Stretch-run starters for hire

Right around this time last year, relatively un-owned young hurlers
like Wade LeBlanc, Clay Buchholz, Wade Davis, Homer Bailey and Robinson Tejeda (yep)
were revving things up to bolster the stretch run for any fantasy teams lucky
enough to grab ’em. Naturally, in “The Year of the Pitcher”, there’s currently a new and
improved crop that offer a lot more upside — specifically in
the strikeout department — than last year’s late-blossomers, and there’s
plenty who are available in over 85 percent of Yahoo! Leagues…

Jhoulys Chacin, Rockies:  6-9,
3.98 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 102 Ks in 95 innings

Five percent owned in Yahoo! Leagues

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It’s been a strange ride for Jhoulys this season. After battling to a solid 3.61 ERA through his first 12 outings,
the 22-year-old struggled to a 6.75 clip over seven appearances after he was questionably
shifted to the ‘pen in early July. Chacin was
consequently demoted to Triple-A for three-plus weeks until getting recalled on
August 17, laboring in his first start back. He finally flashed the dominance
he’s capable of on August 22, dealing to the tune of 7 2/3 shutout innings,
allowing just three hits and fanning nine. That should be enough for the
Rockies’ braintrust to finally realize they’re better off with the electric
young stud in the rotation than Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook, so look for Chacin to finish out the year in style.

Mike Minor, Braves:  2-0, 4.00
ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 22 Ks in 18 innings

14 percent owned in Yahoo! Leagues

The rookie southpaw opened some eyes on Sunday by striking out 12 Cubs
hitters in six victorious innings of work, improving his stellar K/BB ratio to
22/4 over three career starts. Minor has completely owned left-handed hitters
in his short stint, holding them to a .154 average and just one extra-base hit.
 The talented 22-year-old was 4-1 with a
1.89 ERA and 37 Ks in 33 1/3 innings in Triple-A before his promotion on August
7, so his relative dominance thus far is no fluke. Yes, the Braves announced
they’d be skipping Minor’s next start to give him some extra rest, but he’s
only tossed 128 1/3 total innings in 2010 so they’ll likely give his electric stuff free reign
going forward as they fight for a playoff spot.

Homer Bailey, Reds: 3-2, 4.52 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 51 Ks in 63 2/3 innings

12 percent owned in Yahoo! Leagues

Ownership plummeted while Bailey experienced an extremely disappointing
first 3 1/2 months of the season, but he’s starting to look like a repeat
offender on this list. As the Weekly 10 so eloquently pointed out, the
24-year-old has been stellar in two starts since returning from the DL on
August 15, going 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA, 0.69 WHIP and a 10/2 K/BB ratio over 13
frames. Despite a rough first 16 starts to 2010, Bailey looked like he was starting
to right the ship by firing 16 innings of two-run ball in two outings before getting
injured in late May. Remember, it was the right-hander’s stellar 6-1 record and 1.70
ERA after August 23 of ’09 that had him pegged as a huge sleeper heading into
this year, so it’s not unreasonable to expect big things going forward.

Bud Norris, Astros: 6-7, 5.23 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 112 Ks in 105 innings

Eight percent owned in Yahoo! Leagues

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Clearly, those season numbers don’t look very appealing. But look
closer, and Norris is 4-0 with a formidable 3.31 ERA and 0.93 WHIP over his
last nine starts. That includes consecutive seven-inning, two-run gems, the
first being a 14-strikeout explosion on August 14. The burly, hard-throwing right-hander’s
effectiveness is starting to catch up with his already stellar 9.45 K/9 rate, which is good for seventh in the Majors for pitchers with a minimum of 100 innings
thrown. Norris is just starting to figure out big league hitters at age 25, and
though you might not want to play him in Philly on August 24, his following
start against the offensively-challenged Mets is looking might juicy.

Joe Blanton, Phillies: 5-6, 5.32 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 95 Ks in 132 innings

14 percent owned in Yahoo! Leagues

Another stocky right-hander with ugly overall numbers, Blanton has
started to find a groove. The 29-year-old has posted a 3.12 ERA with a 23/4
K/BB ratio over his last four starts, including 16 Ks with no walks over the
last two. Blanton struggled so much through the season’s first four months that
many forgot how solid he was last in 2009, which included a stellar 5-2 stretch
with a 2.14 ERA between July and August. It’s looking like a comparable run may
be on the horizon.

Jake Westbrook, Cardinals: 7-8, 4.48 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 99 Ks in 152 2/3
innings

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14 percent owned in Yahoo! Leagues

Like Blanton, Westbrook doesn’t have the youthful freshness of the
first four hurlers, but his recent performance needs to be addressed. After a deadline
trade from the Indians, Westbrook has predictably thrived under the tutelage of
pitching coach Dave Duncan with a 3.60 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP and a 26/4 K/BB ratio
over four starts. The shift in leagues has transformed Westbrook into more of a
strikeout maven than ever imaginable, as his current 9.36 K/9 rate in 25
innings is almost double the 32-year-old’s career mark of 5.02. He’s only 1-1
with the new club, but more wins should be in store when September roles
around.

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