Pitching Down the Stretch - NL

In continuing with last week's column, here are some NL pitchers who should be good down the stretch and might be available either in affordable trade or off the wire.

I've never been a big fan of his, but Darren Oliver (HOU) is pitching well the last month and getting a surprising amount of Ks.  He's sidelined for the moment by shoulder tightness, the severity of which is undisclosed.  But if it's only a mild, Oliver should get at least a month's worth of quality innings as a reliever and spot starter. 

Jon Rauch (MON) looked very comfortable in his first two NL starts until he strained his left oblique.  That injury could sideline him until early-to-mid September.  Even though he won't get much support from the Expo offense, he should be good for 2 or 3 quality starts if you need Ks and or good WHIP/ERA.  He's an especially good play for NL only keeper leagues.

Which pitcher has the best K/IP ratio (minimum 15 IP) since the All-Star break?  The first inclination is to go with a stud closer like Eric Gagne.  However, that'd be wrong.  The correct answer is Brad Lidge, who's striking out nearly 2 batters per inning (15.9 per 9).  Obviously, neither he or Gagne is going to be available on the wire, but two relievers who might be, even if you are in an NL-only league are the Marlins' Rudy Seanez (13.22) and the Pirates' Mike Gonzales (12.706).  Both should help your ERA and WHIP, and at the rate they're striking batters out and with the frequency they're being used, could give you as many Ks as a 2nd or 3rd tier starter.  They might also back into a save or two.

I'm not sure why he hasn't been traded to a contending team, but Livan Hernandez (MON) is putting together a nice run right now and might still get traded if he passes through waivers.  Regardless, his value is probably being undersold because he has the Montreal offense backing him up.  Still, his change-up has never looked better than it has his last several outings and the resulting WHIP and ERA will help just about any fantasy team. 

Another possible pleasant surprise is Dustin Hermanson (SF).  Felipe Alou has never been totally satisfied leaving him as either a starter or a reliever.  I'm trying to remember the last pitcher who has spent his career being switched from closer (in the minors) to starter (in Montreal) to closer (by Alou in Montreal) to starter (the following year in St. Louis) and back to closer again and I'm coming up with no one.  Suffice it to say that this kind of role changing is rare.  Hermansen doesn't seem too affected by it, though.  In fact, over the last month his WHIP is barely over 1 and he's striking out nearly a batter per inning.  He won't be dominant, but there are worse closers out there that get far more attention.

Speaking of closers, even if Jose Valverde doesn't return as the closer when he returns from rehab, Greg Aquino is probably not the D-backs' long-term solution at the end of the game.  With the way Mike Koplove (AZ) has been pitching since his meltdown in LA back in mid-July, he might be.   He's striking out more than a batter per inning, his K/BB ratio is 3-to-1 and he's holding batters to a .200 average.

One starter who's probably not on the radar at the moment is Dennis Tankersley (SD).  The Padres are struggling to stay in the division and wild-card races and finding a better 5th starter would tremendously, especially with David Wells and Adam Eaton not pitching well of late, a development that's putting additional burden on the bullpen.  Tankersley was called up earlier this season and pitched reasonably well.  He deserves a chance to start whether the Padres stay in the race or not.  Frankly, San Diego would have a better chance of making the playoffs if they gave him that chance.