By Marc Lawrence
Like our waistlines after a finger good lickin' Labor Day barbeque, MLB rosters have expanded to accommodate the final month of the season. And as College Football and the NFL barge onto the scene, MLB pitchers take the final spotlight in hopes of leading their teams on to the playoff trail. Which ones can we count on and which ones figure to belly up? Check it out.
Listed below are hurlers that have enjoyed a two-to-one or better success ratio in team starts the last three seasons during the month of September. On the flip side, we've also listed pitchers that struggle in September team starts, winning 33% percent or less of their efforts. To qualify pitchers must have made a minimum of 10 starts, with at least one start each September over the last three years. Enjoy...
GOOD MONTH PITCHERS:
Blanton, Joe 10-5
It's not so much Blanton is incredibly effective in the last month of the season, instead it is more of a function of the right-hander keeping his team in the game, especially with Philadelphia finding a way to win in the late innings. To his credit Blanton has lowered ERA 1.25 in last 10 starts.
Correia, Kevin 8-3
The San Diego hurler has been among the better pitchers in the National League since the All-Star break. Mostly a journeyman in his career, when his pitching coach or the catcher see his slumping shoulders, they get on him to stand taller, which increases his velocity and movement on his pitches, making Correia more effective.
Greinke, Zack 10-5
Not as dominate this season, lacking the late movement on fastball which led to more strikeouts, last year's AL Cy Young winner could still create havoc, with Kansas City having 14 games against playoff contenders this month, providing Grienke and Royals to be in spoiler role.
Johnson, Josh 7-3
The 6'7 righty is closing in on career high in innings pitched and still could tie or better previous total of season wins (15) and exceed previous high marks in ERA and WHIP with a typical strong finish.
Jurrjens, Jair 10-3
This sturdily built right-hander has been pitching better month by month since coming off the DL in late June. If he throws like usual this September, Atlanta could hold off Philadelphia and win the division.
Lester, Jon 12-3
The talented left-hander has been a big game pitcher late in the season and in the playoffs and is one of the best home field hurlers in baseball and will look to extend his dominance yet again.
Lilly, Ted 11-5
This is Lilly's sixth stop in his career and he is making a case for hanging around L.A. with how well he's pitched in Dodgers uniform. He's on pace to have career lows in batting average allowed and WHIP, with the former occurring in 2002, ironically the last time he was traded in-season.
Padilla, Vicente 9-3
Most baseball fans and sports bettors for that matter wouldn't list Padilla as a clutch pitcher, yet late in the season, this Nicaraguan continues to come up big.
Rodriguez, Wandy 8-4
For a solid portion of last year, Rodriquez was arguably the best LH chucker in the National League. After a very slow 2010 beginning, Rodriguez has scouts talking again about his command and averaging over a strikeout per inning in past 10 starts. Houston might be going nowhere, but Wandy's stock is rising again.
Sabathia, C.C. 14-2
Try this, Google "late season clutch MLB pitchers" and guaranteed Sabathia's name will be at the top of the first page. Off being the first pitcher in 41 years to win five or more games in August three years in a row, the left-hander wants the ball in the big games and is on track for best year of a very solid career.
Saunders, Joe 10-5
Not certain if this lefty will be able to match previous numbers pitching for Arizona club, but has bulldog mentality in the clutch.
BAD MONTH PITCHERS:
Cain, Matt 5-10
San Francisco is losing ground to San Diego and in the wild card chase and cannot afford another mediocre month from Cain when it matters most.
Duke, Zach 3-8
A near fixture on this list month after month. If Duke were right-handed, he would be in the minor leagues since opposing teams have hit over .300 against him in his career.
Garza, Matt 5-10
Strictly a matter of maintaining focus and not letting emotions overcome him, as Garza has the ability to be a big winner. Fastball command will leave him and tries to steer pitches to correct accuracy and heater straightens out, making him more hittable.
Lincecum, Tim 4-9
It's not like the two-time Cy Young winner is having a season like Tiger Woods, but with slight build and losing MPH on fastball this year, Lincecum is not noted finisher late in the year. Questions abound about his long term future.
Maholm, Paul 3-7
Another Pirates lefty that would lucky to break glass with his fastball. What makes Maholm better than Duke is plus changeup he can work in or out on right-hand hitters. Nevertheless, has to be near perfect most of the time and pitching for Pittsburgh further narrows margin of error.
Doug Upstone of Impactwageringsolutions.com and 3DailyWinners.com blog contributed to this article.