Pitching makes or breaks a season. Hitters are the guys who will pick you up when you’re down, or maybe gift you that extra oomph in a matchup when you’re down a few points or need just one more home run, and there’s no arguing their value. But as the season goes on, it begins to feel like there are loads of quality position players (maybe not catchers) on every team, and even on the waiver wire. Pitchers get blisters or shoulder problems, others regress, and suddenly you’re in a rut during the most crucial part of the year.

That’s why we’re focusing on pitching here. These notes, organized by divisions, will likely reflect at least one of your leagues, whether it’s advice about that one former stud draining your life who you don’t know what to do with, or that tempting new guy on that waiver wire striking out batters left and right.

AL EAST

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Photo Credit: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
  • Boston Red Sox – We’re at the point of sitting Rick Porcello. Now what about dropping him? It might sound crazy, but last year’s Cy Young winner has given up 52 earned runs so far in 2017, surpassed only by Kevin Gausman, Masahiro Tanaka, Bronson Arroyo, and Yovani Gallardo. Gausman is owned in 32% of ESPN leagues, while Arroyo and Gallardo are each owned in just around 1%. Porcello has given up 47 hits in his last 5 starts, and is heading for career worsts in ERA, WHIP, and BABIP. His xFIP doesn’t do him any favors either, sitting at 4.33. If you’re in the running still, and you see someone on that waiver wire who strikes your fancy (or for whatever reason, another league member wants to take him off your hands), pull the trigger.
  • Toronto Blue Jays – Don’t be so hard on Marco Estrada. He hasn’t reached the 6th in his last 3 starts, but let’s not forget that this is the man who started off the year pitching 8 quality starts in his first 11. He still boasts a 10.18 K/9 while keeping the walks down. His next dance is Monday on the road with the Rangers, a team he pitched 6 innings of 1-run, 8-K ball against at home on May 27th. If you have the luxury, consider sitting him. If not, don’t go into it being too pessimistic.

AL CENTRAL

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Photo Credit: Chicago Tribune, 6.29.16 U.S. Cellular Field
  • Chicago White Sox – If you’re digging for pitching, James Shields is doing his best to reenter his name in the conversation. He got off to a solid beginning prior to a shoulder injury, pitching three consecutive starts of 1-run ball against strong teams (Detroit, Cleveland, Minnesota). His first start back on Sunday in Toronto was the same story for the first five innings, but a two-run shot from Russell Martin forced him to leave the game. He’s not looking to go deep in the near future, but all signs point to a stronger second year with the White Sox, so long as he doesn’t have to face Bartolo again.
  • Kansas City Royals – Jason Hammel will have a true test Monday against the Red Sox. You could take a chance if you’re able to, but if not, wait and see, then pick him up if he stays hot, barring someone else doesn’t beat you to it. He’s owned in just over 12% of ESPN leagues and 13% of Yahoo, and looks to be piecing together a decent summer campaign following a dreadful April and May. Everything about him has been worse than it should be, meaning that we more likely than not will see his 5.05 ERA creep down closer to the sub-4.00 he’s posted the past three seasons. Tonight may not help that cause, however.

AL WEST

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Photo Credit: CSN Bay Area
  • Los Angeles Angels JC Ramirez – The initial magic of this reliever-turned-starter appears to be fading. Over his first 11 starts, Ramirez carried a 3.81 ERA and 1.16 WHIP; he didn’t deliver on the strikeout upside that first attracted most owners to him, but it didn’t matter, as he was providing long outings and wins. Since a rough start against the Twins in early June, Ramirez has been more hurt than help, allowing 18 runs in the month (with more June to come) and seeing his ERA rise almost a full run. His strikeouts have been up in his last two starts, but his owners might prefer the Ramirez who goes seven innings rather than three.
  • Oakland Athletics – You could do far worse for saves than Santiago Casilla, who has 11 on the season and looks to be fairly secure in the closer role. His 4.07 ERA might scare you off, but consider that he’s struck out at least 2 batters in his last five appearances, as well as the fact that his blown save against the Yankees on 6/15 was his first since 5/12, and was followed up the very next day by a 1-walk save (against that same intimidating Yankees squad) in which he struck out the side.

NL EAST

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Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
  • New York Mets Seth Lugo could be your fantasy stealth option in the second half. In 2016, he came up from a rough time in AAA to pitch quite well in the big leagues, earning a shiny 2.67 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. He has a filthy curveball that in due time could contribute to higher strikeout rates, and he’s looked extremely solid in his first two (quality) starts coming off an elbow injury, the only blemishes in his last start versus the Nats being a pair of home runs. He deserves a spot in the Mets rotation, and he deserves a spot in yours as well.
  • Washington Nationals Joe Ross clearly needs a lot of work still. His third year in the majors has been inconsistent, to say the least, and he was briefly sent down to AAA to fine-tune his mechanics. Upon being called up again, Ross pitched 8 innings of 1-run ball against the Mariners, only to inexplicably give up 12 hits and 5 runs to the Padres that same week. Since then, he’s had one great start, two awful ones, and one decent one. The great start was against the Orioles, while the lesser ones against the Athletics, the Braves, and the Mets. He’s impossible to trust regardless of what the matchup says, and until he establishes a semblance of consistency should only be sent out in the deepest of leagues, or if you’re at the peak of confidence regarding everything else with your team.

NL CENTRAL

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Photo Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
  • Milwaukee Brewers – Go get Junior Guerra. He’s probably the least exciting player in this entire article, but this is a man who held a 2.81 ERA and 1.13 WHIP through 20 starts last year. His 2017 stats are around those numbers thus far, but it’s hard to gauge exactly how the year will turn out after an early April leg injury kept Guerra out for well over a month. Nevertheless, he remains on a powerful team in the Brewers, and should be more than able to hold his own against most teams that come his way.
  • St. Louis Cardinals – Oh, what a name can still do these days. Adam Wainwright is owned in around 60% of ESPN and Yahoo leagues. Those who were enamored by his four-game stretch of quality starts against impossible odds received a cold bucket of water to the head with Waino’s 9-ER bonanza in Cincinnati. He’s followed that one up with a brief but stable outing against the terrible Phillies and another nightmarish start in Baltimore. Wainwright should still be started at home for now, but keep in mind that his 2014 ERA-WHIP-xFIP were 2.38-1.03-3.34, while his 2016 numbers were 4.62-1.40-4.06… They’re real, and they’re unspectacular. Go find CC when he’s healthy again instead.
  • Cincinnati Reds – Homer Bailey hasn’t been in prime condition for a while, and his elbow has kept him out of the season thus far. However, he’s been putting up eye-catching numbers in his rehab starts, limiting walks and hits while ratcheting up the Ks. His last lengthy season was in 2014, which should show you he’s as big an injury risk as it gets, but he posted a 10.57 K/9 and 3.86 K/BB ratio in his 6 games in 2016. His 6.65 ERA was awful, but it had a 3.28 xFIP behind it. He’s a decent DL stash to roll the dice on if you need some padding.

NL WEST

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Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
  • Arizona Diamondbacks – Temper expectations on Robbie Ray. This may very well be the season he puts it together, as he’s shown ace-like stuff by matching his high strikeout numbers with shutouts (including one complete game shutout) in four of his last six starts. But if we act like the Geico commercials and take a closer look at the last six, we see that two of these starts were against a miserable San Diego squad, two were against the swing-happy Brewers, and one (the CG shutout) was against a middling Pirates team; in addition, 3 of the shutouts were on the road and away from Chase Field. His incredible stretch was bound to end, but no one thought it’d be in Philadelphia. The Phillies are in the bottom rung of the league in virtually every hitting statistic, and that includes batting vs. lefties. So was this simply a misfire on Ray’s part, who still whiffed seven batters? Well, his walks crept back up in the last two starts, and the proneness to homers isn’t going to change, especially in Chase Field. He has the benefit of a strong offensive team behind him in the Diamondbacks, and is still a must-start on the road, but the stretch of dominance may be done. If someone in your league is offering you the world for him, take it.
  • San Diego Padres – Keep an eye on Dinelson Lamet, who’s owned in just over 6% of ESPN leagues and 7% of Yahoo. His stock took a huge hit after he followed up two short but excellent outings with two clunkers, but one was at Chase Field and the other against a resurgent Royals. The Padres prospect had his dream matchup last Saturday with the strikeout-crazed Brewers, and he mowed down 12 of them(!), snagging a quality start to boot. Growing pains (and lots of home runs) are to be expected with all young pitchers, so keeping that in mind could provide you with a sneaky streamer at the very least. The next battle comes with the Tigers in Petco Park.

[Seth Lugo Photo Credit: Rich Schultz/Getty Images]

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