Vazquez looks to end '09 with flourish
Beginning Wednesday, starters will officially make their final start of the season. What better time, then, to marvel at the season of Javier Vazquez, who currently sits seventh in ESPN's Player Rater. It took 11 seasons, but the uber-talented pitcher looks like a lock to finish with the first sub-3.00 ERA of his career. Vazquez has always struck out enough batters to make you wonder why his numbers haven't always been sterling -- this will be just the second time in the past six seasons that he'll finish with an ERA under four -- and for the most part he's been considered a career underachiever. If anything, this highlights just how well-run the Atlanta Braves organization is. From the instant success of acquisition Jair Jurrjens, to the smooth development of Tommy Hanson to even the instantly productive return of Tim Hudson, whatever the organizational philosophy is when it comes to pitching, it's worth believing. If a 33-year-old, 11-year veteran can experience a career turnaround here, who can't? Fittingly, our daily pitching rankings celebrate with Vazquez at the top:
Starting pitcher rankings for September 30, 2009
Selected notes: After coughing up seven runs in six innings against the Milwaukee Brewers, Cliff Lee has now allowed four or more runs in four of his past six outings. There's really nothing to worry about, though; he's allowed zero walks in seven of his past eight starts, so it's not like he's forgotten how to pitch. Since he hasn't been dropped in any leagues, it doesn't seem like anyone else is worried, either, but just in case, don't even think about leaving him benched versus the Houston Astros. Jon Garland must be thankful to get out of Arizona; he has a 1.67 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in four starts at Dodger Stadium compared to a 5.29 ERA and 1.55 WHIP in 14 starts at Chase Field. He's obviously pitching above his talent level since joining the Los Angeles Dodgers, but who's to say he can't keep it up against the San Diego Padres? Probably the most favorable matchup a pitcher can ask for, the Pads have a woeful .658 OPS at home, 49 points worse than any other team, so expect continued success. Shockingly, Jake Peavy seems to have hardly missed a beat since returning, allowing just three runs and fanning 13 batters in 12 innings. In the long-term, leaving Petco Park and moving to the junior circuit will probably end his run as an elite pitcher, but if you had to go to the AL, the Central is the division you would pick. After conquering two of his new division rivals in his first two starts, he'll draw a third against the Cleveland Indians, who have a season-worst .707 OPS in September. James Shields may have a 6.39 ERA this month, but when you look at his peripherals -- 25 strikeouts, seven walks and three home runs in 25 1/3 innings -- there's not much to complain about. No matter how frustrating his season may have been for his owners, quality pitching is hard to find at this point in the season, so there's not much of a choice but to start him versus the Baltimore Orioles. Congratulations are in order for Joba Chamberlain, who logged his first quality start in nearly two months -- against the Boston Red Sox of all teams. Chamberlain was allowed to toss 86 pitches, 60 percent of them called for strikes. Everything wasn't peachy, though, as he did allow two home runs. Now that the Kansas City Royals offense has cooled off, though, Chamberlain has more upside than risk, especially since he'll probably be allowed to cross the 90-pitch plateau in his last start before the playoffs. Even after allowing 11 hits -- although just two runs -- in seven innings versus the Detroit Tigers, Carl Pavano still has a sparkling 1.69 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in five starts against his divisional foe. He's taken advantage of an impatient Tigers lineup, with a ridiculous 22-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 37 1/3 innings. With numbers like that, he makes the perfect spot starter and should be snatched up in any league in which he's available. The Braves are hitting .348 as a team in 181 at-bats against Ricky Nolasco. Nolasco has a career 5.02 ERA and 1.62 WHIP in 11 starts against the Braves, including 4.67 ERA in three starts this season. It's tough to bench a pitcher coming off a pair of dominating starts -- Nolasco has struck out 17 batters and allowed eight hits in his past 14 innings -- but he should only be risked if his strikeouts could put you over the hump.
• Kosuke Fukudome, OF, Chicago Cubs: After starting off the month 9-for-68 (.132), Fukudome is now 9-for-22 (.409) in his past six games, picking up six runs and four doubles. With a matchup versus Charlie Morton on the way, Fukudome should remain hot -- lefties hit .337 against Morton, and Fukudome has gone deep once before in three previous at-bats.
• Chipper Jones, 3B, Atlanta Braves: Even in a down year, Chipper has still managed to hit well against Ricky Nolasco, going 2-for-7 with two walks and a home run. He hits for a ton of power against Nolasco, with seven extra-base hits, including four home runs, in 23 career at-bats.
• A.J. Pierzynski, C, Chicago White Sox: The catcher is hitting a paltry .241 this month, making this the first time since April he'll finish with an average below .284 in a month. At least he could go out with a bang versus Fausto Carmona, who has no answer for left-handed hitters (.332 AVG/.429 OBP/.538 SLG allowed); Pierzynski is 6-for-16 (.375) with a pair of doubles against him.
• Mark DeRosa, 1B/2B/3B/OF, St. Louis Cardinals: DeRosa hasn't been useful lately, but happens to be hitting .417 in 24 career at-bats versus Bronson Arroyo. He hasn't added a ton of power -- a home run and a double are the extent of his extra-base hits -- but doesn't typically do well against righties, either, so you have to take what you can get.
• Juan Rivera, OF, Los Angeles Angels: With a .326 average and 11 home runs in 132 at-bats against left-handed pitching, Rivera looks like a quality play versus Derek Holland, even though he's only 1-for-7 against the rookie. Fortunately, that one hit left the park, and 23 of the 26 home runs Holland has allowed have been against right-handers, so Rivera has a good chance to contribute.
• Hank Blalock, 1B/3B, Texas Rangers: The return of Michael Young may very well push Blalock to the bench, but for Wednesday at least, let's hope not. Blalock usually crushes Jered Weaver, hitting .394 with four home runs in 33 at-bats. Three of those dingers have come this season as Blalock has gone 6-for-16 with five extra-base hits off the righty. Chances are Blalock finds himself in the Rangers' starting lineup, and hopefully yours, too.
• Dan Uggla, 2B, Florida Marlins: It's never a good thing when a hitter is striking out in half of his at-bats, as Uggla has done against Javier Vazquez. He's just 2-for-12 (.167) against the ace, and although he's gone deep once, the six K's indicate Vazquez has the decisive advantage more times than not.
• Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees: Cano may have a six-game hitting streak, but he is 1-for-10 with a single against Robinson Tejeda, including an 0-for-2 mark this season. He's struck out three times and has yet to earn a walk, so don't be surprised if his streak is snapped.
• Carlos Guillen, 1B/3B/OF, Detroit Tigers: Guillen has faced Carl Pavano 13 times this season but has put up a big donut, failing to reach base every single time. That's right, he doesn't have a walk or a hit, instead striking out four times.
• Vernon Wells, OF, Toronto Blue Jays: Just 14-for-57 (.246) versus Tim Wakefield, Wells has trouble against the knuckler, although at least he's been patient (seven walks). But when it comes to making contact, he struggles; not only does he have six strikeouts, but a pair of doubles are the only extra-base hits he's picked up, leaving him with a pathetic .281 slugging percentage.
• Brad Hawpe, OF, Colorado Rockies: Hawpe has yet to face Jeff Suppan this year, but if the past is anything to go by, don't expect much. He's only mustered two singles against Suppan in 22 at-bats, a .091 average; a 4-to-0 strikeout-to-walk ratio doesn't portend future improvement, either.
• Andre Ethier, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers: With only one hit in his past 23 at-bats, Ethier is back under the Mendoza Line against left-handed pitching, hitting .195 in 159 at-bats. Clayton Richard is pretty effective against lefties in his own right (.240 average against), so keep Ethier tied to your bench.
If you're hardcore
• Brandon Moss, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates: It makes little sense, but Moss has actually crushed Ted Lilly the few times they've met -- he's 5-for-8 with two doubles, a home run and three walks versus Lilly in his career.
• Jeff Francoeur, OF, New York Mets: Something about John Lannan makes him extremely hittable to Francoeur, as the outfielder is 6-for-13 this season against the lefty, and 10-for-19 in his career. With two doubles, a home run and even two walks, Francoeur has been an all-around threat, and seems like a lock for another big game.
• Matt Diaz, OF, Atlanta Braves: While not his specialty, Diaz can occasionally hold his own against right-handers, too, and has gone 7-for-13 versus Ricky Nolasco. Much of that damage has been done this year, as Diaz has been nearly perfect with four hits in five at-bats, picking up a double along the way.
• Ross Gload, 1B/OF, Florida Marlins: With the Marlins' outfield banged up, Gload should get his first crack this season at Javier Vazquez. Normally that would be irrelevant, but Gload is actually 15-for-32 (.469) against Vazquez. While he hasn't been able to go yard, he has contributed three doubles and two triples and is a good bet to boost your average, if for only one game.
• Colby Rasmus, OF, St. Louis Cardinals: While his second-half struggles have continued in September (.250 average), you may want to take a chance on him when he faces Bronson Arroyo. He's 3-for-6 versus Arroyo and all three of his hits have been of the extra base variety, including two doubles and a homer.
• Kevin Millar, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays: Millar has hit just six home runs all season in 239 at-bats, but one came against Tim Wakefield, and he only needed four at-bats to do it. Considering he now has four bombs in 31 career at-bats against Wakefield, he's a decent play for a game; overall, he's batting .419 off Wakefield.
• Eric Patterson, 2B/OF, Oakland Athletics: With Scott Hairston out for the season, Patterson will see regular playing time, and is already 9-for-19 (.474) with six runs and three steals in his past six games. AL-only leagues should snatch him up for the home stretch.
Injury list: Out
• Scott Hairston, OF, Oakland Athletics (hip; out for the season)
• Mike Lowell, 3B, Boston Red Sox (hip): Lowell hopes to return as soon as Thursday after receiving a Synvisc injection and cortisone in his troublesome hip.
• Edgar Renteria, SS, San Francisco Giants (elbow; out for the season)
• Cody Ross, OF, Florida Marlins (hand): Ross said he is aiming for a return sometime during the weekend series between the Marlins and the Philadelphia Phillies, which kicks off Friday.
• 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): Blake flew back to Los Angeles to have his nagging hamstring treated by a team doctor. He'll rejoin the team in San Diego but remains questionable.
• David DeJesus, OF, Kansas City Royals (illness)
• Cristian Guzman, SS, Washington Nationals (shoulder; limited to pinch-hitting): Guzman may not play in the field again this season, which would essentially end his season.
• Jeremy Hermida, OF, Florida Marlins (oblique)
• Matt Holliday, OF, St. Louis Cardinals (illness)
• Nick Johnson, 1B, Florida Marlins (illness): Johnson, who has been under the weather with the flu, visited a physician Monday and will try to play in Tuesday's contest. This being Nick Johnson, though, don't hold your breath.
• Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B, San Diego Padres (calf, back)
• Derrek Lee, 1B, Chicago Cubs (neck)
• Kazuo Matsui, 2B, Houston Astros (illness)
• Bengie Molina, C, San Francisco Giants (finger)
• Yadier Molina, C, St. Louis Cardinals (knee)
• Felix Pie, OF, Baltimore Orioles (hamstring): Pie hasn't made much progress since injuring his hamstring last Friday, and he might end up shut down for the rest of the season.
• Manny Ramirez, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers (hamstring)
• Scott Rolen, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals (back)
• Aaron Rowand, OF, San Francisco Giants (back)
• Carlos Ruiz, C, Philadelphia Phillies (wrist)
• Jered Weaver, SP, Los Angeles Angels (back): Weaver complained of back stiffness after his start against the A's last Friday. He's expected to take his turn in the rotation Wednesday, but it's something to keep an eye on.
• Tampa Bay (Orioles-Rays) and Seattle (Athletics-Mariners) will host the two weatherproof games of the day.
• Thankfully, Boston (30 percent chance) is the only city at risk of showers on Wednesday.
Adam Madison is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com.