For fantasy playoffs, sleeper starters can be key

Fantasy baseball playoffs have arrived, which, for owners in most leagues, means that all the meticulous, yearlong roster tweaking and adjusting will all boil down to a one-week, one-on-one showdown for the right to keep playing.

With just seven days to work with,it’s essential for fantasy owners to get the most out of their roster — and no players maximize their worth more than pitchers slated to start two games in one week.

A host of baseball’s best pitchers are lined up to pitch two games in the coming week, including Brandon Webb, Justin Verlander and Dan Haren, but fantasy baseball playoff outcomes will not be decided solely by those proven mainstays. It’s the fourth and fifth starters, the wild cards owners will have to roll the dice with, who could determine whether one’s season continues for another week.

Cleveland’s Jake Westbrook is one of those wild cards. Westbrook is slated to start twice next week — Monday against Detroit in a key divisional showdown and the following Saturday against the A’s. Westbrook’s season stats are far from overwhelming — he is 5-8 with a 4.30 ERA and 70 strikeouts — but those numbers don’t tell the whole story.

After starting the season with a disastrous 1-6 record and a 6.20 ERA, the 29-year-old right-hander is 4-2 with a 2.44 ERA and only one bad start since Aug. 2.

Like Westbrook, Colorado’s Josh Fogg has always been a serviceable starter — he won 10 or more games three years in a row while pitching for some awful Pittsburgh Pirates squads from 2002 to ’04 — and his ’07 statistics mirror his career numbers. Fogg stands at 9-9 with a 4.90 ERA and 79 strikeouts and he is slated to take the mound twice — against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday and the Giants the following Monday.

Both starts have serious implications for the Rockies, who are in the midst of the NL wild-card chase and, as evidenced by his recent play, Fogg is more than capable of pitching well in the clutch. Over his last three starts, including clashes with Arizona and San Diego, Fogg is 2-0 with a 2.11 ERA.

Who’s hot?

» Gary Sheffield, OF, Tigers

» Joey Votto, 1B, Reds

» Daric Barton, 1B-DH, A’s

» Hank Blalock, 3B, Rangers

» Heath Bell, RP, Padres

Who’s not?

» Erik Bedard, SP, Orioles

» Jeremy Bonderman, SP, Tigers

» Willy Taveras, OF, Rockies

» Jeremy Guthrie, SP, Orioles

» Troy Glaus, 3B, Blue Jays

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