As the season winds down and top pitching prospects end up shutting down a couple of weeks early or being limited by a certain set of rules, it seems a bit ironic that a pair of hurlers on their last legs seem to be swinging into full gear. The 37-year-old Pedro Martinez and the 42-year-old John Smoltz have combined for a 3.15 ERA in eight starts in the National League, providing a late-season boost to their teams and fantasy owners alike. Smoltz in particular can thank switching leagues for his success, as he's gone from dud in the AL East to stud in the NL Central. The two vets are scheduled to toe the mound again on Tuesday, and now that both are becoming owned in more and more leagues (Pedro is up to 14.3 percent, while Smoltz is approaching 20 percent), there's just one question to ask: How long can they keep it up? As our pitching rankings for the day suggest, we're more than a little optimistic.
Starting pitcher rankings for September 8, 2009
Rk.: The author's ranking of that pitcher for that day only. T: Pitcher throws left-handed or right-handed. W-L: Pitcher's win-loss record. ERA: Pitcher's earned run average. WHIP: Pitcher's average number of walks plus hits surrendered per inning. K/9: Pitcher's average number of strikeouts per nine innings. OPSA: Pitcher's on-base plus slugging percentage surrendered to opponents. OPS: Pitcher's opponent's composite team on-base plus slugging percentage. CT%: Pitcher's opponent's success rate putting the ball in play (versus striking out).
Selected notes: In seven career starts at Chase Field, Chad Billingsley has a 3.67 ERA but a 1.56 WHIP. Toss in his 5.13 ERA and 1.44 WHIP since the All-Star break and there is some risk here, especially considering he allowed four runs (three earned) in six innings pitching at home versus the Diamondbacks in his last start. The Diamondbacks may not have a great offense, but they take full advantage of their hitters' park, with a .802 home OPS that ranks eighth in the majors. With Billingsley no longer piling up the strikeouts like he did earlier in the year -- he's whiffing fewer than seven per nine innings since the break -- those in shallow leagues or watching their innings-pitched limit may want to sit Billingsley and save him for a better matchup. Rick Porcello collected 14 ground-ball outs in his last start versus the Indians, his third straight start with at least 10 outs on the ground. Porcello has been able to get by with a middling strikeout rate because he has induced ground balls more than 57 percent of the time, the highest rate in the AL. He's allowed two runs or fewer in five of his past six starts (dismissing the one inning pitched in Boston before getting himself ejected), so you can't deny the effectiveness, and Porcello should keep on rolling against the lowly Royals. Posting a superb 21-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his first three National League starts, John Smoltz has answered an emphatic yes to the question of whether he had something left in the tank. Although he allowed four runs to the Brewers in his last start, he only allowed two extra-base hits and six hits overall, striking out six without allowing a walk in six innings. The rematch on the road won't be a walk in the park, but with the Cardinals' offense firing on all cylinders and the wild Manny Parra on the mound for the Brewers, the chances of picking up a win are high, and you can't argue with Smoltz's 21 strikeouts in 17 innings, either. Not wanting to be left out, Pedro Martinez is proving his skeptics wrong, too, striking out a batter per inning while putting up a 3.52 ERA in five starts. Pitching on one of the league's best teams has resulted in three wins, and coming off his best start of the season versus the Giants, he now gets to face the suddenly cold Nationals, who are hitting .244 as a team over the past week. Regression may be finally catching up to Jason Marquis, who has allowed five runs in each of his past two starts versus the Mets and the Giants, two decidedly below-average offenses. But it's tough to resist starting him when he draws another favorable matchup versus the Reds, who own the majors' worst OPS since the All-Star break. It's a bit of a risk, but Marquis also has a nice opportunity to pick up his 15th win considering how hot the Rockies' offense has been; the best offense in the league since the break, actually, if you trust OPS. Rick VandenHurk has quietly struck out 36 batters in 36 2/3 innings in his first seven starts this season, and NL-only owners should take note if they need K's. The downside is that VandenHurk has only pitched six innings twice, displaying the usual inconsistency of a 24-year-old, but he's a decent gamble against the Mets, who just let out word that Gary Sheffield (back) is unlikely to return for the remainder of the season.
• Melvin Mora, 3B, Orioles: Mora's bat had been silent since April, but he's hitting better than .400 (15-for-37), with three homers, since August 25. Mora can be quite streaky, and will also be a free agent at the end of the season and has a future contract to play for, so he's not just playing out the string. If you could use a boost in batting average, he's worth a look.
• Chris Coghlan, OF, Marlins: The hits just keep on coming, as not only is Coghlan rocking a 14-game hit streak, he's also started September off with six consecutive multihit games. He's already gone 2-for-4 with two home runs against Tim Redding this season, too, so the best may be yet to come.
• Adam LaRoche, 1B, Braves: A matchup versus Felipe Paulino should be heavily in LaRoche's favor, as it's hard to find a pitcher who has been worse against left-handers, with Paulino having allowed a .357/.411/.651 (average/on-base/slugging) triple-slash line to lefties in 129 at-bats. In the midst of another productive second half, LaRoche (.314 with nine home runs since the break) will be well-equipped to take advantage of such an extreme set of splits.
• Ryan Ludwick, OF, Cardinals: Few hitters have gotten off to a hotter start this month than Ludwick, who is 10-for-21 (.476) with six extra-base hits, six runs scored, two home runs and eight RBIs. It's doubtful that Manny Parra will extinguish that fire; not only are righties hitting .313 and slugging .513 against him this season, but Ludwick has taken Parra deep twice in just 18 career at-bats.
• Justin Morneau, 1B, Twins: Coming off a season-worst .220 average in August, Morneau started September hitless in his first 17 at-bats. With just one home run in his past 25 games, Morneau is slumping badly and should be benched until he gets it going.
• Dan Uggla, 2B, Marlins: It's nice that Uggla has taken Tim Redding deep before -- this season, in fact -- but it's more telling that in his career Uggla has struck out more than half the time (eight times in 15 at-bats) versus Redding. Overall he's 2-for-15 (.133), and although Uggla has worked five walks, if he can't make consistent contact, all the walks in the world won't help his fantasy owners.
• Lance Berkman, 1B, Astros: Held to just one home run since the beginning of July -- a span of 123 at-bats -- it would be surprising if Javier Vazquez was the hurler Berkman went deep against. In his career, Berkman is 5-for-21 (.238) versus Vazquez, and this year's version of Vazquez, the one holding lefties to a .243 average and a sub-.700 OPS, should be much tougher than what Berkman's faced in the past.
• Brandon Inge, 3B/C, Tigers: Normally Inge makes his living against lefties, but Inge is a surprising 0-for-11 in his career versus Bruce Chen, fanning three times. And apparently Inge's knee is still bothering him, as he's just 4-for-32 (.125) in his past nine games, which doesn't fly, even at catcher.
• Justin Upton, OF, Diamondbacks: Upton may currently be enjoying a breakout season, but he still has some things to work on, starting with his 1-for-13 mark against Chad Billingsley. He's been limited to a mere single and two walks against two strikeouts in his career, and it's been even worse this season, as Upton has gone 0-for-5.
• Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Padres: Another example of good pitching beating good hitting, Gonzalez has been limited to seven singles in 33 career at-bats versus Tim Lincecum. He's struck out more times than he's reached base -- 13 K's against seven hits and two walks -- so you definitely should find a replacement for the day.
If you're hardcore
• Elijah Dukes, OF, Nationals: Dukes has reached base in nine consecutive games and eight consecutive starts, going 13-for-25 (.520) along the way. Although he hasn't hit any homers, he's contributed three doubles, a triple and seven walks. The secondary skills are there, and it could be just a matter of time before he rips off a number of homers to put the icing on the cake.
• Daniel Murphy, OF, Mets: He's gone 5-for-17 in his past four games -- nothing to write home about, really -- but he's made the most of those hits, racking up two homers, a double and a triple. Due to a favorable matchup against Rick VandenHurk, who has allowed a .600 slugging percentage to left-handed hitters, a productive performance isn't out of the question for Murphy.
• Mark Teahen, 3B/OF, Royals: It's a lot easier to show a little faith when Teahen has already taken Rick Porcello deep not once, but twice this season in only five opportunities. Porcello has also been fairly susceptible to left-handers, so maybe Teahen, who normally doesn't show much power, can catch lightning in a bottle again.
• Marcus Thames, OF, Tigers: Every single one of the 10 home runs Bruce Chen has allowed have been hit by right-handed hitters, a large reason righties are also slugging .553 off him. You would think, then, that Thames, a one-dimensional slugger who mashes lefties, would be a smart bet against Chen. And indeed, Thames has gone 3-for-9 with a home run against Chen in his career.
• Adam Kennedy, 2B/3B, Athletics: With multihit games in five of his first six games, Kennedy is off to a great start in September, adding five walks to boot. He's yet to attempt to steal a base, but a .283 on-base percentage last month didn't stop him from going 7-for-8 on the base paths, so more hits and walks should only translate to more stolen base opportunities. Batting leadoff on a team desperate for offense, Kennedy is not to be overlooked if you need a second baseman.
• Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies: Seth Smith swatted another two home runs on Sunday, but let's not forget about Gonzalez, who has a better chance of garnering regular at-bats after Dexter Fowler returns due to his superb defense and stature as a prospect. After back-to-back games with a home run during the weekend, Gonzalez is now hitting .372 with nine home runs since the beginning of August, and we could be witnessing a true breakout from the uber-talented 23-year-old.
Injury list: Out
• Jose Guillen, OF, Royals (hamstring; out for the season)
• Gary Sheffield, OF, Mets (back; limited to pinch-hitting): According to Mets manager Jerry Manuel, Sheffield is "pretty close to being out" for the season.
• Alfonso Soriano, OF, Cubs (knee)
• Huston Street, RP, Rockies (biceps)
Injury list: Day-to-day
• Gordon Beckham, 3B/SS, White Sox (oblique)
• Alberto Callaspo, 2B, Royals (ankle)
• Yunel Escobar, SS, Braves (ankle): Escobar expects to be good to go on Tuesday.
• Ken Griffey Jr., OF, Mariners (knee; available to pinch hit)
• Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers (back)
• Jeremy Hermida, OF, Marlins (rib)
• Chipper Jones, 3B, Braves (oblique)
• Lyle Overbay, 1B, Blue Jays (finger)
• B.J. Upton, OF, Rays (ankle)
• Only contests between the Twins-Blue Jays, Braves-Astros, Cardinals-Brewers and Dodgers-Diamondbacks have the benefit of being weatherproof.
• Showers abound in the Northeast, with Pittsburgh taking the worst of it, with a 50 percent chance of rain. Both New York teams may run into a few showers (30 percent), while rain is forecasted throughout the day in the nation's capital, although it trickles to just a 30 percent chance of precipitation by game time.
• Scattered storms may threaten the Rangers-Indians affair (50 percent chance), and even Denver (Reds-Rockies) may fall prey to Mother Nature, with a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms disrupting things.
Adam Madison is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com.