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Top 70 starters for Week 18

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Early trades have cleared up some of the confusion owners might have faced regarding their rotations heading into Fantasy Week 18 (July 30-August 5). We now know Zack Greinke is an Angel, Wandy Rodriguez is a Pirate and Anibal Sanchez is a Tiger, so we can have confidence in knowing what their matchups will be for the coming scoring period.

We also know that Francisco Liriano is a member of the White Sox's rotation, but owners of Liriano and other members of Robin Ventura's rotation still have to deal with some uncertainty. As of this writing, Liriano's next start had not been scheduled, and it's not yet clear whether the White Sox will trade a starter, move one to the bullpen or stick with a six-man unit. For the purposes of this week's top 70, I have assumed Liriano will start Monday at Minnesota, the rest of the rotation will get bumped back a day and that a six-man rotation will be in play for now. Keep tabs on developments that could unfold before Monday's lineup deadline (first pitch is 7:05 p.m. ET), as the matchups for the White Sox's pitchers and their opponents could easily be different from those posted here.

As it stands, though, these are the 70 starting pitchers whom owners in standard mixed leagues will be able to trust for the week ahead.

Starting Rotation breakdown for Fantasy Week 18
Rank Player Start 1 Start 2 Stat of note
1 David Price @OAK (Griffin) BAL (Gonzalez) 28 percent flyball rate
The A's have become a surprise power threat and they lead the majors in team flyball rate, but Price is boasting the lowest flyball rate of his career by far.
2 Stephen Strasburg PHI (Lee) MIA (Nolasco) 2 BBs or fewer in eight of last 10 starts
Not only does Strasburg's strikeout rate lead the majors, but he is also consistently stingy with free passes.
3 Cliff Lee @WAS (Strasburg) ARI (Cahill) 21 percent called strike rate
Though Lee's whiff rate is down this season, he continues to get nearly a strikeout per inning, because he remains one of the game's best at getting called strikes.
4 Clayton Kershaw CHC (Maholm) N/A Opponents' .343 SLG vs. righties
Kershaw has actually been a little better at limiting extra-base hits against right-handed hitters, so he should be able to neutralize Alfonso Soriano as well as Anthony Rizzo.
5 Madison Bumgarner NYM (Hefner) @COL (Francis) Career 2.84 ERA at COL
Coors Field has presented few problems for Bumgarner, as he has allowed only a single earned run there over his two most recent starts.
6 CC Sabathia SEA (Millwood) N/A 49 Ks, 10 BBs over last 47 2/3 innings
Sabathia hasn't been going quite as deep into games lately, but he has still been outstanding for the most part, posting a 2.59 ERA over his six starts just prior to Saturday's outing against Boston.
7 Justin Verlander @BOS (Beckett) N/A 4 HRs allowed in 69 2/3 home innings
Verlander's mild flyball tendencies have hurt him in a few of his road starts, but he has been able to avoid homers at Comerica Park.
8 Cole Hamels @WAS (Detwiler) N/A 7.1 innings per start, last seven starts
Hamels has been unusually wild during this recent stretch, but he has been effectively so, as he continues to give his owners innings, strikeouts and a low ERA.
9 Jered Weaver @TEX (Oswalt) @CHW (Humber) 6.2 K/9 in road starts
Weaver not only allows more homers on the road, but he's a below-average strikeout pitcher as well. He can still be your ace for this week, but even with two starts, he's more of a borderline one.
10 Jake Peavy @MIN (Diamond) N/A 4.8 K/BB ratio vs. lefties
Peavy hasn't dominated lefties to the degree he has with righties, but he's limited them to a .299 on-base percentage due to a lack of walks. That will help against the Twins.
11 Gio Gonzalez MIA (Buehrle) N/A 9 Ks in six innings vs. MIA
Gonzalez stymied the Marlins' hitters in his start against them earlier this month, and they have been striking out a high pace in general over the last several weeks.
12 Matt Cain NYM (Niese) N/A 4.05 ERA over last seven starts
Cain's numbers have not been impressive since he tossed his perfect game, but most of the damage had been sustained in two aberrant performances (10 line drives allowed vs. CIN, three home runs allowed at PHI).
13 R.A. Dickey @SD (Richard) N/A .404 BABIP over last five appearances
Dickey has slogged through a disappointing July with a 6.49 ERA, even though he avoided contact at a good rate. Some bad luck on balls in play may have played a role.
14 Chris Sale LAA (Greinke) N/A 11 percent swinging strike rate, last two starts
Sale has had trouble with stranding runners over his last two starts, but he has actually taken his whiff rate up a notch.
15 Johnny Cueto SD (Ohlendorf) N/A 76 percent quality start rate since 2011
Like Jered Weaver, Cueto can be used every week in every format despite a below-average strikeout rate due to his consistency and efficiency.
16 Zack Greinke @CHW (Sale) N/A 1.64 ERA at CHW, last three starts
For his first start back in the AL, Greinke gets a familiar foe and he will go to a venue where he has had success in his most recent starts.
17 Felix Hernandez @NYY (Kuroda) N/A Career 1.47 ERA at Yankee Stadium
Hernandez hasn't been getting much run support, but even at Yankee Stadium, owners can count on him to do everything possible to hold up his end of the bargain.
18 Clay Buchholz DET (Scherzer) MIN (De Vries) 7.1 K/9 over last eight starts
Over the past three years, Buchholz built his value by avoiding line drive base hits, but of late, he's just done a better job of avoiding contact altogether.
19 Roy Halladay ARI (Saunders) N/A 1.27 WHIP over last two starts
Since returning from the DL, Halladay's WHIP has not been up to par, but it hasn't been as awful as his 6.55 ERA. It's unlikely that he'll allow nearly half of his baserunners to score going forward, and his WHIP should improve as well.
20 Mike Leake SD (Volquez) PIT (McDonald) 4.46 ERA, last seven home starts
Home runs have spoiled many of Leake's home starts this season, and while the Pirates can pack a punch at the plate, the Padres have the third-fewest homers in the majors.
21 Max Scherzer @BOS (Buchholz) CLE (Lowe) 11 percent popup rate
Not only has Scherzer missed a lot more bats this season, but improved popup and line drive rates have made a real difference in his Fantasy value.
22 Jordan Zimmermann MIA (Johnson) N/A 72 percent strikes thrown, last four starts
Zimmermann's command just keeps getting better, as he has struck out 22 batters over his last 24 innings while walking only two.
23 Adam Wainwright MIL (Rogers) N/A 61 Ks over last 58 1/3 innings
Wainwright has really started to hit his stride, as he is now striking out batters at a rate that is even higher than his pre-Tommy John surgery norm.
24 Ben Sheets MIA (Zambrano) N/A 40 percent ground ball rate
Sheets may be fortunate to have not allowed a home run yet, but his luck could continue against the Marlins, who have left the park only 11 times over the last 15 days.
25 Josh Johnson @WAS (Zimmermann) N/A 1.19 WHIP in July
Johnson has fallen flat in Fantasy this past month, but most of his supporting stats have been strong. As his good WHIP suggests, he just needs to strand more runners, and his track record shows that he can.
26 Yovani Gallardo HOU (Keuchel) N/A 2 BBs over last 17 2/3 innings
Walks have been a problem at times for Gallardo, but he's been throwing strikes at a much higher rate over his last three starts.
27 Roy Oswalt LAA (Weaver) @KC (Smith) 10 percent swinging strike rate
The increase in Oswalt's K-rate appears to be legitimate, as he is getting more swings-and-misses than he did a season ago.
28 C.J. Wilson @TEX (Harrison) N/A Career 3.97 ERA at TEX
As a top 20 Fantasy starter, Wilson deserves to be used every week, but he has a long record of merely pedestrian production when pitching in Arlington, so he gets a downgrade this week.
29 A.J. Burnett @CHC (Dempster) N/A 20 Ks over last 28 1/3 innings
Burnett's strikeout pace has slowed down over his recent starts, but his improved control and stronger ground ball tendencies have made him a more effective pitcher this year, even without the Ks.
30 Ian Kennedy @PHI (Blanton) N/A 2.42 ERA over last three starts
Kennedy is no longer encumbered by the high BABIP that plagued him prior to the All-Star break, and we're once again seeing the Cy Young candidate who emerged last season.
31 Mike Fiers HOU (Lyles) N/A Seven straight quality starts
Though Fiers has overperformed during his quality start streak, he is good enough at avoiding contact and walks to be a must-start option in nearly all formats.
32 A.J. Griffin TB (Price) TOR (Romero) 29 percent called strike rate on curveballs
Griffin's upper-60s curveball is baffling hitters, who are frequently taking it for a called strike. That's helping him to maintain a decent strikeout rate without overwhelming stuff.
33 Doug Fister CLE (Jimenez) N/A 67 percent strikes thrown, last eight starts
Earlier this season, Fister's command was merely average, but now he is back to his extreme strike-throwing ways.
34 Hiroki Kuroda SEA (Hernandez) N/A 15 percent line drive rate
Kuroda's consistent avoidance of liners, along with his pinpoint control, allows him to post low ERAs and WHIPs every year, even though he's not especially averse to contact.
35 Tommy Hanson MIA (Buehrle) HOU (Harrell) 31 Ks over last 28 1/3 innings
Wildness has gotten the better of Hanson over his last three starts, but over a longer stretch, he has shown that he can still be relied upon to help with strikeouts.
36 Anibal Sanchez CLE (Masterson) N/A 2 ER in seven innings vs. CLE on May 19
Sanchez had a rough debut for the Tigers, but the Indians should be an easier matchup than the Blue Jays, and he has had success against them already this year.
37 Dan Haren @TEX (Darvish) N/A Opponents' .182 Avg, last two starts
Since coming back from the DL, Haren has mostly avoided hard contact, looking much more like the pitcher he had been over the previous five seasons.
38 Tommy Milone TB (Shields) TOR (Laffey) 1 HR allowed in 59 2/3 home innings
Even in the likely event that Milone fails to maintain a sub-1.00 home ERA, he's been good enough at home that he is a must-start whenever he has a pair of outings at O.co Coliseum.
39 James Shields @OAK (Milone) N/A .403 BABIP over last six starts
Shields is getting Ks, avoiding walks and not even giving up too many homers, yet he has been saddled with a 5.80 ERA since June 28. It doesn't add up, and he's due for better things any time now.
40 Francisco Liriano @MIN (De Vries) N/A 5 BBs over last 16 2/3 innings
Liriano finally had a meltdown in his most recent start, but we can't blame the usual culprit: wildness. He's been throwing strikes at an above-average rate over his last three outings and could continue to do so when he opposes his former team this week.
41 Jonathon Niese @SF (Cain) N/A 7 quality starts in last 10 tries
When Niese has been bad, he has been awful, but far more often than not, he's been outstanding.
42 Mat Latos PIT (Rodriguez) N/A 15 percent called strike rate, last three starts
A lack of called strikes has put a damper on Latos' K-rate lately, but the free-swinging Pirates could help him to get back on track.
43 Yu Darvish LAA (Haren) N/A Opponents' .198 Avg vs. righties
Darvish has been shutting right-handed hitters down and that is going to make life tough for the top four batters in the Angels' order.
44 Jon Lester MIN (Deduno) N/A .204 flyball BABIP
Lester has a history of giving up a high rate of flyball base hits, and Fenway Park likely plays a role, but the Twins -- who have the majors' lowest flyball rate -- could give Lester a break from the trend.
45 Ryan Dempster PIT (Burnett) N/A Opponents' .479 SLG, last two starts
This may or may not be Dempster's matchup for the week, so I've gone a little conservative on the ranking. However, the 14 line drives and three homers he has allowed over his two most recent starts are also a bit concerning.
46 Kyle Lohse @COL (Francis) MIL (Estrada) 1 HR allowed in 21 career innings at COL
As a contact pitcher, Lohse is at risk with any visit to Coors Field, but he escaped his start there last season with just two runs over six innings.
47 Ivan Nova BAL (Tillman) N/A 3.38 ERA over last three home starts
Most of Nova's starts over the past two months have been on the road, but he's had a little more success at home during that span than he did earlier in the season.
48 Chris Capuano ARI (Miley) N/A 3.5 K/BB at home
Capuano's 1.64 home ERA isn't just about a lower home run rate; his strikeout and walk rates have also been better at Dodger Stadium.
49 Mark Buehrle @ATL (Hanson) @WAS (Gonzalez) 1.19 road WHIP
Buehrle has been homer-prone on the road, but his aversion to walks follows him wherever he goes, making him helpful with WHIP in any given start.
50 Jeff Samardzija @LAD (Billingsley) N/A 1.91 ERA in July
Samardzija just completed a highly successful month, but his most recent start, in which he walked six Cardinals, shows that he is still too erratic to view as a must-start in all formats.
51 Josh Beckett DET (Verlander) MIN (Blackburn) No home runs allowed over last 74 innings
Beckett's command has been erratic over the past month, but it's been two-and-a-half months since he last coughed up a home run, and a higher ground ball rate has played a role, albeit a small one.
52 Clayton Richard NYM (Dickey) N/A 1.14 home WHIP
Richard's last two home starts weren't very good, but his control is still sharp, and he can help with WHIP and innings.
53 Matt Moore BAL (Hunter) N/A 3.6 BB/9 at home
Moore has been much more effective in his home starts, as his walk rate has been much closer to normal at the Trop than at other venues.
54 Trevor Cahill @LAD (Harang) @PHI (Lee) 2.91 road ERA
Some of Cahill's success on the road is the result of BABIP fluctuations, but a substantially lower home run rate away from Chase Field has made a difference, too.
55 Justin Masterson @DET (Sanchez) N/A 17 double plays induced
Masterson gets himself into trouble with walks and sometimes has trouble stranding the runners he puts on, but he also gets out of jams by way of the double play.
56 Jeremy Hellickson BAL (Chen) N/A 11 percent popup rate in July
Hellickson isn't striking out very many hitters, but he has a 3.33 ERA for the month because he is back to getting oodles of easy flyball outs.
57 Phil Hughes BAL (Britton) N/A Seven innings or more in five of last six starts
Hughes is still too prone to giving up the long ball, but he's been effective enough overall that it's not knocking him out of games early.
58 Mike Minor MIA (Eovaldi) N/A 26 Ks, 4 BBs over last 27 1/3 innings
Minor has been hitting the strike zone with more consistency, and while he remains a home run risk, he should be safe to use against the anemic Marlins' offense.
59 Ryan Vogelsong @COL (Sanchez) N/A 1.0 HR/9 on the road since 2011
Vogelsong has been more vulnerable to homers away from AT&T Park, so while he has generally been reliable on the road, he could find trouble in the thin air of Colorado.
60 James McDonald @CIN (Leake) N/A 29 percent flyball rate in July (per FanGraphs)
McDonald's recent struggles have been more about finding the strike zone than about flyball tendencies, so he has a chance to turn things around at Great American Ball Park.
61 Tim Hudson HOU (Galarraga) N/A .084 Isolated Power over last four starts
Hudson is getting very few strikeouts lately, but he is as good as ever at getting grounders and clamping down on extra-base hits.
62 Derek Holland LAA (Santana) @KC (Hochevar) Opponents' .347 SLG vs. lefties
Holland's mastery of lefties won't help him much against the Angels, but it should make for a long day for the Royals' Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and -- if he can play -- Mike Moustakas.
63 Homer Bailey SD (Marquis) PIT (Bedard) 34 Ks over last 37 2/3 innings
Bailey is often a risk to start at home, but he's been ratcheting up his strikeout rate. With the whiff-happy Padres and Pirates coming to town, owners should take advantage of the matchups.
64 Marco Estrada HOU (Norris) @STL (Lohse) 41 Ks over last 31 2/3 innings
Estrada may be the new Max Scherzer, offering owners strikeouts by the bushel, but also potentially putting the ERA category at risk. He's worth the gamble with an upcoming matchup against the Astros.
65 Wade Miley @LAD (Capuano) N/A Opponents' .307 OBP, last three starts
Miley was in a brief lull prior to the All-Star break, but ever since, he has been back on his game. In addition to exhibiting great control, he has been bumping up his whiff rate.
66 Aaron Harang ARI (Cahill) CHC (Garza) Opponents' .203 Avg, last six starts
It's unlikely that Harang can continue to limit base hits at his recent rate, but he's been in a legitimate groove, popping up batters on nearly one of every six hit balls over the last five weeks.
67 Erik Bedard @CHC (Germano) @CIN (Bailey) 21 percent called strike rate
Bedard's average fastball velocity has fallen below 90 mph this year, but an increase in his called strike rate has helped him to remain a strikeout pitcher.
68 Jason Vargas TOR (Laffey) N/A 1.65 ERA over last six starts
Vargas has played exclusively in pitcher-friendly parks during his hot streak, but he can extend it with a start at Safeco Field in Week 18.
69 Jarrod Parker TB (Cobb) N/A 2.28 home ERA
Parker has stumbled in recent weeks, but a home start against a power-starved Rays club should make for a productive week.
70 Lance Lynn @COL (Friedrich) N/A 1.19 GB/FB ratio, last seven starts
Lynn was having a good month before Friday's blowup at Wrigley Field, but the combination of a recent decrease in grounders and a trip to Coors Field makes him a risky play for the coming week.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior at @almelccbs . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Twins' tab Kyle Gibson for Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:32 pm ET) The Twins have tabbed pitcher Kyle Gibson for the start on Thursday, according to MLB.com.

Gibson is coming off a season in which he posted a 4.47 ERA over 179 1/3 innings. He's expected to open the year in the team's rotation. It's unclear how long Gibson will pitch in the spring opener. 


Orioles, Pedro Beato agree to minor-league deal
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:21 pm ET) The Orioles and pitcher Pedro Beato have agreed to a minor-league deal, pending a physical, masnsports.com reports.

Beato was a first-round pick of the Orioles in the 2006 MLB Draft but didn't crack the major-league roster before being taken by the Mets in the 2010 Rule 5 draft. He spent most of last season with Triple-A Gwinnett, posting a 4.10 ERA and 45:17 K:BB ratio in 48 1/3 innings.


Braves' Luis Avilan feeling good heading into bullpen competition
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(6:15 pm ET) Braves left-handed pitcher Luis Avilan is competing for a spot in the bullpen this spring after enduring a down season last year, and he's confident he's getting back to the form he showed in 2013, MLB.com reports.

"I feel like all the work I've done in the offseason is really paying off," Avilan said. "I feel really good with my bullpen [sessions] and my live BP. I've been feeling really good with my pitches. The location has been really good, better than last year."

Avilan made 10 appearances in winter ball after posting a 4.57 ERA and 25:21 K:BB ratio in 43 1/3 innings in 2014.


Tigers' Joakim Soria throws live batting practice on Tuesday
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(5:35 pm ET) Tigers reliever Joakim Soria was able to throw live batting practice on Tuesday, according to the Detroit Free Press

Soria wasn't listed on the team's pitching schedule for the first five spring games, which caused some confusion. While Soria said he's fine, manager Brad Ausmus said Soria is slightly behind the other pitchers in camp by his own choice. Soria did receive positive reviews during his session. "By all accounts, Soria threw very well," Ausmus said.

The 30-year-old Soria posted a 3.25 ERA over 44 1/3 innings last year.


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(12:36 pm ET) Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland will run the bases on Tuesday, and won't seen any spring games until next week, according to the Star-Telegram. Texas is taking a cautious approach with Moreland in camp after he underwent ankle surgery last June.

The 29-year-old Moreland hit .246/.297/.347 over 167 at-bats last year.


Blue Jays' Gibbons yet to settle on closer, could use committee
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(12:34 pm ET) Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said Tuesday that while Brett Cecil has the ability to close, he might not serve as the team's closer, the National Post reports.

"He could do it. He might not. It might be somebody else," Gibbons said.

The manager also raised the possibility of using multiple closers.

"It could be one of those deals where one night he might be closing, the other night he might have to come in at the end of the seventh or eighth inning," Gibbons said.

Despite the face that Gibbons hasn't deemed Cecil his closer, he did praise his pitching ability Tuesday.

"He’s got some overpowering stuff," Gibbons said. "He’s a lefty and I don’t think there’s a better curveball out there. He can throw it for strikes, he can bring it down low in the zone and bounce it for a strikeout. That’s kind of his go-to pitch. He doesn’t rattle. He’s pretty confident and calm when he’s out there."

Cecil went 2-3 with a 2.70 ERA, 76:27 K:BB ratio and five saves in 53 1/3 innings in 2014. He owns a 11.1 career K/9 rate in relief.


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(12:23 pm ET) White Sox catcher Geovany Soto said he is feeling good after being limited to 78 games the last two seasons due to injuries. He missed time in 2014 because of arthroscopic surgery on his left foot and a torn meniscus in his right knee.

"I love where I'm at," Soto said, per The Chicago Tribune. "My legs feel great. My whole body feels great. I'm just anxious to get started and show these guys what I can do, hopefully stay healthy and break camp."


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(12:22 pm ET) Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told reporters that starting pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu came out of Monday's bullpen session "fine," and that his next step will likely be throwing batting practice, according to SB Nation.

Ryu is dealing with a back injury, but has been throwing the last couple of days without pain. At this point, Ryu remains without a timetable for his first spring game. He went 14-7 in 2014 with a 3.38 ERA and 139 strikeouts in 152 innings pitched last season.


Hinch: Astros 'likely' to use seven-man bullpen in 2015
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:15 pm ET) Astros manager A.J. Hinch indicated that the team is likely to use a seven-man bullpen this season, leaving two spots open for competition this spring, the Houston Chronicle reports.

"Likely," Hinch said of a seven-man bullpen. "There’s always a chance that (changes) depending on how the schedule plays out, and there’s always a debate on how many pitchers to carry during interleague. Now interleague is pretty much year round, so I mean, in a perfect world with our roster, it’s likely to carry a seven-man ‘pen. If we feel like we need an extra pitcher or injury happens, there’s different ways to shape our roster, then we will, but likely 12."

The two open spots will likely be filled by a left-handed pitcher and a long reliever. The competition for the second lefty in the pen likely comes down to Kevin Chapman and nonroster invitees Joe Thatcher and Darin Downs. The long relief role has a broader list of candidates, including Alex White and Asher Wojciechowski, who will prepare both as starters and relievers.

"We’re going to stretch out a lot of our guys," Hinch said. "Some of them are because they’re competing in that fifth starter spot, some of them are bullpen guys. Will Harris is going to throw multiple innings. Obviously (Sam) Deduno has been a starter in the past, he’s in a competition for the fifth man spot. Wojo, White, those guys are going to need to, going to plan for the season on both fronts, whether it’s a starter or reliever. But we’re preaching multiple innings. It’s important if you have a seven-man bullpen that you have a couple of guys that can get four, five, six outs if needed and be a bridge to the rest of the bullpen."


Rangers' Tolleson: 'I'd like to be that bridge' between starters, closers
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:15 pm ET) Rangers pitcher Shawn Tolleson told reporters he would like to become the link between the starting rotation and back-end relievers Tanner Scheppers and Neftali Feliz this season, according to the Dallas Morning News.

"I would like to be that bridge," Tolleson said.

Tolleson led the club with 71 2/3 innings of relief last season. He pitched more than one inning 20 times and held left-handed hitters to a .282 on-base percentage.

"He's got the skill set to be one of those that we use in the latter portions of the game," manager Jeff Banister said. "He seems to love the competition."


 
 
 
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