Kazmir, Verlander among best bets
It's the final week of the season, and baseball teams and fantasy owners alike are just trying to make it to the finish line. Most teams are exercising caution when it comes to preserving their pitching if they don't have anything to play for. You can add Mark Buehrle and Tim Stauffer to the list of casualties. Buehrle was originally scheduled to start Tuesday, but will have his start pushed back now that the Chicago White Sox are officially eliminated from contention; instead, Carlos Torres will take the mound. Meanwhile, the San Diego Padres elected to shut down Stauffer for the season, and Cesar Ramos will pick up his spot in the rotation. Also, keep an eye out for Josh Johnson; the Florida Marlins' ace had his start skipped on Sunday due to the flu, but manager Fredi Gonzalez said he might start Tuesday if he recovers quickly. That would set Johnson up for two more starts before the end of the season, which could be just enough to put a few fantasy teams over the hump. Now that you're up to date, let's unveil our pitching rankings for the day:
Starting pitcher rankings for September 29, 2009
Selected notes: The last time Scott Kazmir allowed more than three runs against the Texas Rangers? Well, never, and his career 2.05 ERA is more than half a run better than his ERA against any other team (minimum 10 innings). With eight consecutive quality starts, Kazmir is rolling, and while he might not be the Kazmir of old -- he's only struck out 23 batters in his 31 1/3 innings with the Los Angeles Angels -- he still shouldn't have a problem dominating the Rangers. Jonathan Sanchez has now struck out at least a batter per inning against all non-Dodger foes for 12 straight starts. The 26-year-old has really come into his own, striking out more than 11 batters per nine innings since the All-Star break; for perspective, Justin Verlander, who leads the majors in K's, has a strikeout rate of 10.3 per nine innings. How is Sanchez owned in fewer than 20 percent of leagues? With a 2.38 ERA since Aug. 8, the case could be made that Clay Buchholz should rank even higher. Just as impressively, since failing to complete six innings in his first four starts of the season, he has since logged at least six innings in nine of his 10 starts. Now, his peripherals lag behind his ERA and the Blue Jays aren't a bad offense, but Buchholz must be brimming with confidence at this point and has turned into a pretty safe play. Tim Hudson has performed about as well as anyone could have expected in his return from Tommy John surgery, allowing three runs or fewer in four of his five starts. Inducing ground balls a whopping 66.7 percent of the time, he's still getting by with the same old reliable tricks, and since the Marlins as a team are hitting only .223 against him in 166 at-bats, we could very well be in store for Hudson's best performance yet. J.A. Happ's results are still far ahead of where his peripherals suggest, and it's tough to predict just when the other shoe will drop. It could very well be versus the Houston Astros; not only has Happ been much worse at home, allowing nine home runs in 63 1/3 innings, but the Astros are a decent hitting team against left-handers. Happ has allowed 19 hits in 14 2/3 innings this month, so he's not the slam-dunk option he once appeared to be. While Homer Bailey limited the Pirates to two runs in six innings, he failed to strike out a batter, the first time in four starts he didn't strike out more than a batter per inning. Hopefully it's just a one-time blip, as Bailey's walk rate remains too elevated for him to succeed without the punchouts. Bailey will need every bit of his best stuff versus the St. Louis Cardinals, but we think he'll be up to the challenge. Despite rarely putting together a truly dominant outing, Trevor Cahill has a 2.46 ERA in his past eight starts. You can credit that to the fact he's cut down on the home runs; he's only allowed one in those eight starts, a stretch spanning 40 2/3 innings. A mediocre 25 to 15 strikeout-to-walk ratio indicates regression could be on the way, but he's worth the gamble against a subpar Seattle Mariners offense. With 15 earned runs allowed in his past 16 1/3 innings, it seems Scott Feldman is crashing back to reality. He did squeeze in a quality start versus the Angels -- bookended by two blowups against the Oakland Athletics -- but it wouldn't be wise to test his luck when they meet again Tuesday, this time on the road. Only the New York Yankees have scored more runs, and they rank third in OPS on the season, so it's a tough matchup for a fading pitcher.
• Adam LaRoche, 1B, Atlanta Braves: LaRoche has been true to his roots as a second-half player, hitting .330 since the break, but he's even a better option than usual since he'll be facing Rick VandenHurk. In 357 career plate appearances, VandenHurk has allowed left-handed hitters to slug over .500; in 117 at-bats this season he's been even worse, allowing a .547 slugging percentage to lefties.
• Ryan Ludwick, OF, St. Louis Cardinals: Ludwick has two home runs in his past three games, and he could add to that against Homer Bailey, who he's taken deep before. Overall he's 3-for-8 against Bailey, and all of his hits have gone for extra bases -- two doubles and the aforementioned homer.
• David Ortiz, DH, Boston Red Sox: Ricky Romero is the rare left-hander who is susceptible to Ortiz; although Big Papi is hitting only .208 against lefties this season, he's gone 5-for-10 with three doubles and a home run against Romero.
• Kevin Youkilis, 1B/3B, Boston Red Sox: Meanwhile, Youkilis has been even better against the rookie, going 4-for-7 with two homers and a double. He's even stolen a base off of Romero, so these two sluggers could be in store for a big day.
• Clint Barmes, 2B/SS, Colorado Rockies: With five multihit games in his past seven overall, Barmes is hot again, and gets to face left-hander Chris Narveson at home, quite the favorable matchup. Barmes has hit nine home runs in just 131 at-bats off of lefties, and is a .285 hitter at home, so start him with confidence.
• Bengie Molina, C, San Francisco Giants: Molina may be questionable to play, but he's worth the gamble considering he's batting .370 against Doug Davis in 46 career at-bats. He's also blasted four home runs, so it's not just an empty average, either.
• Cody Ross, OF, Florida Marlins: After going 0-for-2 against Tim Hudson this season, Ross is now 1-for-10 with two strikeouts against him. Hudson also does a good job at limiting power from right-handed hitters, with an aggregate .348 slugging percentage allowed the past three seasons, so it makes sense that Ross, who struggles versus righties, would have a tough time against Hudson.
• Nick Johnson, 1B, Florida Marlins: Johnson, meanwhile, hasn't had trouble working a walk versus Hudson -- he has seven in 23 at-bats -- but making contact has been more difficult, with just four hits. Considering Johnson's lack of power, if he can't hit for average then he should be kept inactive.
• Michael Cuddyer, 1B/OF, Minnesota Twins: Considering the dominating year Justin Verlander has had, it shouldn't be surprising that Cuddyer is 1-for-9 with four strikeouts against him this season. But Verlander owning Cuddyer has been a career trend, with Cuddyer hitting just .167 in 30 at-bats, striking out six times.
• Aaron Hill, 2B, Toronto Blue Jays: Hill has been held without an extra-base hit in 14 career at-bats against Clay Buchholz, including a paltry 1-for-10 mark this season. It seems Hill has found his kryptonite after all, as he's struck out more times (three) than he's reached base (two).
• Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, San Diego Padres: Although Gonzalez is a career .265 hitter against Chad Billingsley, this season it's been all Billingsley, with Gonzalez limited to a measly single in 10 at-bats. Overall he has as many strikeouts (nine) as hits against Billingsley in their meetings, and with only three doubles in 34 at-bats, the first baseman is only slugging .353.
• Ian Kinsler, 2B, Texas Rangers: Pitcher versus batter matchups rarely are as one-sided, and for as many at-bats, as Kinsler's 2-for-22 track record versus Scott Kazmir. Be thankful for small miracles, however -- at least he's done damage with the hits, picking up extra bases in both: a home run and a double. Unfortunately, a .091 average against Kazmir doesn't bode well when they meet again Tuesday.
If you're hardcore
• John Buck, C, Kansas City Royals: Scalding hot this month, Buck has hit .343 with two home runs, but with just 35 at-bats, he's remained second fiddle to Miguel Olivo. But if manager Trey Hillman is paying attention, Buck should be the favorite to start Tuesday, since he's 3-for-9 with two home runs and a double off A.J. Burnett.
• Josh Willingham, OF, Washington Nationals: As his .169 average this month shows, Willingham runs extremely hot and cold, but maybe a matchup versus Mike Pelfrey is all he needs to end the season with a kick. Willingham is 7-for-17 (.412) with four extra-base hits, including two home runs, versus Pelfrey, including a 4-for-7 mark (with a home run and a double) this season.
• Elijah Dukes, OF, Washington Nationals: The lack of power from Dukes has been appalling, but he does have a .408 OBP this month despite a .262 average thanks to a 10-to-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Hopefully the career 6-for-9 line he has against Pelfrey -- with a double, triple and a home run among those hits -- leads to some power to go along with his patience.
• Luke Scott, 1B/OF, Baltimore Orioles: Hitting .322 (10-for-31) with three home runs and two doubles in his past eight games, it seems Scott is -- finally! -- hot once again. He may only be hitting .247 on the month, but 11 of his 18 hits have gone for extra bases, including five dingers. It's safe to put him back in your regular lineups, or to pick him up if someone else dropped him.
• Micah Hoffpauir, OF, Chicago Cubs: Hitting decently well in September, Hoffpauir matches up well against Kevin Hart, who has lefties hitting .338 against him. In fact, although they've faced each other in just three plate appearances, Hoffpauir has been perfect, with two walks and a home run.
Injury list: Out
• Scott Hairston, OF, Oakland Athletics (hip, quadriceps): According to A's manager Bob Geren, it's looking "doubtful" Hairston will return this season. Hairston has been banged up since July, and with only six games left, expect the A's to use the opportunity to get a look at other outfielders.
• Edgar Renteria, SS, San Francisco Giants (elbow; out for the season)
• Freddy Sanchez, 2B, San Francisco Giants (knee; out for the season)
• Gary Sheffield, OF, New York Mets (back; limited to pinch hitting)
Injury list: Day-to-day
• Casey Blake, 1B/3B, Los Angeles Dodgers (hamstring)
• David DeJesus, OF, Kansas City Royals (illness)
• Jeremy Hermida, OF, Florida Marlins (oblique)
• Matt Holliday, OF, St. Louis Cardinals (illness)
• Josh Johnson, SP, Florida Marlins (illness): The flu bug has been going around and Johnson had his start on Sunday skipped since he felt under the weather. There's a chance Johnson is able to start on Tuesday, giving him two starts before the end of the season.
• Nick Johnson, 1B, Florida Marlins (illness)
• Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B, San Diego Padres (calf, back): Kouzmanoff went through a full pregame workout Sunday, and it seems very likely he will return Tuesday.
• Derrek Lee, 1B, Chicago Cubs (neck): Neck spasms have caused Lee to miss three games, but he expects to return to the lineup Tuesday.
• Kaz Matsui, 2B, Houston Astros (illness)
• Bengie Molina, C, San Francisco Giants (finger)
• Yadier Molina, C, St. Louis Cardinals (knee): He took a foul ball off his knee, but doesn't expect to be out long. "It will be OK. Maybe give it a day," he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
• Felix Pie, OF, Baltimore Orioles (hamstring)
• Jorge Posada, C, New York Yankees (neck)
• Scott Rolen, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals (back)
• Cody Ross, OF, Florida Marlins (hand): Ross didn't play Sunday and is in danger of missing the remainder of the season due to the left wrist contusion he suffered Saturday.
• Aaron Rowand, OF, San Francisco Giants (back)
• Carlos Ruiz, C, Philadelphia Phillies (wrist)
• Just the contests between the Orioles and Rays and the Athletics and Mariners will be played under weatherproof domes.
• Cleveland can expect to see some showers, with a 60 percent chance of rain around game time, but fortunately the odds steadily dip further into the night. Rain is also a possibility in Detroit (30 percent), along with a remote possibility in New York (20 percent), where showers are expected to clear up by game time.
Adam Madison is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com.