One of the side effects of playing five long and arduous months of baseball is that, come September, roster filler becomes commonplace. Between all the injured pitchers and those who have otherwise had their seasons end prematurely, the pickings are slim, and the result is often an extended look at so-called Quadruple-A players. That's evident in the rankings, where the quality drops off drastically after the first nine or 10 hurlers. If anything, that makes streaming starters that much more important, and as always we're here to tell you who's worth your time and, just as importantly, who's not:
Starting pitcher rankings for Sept. 16, 2009
Rk.: The author's ranking of that pitcher for that day only. T: Pitcher throws left-handed or right-handed. W-L: Pitcher's win-loss record. ERA: Pitcher's earned run average. WHIP: Pitcher's average number of walks plus hits surrendered per inning. K/9: Pitcher's average number of strikeouts per nine innings. OPSA: Pitcher's on-base plus slugging percentage surrendered to opponents. OPS: Pitcher's opponent's composite team on-base plus slugging percentage. CT%: Pitcher's opponent's success rate putting the ball in play (versus striking out).
Selected notes: It's always a risk trusting in a pitcher who has averaged more than six walks per nine innings pitched over his past four starts, but the schedule once again makes it difficult to resist Jorge De La Rosa. He's allowed a total of six earned runs in those four starts and can thank the middling offenses of the New York Mets, Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres for such a gift. (His fourth start, an outing versus the Dodgers, is the lone legitimate offense he has faced.) Even though he allowed six runs in six innings versus the Giants the last time they played, De La Rosa still sports a career 3.35 ERA and 1.12 WHIP against his division rival, so start him with confidence. Speaking of soft schedules, Hiroki Kuroda has feasted on the NL West in recent weeks, with two starts against the San Francisco Giants, one against the Diamondbacks and one versus the Padres. None of the three can lay claim to being even an average offense, and Kuroda has posted a 2.64 ERA during that time with little difficulty. In fact, it's been eight starts since he has even allowed more than three runs, and he is once again a great option against another awful offense, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Josh Johnson is essentially a five- to six-inning pitcher at this point of the season, so it will be interesting to see how he does against the St. Louis Cardinals, one of the hottest offenses in baseball. Johnson has remained extremely consistent throughout the season, but has averaged just over six innings per start since the All-Star break, the main reason his ERA has increased by a run. However, he's allowed more than three runs just three times, so the Marlins' caution on his pitching count -- versus the Washington Nationals, he threw fewer than 90 pitches for the third time in his past five starts -- may limit his ability to dominate, but shouldn't prevent him from a fine performance nonetheless. Joe Blanton's string of 11 consecutive quality starts came to an abrupt end against the Nationals after he allowed eight runs in 4 2/3 innings. He allowed two more home runs, bringing his total to six allowed in his past 23 2/3 innings, but his peripherals have otherwise been his normal, so there's no need to panic after one poor start. Blanton will face the Nationals again, this time at home, and seems like a strong candidate to rebound. Doug Davis has limited the Padres to a 1.83 ERA in three starts, and although that comes attached to a less-than-sparkling 1.42 WHIP, facing such a weak offense allows Davis to get away with such mistakes. In his last start at Petco Park, Davis hurled six shutout innings despite walking four batters, and is a good bet to deliver something similar this time around, too. It's concerning that Derek Lowe got roughed up by the Houston Astros, allowing nine hits and five runs in 5 2/3 innings against a team that struggles against right-handers. That's a team a pitcher of Lowe's stature should have few problems against, and some of his owners haven't hesitated to bail, with Lowe's ownership dropping 0.7 percent in the past week. Lowe is just in the midst of a stretch where hits keep falling in, as his batting average on balls in play is at .333, well above the league average. In most circumstances he would warrant a play versus the Mets, but he was lit up the last time they met a month ago, and owners can ill afford mediocrity at this stage of the season, so playing it safe is also understandable. Joe Saunders often does well for himself when he's facing less than elite offenses, so don't let the four consecutive wins and the 2.69 ERA he's put up along the way fool you into starting him against the Boston Red Sox. He allowed four runs in seven innings in a previous start against the Red Sox, and although he has a 3.25 ERA in seven career starts versus the team, his 1.42 WHIP and 21-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 44 1/3 innings prove that he's been dancing on the razor's edge. He doesn't miss enough bats to warrant risking him in Fenway Park.
• James Loney, 1B, Dodgers: With a hit in each of his past eight starts, Loney is hitting a season-best .378 this month, and, with three home runs, has also tied a season high in power output. Fortunately he'll draw Kevin Hart, who has allowed a .333 AVG/.418 OBP/.516 SLG line to left-handed hitters, enhancing the chance Loney continues his hot hitting.
• Adam LaRoche, 1B, Braves: After a brief shortage, LaRoche's power has returned, as he's picked up three extra-base hits, including a home run, in his past two games. He's consistent against righties, hitting .286 with 18 home runs, and is particularly good at home, as he's hit .310 with five home runs in 71 at-bats at Turner Field since joining the Braves.
• David DeJesus, OF, Royals: The outfielder has now hit safely in 14 straight games, and 24 of his past 25. Unfortunately, he's followed up the 13 extra-base hits he compiled in August with just three doubles so far in September. Nonetheless, DeJesus is still hitting .327 this month, and will face career minor leaguer Eddie Bonine on Wednesday, which seems like it should be easy pickings.
• Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals: With 28 dingers allowed in 170 2/3 innings, home runs have been Joe Blanton's bugaboo. Righties in particular have knocked Blanton around, as they are slugging .485 against him, and Zimmerman has sure helped contribute there, going 5-for-12 (.417) with two home runs and a double against Blanton this season.
• Vladimir Guerrero, OF, Angels: He's jumped all over Paul Byrd's offerings, smacking him around to the tune of 10 hits in 27 at-bats, five of the extra-base variety, and two of them leaving the park. Guerrero has one walk and one strikeout, the former a testament to his aggressive approach and the latter proof of the fact that Byrd isn't fooling him in the slightest.
• Geovany Soto, C, Cubs: Before an 0-for-4 mark on Monday, Soto was 7-for-16 (.437) in the preceding five games, showing signs of life with five doubles and a home run. He's 4-for-13 (.308) with a home run and a double against Braden Looper, so Soto could get the start over Koyie Hill (0-for-4, two K's versus Looper) and have a good opportunity to build on that success.
• Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Indians: While Choo is hitting .314 against right-handers this year, he's 1-for-11 (.091) against Nick Blackburn, striking out three times. He's only 2-for-17 (.118) versus Blackburn for his career, so it seems obvious that Blackburn has his number.
• Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Padres: Doug Davis and Gonzalez have faced each other 31 times before, and only twice has Gonzalez picked up an extra-base hit. Overall, Gonzalez is batting a weak .226 against Davis, which is coincidentally the same average he has against left-handers as a whole this season.
• Carlos Beltran, OF, Mets: Twenty-six at-bats in and Beltran has as many hits -- four, all singles -- as strikeouts versus Derek Lowe. Few batters do hit for power against Lowe -- lefties, which is how the switch-hitting Beltran would face Lowe, actually have a sub-.400 slugging percentage -- so don't expect Beltran to reverse such a stark career trend.
• J.D. Drew, OF, Red Sox: Lefties just don't hit the ball very hard against Joe Saunders, as seen by their .357 slugging percentage. Drew is hitting only .243 versus southpaws, and he's gone 1-for-5 against Saunders, so you're not losing much by leaving him on your bench.
• Clint Barmes, 2B/SS, Rockies: Still looking for his first hit against Matt Cain, Barmes is a player you'll want nothing to do with when they meet again. Barmes is 0-for-12 with zeros across the board -- except in the strikeout category, where he's fanned three times.
• Brad Hawpe, OF, Rockies: Hawpe has one of the odder stat lines against a pitcher, with just three hits in 25 at-bats against Cain, including 11 K's, but a whopping 12 walks. He's picked up a couple of extra-base hits too -- a double and a home run -- but he's still hitting a paltry .120 versus Cain, and even a few extra-base hits can't push his slugging percentage over .300.
If you're hardcore
• Kelly Shoppach, C, Indians: Shoppach has taken Nick Blackburn deep in a third of their at-bats, including slugging a home run in their one at-bat of the season. Overall, he's 4-for-6 with two home runs and a double, and has as good a chance as any catcher to pick up a home run Wednesday.
• Nolan Reimold, OF, Orioles: Righties are hitting .368 versus Andy Sonnanstine, who has also allowed 11 home runs and a ridiculous .691 slugging percentage in 152 at-bats. As a result, Reimold would be a feasible option even if he wasn't batting .366 with three home runs this month, but since he is, a big game could be in store.
• Julio Borbon, OF, Rangers: Borbon has three home runs, six runs and RBIs, and two steals during a six-game hitting streak that has him batting .360. Considering Trevor Cahill's extreme platoon splits -- lefties have blasted 20 home runs in 334 at-bats, slugging .572 against the rookie -- Borbon should get plenty of opportunities to add to his hot streak.
• Ryan Garko, 1B, Giants: In 14 at-bats Garko has gone deep versus Jorge De La Rosa twice, including once this season in three previous at-bats. He has struggled since joining the Giants, but has still hit .320 against southpaws this season, so there's every reason to give him a spot start Wednesday.
• Ryan Spilborghs, OF, Rockies: Since Spilborghs has a pair of homers and a double versus Matt Cain in 12 at-bats -- and five hits overall -- it seems reasonable to assume he'll draw a start, since a number of Rockies outfielders -- Dexter Fowler, Seth Smith and Carlos Gonzalez are all hitless against Cain -- struggle against Cain.
Injury list: Out
• Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers (back)
• Jeremy Hermida, OF, Marlins (oblique)
• Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B, Padres (calf)
• Justin Morneau, 1B, Twins (back; out for the season): The Twins stated that Morneau suffered a stress fracture in his back, ending his season.
• Gary Sheffield, OF, Mets (back; limited to pinch-hitting)
• Alfonso Soriano, OF, Cubs (15-day DL, knee; out for the season): The Cubs finally placed Soriano on the disabled list, and Soriano is expected to undergo season-ending knee surgery Tuesday.
• Michael Young, 3B/SS, Rangers (hamstring)
Injury list: Day-to-day
• Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers (shoulder)
• Jason Kubel, OF, Twins (neck): Kubel came off the bench in place of Carlos Gomez and homered on Monday, so there's a good chance he'll return to the starting lineup soon.
• Freddy Sanchez, 2B, Giants (shoulder)
• Huston Street, RP, Rockies (biceps)
• Mark Teahen, 3B/OF, Royals (back)
• Two weatherproof games are on tap: Cleveland Indians-Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox-Seattle Mariners.
• There are a couple of weather concerns in the Northeast, with a few showers projected in Baltimore (30 to 40 percent chance) and Philadelphia (30 percent); Boston and New York are also expected to see some rain during the day, although it is expected to clear up by game time.
• Elsewhere on the East Coast, afternoon showers are forecasted in Atlanta, with a 40 percent chance of rain. And in Arlington, Texas, a chance of T-storms persists, with a risk upwards of 30 percent.
Adam Madison is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com.