Pitching Down the Stretch - AL

It's creeping closer to football season for most people in your fantasy baseball league, but if you're in contention, there's a strong probability that you're looking for pitching help down the stretch.  I can't forecast wins because they are nearly impossible to predict for a full season and even more so when limited to less than two months left in the season.  What I can do is point out some pitchers who have some combination of a favorable schedule, a good bullpen and enough run support to expect a win even if they don't pitch particularly well.  I'll also point out a few relievers who might be slipping by on the waiver wire.  This week, I'll do the AL; next week, the NL.

It may surprise you that I like Nate Robertson (DET) down the stretch.  He has been bombed the last couple of starts and that doesn't appear like it will change this week as he faces his old nemesis, Anaheim.  However, the Tigers still score a healthy number of runs, Craig Monroe appears to have finally found his home run groove and their bullpen has some quality depth with the call-up of Roberto Novoa, who, by the way has a WHIP of 1.200 and an ERA of 2.16 since his call-up.  After his start against Anaheim, it looks like Robertson will be a decent play as he's scheduled to start against Seattle, Chicago, Kansas City, Tampa Bay and Minnesota.  Of those, only Chicago is dangerous against lefties.  After that stretch, he'll likely get starts against Cleveland and Baltimore, both of whom have been hot and cold against lefties this year.  Depending on how they are hitting, he might be a good play against them too.  And then he finishes the season against Tampa.  I doubt he'll recall his earlier successes, but he should be a decent rotation filler that won't hurt you, but could get you some wins and Ks.  Now is a great time to trade for him. 

Jorge Sosa (TB) could be a good play as well, especially if you need strikeouts.  In his first two starts of the season, he's been stellar.  Of course, those two starts came against Toronto and Seattle, two of the worst offenses in the league.  His next test comes at Fenway.  But if he handles that well, his stock will rise because he'll have two more starts against the Red Sox.  Looking at Boston this season, they haven't handled guys who throw as hard as Sosa very well, so there's a reason, however slight, for optimism.  Additionally, he's scheduled for another start against Seattle and two against Kansas City.   The Rays' pen is becoming automatic so if he leaves with leads, he should be good for the wins.

I like to look at the numbers one month after the Break to see which pitchers's are getting hot.  Many of the names are not at all surprising - Johan Santana, Kevin Brown, Freddie Garcia, Jose Contreras, etc.  But there are some who come as a big surprise.  For example, Brian Anderson (KC).  He was so atrociously bad through the first three months that he was practically un-ownable.  However, since the Break he's put together a nice string of outings - 3.18 ERA, 0.8824 WHIP over the last month.  He had another nice outing tonight, although he didn't get the win.  That is a trend that will likely continue because the Royals have a pretty sorry bullpen.  While I would never, ever advocate owning him for a full season, he can be decent for a stretch.  Take a chance and ride him for as long as he's hot, enjoy the help in WHIP and ERA, then dump him at the first sign of trouble... which may only be a week or two away.

Another fairly big name that struggled the first half of the year is Bartolo Colon (ANA).  He was brutal before the Break with a 6.38 ERA and 1.534 WHIP.  Whatever he's been doing since then, whether it's losing some weight, beginning a Pilates' program or palling around with Tony Robbins, it's working.  Over the last month, he's 5-0, 2.25 ERA and a WHIP of 1.125.  I don't need to tell you that the Angels have a terrific pen and an offense that is capable of scoring.  Obviously, he's not available on your leagues waiver wire, but he might be a good target to "overtrade" for because he's capable of sustaining this kind of performance.  He's had similar (but not nearly as dramatic) turnarounds in 2001 and 2003.

Likewise, Kelvim Escobar (ANA) looks as though he's turning things around.  He hasn't pitched terribly, and has been the victim of extremely poor run support and some bad luck with the bullpen.  Down the stretch, his schedule looks pretty favorable.  He'll face a hot-hitting Baltimore team this week, but he's always had decent success against them (3.39 ERA, 1.246 WHIP in 10 career starts).  After that, he may end up with starts against Tampa, KC, Minnesota and a couple against Seattle.  There will be a start against the Yankees and one against Cleveland, and he'll have to finish the season against the Rangers and A's, so it's no cakewalk.  But he should be able to put together a nice kick leg for the final run.

Two more surprises - not that they are valuable, but in how good they've been the last month - are Rich Harden (OAK) and Ted Lilly (TOR).  Both are highly touted young starters with a bright future.  Harden (2.65 ERA /1.029 WHIP the last month) has the better team behind him so he's a better bet for wins.  But the Oakland bullpen is by no means fail safe.  Toronto's bullpen is probably a little more dependable, but the offensive support won't be there as much for Lilly (2.56 ERA/ 1.042 WHIP). 

A lot of people like Bobby Madritsch (SEA), and personally, I do too.  He's a great kid with a compelling story.   And long term I believe he will be a solid starter, if not occasionally spectacular.  But for whatever reason, the Mariners are going with a rotation of what appears to be seven starters.  Given his control problems in the minors (26 walks in 62.1 innings this year), I don't think the extra rest will work in his favor.  I just wanted to mention him here because he's a good sleeper for next year and worth picking up in AL-only keeper leagues.

Some other guys who are probably on your league's waiver wire are Neal Cotts (CHW), Frank Francisco (TEX), Bobby Howry (CLE), Kevin Frederick (TOR), Matt Hensley (ANA) and Scott Atchison (SEA).  All of these guys have been very good since the Break.  Cotts' ERA has been deceptively high: he's allowed 6 baserunners and 5 of them have scored, despite allowing only one extra base hit - a double.  Chalk it up to lousy bullpen support after him allowing the inherited runners to score.  Francisco has been dominating at times.  His ERA over the last month is 0.90.  Howry has been impressive too (18 Ks in 14.1 innings) and he should get a shot at closing if Wickman ever melts down or gets traded for prospects.  Another guy who could get a shot at closing is Scott Atchison.  George Sherrill appeared to be the best candidate for saves in Seattle coming out of AAA, but he has looked intimidated by major league hitters so far, while Atchison is pitching like a man with nothing to lose.  Neither Frederick or Hensley have a shot at closing, but that doesn't mean they won't offer quality innings in the middle and possibly vulture some wins.  Except for Frederick, all of these relievers are averaging at least 1 K per inning and Frederick isn't far behind.