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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
Red Sox closer Koji Uehara not utilizing fastball this season
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:02 am ET) Red Sox closer Koji Uehara has been throwing an unusual amount of offspeed pitches to start the season. Uehara has thrown fastballs on just 15 percent of his pitches this season, compared to 50 percent over the last three years, according to the Boston Herald.

Manager John Farrell isn't reading too much into it.

"He's going to go with what he feels," Farrell said. "Every 3 mph is about a foot distance in traveling to home plate. So there's a little bit different reaction time. But regardless of velocity there still needs to be the use of (the fastball) just to create separation between his fastball and his split."

Uehara is 1-1 so far this season with a 4.15 ERA and three saves in 4 1/3 innings.


White Sox send reliever Daniel Webb back to Triple-A
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(4/26/2015) White Sox reliever Daniel Webb , who was called up Sunday as the 26th man for the team's doubleheader against the Royals, was sent back down to Triple-A Charlotte after the game. 

Webb pitched in 57 games last season for the White Sox but was one of the team's final cuts in spring training. 


Diamondbacks struggling to fill in void at third base
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4/26/2015) Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale knew his team wasn't going to go the entire season without an injury. But the skipper was hoping to avoid the issue he currently has at third base, according to AZCentral.com.

With Jake Lamb on the disabled list with a foot injury, Aaron Hill and Yasmany Tomas have struggled to put it together, combining for a .559 OPS in the last five games.

"Yeah, that's huge," Hale said. "You're going to have injuries all year. There's going to be a multitude of them for every team. If you can't make the adjustment — if guys can't come in and fill the void — then you're going to be in trouble as a club."

Tomas is hitting .286 in 14 at-bats this season while Hill is scuffling along at .156 in 45 at-bats.


Phillies pitcher Chad Billingsley allows seven runs in rehab start
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4/26/2015) Phillies pitcher Chad Billingsley allowed seven runs in five innings of work in his third rehab start in Triple-A Lehigh Valley, according to Philly.com.

Billingsley, who is currently on the 15-day DL with an elbow injury, added three strikeouts and two walks in the appearance. He has yet to appear in a major league game since 2013 while dealing with multiple elbow injuries.


Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez still working out of funk
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4/26/2015) Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez has yet to put things together at the plate so far this season. Gonzalez is hitting just .197 with two home runs in 66 at-bats and it's wearing on him a bit, according to the Denver Post.

"I'm not in a good place. I'm still hitting (.197)," he said. "But I'm happy that I'm healthy, and that I'm playing, and that we are winning. I think we are having a good month so far as a team."

Manager Walt Weiss thinks he's really close to seeing Gonzalez get all the pieces together and go on a run.

"I saw real good signs from CarGo, hitting the ball hard the opposite way," Weiss said. "It wasn't just the couple of hits he got. It was the way he got them. Those are things that he had been working on. Then, to get results like that, is always encouraging."

Report: Josh Hamilton trade expected to be completed Monday
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(4/26/2015) The trade of outfielder Josh Hamilton from the Angels to the Rangers is expected to be completed Monday, with Hamilton then reporting to Texas' spring training site in Arizona to continue his rehab from offseason surgery, per MLB.com. 

The trade was rumored to have been completed Sunday, but complications arose in finalizing the deal. The Rangers are expected to hold a press conference announcing the trade on Monday. Hamilton is expected to play several games in Triple-A before being called up to the Rangers. 


Dodgers' Jimmy Rollins not concerned with early slump at the plate
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4/26/2015) Dodgers shortstop Jimmy Rollins isn't worrying just yet about his struggles at the plate, according to the Orange County Register.

"Well, some people like to panic. That has never been my MO," he said. "I have, what, 50, 60 at-bats, I'm not sure. So if these are my worst 50 at-bats this year – I'm glad they're happening now. (If they are his worst at-bats) it’s going to be a very good year."

Rollins is hitting just .186 in 70 at-bats so far this season. He believes he's still been taking good swings at the plate, just not finding the gaps in the defense.

"It's hard to compute if you just look at numbers," he said. "I'm getting myself in good counts, just not finishing it off. I know it's coming. I'm hitting some off the end, some are getting in just a little bit. But the swing path is right. It's just a click here, a click there.

"The process is good. You have to continue to trust in the process and believe in the process. You get oriented in just results – especially at times like this – then you're trying to make all these technical changes and that's when you go from one to two to 100. So the process is right. Executing it is about fine-tuning."


Angels OF Matt Joyce hopes hit signals end of slump
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(4/26/2015) Angels outfielder Matt Joyce saw his eight-game hitless streak come to an end Sunday with an eighth-inning single that ended an 0-for-26 skid. The right fielder, who figures to be a fixture in Los Angeles' lineup with the expected departure of Josh Hamilton, said he hopes the small start will lead to bigger things, according to the Los Angeles Times

"Sometimes it's a tough game," Joyce said. "It seems like you try everything, and you put in so much time and effort and work, it gets to be frustrating. It gets to be hard to swallow and accept it, and hard to keep showing up and grinding it out."

Angels manager Mike Scioscia said he will continue to stick with Joyce, who is hitting just .140 on the season. 


Mets starter Jonathon Niese struggles vs. Yankees
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(4/26/2015) Mets starter Jonathon Niese was not sharp Sunday in the finale of the Subway Series against the Yankees, lasting just five innings while allowing six runs and eight hits. Niese was betrayed somewhat by his defense, which committed four errors behind him, leading to two unearned runs. 

Niese was spotted a 2-0 first-inning lead, but he quickly gave it back, allowing a first-inning homer to Alex Rodriguez and then giving up four second-inning runs as the Yankees broke the game open. 

"You can't look into it too deeply," Niese said to MLB.com. "It's a loss. It's a tough loss. Obviously we want to win, but we've just got to get through it, learn from it, move on and play better."

Niese, who threw 86 pitches, saw his ERA rise to 2.74 in absorbing his first loss of the season. 

"I just wish I could have a couple pitches back," Niese said. "But I threw them. The results were what they were. I've just got to move on."

Niese will look to get back on track Saturday against the Nationals.


Nationals considering keeping Yunel Escobar at third base
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4/26/2015) Nationals manager Matt Williams will have a decision to make when his regular third baseman Anthony Rendon comes back from injury. With Rendon on the shelf, Yunel Escobar has shifted to third and Williams is considering leaving him there even after Rendon returns, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

The team is unsure yet what will happen when Rendon returns, but one theory has Escobar staying at third and Rendon shifting to second base, according to Heyman.

Escobar is hitting .292 with five RBI in 65 at-bats while slotted at third base.


 
 
 
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