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Fantasy First Pitch for Week 18

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One of the great things about Fantasy baseball is that if you don't like what's happening right now, it will usually change in the not-too-distant future. Slumps turn into hot streaks, and in the case of Fantasy Week 18 (July 28-Aug. 3), an underwhelming assortment of two-start pitchers passes as a bumper crop sweeps in.

Week 17's cohort of two-start pitchers featured many fourth and fifth starters, but with those hurlers now set to pitch in the middle of Week 18, more aces and near-aces have made their way onto this week's list. In other weeks, typical borderline options like Jesse Chavez and Mike Leake would garner a lot of interest, but this week there are several superior options. Those two, as well as others of their ilk, are on the "pitchers to avoid" list this time.

Outside of shallow formats, owners will be more likely to comb their benches than waivers for two-start streaming options, as there are only 10 of them available in at least 40 percent of the leagues on CBSSports.com. None of them are recommended starts this week, though if you feel compelled to pick someone up off waivers, give Vance Worley a try. The main reason he didn't make this week's "bubble" list is that there is a decent chance he won't get to make his second start. Gerrit Cole (lat) could return for the Pirates' weekend series at Arizona, and his activation would likely send Worley to the bullpen. If Worley does make two starts, he will have made benching one of your lesser one-start pitchers worthwhile.

It appears Kyle Gibson will miss all of Week 17 due to his stiff back, but he could return as soon as Tuesday. That would rob Phil Hughes of a two-start week, which Gibson himself could inherit. C.J. Wilson (ankle), Jason Vargas (appendectomy), Justin Masterson (knee) and James Paxton (lat) may all make their returns in latter part of Week 18, though at this point, Vargas and Paxton appear to have the best chances of pitching this coming week.

Not only could the return of injured pitchers shake up rotations, but so could weekend trades. With the non-waiver trade deadline not falling until Thursday, the weekend could be quiet, but it's still a good time to keep a close eye on the transaction logs and subsequent changes to rotations.

Monday update: Over the weekend, three pitchers found their way onto this week's two-starter list, but none made the cut for the revised must-start and bubble lists. Gibson will, in fact, return on Tuesday at the Royals and make two starts this week, but he has been far too hittable (and inducing too few chases) of late to escape the "pitchers to avoid" list. He does manage, however, to ruin a perfectly good two-start opportunity for Hughes, who will make his next start on Wednesday.

Brett Oberholtzer and Yohan Flande are the other new two-start pitchers, and while Oberholtzer can be used in deeper mixed leagues and AL-only formats, Flande should be avoided in all formats. Oberholtzer replaces Brad Peacock, who was optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma City, so if you were counting on the latter for two starts, you'll need to replace him.

Cole is scheduled to make two rehab starts this week, so any concerns about Worley not getting his second start can be discarded. He has been added to the bubble list, so he is a viable option in standard mixed leagues. Rubby De La Rosa is not currently scheduled to make two starts, but with the departure of Jake Peavy and a day off on Thursday, the Red Sox could employ him on regular rest on Sunday against the Yankees.

Ian Kennedy's sore oblique will keep him from starting Monday's series finale against the Braves, but he is still expected to make a start this week. Though he is no longer a two-start pitcher, Kennedy is still worth using in standard mixed leagues.

Wilson, Masterson and Paxton are all likely to return by this weekend, but Vargas looks unlikely, as he will pitch a simulated game Thursday. Wilson and Paxton are borderline options in their first starts back from the DL, while Masterson should be avoided outside of deeper leagues.

Must start two-start options
1. Stephen Strasburg at MIA, vs. PHI
2. Yu Darvish vs. NYY, at CLE
3. Cole Hamels at NYM, at WAS
4. Madison Bumgarner vs. PIT, at NYM
5. Tyson Ross vs. STL, vs. ATL
6. Jordan Zimmermann at MIA, vs. PHI
7. Hisashi Iwakuma at CLE, at BAL
8. Homer Bailey vs. ARI, at MIA
9. Marcus Stroman at BOS, at HOU
10. Jake Odorizzi vs. MIL, vs. LAA
11. James Shields vs. MIN, at OAK
12. Kyle Lohse at TB, at STL
13. Lance Lynn at SD, vs. MIL

Two-Start Pitchers on the Bubble

14. Ervin Santana, ATL (vs. SD, at SD)

Garrett Richards, Clayton Kershaw, Tyson Ross, Corey Kluber, Felix Hernandez, Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka. These are seven of the top eight starting pitchers ranked according to the percentage of swings-and-misses on pitches outside the strike zone, according to FanGraphs.com. Given the quality of this group, that would seem to be a nifty skill to have. So why isn't the eighth member of this group, Ervin Santana, better? Santana actually ranks fourth, so he's basically elite at fooling hitters with pitches out of the zone. One would think his 7.8 K/9 and 3.87 ERA would be more elite-looking, but he hasn't been getting many called strikes or foul balls. Santana showed in his most recent outing against the Marlins that he can deliver Ks at times, getting 10 in that start, and in Week 18, he gets another strikeout-prone team in the Padres. He actually gets them twice. Good times.

Start Santana over the following one-start pitchers: Alex Cobb, Ian Kennedy, Hyun-Jin Ryu

15. Anibal Sanchez, DET (vs. CHW, vs. COL)

Through his first 11 starts, Sanchez was on his way to a typically strong season, with a 2.44 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 62 2/3 innings. Over his next five starts, Sanchez became alarmingly hittable, as he got fewer swinging strikes and just 11 Ks in 32 innings. Sanchez's velocity is slightly down this season, and during that stretch, he was getting less spin on his four-seamer, according to TexasLeaguers.com. Though his velocity hasn't rebounded, Sanchez has been more averse to contact in his two most recent starts. Given that he faced the Diamondbacks and Indians -- two teams that aren't prone to strikeouts -- it might be safe to assume that Sanchez's troubles are behind him. Still, he allowed a combined nine runs over 12 1/3 innings in those appearances, so some caution is still appropriate, at least in shallower leagues.

Start Sanchez over the following one-start pitchers: Hyun-Jin Ryu, Mat Latos, Mike Minor

16. Jose Quintana, CHW (at DET, vs. MIN)

Quintana's last seven starts have gone a bit better than Hughes', as he has allowed just nine runs in 47 2/3 innings of work. An aberrant BABIP rate (.252) is at play here, just as it's been with Hughes, but Quintana has also helped himself by getting more called strikes and grounders. According to BrooksBaseball.net, Quintana has been employing his sinker and curve more lately, and both have been effective ground ball pitches for him. In fact, Quintana has not allowed an extra-base hit on his sinker since May 16. Though Quintana is due for some BABIP regression, the change in his arsenal could mean some sustained improvement. The Tigers will be the toughest opponent Quintana will have seen in a few weeks, so that will be an interesting test of his hot streak's staying power. He's fairly safe to start no matter what, but if he keeps churning out grounders, he could soon be a must-start option.

Start Quintana over the following one-start pitchers: Mike Minor, Chris Archer, Jason Hammel

17. Bartolo Colon, NYM (vs. PHI, vs. SF)

Two-start pitchers to avoid
26. Jesse Chavez at HOU, vs. KC
27. Aaron Harang at LAD, at SD
28. Kyle Gibson at KC, at CHW
29. Mike Leake vs. ARI, at MIA
30. R.A. Dickey at BOS, at HOU
31. Tsuyoshi Wada vs. COL, at LAD
32. Chase Anderson at CIN, vs. PIT
33. Brett Oberholtzer vs. OAK, vs. HOU
34. Scott Feldman vs. OAK, vs. TOR
35. Nathan Eovaldi vs. WAS, vs. CIN
36. Chris Tillman vs. LAA, vs. SEA
37. David Phelps at TEX, at BOS
38. Jorge De La Rosa at CHC, at DET
39. Edwin Jackson vs. COL, at LAD
40. Trevor Cahill at CIN, vs. PIT
41. Yohan Flande at CHC, at DET

Colon started off Wednesday's tilt at the Mariners with 6 2/3 perfect innings, and his zig-zag season seems to be careening between greater and greater extremes. Great control and a low whiff rate have been constants, and despite the latter, Colon is actually enjoying his highest K/9 ratio in three seasons, as he is getting called strikes at a robust 22 percent rate. Because much of the contact Colon allows is hard, he's never a truly safe start, and matchups don't seem to matter. Two of his worst starts this season have been against the Padres and Rangers, and both happened this month. As a 65 percent quality start rate shows, he's more prone to turn in good starts than bad, but threat of a meltdown always looms, relegating Colon to this "bubble" list.

Start Colon over the following one-start pitchers: Chris Archer, Jason Hammel, John Lackey

18. Henderson Alvarez, MIA (vs. WAS, vs. CIN)

After having his previous outing shortened by a comebacker to the shin, Alvarez came back strong against the Braves on Thursday. While he raised his record to 7-5, he's had to be extraordinary in order to earn wins, as Thursday's game marked the seventh time in his last 10 starts that the Marlins scored three runs or fewer. Owners may lament Alvarez's lack of strikeouts, but at least with two starts, that won't prevent him from helping your rotation. The Marlins' lack of run support, on the other hand, makes Alvarez something less than a must-start in standard mixed leagues.

Start Alvarez over the following one-start pitchers: Jason Hammel, John Lackey, Zack Wheeler

19. A.J. Burnett, PHI (at NYM, at WAS)

Burnett has also been a victim of poor run support, but over his last half-dozen starts, he has looked more like the Pirates version of himself. After struggling with control and a modest ground ball rate for most of the season, Burnett is suddenly getting batters to swing at his curveball more often (per BrooksBaseball.net), and as a result, he's getting more strikeouts and grounders. Burnett had a similar four-start run from mid-April to early May, so it's premature to say his rebound is complete, but he's actually pitched well going back to June 10. Over his last nine starts, Burnett has compiled a 3.18 ERA and 1.14 WHIP, so he is fairly trustworthy for this two-start week.

Start the following one-start pitchers over Burnett: Mike Minor, Chris Archer, Jason Hammel

20. Jered Weaver, LAA (at BAL, at TB)

Weaver is in line for his fifth consecutive season with a sub-3.40 ERA and sub-1.15 WHIP, and pitchers with that kind of consistency typically get the "must-start" label affixed to them. For the bulk of this season, owners in more than 80 percent of CBSSports.com leagues have kept Weaver active, but it's not always a good idea to start him on the road. Going back to the beginning of last season, Weaver has a 4.19 ERA and 1.4 HR/9 ratio in away games. That's not all that surprising for a pitcher whose flyball rate typically rests above 40 percent. Pitching in Angel Stadium might help to shield Weaver from the long ball in home starts, but on the road, he's been an ordinary pitcher at best. A start in Baltimore could be dangerous, and while Tropicana Field is hospitable to pitchers, the Rays' offense has been much more formidable the last couple of months.

Start the following one-start pitchers over Weaver: Jason Hammel, John Lackey, Zack Wheeler

21. Trevor Bauer, CLE (vs. SEA, vs. TEX)

Bauer has turned into the personification of the minimum quality start. In each of his last two starts, he has pitched exactly six innings and allowed exactly three runs. In eight of his previous nine starts, Bauer has skirted very close to those criteria. That level of mediocrity doesn't usually qualify a pitcher for a standard mixed league rotation spot, even with two starts, but lately, Bauer has shown signs of busting out. Over his last four starts, he has a 2.81 ERA with 28 strikeouts and eight walks over 25 2/3 innings. He also has a 1.25 WHIP, but that could easily be lower going forward, as he has a .333 BABIP over that stretch. Bauer has been steadily inducing popups all season with a 10 percent rate, so if anything, his BABIP should be below the .299 major league norm. These also aren't bad matchups for Bauer, so he could continue his ascent.

Start the following one-start pitchers over Bauer: John Lackey, Zack Wheeler, Tim Hudson

22. Vance Worley, PIT (at SF, at ARI)

All Worley does is throw strikes, which is a wonderful thing for someone who doesn't induce many swings. This may be his last hurrah in the Pirates' rotation, as Cole is likely to return next week, but Worley could easily go out with a bang. The Giants' offense has struggled over the last month, while the walk- averse Diamondbacks play right into Worley's strengths. Even with two starts, owners shouldn't expect many Ks from Worley, but he should have little problem enhancing your rotation's ERA and WHIP for the week.

Start the following one-start pitchers over Worley: John Lackey, Zack Wheeler, Tim Hudson

23. Francisco Liriano, PIT (at SF, at ARI)

When Liriano lasted seven innings to get the win against the Dodgers on Wednesday, it was the first time since April 21 that the lefty went that deep into a game. He actually has rarely come close to that threshold. During the preceding string of 11 starts, Liriano had not exceeded six innings even once, and he only lasted more than five innings twice. At first glance, Liriano's 9.5 K/9 ratio looks impressive, but given how few innings he pitches, it's not that helpful. For example, over the nine starts just prior to Liriano's recent disabled list stint, he averaged 10.0 strikeouts per nine innings, but he was tied for 36th in strikeouts during that period, ranking behind Collin McHugh, Dellin Betances and Mike Leake among others. Meanwhile, his poor control has been a menace to both his ERA and WHIP. Because Liriano will produce some Ks over two starts, and because he is capable of better, he makes this list, but not by all that much.

Start the following one-start pitchers over Liriano: Charlie Morton, Jimmy Nelson, Dallas Keuchel

24. Josh Beckett, LAD (vs. ATL, vs. CHC)

Beckett's first start back from the disabled list was not encouraging, as he allowed four earned runs on six hits over just 3 2/3 innings. His usually mild flyball tendencies turned strong, as he induced just a single ground ball in the outing while allowing three home runs. Not all of the signs were bad, as Beckett threw 45 of 69 pitches for strikes, did not issue a walk and struck out four batters. He also didn't experience a loss of velocity. Just maybe, Beckett wasn't troubled by lingering hip issues and this was just an ordinary bad start. There were enough positives from his brief outing to suggest he could bounce back. Starting Beckett right now is a risky move, but if he returns to his earlier form, you could suffer from some bencher's remorse.

Start the following one-start pitchers over Beckett: Doug Fister, Danny Salazar, Tanner Roark

25. Clay Buchholz, BOS (vs. TOR, vs. NYY)

Though Buchholz has only two quality starts in six tries since returning from the DL in late June, he's been providing innings, pitching at least six frames in each of his post-DL starts. Improved control has played a key role in Buchholz's longer outings, as well as shaving more than a run and a half off his ERA, which still stands at 5.50. In fact, Buchholz had issued a single walk over five starts combined before handing out four walks against the Blue Jays on Wednesday. His recent 12-strikeout performance against the Astros looks like an outlier, so owners shouldn't expect many Ks, even in a two-start week. However, Buchholz can still be useful in a low-key way, sort of like the American League's answer to Dillon Gee.

Start the following one-start pitchers over Buchholz: Tanner Roark, Matt Shoemaker, Jesse Hahn

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Player News
Orioles' Matusz on injured shoulder: 'It's almost 100 percent'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:58 am ET) Orioles reliever Brian Matusz received a cortisone injection into his right shoulder Monday to alleviate the discomfort caused by a strained AC joint, according to MASNsports.com. Matusz said he sustained the injury about six weeks ago while working out.

"It's something that hasn't affected anything on the baseball field, but in the weight room it's definitely limited things, so we decided to just go in there since it was the right shoulder and put a cortisone (injection) in there," Matusz said. "It's starting to feel better, almost 100 percent."

Matusz threw a bullpen session Tuesday and is scheduled to pitch in a game against the Blue Jays on Thursday.

"It was only done for the purposes of being able to get back in the weight room to continue my normal workout routines," he said.


Astros' Hernandez on his way to camp after receiving work visa
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:44 am ET) Astros starting pitcher Roberto Hernandez, who will compete for a spot in the rotation this spring, has received his work visa and will travel from the Dominican Republic to the team's spring complex in Florida on Wednesday, per MLB.com. Hernandez will undergo a physical Thursday.

Astros general manager Jeff Lunhow said Hernandez has been throwing at the Astros complex in the Dominican Republic. But he also added that Hernandez is behind after missing close to two weeks of camp.

“You could argue this is the perfect way to do it, to show up on the first day of games,” Luhnow joked.


Melvin: Coco Crisp moving to LF; Gentry, Fuld to man CF for A's
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:37 am ET) Athletics manager Bob Melvin announced Wednesday the team has decided to move Coco Crisp from center to left field in an attempt to keep him healthy and off the disabled list. Melvin added Sam Fuld and Craig Gentry will platoon in center field for Oakland.

Crisp has not played more than 136 games in a season since joining Oakland in 2010. Crisp, who played in 126 games in 2014, missed time last season after collisions with outfield walls led to neck pain. Crisp said in early February he was going to try to tone down his "aggressive game" in order to avoid more injuries.


Rays DH John Jaso doing well in early stages of outfield experiment
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:31 am ET) Rays manager Kevin Cash seems pleased with how catcher/DH John Jaso is doing in his transition to the outfield, per The Tampa Tribune

“He was reading balls off the bat and he looked great,” Cash said. “(Monday) the outfielders did their first light throwing. Every ball he threw was right on line. I think from speaking with him, he’s been comfortable with it. We probably didn’t anticipate getting him out there until the end of spring, but I think we have him coming in the third or fourth game of the year and see how it goes. If he’s good we’ll keep working him out there. That’s a great asset for us to have.”

While Jaso's role will primarily be at DH, the Rays want him to learn how to play in the outfield to add versatility to the team's roster.

“I’m enjoying the outfield experience so far,” Jaso said. “I think the challenge is going to be picking up the ball and knowing where to throw, knowing where the cutoff man is going to be, and when there are runners on, knowing which base to throw to to keep the double play in order and catch yourself throwing to third base."


Rangers' Andrus not expected to play in first four spring games
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:20 am ET) Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus was held out of Wednesday's spring opener against the Royals due to mild patella tendinitis in his left knee. He is not scheduled to play in the first four Cactus League games, per MLB.com.

Royals' Yost: Cain, Gordon, Hosmer, Rios all candidate to bat second
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(11:10 am ET) Royals manager Ned Yost listed Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Alex Rios as viable candidates to bat second in the lineup this season, reports the Kansas City Star.

Gordon, Rios never batted second last season. Cain had only only 13 plate appearances at the No. 2 spot in 2014. Hosmer played 33 games and logged 144 plate appearance at the No. 2 spot in 2014, slashing .275/.326/.344 in those appearances.


Mariners' James Paxton scheduled for Friday bullpen
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(11:00 am ET) Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon indicated that will stick to the original plan and have starting pitcher James Paxton (forearm) throw his first bullpen session on Friday, reports MLB.com. 

Mariners SP Danny Hultzen could pitch in game by end of week
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:50 am ET) Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said starting pitcher prospect Danny Hultzen's live batting practice session went well Tuesday, and he should throw in a game by the end of the week, per 710 ESPN Seattle.

Hultzen is working his way back after having missed the 2014 season due to rotator cuff surgery.


A's DH Billy Butler takes a seat Wednesday due to stomach bug
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:48 am ET) Athletics designated hitter Billy Butler was not in the lineup for Wednesday's Cactus League game against San Francisco because of a stomach bug, according to Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. Matt Olson will take his spot as the team's designated hitter.

Butler signed a three-year deal with the A's in the offseason. He hit .271/.323/.379 over 549 at-bats last year for the Royals.

Edgar Olmos headed back to Mariners due to shoulder injury
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:54 am ET) The Rangers announced Wednesday the waiver claim for pitcher Edgar Olmos is being reversed due to a shoulder injury, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Olmos, who was claimed off waivers last week, will head back to the Mariners roster.

 
 
 
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