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Fantasy First Pitch for Week 1

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The first week of the Fantasy season is always the most straightforward in terms of setting your rotations. Every major league team's ace starts twice, as do many of their No. 2 starters, so for the most part, you're relying on the pitchers you drafted. There just won't be nearly as many two-start pitchers available on waivers as there will be in future weeks.

Most of your decisions are likely to center around who to start and who to sit among the pitchers on your current roster. Even though it's the top of major league rotations that will benefit from a two-start week, not every big league team has a Fantasy ace taking the mound on opening day. Jeff Samardzija, Yovani Gallardo and R.A. Dickey may be the best their respective teams have to offer, but none of the three will necessarily make the cut for your Fantasy Week 1 (March 30-April 6) rotation.

Must start two-start options
1. Adam Wainwright at CIN, at PIT
2. Justin Verlander vs. KC, vs. BAL
3. Chris Sale vs. MIN, at KC
4. Stephen Strasburg at NYM, vs. ATL
5. Felix Hernandez at LAA, at OAK
6. Cliff Lee at TEX, at CHC
7. Jose Fernandez vs. COL, vs. SD
8. David Price vs. TOR, vs. TEX
9. Madison Bumgarner at ARI, at LAD
10. Jered Weaver vs. SEA, at HOU
11. Matt Cain at ARI, at LAD
12. Julio Teheran at MIL, at WAS
13. Alex Cobb vs. TOR, vs. TEX
14. James Shields at DET, vs. CHW
15. Francisco Liriano vs. CHC, vs. STL
16. Johnny Cueto vs. STL, at NYM
17. Zack Greinke at SD, vs. SF
18. Sonny Gray vs. CLE, vs. SEA
19. Andrew Cashner vs. LAD, at MIA
20. Justin Masterson at OAK, vs. MIN
21. Alex Wood at MIL, at WAS
22. Jon Lester at BAL, vs. MIL

This year's weekly review of starting pitchers will focus on the dilemmas we all face between borderline two-start options like Samardzija, Gallardo and Dickey and the one-start pitchers who may or may not be worthy of replacing them.

While all scheduled two-start pitchers will be ranked here weekly, I will go more in-depth with the ones in the middle of the rankings -- the ones who sit on the bubble of being activated. I'll make my case for or against starting them in standard mixed leagues. For pitchers who deserve an active roster spot, I'll offer some examples of pitchers who can be benched to make room for them. For those two-start pitchers who need to take a seat for the week, I'll recommend some one-start replacements who should outperform them.

Most major league teams have set at least the first few spots in their rotations heading into the weekend, so there shouldn't be too many changes, if any, in the pool of two-start pitchers between now and the lineup-setting deadline on Sunday night. However, one situation to watch is the Dodgers' rotation. If Hyun-Jin Ryu's split toenail doesn't prevent him from starting in place of Clayton Kershaw (back) in Sunday's opener at the Padres, he will get two starts. Otherwise, Dan Haren will get the call. Either pitcher is worth using in standard mixed leagues with two starts, but an unhealthy Ryu or one-start Haren won't be in most cases.

While the pool of two-start pitchers shouldn't change much before Sunday, individual pitching matchups could, so be sure to check our Probable Pitchers page for the latest information.

Now on to our inaugural set of two-start pitcher rankings for 2014 ...

Two-Start Pitchers on the Bubble

23. Scott Kazmir, OAK (vs. CLE, vs. SEA)

It took two months for Kazmir to get on track last season, and even during his early-season struggles, Kazmir was throwing strikes at a rate well above his career norm. Factor in Kazmir's .362 BABIP from April and May that smacked of bad luck, and it's conceivable that he could have finished with an ERA in the low 3.00s rather than his actual 4.04 mark. After a full season of solid peripherals with the Indians, it's time to trust Kazmir as something close to a must-start in his first season with the A's. Given his history of injuries, Kazmir's trade value is somewhat compromised, but as long as he is healthy, his weekly value far exceeds his 200 ADP.

I'd start Kazmir over the following one-start pitchers: Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Tony Cingrani

24. Hyun-Jin Ryu or Dan Haren, LAD (at SD, vs. SF)

Ryu may not be ready for Sunday night's "second opener" due to his ripped toenail, but if he makes the start, he will line up for two turns in the rotation in Week 1. We have the advantage of having seen Ryu pitch in the Australia series against the Diamondbacks, and he was sharp. Because he hasn't been notable as a source of strikeouts, Ryu won't always be worth using in one-start weeks, but this could be a rare week in which he's merely a borderline two-start option. The pair of outings give Ryu a shot at piling up some Ks to go along with a low ERA and decent WHIP.

Should Ryu be unavailable Sunday, Haren gets the nod and the two-start week. Haren, too, would be a worthwhile use of an active roster spot, though I'd drop him just behind CC Sabathia in these two-start pitcher rankings.

I'd start Ryu over the following one-start pitchers: Gerrit Cole, Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller

I'd start Haren (assuming two starts) over the following one-start pitchers: Clay Buchholz, Tyson Ross, Lance Lynn

25. Jeff Samardzija, CHC (at PIT, vs. PHI)

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In the latter half of last season, Samardzija was doubly-risky with two starts, so he may look out of place on a list of pitchers to consider in pitching-rich Week 1. One reason I think he is worth an active roster spot is his schedule, as both the Pirates and Phillies have a few holes in their lineups. Also, I'm willing to give Samardzija some benefit of the doubt, as his late-summer downturn was tied to a loss of command that did largely return over the season's final weeks. Last September, Samardzija was scorched by a 26 percent line drive rate (per Baseball-Reference.com), but his 5.58 ERA for the month masked a 64 percent strikes-thrown rate and a 13 percent swinging strike rate.

I'd start Samardzija over the following one-start pitchers: Marco Estrada, Matt Moore, C.J. Wilson

26. R.A. Dickey, TOR (at TB, vs. NYY)

Lost in Dickey's generally underwhelming return to the American League was a late-season surge that included eight starts of seven innings or more during an 11-start stretch. Dickey displayed the pinpoint control he exhibited during his Mets years and threw considerably harder than he did during the earlier portion of the season. Few owners seem to be expecting Dickey to reclaim his Cy Young form of 2012, but he doesn't need to in order to be a reliable two-start option. Look for him to pick up where he left off last season.

I'd start Dickey over the following one-start pitchers: Danny Salazar, Clay Buchholz, Tyson Ross

27. CC Sabathia, NYY (at HOU, at TOR)

After a season with reduced velocity and lower strikeout and ground ball rates, Sabathia is far from an automatic start in Fantasy, even when he pitches twice. With a particularly good matchup, though, Sabathia still has some appeal, and he gets just that with the Astros. Last season, they led the majors with 1,535 strikeouts, fanning 105 more times than the second-ranked Twins. Houston's lineup is largely the same as last year's, and their most notable addition, Dexter Fowler, isn't likely to help matters. This matchup alone makes Sabathia worth a start this week.

I'd start Sabathia over the following one-start pitchers: Clay Buchholz, Tyson Ross, Lance Lynn

28. Chris Tillman, BAL (vs. BOS, at DET)

Without Prince Fielder, the Tigers' lineup isn't as scary as it once was, but Tillman needs very friendly matchups and venues in order to minimize his risk of allowing the long ball. The potential for homers renders Tillman as a borderline option, but the improvements that he made last season keep him in the discussion for an active roster spot. From late June forward, Tillman improved his control vastly (65 percent strikes thrown, 2.5 BB/9 over his final 17 starts) and ceased to pitch to contact. If you're antsy about your team's ERA, Tillman might not be the two-start pitcher for you, but he could offer enough in strikeouts and WHIP to make him a worthwhile start.

I'd start Tillman over the following one-start pitchers: Lance Lynn, Zack Wheeler, Corey Kluber

29. Dillon Gee, NYM (vs. WAS, vs. CIN)

Since the end of last May, Gee has been doing his best Kyle Lohse impression. Over his last 22 starts, Gee has issued more than two walks just three times and failed to pitch at least six innings only once. He coasted to a 2.71 ERA over that period but struck out only 105 batters over 149 1/3 innings. Gee's masterful control continued into Grapefruit League play, as he walked one batter over 16 2/3 innings. Yet, Gee could be better than Lohse, as he got swinging strikes on 10 percent of his pitches during last year's hot stretch. With more called strikes, he could become a decent strikeout pitcher. While other control pitchers like Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy rank lower this week, Gee is a solid option due to his potential to help with Ks.

I'd start Gee over the following one-start pitchers: Corey Kluber, Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Archer

30. Yovani Gallardo, MIL (vs. ATL, at BOS)

If we get the version of Gallardo who blitzed through eight late-season, post-DL starts to the tune of a 2.41 ERA, then he's an obvious choice to start in Week 1. I am highly skeptical that owners will get anything close to that performance. Gallardo barely improved upon a mediocre set of peripheral stats that decimated his value over the first four months of last season, as he continued to display poor command and induce whiffs at a pedestrian rate. By stranding more than four out of five baserunners over his final eight starts, Gallardo was able to whittle down his ERA, but he's unlikely to be so fortunate this year. A pair of tough matchups could expose him early, so it's best to bench the Brewers' opening day starter outside of deeper mixed and NL-only leagues.

I'd start the following one-start pitchers over Gallardo: Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Archer, A.J. Burnett

31. Brett Anderson, COL (at MIA, vs. ARI)

Two-start pitchers to avoid
35. Brandon McCarthy vs.SF, at COL
36. Tanner Scheppers vs. PHI, at TB
37. Wade Miley vs. SF, at COL
38. Nate Eovaldi vs. COL, vs. SD
39. Drew Hutchison at TB, vs. NYY
40. Scott Feldman at TEX, at CHC

Anderson's Fantasy stock plummeted upon his trade to the Rockies, but that may have been an overreaction. Not every one of the Rockies' gambles on a ground ball pitcher has failed, with Tyler Chatwood being the most recent example of someone who provided value despite contending with Coors Field. Anderson benefitted somewhat by pitching his home games in Oakland, but the split between his career 3.69 home ERA and 3.93 road ERA is hardly dramatic. Between Anderson's lack of strikeouts and having his first home start in Colorado, it's understandable that owners would be nervous about starting him this week, especially given the bounty of aces getting two starts, but his first start at Miami could provide a soft landing. Owners in deeper mixed leagues should consider giving Anderson a chance in Week 1.

I'd start the following one-start pitchers over Anderson: Ivan Nova, John Lackey, Michael Pineda

32. Erasmo Ramirez, SEA (at LAA, at OAK)

Ramirez missed the early part of last season with a triceps injury, and it may have still impacted his performance by the time he reached Seattle in July. He was lacking his usual control and got hammered for a 4.89 ERA and 1.45 WHIP. As a prospect and as a rookie, Ramirez showed he is capable of much better, but with so many proven two-start options, it's unnecessary to risk a rotation spot on him this week. Granted, Samardzija and Tillman present risks, too, and both are recommended starts in standard mixed leagues, but Ramirez does not have their strikeout potential or overall upside.

I'd start the following one-start pitchers over Ramirez: Yordano Ventura, Matt Garza, Dan Haren (assuming one start).

33. Jorge De La Rosa, COL (at MIA, vs. ARI)

With 4.6 runs of support per nine innings, De La Rosa was fortunate to go 16-6 last year, and it's a good bet that he'll allow more than 0.6 home runs per nine innings this season. Unless he can get back to his pre-Tommy John surgery strikeout rates, De La Rosa profiles as a very ordinary pitcher -- one who will rarely, if ever, be worth using in a two-start week. He should get some consideration this time around, simply because he gets a start in Miami. It's still not quite enough, though, to elevate him above deeper mixed league status.

I'd start the following one-start pitchers over De La Rosa: Jose Quintana, Jake Peavy, Dan Straily

34. Ricky Nolasco, MIN (at CHW, at CLE)

After two seasons of depressed strikeout and swinging strike rates, Nolasco rebounded last year, compiling his best supporting stats since 2010. Still, his 3.70 ERA may have overstated his effectiveness, as he was helped by a miniscule 5.6 percent home run-to-flyball ratio. As pitcher-friendly as Target Field is, Nolasco is unlikely to repeat that mark in his first season with the Twins. Backed by a weaker lineup than the one he had with the Dodgers, Nolasco could also have a hard time picking up wins. Especially with an opening day start against Chris Sale at homer-happy U.S. Cellular Field, Nolasco's Twins debut could be an ugly one.

I'd start the following one-start pitchers over Nolasco: Jake Peavy, Dan Straily, Hector Santiago

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al at @almelccbs .

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Player News
Red Sox, Padres complete Hanigan-for-Middlebrooks trade
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(12/19/2014) The Giants and Marlins have agreed to a deal that has sent deposed starting third baseman Casey McGehee to San Francisco, per CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

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(12/19/2014) Premier Mets pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard is the centerpiece of trade talks involving Rockies star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, per CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman, who is further reporting that the teams are not close to finalizing a trade.

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(12/19/2014) Bud Black sees his revamped Padres outfield consisting of Justin Upton in left, Matt Kemp in right and Wil Myers in center, per The Associated Press.

The very active Padres will have an entirely new outfield in 2015.


Report: Cubs sign veteran C David Ross
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(12/19/2014) Catcher David Ross has signed a two-year contract with the Cubs for $5 million, sources have told Fox Sports insider Ken Rosenthal.

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Padres pick up RHP Northcroft in Upton deal
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(12/19/2014) The Padres have announced that they have also received right-hander Aaron Northcraft in the deal with the Braves that landed them slugger Justin Upton.

The 24-year-old Northcraft has yet to make his major league debut.


Rays designate veteran RHP Brandon Gomes
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(12/19/2014) The Rays have designated right-hander Brandon Gomes for assignment.

Gomes split last season between Tampa Bay and Triple-A Durham. He finished the year with a 2-2 mark and 3.71 ERA in 29 relief appearances.


 
 
 
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