You hear it a lot this time of year: Hitch your Fantasy wagon to the teams with something to play for, especially with regard to starting pitchers in crunch time. If you still are playing Fantasy Baseball, you are either fighting out the last few weeks for wins, ERA, strikeouts, WHIP and saves or you are desperately trying to line up a winning staff in your Head-to-Head playoffs.
We say it all the time, but we might as well outline the teams we are referring to and the pitchers that might help get the job done. The Yankees, Angels, Cardinals, Dodgers, Red Sox, Phillies, Rockies, Rangers, Tigers and Giants have the best winning percentages in baseball and have the most to play for down the stretch.
The point being is you want to look to these teams if you need a rotation fill-in for one of the season's final three weeks. These teams have won over the long haul and they won't be shutting people down until they are eliminated from contention.
Here are the top Fantasy sleeper starters (owned or starting in less than 50 percent of CBSSports.com's leagues) from that select group:
1. Daisuke Matsuzaka, SP, Red Sox: Dice-K is making a rehab start Wednesday and could be activated for a two-start week in Fantasy Week 24 (Sept. 14-20). There is obvious risk trusting him sight unseen, but if he is healthy, he could be real productive again for all leagues.
|The National League and the Cardinals have seemingly made John Smoltz very comfortable. (US Presswire)|
3. Brad Penny, SP, Giants: Continuing with our Red Sox connection. Boy, did they really make waste for some pitchers this season or what? Like Smoltz, Penny has been much better away from Boston and in the NL. He is 2-0 through two starts and looking far more capable than what he showed for most of this season.
4. Barry Zito, SP, Giants: Yours truly got many laughs when he picked this guy in the final round of the reserve draft in the 17-team mixed Tout Wars auction. ("Is Barry Zito still available?" it was asked. The response was: "Always available.") Zito has gone 4-2 with a 2.09 ERA and .225 batting-average against in the second half and yours truly is looking down at 14 teams in Tout Wars. Zito scares some people, even now, which is why he is starting in only 46 percent of leagues at this point. ... So, he's still "available."
5. Brandon McCarthy, SP, Rangers: McCarthy had a solid return outing off the DL before a so-so second one, but he is capable of being a winner for a Rangers team that scores plenty of runs for all of their unheralded pitchers. He has won four of his past five starts and is 7-2 on the season.
6. Hiroki Kuroda, SP, Dodgers: He wasn't great coming off his DL stint for a concussion, but the fact he will make regular starts for a top contender warrants starting in far more than 15 percent of leagues.
7. Tim Wakefield, SP, Red Sox: Wakefield is not healthy right now -- and is getting skipped in Fantasy Week 23 (Sept. 7-13) -- but the gritty knuckleballer can be a sleeper in deeper leagues if he can make starts. The return of Dice-K and potential security blanket in Paul Byrd could give the Red Sox pause to use Wakefield, though.
8. Tommy Hunter, SP, Rangers: Somehow the rookie is 7-3 with a 3.47 ERA. And somehow those numbers are not worthy of starting in more than 36 percent of CBSSports.com's leagues? Those numbers don't mesh. Granted, he has been shakier of late, but it doesn't take even a quality start to win behind the Rangers' offense when it is going well, or facing favorable matchups.
9. Jonathan O. Sanchez, SP, Giants: He has a no-hitter to his credit, a contender to pitch for and a 1.50 ERA and .143 BAA in September. That follows his (2-1)-2.61-.194 August. All that and Sanchez has not started in more than 50 percent of CBSSports.com's leagues in any single week this season.
10. Jason Hammel, SP, Rockies: Hammel wasn't great in his past start, but is coming off an August where he went 3-1 with a 3.63 ERA in six starts. He also happens to be a potential two-start pitcher for Fantasy Week 24 (Sept. 14-20), facing the offensively weak Giants and the celler-dwelling D-Backs. It could be the right time to buy. Watch him closely Wednesday vs. Cincinnati.
Here are more current rotation members (starting in less than 50 percent of leagues) from our list of "contenders:" Chad Gaudin, SP, NYY; Kyle Lohse, SP, STL; Jon Garland, SP, LAD; Vicente Padilla, SP, LAD; Jamie Moyer, SP, PHI; Aaron Cook, SP, COL; Derek Holland, SP, TEX; Jarrod Washburn, SP, DET and Madison Bumgarner, SP, SF.
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Week 24 two-starter(s): Perhaps Buckner. The D-Backs also have Kevin Mulvey they could go to or they could skip the No. 5 starter's spot altogether in Fantasy Week 24 (Sept. 14-20).
Starters on the DL: Brandon Webb (shoulder, out for the season).
Week 24 two-starter(s): Hanson. He figures to be a must-start in all leagues after his start Wednesday at Houston.
Starters on the DL: Jorge Campillo (shoulder, out for the season).
Week 24 two-starter(s): Hernandez and Berken. They are high-risk options even in the deepest of AL-only leagues at this point.
Starters on the DL: Brad Bergesen (leg, out for the season), Rich J. Hill (shoulder, out for the season) and Alfredo Simon (elbow, out for the season).
Boston Red Sox
Week 24 two-starter(s): Byrd, Wakefield (back) or Daisuke Matsuzaka (shoulder). Byrd is slated in that spot now, but either Wakefield or Dice-K could make their return next Tuesday and be a sleeper in deeper leagues, if healthy. They are all questionable two-start possibilities. Byrd can be a touch better than questionable, though, with a quality start Wednesday.
Starters on the DL: Matsuzaka (shoulder). He makes a rehab start Wednesday that could put him on target for the following two-start week. Watch him very closely if you need a nice sleeper.
Week 24 two-starter(s): Dempster and Zambrano. They could both be advisable options, maybe even must-starts, in your league.
Starters on the DL: None.
Chicago White Sox
Week 24 two-starter(s): Torres, Daniel Hudson or perhaps Jake Peavy (ankle, elbow). Torres could be moved off a potential two-start week if the White Sox choose to get a look at Hudson or decide they will go to the well on the banged-up Peavy. Any of the options have to be considered questionable, but Peavy is obviously more intriguing.
Starters on the DL: Peavy (ankle, elbow) and Bartolo Colon (elbow, out for the season). Peavy remains in a holding pattern, as the White Sox figure out if they want to bring him back at all now.
Week 24 two-starter(s): Arroyo and perhaps one of Wells, Maloney or Lehr. Arroyo is a sleeper for deeper leagues with a quality start Wednesday at Colorado. Wells, Maloney or Lehr figure to be a high-risk option regardless. Lehr's currently not starting, but his return could push one of Maloney or Wells back or out of the rotation altogether. There is also a chance the Reds go with a six-man rotation and have just one two-start pitcher. 'Tis the season for rotations up in the air.
Starters on the DL: Aaron Harang (appendectomy, out for the season) and Edinson Volquez (elbow, out for the season).
Week 24 two-starter(s): Sowers and perhaps Laffey. Sowers is a questionable option, while Laffey is a nice sleeper for deeper leagues. He has posted a 4-2 record and a 2.73 ERA in the second half.
Starters on the DL: Jake Westbrook (elbow, out for the season) and Anthony Reyes (elbow, out for the season).
Week 24 two-starter(s): Hammel. He could be an advisable option with a quality start Wednesday vs. the Reds.
Starters on the DL: Aaron Cook (shoulder), Jeff Francis (shoulder, out for the season), Greg Smith (shoulder, out for the season), Greg Reynolds (shoulder, out for the season). Cook's sore shoulder will keep him out through Fantasy Week 24 (Sept. 14-20) at least. Keep him stashed in all leagues with reserves or DL spots.
Week 24 two-starter(s): Verlander and Washburn. Verlander is a must-start, while Washburn could be a sleeper with a solid return start at Kansas City on Thursday.
Starters on the DL: Dontrelle Willis (hip, out for the season).
- Josh Johnson
- Ricky Nolasco
- Sean West
- Anibal Sanchez
- Rick VandenHurk or Chris Volstad or Andrew Miller
Week 24 two-starter(s): Nolasco and West. They could be advisable options with quality starts Wednesday and Thursday at the Mets.
Starters on the DL: None.
Week 24 two-starter(s): Rodriguez. He is likely a must-start in all leagues down the stretch now.
Starters on the DL: Mike Hampton (shoulder, out for the season).
Kansas City Royals
- Zack Greinke
- Gil Meche (out, shoulder)
- Brian Bannister (out, shoulder)
- Luke Hochevar
- Kyle Davies
- Bruce Chen
- Robinson Tejeda
- Lenny DiNardo
Week 24 two-starter(s): Perhaps Chen. He is currently one of the Royals' rotational fill-ins for their banged-up starters. He could make two starts, one or none. He or Tejeda are high-risk options for the deepest of AL-only leagues regardless. Meche or Bannister would be risky options coming off injury, too.
Starters on the DL: None.
Los Angeles Angels
Week 24 two-starter(s): Weaver and Lackey. They will be must-starts with solid outing Wednesday and Thursday vs. the Mariners.
Starters on the DL: Dustin Moseley (elbow, out for the season) and Kelvim Escobar (shoulder, out for the season).
Los Angeles Dodgers
- Chad Billingsley
- Clayton Kershaw (out, shoulder)
- Randy Wolf
- Hiroki Kuroda
- Jon Garland
- Vicente Padilla
Week 24 two-starter(s): Garland or TBD. The Dodgers were going to go with a six-man rotation this week after the return of Kuroda, but then they decide to skip Kershaw. He could be back for that two-start week or as a one-starter. If the Dodgers stick with a six-man rotation once Kershaw is ready, they might not have a two-start pitcher.
Starters on the DL: Eric Milton (shoulder, out for the season).
Week 24 two-starter(s): Suppan and Gallardo. Suppan figures to be a questionable option even with a quality start Wednesday, while Gallardo returns from being skipped and should be active in all leagues again. He is healthy and a must-start for Fantasy Week 24 (Sept. 14-20).
Starters on the DL: None.
Week 24 two-starter(s): Pavano. He could be a sleeper for deeper leagues with another quality start Wednesday at Toronto. He has strung together three consecutive quality starts, despite a 1-2 record.
Starters on the DL: Francisco Liriano (shoulder), Boof Bonser (shoulder) and Kevin Slowey (wrist, out for the season). Liriano or Bonser could return in mid-to-late September, but they are coming back merely as relievers and don't figure to help much in Fantasy.
New York Mets
- John Maine (shoulder, expected to return Sept. 13 at PHI)
- Mike Pelfrey
- Bobby Parnell
- Tim Redding
- Nelson Figueroa
- Patrick Misch
Week 24 two-starter(s): Perhaps Parnell. The Mets could go with a six-man rotation or decide to drop any one of their bottom four starters. Parnell is a questionable option amid the uncertainty of their rotation at this point. We figure a quality start Thursday vs. Florida will make him a sleeper for deeper leagues.
Starters on the DL: John Maine (shoulder), Johan Santana (elbow, out for the season), Oliver Perez (knee, out for the season), Jonathon Niese (hamstring, out for the season) and Fernando Nieve (quadriceps, out for the season). Maine is targeting a return Sunday night in the second game of a doubleheader.
New York Yankees
Week 24 two-starter(s): TBD. Gaudin is tenatively listed as the starter next Monday, but he could be removed for Mitre or skipped after making one start. Chamberlain could fill-in as a two-start pitcher, but clearly he is a questionable option right now: a.) to make two starts; b.) to go deep enough into the game; c.) to pitch well.
Starters on the DL: Chien-Ming Wang (shoulder, out for the season).
- Brett Anderson
- Trevor Cahill
- Vin Mazzaro or Clayton Mortensen
- Gio Gonzalez
- Brett Tomko
- Edgar G. Gonzalez
Week 24 two-starter(s): G. Gonzalez. The A's are going with a six-man rotation, so this Gonzalez figures to be the only two-starter. He is a questionable option at this point.
Starters on the DL: Dallas Braden (foot, out for the season), Justin Duchscherer (elbow/depression, out for the season) and Josh Outman (elbow, out for the season).
Week 24 two-starter(s): Lee. He is a must-start in all leagues down the stretch.
Starters on the DL: None.
Week 24 two-starter(s): None. Duke is Monday's starter in their six-game week, but they are currently using a six-man rotation. Duke is a mildly more intriguing one-start pitcher for his potential to start twice in the event anyone gets hurt and needs a start off. He is a questionable option at best in most leagues, though.
Starters on the DL: None.
San Diego Padres
Week 24 two-starter(s): LeBlanc. He is a high-risk option even in the deepest of NL-only leagues at this point.
Starters on the DL: Chris R. Young (shoulder, out for the season), Cha Seung Baek (elbow, out for the season) and Shawn Hill (elbow, out for the season).
San Francisco Giants
- Tim Lincecum (questionable, back) or Madison Bumgarner
- Matt Cain
- Barry Zito
- Jonathan O. Sanchez
- Brad Penny
Week 24 two-starter(s): Lincecum or perhaps Bumgarner. Lincecum is a must-start in all leagues, if he is able to go. Bumgarner is a nice sleeper in all leagues after his solid debut Tuesday.
Starters on the DL: Randy Johnson (shoulder) and Noah Lowry (shoulder, out for the season). Johnson still hopes to pitch out of the bullpen with a partial shoulder tear. He doesn't figure to help any Fantasy leagues down the stretch.
Week 24 two-starter(s): Snell. He is a sleeper for deeper leagues with a quality start Wednesday at the Angels. The Mariners are calling up Morrow to start again, which moves Luke French out, but there is the potential the Mariners go with a six-man rotation. In that event, Snell wouldn't get two starts.
Starters on the DL: Carlos Silva (shoulder), Erik Bedard (shoulder, out for season) and Ryan Feierabend (elbow, out for the season). Silva might return before the end of the season, but we doubt he will prove Fantasy viable at this point in his career.
St. Louis Cardinals
- Chris Carpenter
- Adam Wainwright
- Joel Pineiro
- John Smoltz
- Kyle Lohse (groin, expected to return Sept. 12 vs. ATL)
Week 24 two-starter(s): Smoltz. He is a sleeper for any league, especially since he has posted an amazing 29-to-1, strikeout-to-walk ratio in four starts.
Starters on the DL: Lohse. He is returning this week, but there is the potential he moves back a day to keep the Cards' ace Carpenter on regular rest. Lohse could also move back to being their two-start pitcher at this point, too (less likely).
Tampa Bay Rays
Week 24 two-starter(s): Davis and Niemann. Davis could start this weekend in Boston, but we tentatively have him as a two-start pitcher for Fantasy Week 24 (Sept. 14-20). Consider him an advisable option coming off his spectacular major league debut Sunday. Niemann is advisable in any format, too, with a quality start Wednesday at the Yankees.
Starters on the DL: None.
Week 24 two-starter(s): McCarthy. He was supposed to be a two-start pitcher this week, but we like his sleeper potential for Fantasy Week 24 (Sept. 14-20) now. It is just a touch under advisable since he gave up five runs in his victory Tuesday.
Starters on the DL: Matt Harrison (shoulder, out for the season) and Eric Hurley (shoulder, out for the season).
Toronto Blue Jays
Week 24 two-starter(s): Halladay. He is a must-start in all leagues.
Starters on the DL: Shaun Marcum (elbow, out for the season), Dustin McGowan (shoulder/knee, out for the season), Jesse Litsch (elbow, out for the season) and Bobby Ray (shoulder, out for the season).
Week 24 two-starter(s): Mock. He is a high-risk option even in the deepest of NL-only leagues.
Starters on the DL: Jordan Zimmermann (elbow, out for the season) and Scott Olsen (shoulder, out for the season).
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