Wade Miley has been the very definition of a league-average starter this year, with all the strikes and gutters along the way that said designation entails. He’s proven slightly more volatile than the average… average guy, allowing five-plus earned runs in eight of his 30 turns to date. But on the whole he’s been decent enough at the back end of a given medium-depth mixed-league rotation this year. I prefer Porcello this week, but Miley’s fine as a last-ditch option for bulk stat accumulation in most AL-only leagues.

Daniel Norris has pitched solid ball of late, albeit in an extremely limited sample. The Tigers are running Norris with extremely limited pitch counts in the 50-60 range for the remainder of the season, all but nullifying entirely the advantage of a two-start week (not to mention raising the question of how likely his second start actually is). It’s worth noting that Norris has made recent progress in addressing his bugaboo control, walking just five in 30 innings since shipping off to Detroit. For our purposes here he’s a decent enough start in a vacuum, but contextual factors likely win the day here. He’s a decent bet for strikeouts across 7-9 innings, but there’s some ratio liability and a win is unlikely.

Cody Anderson’s not a particularly interesting hurler for fantasy purposes, as he lacks a swing-and-miss pitch of note. Still, he doesn’t give up a ton of hard contact, and he has performed reasonably well of late. The combination leads to his inclusion here, but I wouldn’t go too crazy. His DRA- to cFIP gap is one of the larger around for a reason, as the stuff just isn’t good enough to warrant a big bet.

Of course Jered Weaver has two starts this week. Why wouldn’t he? If you’ve rostered him all year chances are you’re nowhere near a title right now and probably not reading this, so whatever. I will note for posterity’s sake that Weaver has produced roughly as much standard league value as Edwin Jackson and Adam Wainwright, the latter of whom you might remember made four starts all year.

SIT

Chris Tillman

TOR, NYY

Tyler Wilson

TOR, NYY

Felix Doubront

@LAA, @SEA

Notes:

After sneaking in a decent haul of stats in what may be my finest “start” recommendation of the year last month, Tillman has devolved again into an unstartable mess. Until sneaking through six in his last turn those two efforts were the only quality starts he’d thrown in the second half, and even with the W against Washington last start he’s rocking a sweet 8.39 ERA here in September. For what it’s worth, he’ll face two opponents that may very well still be duking out the AL East title, meaning he’s less likely to catch any breaks in terms of September lineup construction. I can’t see any scenario in which I’d be comfortable running him for two starts with my season on the line.

Nothing against Tyler Wilson personally. He’s pitching in the major leagues, and that’s more of an accomplishment than anything to which I can lay professional claim. But rookies rocking a sub-seven percent whiff rate and okay-but-not-elite groundball rate just don’t wet my whistle as a streaming option.