The week ahead: Top two-start pitchers

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The cliché that baseball is a marathon rather than a sprint applies to the career and 2021 season of the 37-year-old Charlie Morton.

The former groundball specialist saw mixed results over his first nine seasons in Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia, with a 4.54 ERA and 1.87 K/BB ratio up to that point. Rarely do we see pitchers breakout in their mid-30’s, but after adding velocity, Morton has been a legitimate No. 2 starter since 2017, going 56-21 with a 3.40 ERA, 3.51 K/BB ratio, and dominant 10.6 K/9. His 2021 season in Atlanta has been a microcosm of the career trend.

Through eight starts this season, Morton’s ERA was an ugly 5.08, but his still high velocity and 44 strikeouts in 39 innings were an indication that he’d eventually turn things around. He did just that and has been an ace for the Braves since mid-May, going 7-1 with a 2.88 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and 86/24 K/BB over 72 innings in 12 starts. He’s allowed over three earned runs only twice in that string of great performances.

Morton caused a buzz in Spring Training due to added velocity, and that has held up with his average fastball velocity back at 95 mph, the best it’s been since 2018. After signing a one-year deal in the offseason, Morton has been the pitcher the Braves desperately needed, leading his team’s otherwise young staff in innings (111) and strikeouts (130).

The late bloomer still shows no sign of slowing down as he tries to help the Braves remain in contention without young stars Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ian Anderson. He’s become a plug-and-play for fantasy managers again, and will embark on a two-start week against the Mets and Brewers next week.

-Luis Garcia was a good prospect coming up through Houston’s farm system, but few would have bet on him becoming the 2021 AL Rookie of the Year. He’s become not only one of the leaders for the award but arguably the best pitcher on Houston’s surprisingly deep starting staff with a 2.86 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and 10.3 K/9 in 91.1 innings. Incredibly, he’s allowed more than three earned runs only once in 16 starts this season, and just continues to get better as he establishes his control at the MLB level. An extreme flyball pitcher, Garcia is set for starts in Seattle and San Francisco next week, where he can benefit from the roomy park dimensions.

-Minor arm troubles seem to come with the territory for Twins starter Michael Pineda, but he’s had another strong year while on the mound over his first 13 starts. Pineda brought his ERA below 4.00 after flustering the White Sox in his last start, and his schedule is about to open up with an extremely favorable week against the Tigers and Cardinals. We always have to be wary of pitchers whose supporting casts could deteriorate down the stretch, as the Twins could after waving the white flag on 2021, but Pineda remains an effective control artist who is solid whenever he keeps the ball in the park.

-Unfortunately for the Royals, the 2021 nightmare isn’t near over. The team had high hopes for 2021 after spending money in the offseason, but now find themselves 16 games below .500 and 18 games out of first place in the AL Central. Injuries have started to hit the starting rotation hard with Danny Duffy and Brady Singer going down this week due to arm injuries. The Royals would seem unlikely to push either pitcher as they think about the future, and the injuries also give the team an opportunity to look at other young arms. KC’s organizational strength is young pitching, and the team is likely to get another look at Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar despite their terrible results in their first promotions. Neither pitcher should be considered usable immediately when they get their second shots, but their strong minor league track records show promising upside if you have reserve slots for a stash or two. For Lynch, that opportunity could come as early as Tuesday.

-As we go into MLB trade deadline week, be mindful that probable pitchers could change rapidly for the top buyers and sellers. Particularly with the deadline on a Friday this year, the difference between who is scheduled to pitch now and what actually occurs by next weekend could be significant for many teams and fantasy managers.

Going Twice…

Note: Probable pitchers as of Friday, July 23, and are subject to change.

American League

Strong Plays

Luis Garcia: @SEA, @SF

Shohei Ohtani: COL, OAK

Robbie Ray: @BOS, KC

John Means: MIA, @DET

Decent Plays

Michael Pineda: DET, @STL

Alek Manoah: @BOS, KC

James Kaprielian: @SD, @LAA

Dylan Cease: @KC, CLE

Nick Pivetta: TOR, @TB

Dallas Keuchel: @KC, CLE

At Your Own Risk

Tyler Alexander: @MIN, BAL

Matt Manning: @MIN, BAL

Brad Keller: CHW, @TOR

Daniel Lynch: CHW, @TOR

National League

Strong Plays

Charlie Morton: @NYM, MIL

Julio Urias: @SF, @ARI

Wade Miley: @CHC, @NYM

Decent Plays

Kyle Hendricks: CIN, @WAS

German Marquez: @LAA, @SD

Marcus Stroman: ATL, CIN

Tyler Anderson: MIL, PHI

Adbert Alzolay: CIN, @WAS

Kyle Muller: @NYM, MIL

Austin Gomber: @LAA, @SD

Logan Webb: LAD, HOU

Chris Paddack: OAK, COL

At Your Own Risk

Erick Fedde: @PHI, CHC

Matt Moore: WAS, @PIT

Jeff Hoffman: @CHC, @NYM

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Streamer City

The following pitchers are generally available in over 50 percent of fantasy leagues and have favorable match-ups this week:

American League

Tuesday, July 27: Jose Suarez vs. COL

If Suarez is still sitting on your waiver wire, now is the time to pounce. He’s been just worse than league average since joining the rotation but faces a pitiful Rox lineup that has a .584 OPS away from Coors Field.

Tuesday, July 27: Jordan Lyles vs. ARI

Lyles has gotten a lot of play in this section lately, but he has his second consecutive easy matchup after facing Texas on Wednesday. This one is much easier against the D’Backs, who have a .671 OPS against right-handers, second worst in MLB.

Saturday, July 31: Martin Perez @ TB

The Rays added Nelson Cruz to help their issues against lefties, but they still have the fifth worst OPS against southpaws this season at .682. This is a good opportunity for Perez, who has allowed three or less runs in six straight outings.

National League

Wednesday, July 28: Madison Bumgarner @ TEX

Bumgarner has been effective in two starts since returning from injury, and faces a bad Rangers lineup that has a .670 OPS vs. lefties, second worst in MLB.

Wednesday, July 28: Brett Anderson @ PIT

The only lineup in baseball that has been worse than Texas vs. lefties is Pittsburgh, with a .669 OPS. Anderson has been thoroughly average again this season, but he has a great chance for a win and had one of his best starts of the year against Pittsburgh on April 17, for what it’s worth.

Saturday, July 31: Josiah Gray @ ARI

Even if the Dodgers add starting pitching at the trade deadline, Gray could have a couple more turns in the rotation. The top prospect fanned seven Giants in four innings during his first outing, and has the stuff to dominate an Arizona offense that has been the worst in the league against right-handed pitchers.

Total Games

American League

5: CLE, TEX

6: BAL, HOU, MIN, NYY, OAK, SEA, TB

7: BOS, CHW, DET, KC, LAA, TOR

National League

5: ARI, MIA, STL

6: LAD, MIL, PIT, SD, SF

7: CHC, CIN, COL, PHI, WAS

8: ATL, NYM

The Infirmary

Here’s some injuries to prominent players from the last week, and other players to watch for in the coming week. You can get a full listing of injured players at NBCSports Edge’s Injury Page.

Keegan Akin: Placed on IL (COVID-19)

Luis Arraez: Day-to-day (knee)

Christian Arroyo: Placed on IL (hamstring)

Mookie Betts: Day-to-day (hip)

Kris Bryant: Day-to-day (hamstring)

Nick Castellanos: Placed on IL (wrist)

Jazz Chisholm: Placed on IL (shoulder)

Garrett Cooper: Placed on IL (elbow)

Brandon Crawford: Placed on IL (oblique)

Jacob deGrom: Placed on IL (forearm)

Danny Duffy: Placed on IL (elbow)

Alcides Escobar: Day-to-day (wrist)

Niko Goodrum: Placed on IL (calf)

Danny Jansen: Status unknown (hamstring)

Pablo Lopez: Placed on IL (shoulder)

Gavin Lux: Placed on IL (hamstring)

Ender Inciarte: Placed on IL (COVID-19)

Alex Kirilloff: Placed on IL (wrist)

Alek Manoah: Placed on IL (back)

Jake Rogers: Placed on IL (arm)

Josh Rojas: Status unknown (finger)

Danny Santana: Placed on IL (groin

Anthony Santander: Placed on IL (COVID-19)

Michael Taylor: Status unknown (wrist)

Justin Turner: Day-to-day (knee)

Jose Urena: Placed on IL (groin)

Devin Williams: Placed on IL (elbow)

Mike Zunino: Day-to-day (hip)