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Top 70 starters for Week 26

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For owners in many formats, the season is ending the way it began: with a long scoring period. Fantasy Week 26 (Sept. 24-Oct. 3) is a ten-day affair, which is long enough to ensure that nearly every pitcher will be a two-start pitcher, but short enough to preempt the possibility of a three-start week. In fact, all but three of the pitchers in this week's top 70 have a pair of scheduled starts.

With only a few one-start versus two-start dilemmas to consider, choosing your rotation for the final scoring period will be relatively straightforward, but there is still one potential complicating factor. Teams with a chance at the postseason may want to rest some of their starters, particularly those who line up to start the final game of the regular season. Yovani Gallardo, Gio Gonzalez and Adam Wainwright are the pitchers who are probably in greatest danger of losing a start, but even with one start, all three are worth using in standard mixed leagues. Due to the risk of skipping a start, though, each has been moved a few spots down in the rankings.

Finally, because this is the final top 70 rankings of the season, I've scanned the pitching leaderboards to pull most of this week's "stats of note." This is our final chance this season to take stock of which pitchers have excelled in particular aspects of the game, so that will be the focus of much of this week's analysis.

For the final time in 2012, I present those starters who are worth using in standard mixed leagues for the coming week. Stats are current for games played through Thursday, Sept. 20.

Starting Rotation breakdown for Fantasy Week 26
Rank Player Start 1 Start 2 Stat of note
1 David Price @BOS (Matsuzaka) @CHW (Liriano) 2.58 ERA, leads MLB
The majors' ERA leader is in the discussion for first pitcher to go off the board next season, and his ability to keep the ball in the park helps him with all matchups and venues.
2 Cole Hamels WAS (Lannan) @MIA (Nolasco) 14 percent swinging strike rate, leads MLB
Hamels' dip in his K-rate from last season is long forgotten, as no one has induced more swings-and-misses this season.
3 Justin Verlander KC (Hochevar) @MIN (Walters) 10 percent popup rate, 7th in MLB
Verlander still provides about a strikeout per inning, doesn't issue many walks, and when he does allow contact, it is often of the weak variety.
4 Felix Hernandez @LAA (Greinke) LAA (Greinke) Five shutouts, leads MLB
Hernandez wasn't immune to slumps this season, but when he was on his game -- which he was most of the time -- he could be absolutely dominant.
5 Matt Cain ARI (Skaggs) @SD (Volquez) 1.05 WHIP, 4th in MLB
Cain has been good at avoiding hard contact for awhile now, but a career-low walk rate has helped him to shave down an already-low WHIP.
6 Kris Medlen MIA (Eovaldi) @PIT (Locke) Opponents' .474 OPS as a starter
How ridiculous is Medlen's opponents' OPS? It's only 23 points higher than the slugging percentage portion of Tommy Hanson's opponents' OPS.
7 Madison Bumgarner @SD (Werner) @LAD (Fife) Opponents' .283 OBP, 8th in MLB
Bumgarner continued to exhibit superb control this year, but he was finally rewarded with a BABIP that wasn't above league-average. That has allowed him to fulfill his potential as a pitcher who can keep hitters from getting on base.
8 R.A. Dickey PIT (Correia) @MIA (Eovaldi) 1.16 ERA vs. MIA
Dickey subdued the Bucs in his one previous start against them this season, and he owns the Marlins, so he should have a highly productive week.
9 Johnny Cueto MIL (Marcum) @STL (Garcia) 0.6 HR/9, 4th in MLB
Despite pitching in a home park and division that invites home runs, Cueto has defied the odds in posting yet another miniscule HR/9 rate.
10 Yovani Gallardo HOU (Gonzalez) SD (Werner) 81 percent quality start rate, leads MLB
Gallardo became a more consistent pitcher last season, but he took another step forward this year and can now be counted on to perform well nearly every time out.
11 CC Sabathia @MIN (Deduno) BOS (Matsuzaka) 4.2 K/BB, 3rd in MLB
A career-high home run per flyball (HR/FB) ratio has left Sabathia's ERA in the mid-3.00s, but his command is as strong as ever, so he can be relied upon for WHIP, strikeouts and wins.
12 Yu Darvish OAK (Milone) LAA (Wilson) Opponents' .216 Avg, 4th in MLB
Darvish has proven to be one of the toughest pitchers to hit in the majors, and he has shown the potential for good control. If he achieves consistency there, he will be a Fantasy ace.
13 Zack Greinke SEA (Hernandez) @SEA (Hernandez) 3.34 xFIP, 11th in MLB
Greinke is currently outside the top 25 in ERA, but his xFIP is in line with the near-elite status that we expect from him.
14 James Shields @BOS (Buchholz) BAL (Saunders) 54 percent ground ball rate, 12th in MLB
Shields' grounder rate took a huge leap, but a career-high HR/FB ratio neutralized its impact. He could be due for a monster year in 2013 if that ratio regresses -- which is likely.
15 Jake Peavy CLE (Masterson) @CLE (Kluber) Four complete games, 4th in MLB
Peavy doesn't throw as hard as he used to, but in setting a career high in complete games as well as posting a low ERA and WHIP, the 11-year veteran reestablished his value in Fantasy.
16 Chris Sale CLE (McAllister) TB (Hellickson) 2.82 ERA, 7th in MLB
Sale has been such a consistent producer as a starter in his first year in the rotation that his brief midseason return to the bullpen has been all but forgotten.
17 Roy Halladay @MIA (Turner) @WAS (Gonzalez) 68 percent strikes thrown, 5th in MLB
Halladay's strikeout and ground ball rates tumbled substantially this year, but he is still a dangerous control artist who belongs near the top of your Fantasy rotation.
18 Gio Gonzalez @STL (Wainwright) PHI (Halladay) 0.4 HR/9, leads MLB
Gonzalez is unlikely to maintain such a low home run rate, so we just may have witnessed his career year. That said, he should remain a must-start option for a long time to come.
19 Adam Wainwright WAS (Gonzalez) CIN (Latos) 3.51 xFIP, 13th in MLB
Wainwright's skill ratios were among the best of his career, but unfavorable strand and BABIP rates created the appearance of a down season. Use that to your advantage next draft day.
20 Matt Moore @CHW (Quintana) BAL (Gonzalez) 9.0 K/9, 11th in MLB
A rocky start to the season took some of the lustre off Moore's rookie campaign, but it didn't take long for him to establish himself as a rotation stalwart in practically all formats.
21 Dan Haren SEA (Iwakuma) @SEA (Iwakuma) 10 percent popup rate, 6th in MLB
Haren's story is similar to Sabathia's; a suspiciously high homer rate has ruined what otherwise would have been a solid campaign. Given his high popup rate, he also got a raw deal on his .305 BABIP.
22 Brandon Morrow NYY (Nova) MIN (Diamond) 3.59 home ERA
As one might expect, Morrow has had more success away from hitter-friendly Rogers Centre, but he's still good enough at home to start in any given week.
23 C.J. Wilson SEA (Ramirez) @TEX (Darvish) Opponents' .356 SLG, 9th in MLB
Wilson hasn't been especially good at avoiding baserunners (.321 OBP), but he has been effective at limiting extra-base hits, which allows him to benefit your team's ERA.
24 Mat Latos @PIT (Burnett) @STL (Wainwright) Opponents' .235 Avg, 17th in MLB
Latos has been just about as hard to hit as a Red as he was as a Padre, and he has even gotten better at limiting the long ball over the last couple of months.
25 Ryan Dempster LAA (Santana) @OAK (Griffin) Opponents' .287 OBP, 15th in MLB
A low WHIP was probably the last thing you expected from Dempster this year, but diminished walk and BABIP rates allowed him to provide just that. The former may be sustainable, though the latter probably isn't.
26 Clay Buchholz TB (Shields) @NYY (Nova) 27 double plays induced, 2nd in MLB
Buchholz still allows more contact than you would ideally want from a standard mixed league pitcher, but his ability to erase baserunners through twin killings is one way he has been able to keep his ERA at 2.79 since May 27.
27 A.J. Griffin SEA (Beavan) TEX (Dempster) 0.83 home WHIP
Griffin's flyball tendencies play well at O.co Coliseum, so he is a very safe start with his last two outings coming in Oakland.
28 A.J. Burnett CIN (Latos) ATL (Minor) 3.56 pitches per plate appearance, 11th in MLB
It seems odd to see that Burnett has been among the most efficient hurlers in the majors, but that's what a walk-per-inning reduction in his BB/9 rate will accomplish.
29 Andy Pettitte @MIN (Hendriks) @TOR (Alvarez) 21 percent called strike rate, vs. TOR on Wed.
Pettitte blanked the Jays for five innings in his return from the DL, and he was able to freeze batters frequently, just as he had done prior to getting hurt.
30 Cliff Lee @MIA (Buehrle) N/A 14 non-decisions, tied for MLB lead
Lee has been a victim of tepid run support, and he certainly has pitched too well to own a 6-7 record.
31 Hiroki Kuroda @TOR (Jenkins) BOS (Lester) 2.0 BB/9, 16th in MLB
The impact of moves across the leagues can be overblown, and Kuroda is a case in point. He is having an incredibly similar season to last year, despite migrating to the AL.
32 Jered Weaver @TEX (Holland) N/A 1.00 WHIP, leads MLB
Weaver is the poster child for pitchers who are a little more valuable in real life than in Fantasy. Owners don't get the benefit of a high strikeout rate, but Weaver makes up for it -- to a greater degree in the real world -- with consistently low walk and BABIP rates.
33 Derek Holland OAK (Straily) LAA (Weaver) Opponents' .235 Avg, 17th in MLB
Holland has been among the hardest starters to hit this season, though he's a long shot to replicate the 14 percent line drive rate that helped him to gain that status.
34 Jonathon Niese PIT (Locke) @MIA (LeBlanc) Opponents' .669 OPs, 18th in MLB
Niese contiued to improve his control this season, and he also finally a got a break with some good strand and BABIP rates.
35 Josh Johnson @ATL (Hanson) NYM (Young) 0.6 HR/9, 4th in MLB
Johnson has lost some velocity, but he continues to be one of the majors' best pitchers at limiting home runs, and that keeps him Fantasy-viable.
36 Doug Fister KC (Mendoza) @KC (Guthrie) 70 Ks over last 80 innings
Fister's command hasn't been quite as precise as what we've come to expect, but the new high-strikeout version might be even better.
37 Marco Estrada @WAS (Zimmermann) HOU (Keuchel) 67 percent strikes thrown, 11th in MLB
Not only has Estrada become stingier with walks, but he is now a bona fide source of strikeouts due to increased whiff and foul ball rates.
38 Jaime Garcia @HOU (Harrell) CIN (Cueto) .357 BABIP
Garcia doesn't have enough innings to qualify to be among the highest-ranking BABIP pitchers, but he has probably been among the unluckiest pitchers this season.
39 Max Scherzer @MIN (Diamond) @KC (Mendoza) 14 percent swinging strike rate, 3rd in MLB
It is not yet known if Scherzer can make both of his Week 26 starts, but he has improved so much over the course of the season, he is worth using, as long as there is any chance of him making even one start.
40 Mike Minor NYM (Young) @PIT (Burnett) .264 BABIP, 7th lowest in MLB
With one of the lowest BABIP rates in the majors, Minor might look like an overachiever. However, flyball pitchers tend to register low BABIPs, and Minor definitely qualifies for that category.
41 Phil Hughes @MIN (Vasquez) @TOR (Romero) 14 percent popup rate, leads MLB
Hughes continues to be among the majors' most homer-prone pitchers, but he compensates for it by being among the best at getting easy flyouts.
42 Ryan Vogelsong ARI (Corbin) @LAD (Blanton) .477 BABIP over last 7 starts
Vogelsong has allowed too many flyballs in recent weeks, but he has been victimized by apparent bad luck on balls in play. His fortunes could change, especially with a pair of starts in pitcher-friendly venues.
43 Francisco Liriano CLE (Kluber) TB (Price) 14 percent swinging strike rate, 2nd in MLB
Liriano's inconsistency limits his value, but owners can count on him to get whiffs and, consequently, strikeouts.
44 Anibal Sanchez KC (Chen) @MIN (Hendriks) 69 percent quality start rate, 16th in MLB
Though Sanchez seems prone to hot streaks and slumps, he's actually been among the majors' more consistent pitchers, so he can be trusted in most weeks.
45 Matt Harrison OAK (Blackley) @OAK (Blackley) 17 wins, tied for 5th in MLB
Thanks to an improving skill set and the backing of a powerful offense, Harrison is a reliable source of wins even if he doesn't help much with strikeouts.
46 Ian Kennedy CHC (Wood) COL (Francis) Opponents' .347 SLG, last four starts
Kennedy remains a threat to give up the long ball, but he's shown enough recent improvement to merit a start this week.
47 Wade Miley @SF (Zito) COL (Pomeranz) 3.10 ERA, 15th in MLB
As a contact pitcher, Miley's ceiling is limited, but strong control and efficiency have made him a trustworthy option in standard mixed leagues.
48 Jordan Zimmermann MIL (Estrada) @STL (Lohse) 68 percent strikes thrown, 6th in MLB
Zimmermann has slogged through the latter part of the schedule, but his impressive ability to command the strike zone makes him worthwhile starting despite his recent struggles.
49 Jon Lester @BAL (Tillman) @NYY (Kuroda) 66 percent strand rate, 8th lowest in MLB
To be sure, this has not been Lester's finest season, but things have not been as bad as they appear. He is a strong bet to rebound from a strand rate that is far below his norm.
50 Hisashi Iwakuma @OAK (Haren) LAA (Haren) 2.32 ERA over last 11 starts
Iwakuma is posting better strikeout and walk rates as a starter than as a reliever, allowing him to enjoy a much higher degree of success since joining the M's rotation.
51 Chris Carpenter @HOU (Norris) CIN (Arroyo) 3.50 pitches per plate appearance vs. CHC on Fri.
Carpenter lasted only five innings in his season debut, but he did so with a minimum of pitches. Carpenter gets two chances to go longer this week.
52 Tommy Milone @TEX (Darvish) SEA (Ramirez) 1.8 BB/9, 9th in MLB
Milone made good on the promise he showed in the minors as a pitcher with very good control. That, and his home venue, make him worth starting more often than not.
53 Wandy Rodriguez @NYM (Hefner) CIN (Leake) .074 Isolated Power, last 6 starts
Rodriguez has benefited from some good venues and good matchups lately. WIth one start at Citi Field and another at home, his stinginess with extra base hits should continue.
54 Mike Fiers @CIN (Leake) HOU (Lyles) 15 Ks over last 16 1/3 innings
Fiers has been surprisingly wild and inefficient this past month. He's still getting strikeouts, though -- and a start against the Astros can't hurt.
55 Wily Peralta @CIN (Arroyo) SD (Kelly) 1 XBH allowed in 21 innings
Remarkably, Peralta has yielded just 17 singles and a double, and he has the ground ball tendencies to keep clamping down on extra-base hits, if not quite at this pace.
56 Jarrod Parker @TEX (Perez) TEX (Perez) 0.5 HR/9, 2nd in MLB
Parker's command could still use some work, but his avoidance of home runs has allowed him to limit the damage caused by a mediocre WHIP.
57 Bronson Arroyo MIL (Peralta) @STL (Carpenter) 1.6 BB/9, 4th in MLB
Locating within the strike zone is what Arroyo does best and he has done that especially well in a surprisingly robust comeback season.
58 Lance Lynn @HOU (Abad) WAS (Lannan) 8.9 K/9, 13th in MLB
Lynn's volatility prevents him from being the higher-end option he was earlier this year. However, he can deliver strikeouts for owners nearly as well as anyone currently in a rotation.
59 Chris Capuano @SD (Richard) SF (Zito) 5 BBs over last 39 2/3 innings
Recent weeks have not been kind to Capuano but this week's matchups should be, especially since he has been exhibiting strong control.
60 Kyle Lohse WAS (Zimmermann) N/A 2.71 ERA, 4th in MLB
Lohse shaved more than half a run off his 2011 ERA. Some improvement was due to better command, though some was the result of an unsustainable strand rate.
61 Edinson Volquez LAD (Beckett) SF (Cain) .311 home ERA
The move to PETCO Park has turned out well for Volquez -- provided he's pitching at PETCO Park. A pair of home starts to close out the season make him viable for Fantasy's final scoring period.
62 Alex Cobb @CHW (Floyd) BAL (Tillman) Seven quality starts in last 10 tries
Though Cobb's last two starts were far from spectacular, he has generally been reliable since late July.
63 Miguel Gonzalez TOR (Villanueva) @TB (Moore) 6.5 innings per start, last seven starts
Gonzalez has been helping owners in all formats with ERA lately, and he's also been good for innings in points leagues.
64 Tommy Hanson MIA (Johnson) @PIT (Correia) 2 BBs or fewer in five of last six starts
Hanson is still not pitching deep into games, but improved control is leading to better results.
65 Ross Detwiler @PHI (Cloyd) PHI (Cloyd) Opponents' .659 OPS, 15th in MLB
Detwiler isn't especially hard to hit, but a lack of walks and extra-base hits land him among the pitching OPS leaders.
66 Kyle Kendrick WAS (Jackson) @WAS (Jackson) 37 Ks, 7 BBs over last 47 1/3 innings
It's no coincidence that Kendrick has performed much better lately. He's pounding the strike zone with far more regularity than he did earlier this year.
67 Ivan Nova @TOR (Morrow) BOS (Buchholz) 12 swinging strikes vs. TB on Sept. 15
Nova's ability to generate whiffs upon his return from the disabled list was a highly encouraging sign.
68 Josh Beckett @SD (Volquez) COL (De La Rosa) 65 percent strand rate, 5th lowest in MLB
Though Beckett is not the strikeout pitcher he once was, he deserves far better than a near-5.00 ERA. A subpar strand rate obscures the fact that he still has his uses as a standard mixed league starter, at least with good matchups.
69 Wei-Yin Chen TOR (Alvarez) BOS (Doubront) .274 BABIP, 14th lowest in MLB
Chen has been better at avoiding contact than advertised, and a proclivity for inducing flyouts makes him a better-than-average pitcher for WHIP.
70 Paul Maholm MIA (LeBlanc) NYM (Hefner) 0.00 ERA vs. NYM
Maholm has tossed 15 1/3 scoreless innings against the Mets this year, and he has also fared well in two starts against the Marlins. These matchups make Maholm a solid back-of-the-rotation option this 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
Astros option OF L.J. Hoes to Triple-A Fresno
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10:21 pm ET) The Astros have optioned outfielder L.J. Hoes to Triple-A Fresno.

Hoes was competing for a bench spot but dealt with a wrist issue recently after being hit by a pitch over the weekend. He went 7 for 25 this spring before being sent down.


Pirates OF Andrew McCutchen leaves game, says he's fine
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:44 pm ET) Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen didn't run out a ground ball in the eighth inning of Wednesday's game and left the field slowly before being officially replaced in the game, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

McCutchen, who dealt with a lower-body injury earlier this spring, said he was fine after coming out of the game. He indicated that he slipped on the plate and throttled things back just to be safe. The outfielder finished the game 1 for 4 at the plate.


Orioles' Chris Tillman strikes out eight in spring finale vs. Pirates
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:36 pm ET) Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman allowed two earned runs on three hits in five innings while racking up eight strikeouts and issuing zero walks in Wednesday's spring finale against the Pirates.

Tillman gave up both runs on a home run in the second inning by Pirates first baseman Pedro Alvarez but was excellent aside from the one mistake. He closes the spring with a 2.76 ERA and 18:2 K:BB ratio in 16 1/3 innings. Tillman will square off with the Rays Monday on Opening Day.


Pirates' Gerrit Cole tosses three scoreless innings vs. Orioles
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:32 pm ET) Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole allowed just one hit and one walk in three scoreless innings while striking out three in Wednesday's spring finale against the Orioles.

Cole closes the spring with a 3.24 ERA and 12:4 K:BB ratio in 16 2/3 innings. He's slated to pitch the taem's second game of the season, leaving him to face the Reds next Wednesday.


Pirates' Francisco Liriano allows one run in spring finale
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:30 pm ET) Pirates pitcher Francisco Liriano surrendered one earned run on three hits in three innings while striking out two in Wednesday's spring finale against the Orioles.

Liriano hadn't surrendered a run in nine spring innings heading into Wednesday's game and finishes the spring with a 0.75 ERA and 14:4 K:BB ratio in 12 innings. His next start will come on Opening Day against the Reds Monday.


Rangers' Colby Lewis serves up three homers in spring finale
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:03 pm ET) Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis allowed four earned runs on seven hits and one walk in three innings while walking two and giving up three home runs in his team's 10-4 loss to the Rockies Wednesday.

Lewis also served up three home runs in one inning in his spring debut but kept the ball in the park while surrendering three runs in eight innings over his previous two appearances. He closes out the spring with a 9.75 ERA and 5:4 K:BB ratio in 12 innings. Lewis is slated to make his regular-season debut Tuesday against the A's.


Indians first baseman Nick Swisher goes 2 for 3 in spring debut
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8:59 pm ET) Indians first baseman Nick Swisher went 2-for-3 Wednesday in his first action since undergoing surgery on both knees this offseason, reports MLB.com.

"All I really wanted to do was go out there and have some fun again, man," Swisher said. "I feel like it's been Groundhog's Day for me. It's like the same thing every day. So, to be able to come out here and actually be able to compete at this level was great. It raised my spirits a little bit, for sure."

Manager Terry Francona was happy to get Swisher back in the lineup.

"I think it was really good to get him in a game," Francona said. "I think it was really good for him -- whether he got hits or not. It was nice to see him get on base a couple times. I think it's helpful to him. I think it probably gave him another little push in the right direction. I think he had fun and it makes it feel a little bit closer to the finish line."

He remains without a timetable to return for the regular season.

"I wish I could give you a timetable. I wish I could give you a day," Swisher said. "I'm just going to come back when I feel healthy. Do I feel like I could go and DH for this team and contribute right now? Sure, but that's not all I want to do. I want to make sure I'm able to go to the outfield. I want to make sure I'm able to go to first base and make sure all my movements are fluid and smooth."


Rangers' Elvis Andrus goes hitless in return Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:59 pm ET) Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus went 0 for 3 and struck out twice in his return to the lineup Wednesday as the Rangers fell to the Rockies, 10-4.

Andrus was scratched from Monday's lineup due to stiffness in his lower back but missed little time due to the injury. He has hit .359/.381/.590 in 39 spring at-bats.


Rockies' Kyle Kendrick allows four runs in spring finale
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:56 pm ET) Rockies pitcher Kyle Kendrick surrendered four runs (three earned) on five hits and one walk in five innings while striking out four in his team's 10-4 win over the Rangers Wednesday.

"Personally, I feel ready to go," Kendrick said after the outing, per the Denver Post. "I worked on my curveball this spring and I used it today. That’s something that’s come along and it’s probably something that is going to be big for me this year."

Kendrick wraps up his spring with a 3.98 ERA and 12:5 K:BB ratio in 20 1/3 innings over six starts. He'll next take the mound Monday to face the Brewers on Opening Day.


Rangers reassign Ed Lucas, Carlos Peguero to minor-league camp
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:51 pm ET) The Rangers reassigned infielder Ed Lucas and outfielder Carlos Peguero to minor-league camp Wednesday, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports.

Lucas hit .300/.356/.375 in 40 spring at-bats but also struck out 14 times. Peguero hit .340/.415/.511 while striking out 18 times in 47 at-bats.


 
 
 
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