Still plenty of bargains to be had
If the Minnesota Twins are going to pull out a miracle and steal the division title from the Tigers, they're probably going to have to win with one of their worst starting pitchers Friday. The starter has yet to be named -- their options include Jeff Manship, Bobby Keppel or, gulp, Francisco Liriano -- and the options are limited because manager Ron Gardenhire said the team won't bring back any starters on three days' rest. With Zack Greinke looming on Saturday, it's essentially a must-win for the Twins and that's assuming they beat the Tigers themselves on Thursday.
With just three days left in the season, you might be in a similar pitching bind, but we have you covered; the great thing about fantasy is that there are always pitchers to slot in. We have one such hurler, owned in fewer than 10 percent of leagues, ranked in the top 10 of our rankings, and another, owned in fewer than 5 percent of leagues, just outside the top 10. You'll have to read on to find out who these mystery men are:
Starting pitcher rankings for Oct. 2, 2009
Selected notes: The Twins are going to need some help to make the playoffs, starting with Jake Peavy, who had his start pushed back to Friday. He'll be pitching on the road, but he's coming off seven shutout innings versus these same Tigers at home, and will have had seven days of rest in between starts. Peavy should be nearly as superb this time around, too. For much of the season, the Rockies were one of the best teams in the majors at hitting left-handers; now they've fallen all the way to 11th in OPS. Their .770 mark is still well above average, but that hasn't mattered to Randy Wolf, who has a 2.79 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in three starts against them. It is surprising Joe Blanton's career-high strikeout rate hasn't gotten more publicity this season, and in the grand scheme of things, it's another example of what a move to the National League can do for pitchers. Well, Blanton has dominated the Marlins in three starts this season, with a 1.31 ERA and 0.97 WHIP, and his newfound ability to make batters miss has helped a lot, as he has taken advantage of the Marlins' susceptibility to strikeouts (fifth-most K's in the major leagues) to punch out 24 Marlins in 20 2/3 innings. And now that the Marlins have finally cooled off a bit offensively, Blanton looks like an elite option. Derek Lowe allowed a season-high three home runs against the Nationals in his last start, but fortunately all were solo shots, and since he didn't allow any other extra-base hits, he still logged a quality start. Lowe, who rarely allows home runs, likely won't serve up as many meatballs this time around, and if the Nationals, who are hitting .227 this month, couldn't score more than three times last time around, it's hard to see how they'll top that in the rematch. Kevin Correia has really finished the season with a bang, sporting a gaudy 1.25 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in the final month, including 29 strikeouts in 36 innings. He looks like a very safe play when he draws the Giants at home in Petco Park, where he has a 3.63 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 17 starts this season. It seems Daisuke Matsuzaka's control problems will always be an issue, but he danced around them in his last start anyway, limiting the Yankees to one run in seven innings. His stuff is electric enough to get away with a few walks here and there, especially against the weaker-hitting teams in the league, of which the Indians appear to be one (.694 OPS in September). Barry Zito picked the worst time to turn back into a pumpkin, as he has walked eight batters and allowed seven runs in his past two starts (8 1/3 innings) during the most critical time of the season. While a matchup against the Padres would be a welcome respite for most hurlers, Zito has actually been awful in five starts against the team, with a 5.72 ERA and 1.48 WHIP. Well, at least it was nice while it lasted. No team has struck out more often than the Diamondbacks, and considering Tom Gorzelanny's recent pitching -- three earned runs and 14 strikeouts in his past 10 innings -- he makes a sneaky option if you need a last-minute push in K's. Similarly, Ian Snell has also come on in the final starts of the season, and he is also buoyed by one of the best outfield defenses in the majors. He's a bit riskier than Gorzelanny, but beggars can't be choosers, and it helps that he'll face the Rangers away from Rangers Ballpark. Don't put Ubaldo Jimenez anywhere near your starting lineup when he faces the Dodgers, a team he has a 7.77 ERA and 1.82 WHIP against in four starts this season. David Price might have a 2.31 ERA in two starts against the Yankees this season, but a look at his peripherals should have you running away screaming. He has seven walks and two home runs in 11 2/3 innings against the Yanks, which is a major red flag. If word comes out that the Yankees will bench most of their regulars in preparation for the playoffs, sure, throw him out there, but otherwise he's way too risky.
• Justin Upton, OF, Diamondbacks: Upton is 3-for-6 lifetime versus Tom Gorzelanny, with all three hits going for extra bases (a double, triple and home run). Also, few batters have been better against lefties this year; Upton is hitting .373 with 12 home runs in just 118 at-bats against them.
• Jay Bruce, OF, Reds: Getting hot at just the right time for his owners, Bruce is 6-for-13 (.429) with nine runs, four homers, nine RBIs and five walks in his past four starts. Wow. With 20 of his 22 home runs coming off right-handed pitching, he just might keep it up against the mediocre Daniel McCutchen.
• Garrett Jones, 1B/OF, Pirates: Jones has established himself as one of the finest platoon options, hitting a paltry .208 against lefties but exploding for a .342 average and 15 home runs in 202 at-bats versus right-handers. Justin Lehr should watch out, since Jones is 4-for-6 with a dinger against him. With 13 home runs allowed in 59 1/3 innings, Lehr already is quite homer-prone.
• Adam LaRoche, 1B, Braves: Surprisingly, the scorching hot LaRoche hasn't hit a home run since Sept. 15, so maybe he's due. He'll get his opportunities against Livan Hernandez, whom he is 3-for-8 against this season with a pair of doubles. He has gone deep just once against Hernandez in 35 career at-bats, but that doesn't mean he hasn't hit him hard; seven of his 10 hits have gone for extra bases. With nine hits in his past 26 at-bats, including four doubles, hopefully LaRoche is ready to turn a few of those doubles into home runs.
• Jeff Francoeur, OF, Mets: A .338 hitter against southpaws this season, Francoeur has also gone 3-for-9 with a triple and a home run against Wandy Rodriguez in his career. Already coming into the contest hot, with a six-game hitting streak, batting behind David Wright (.389 OBP) and Carlos Beltran (.421 OBP) should result in RBI opportunities, too.
• Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Tigers: Jake Peavy has owned Cabrera, sending him down on strikes a whopping nine times in 19 at-bats, allowing a paltry two hits (both singles) along the way. Peavy has been nearly unhittable against right-handers this season, with a .187 opponents' batting average in 155 at-bats, and we don't see Cabrera bucking that trend.
• Carlos Guillen, 1B/3B/OF, Tigers: Guillen hasn't been quite as bad against Peavy as Cabrera, but he still hasn't done anything to write home about, going 1-for-9 with four strikeouts. With zero walks and extra-base hits, Guillen is left with an ugly .111 AVG/.111 OBP/.111 SLG line across the board.
• Alexei Ramirez, 2B/SS, White Sox: In 15 career at-bats, including nine this season, Ramirez has yet to muster a hit versus Edwin Jackson, and has reached base just once (via a walk). Whatever it is about Jackson, Ramirez just can't hit him, so make sure you find a replacement.
• Nate McLouth, OF, Braves: McLouth has been just awful against Livan Hernandez, and it's not so much the 1-for-10 mark in his career, but the fact that he has struck out in half of his at-bats against a pitcher with a career strikeout rate below six per nine innings.
• Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers: Braun came into the season a respectable 5-for-17 (.294) versus Adam Wainwright but has been limited to a 1-for-11 mark this season with two strikeouts. Braun has two career home runs against Wainwright, but even with those home runs, he's still hitting just .214 in 28 career at-bats, and Wainwright has been much better this season than in prior seasons.
• Mark DeRosa, 1B/2B/3B/OF, Cardinals: A lifetime .100 hitter against Braden Looper in 20 career at-bats, it's tough to tell what's more surprising, the awful hitting or the fact that he has struck out seven times against a pitcher with a career strikeout rate of 5.12 per nine innings.
If you're hardcore
• Lyle Overbay, 1B, Blue Jays: If you're in need of solid, unspectacular hitting for the stretch run, look no further than Overbay, who is 6-for-18 (.333) with four extra-base hits -- three doubles and a home run -- in his past five games. Going back even further, he has nine extra-base hits in 13 games, so Overbay has been locked in. Expect him to take advantage of a soft matchup against Jason Berken (.342 average against lefties).
• Michael Brantley, OF, Indians: Desperate for steals? Think about Brantley, who should run all over the Red Sox's weak-armed catchers, Victor Martinez (just 9 of 65 would-be thieves thrown out, a 13.8 percent rate) and Jason Varitek (16 of 123 thrown out, only 13 percent).
• Josh Willingham, OF, Nationals: Willingham just slugged a home run off Derek Lowe, who has allowed only 15 home runs all season, a few days ago, so it's a good sign that they will meet again Friday. In fact, that was Willingham's third career home run off Lowe in just 19 at-bats, and while he might be hitting only .211 against the righty, he seems to be one of the few sluggers who can take Lowe out of the park with any consistency.
• Aaron Rowand, OF, Giants: Rowand has gone 4-for-9 with two home runs against Kevin Correia this season, and 6-for-13 in his career. That track record makes Rowand worth starting for their matchup on Friday; cross your fingers and hope he can go yard again.
• Ryan Spilborghs, OF, Rockies: With two home runs in six at-bats against Randy Wolf this season, Spilborghs is also worth starting for the very same reason as Rowand. If the Rockies clinch a playoff berth by Friday -- they're just one win away -- chances are they'll probably rest their starters, too, giving Spilborghs a pretty good chance to start.
Injury list: Out
• Chris Getz, 2B, White Sox (oblique; out for the season)
• Scott Hairston, OF, Athletics (hip; out for the season)
• Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers (back; out for the season)
• Jeremy Hermida, OF, Marlins (oblique; likely out for the season)
• Felix Pie, OF, Orioles (hamstring; likely out for the season)
• Cody Ross, OF, Marlins (hand)
Injury list: Day-to-day
• Casey Blake, 1B/3B, Dodgers (hamstring): The Dodgers are in a position to baby Blake to make sure he's healthy for the playoffs, and indeed, that's what they reportedly plan to do. Blake is not expected to return before the weekend.
• Hank Blalock, 1B/3B, Rangers (concussion): Blalock suffered a mild concussion Wednesday, but with the season wrapping up and concussions never truly being mild, you might not see him before Saturday.
• Marlon Byrd, OF, Rangers (hip): Byrd missed Wednesday's contest but vows to return before the season's end.
• Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B/SS, Indians (hamstring)
• David DeJesus, OF, Royals (illness): DeJesus missed his seventh consecutive game Wednesday, but did work out and is expected to rejoin the team Friday. However, manager Trey Hillman said that he "wouldn't stick him right back in the lineup Friday," so expect to see him sometime later this weekend.
• Cristian Guzman, SS, Nationals (shoulder; limited to pinch-hitting)
• Nick Johnson, 1B, Marlins (illness): Johnson took batting practice Wednesday, and the Marlins are hopeful he'll return Friday.
• Mike Lowell, 3B, Red Sox (hip): The plan all along was for Lowell to return Thursday, so expect to see him in the lineup soon.
• Yadier Molina, C, Cardinals (knee): Molina is expected to be available Thursday.
• Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Cubs (shoulder; might be out for the season)
• Luke Scott, 1B/OF, Orioles (foot; might be out for the season)
• Contests between the Yankees-Rays, Royals-Twins and Rangers-Mariners will all be weatherproof.
• Good thing the Diamondbacks-Cubs game starts at 2:20 p.m., as it should give the teams plenty of time to wait before calling off the game; showers are expected from 3 p.m. and on, with up to a 70 percent chance of rain. Elsewhere in the Midwest, a few showers are also on the forecast for St. Louis and Detroit (30 percent chance each).
• On the eastern side of the country, there are just moderate chances of rain in Atlanta, Boston and Baltimore (30 percent).
Adam Madison is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com.
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