The final week of the season means that all bets are off as far as pitching matchups go. Particularly once a team locks in its playoff position, it might get a little weird with its pitching assignments.
The effect may be less pronounced than in years past, though, given that rosters have expanded by only two this September. It's not like teams are carrying 20 pitchers. They can tread only so far off the beaten path. But it's nonetheless yet another reminder, especially when the stakes are as high as they are in Week 27 (Sept. 27-Oct. 3), that the pitchers already on your roster are probably best suited for the job.
If you do have an opening to fill, though, here are my favorite sleeper pitchers for the final week of 2021, all rostered in less than 80 percent of CBS Sports leagues.
Joe Ryan SP
MIN Minnesota • #74 • Age: 25
Turns out a liner off the wrist wasn't enough to slow the rookie down. He returned with an 11-strikeout effort Wednesday and has now allowed just 10 hits in 22 innings across four starts. He was originally in line for two starts, but even with one, you like his chances.
Shane Baz SP
TB Tampa Bay • #11 • Age: 22
His second major-league start over the weekend turned out to be just as electrifying as the first, so at this point, there's no reason to think a start at Yankee Stadium will slow down Shane Baz.
Alex Cobb SP
LAA L.A. Angels • #38 • Age: 34
He managed to impress even against the Astros in his second turn back from the IL while also getting his pitch count up to 93. He should be fully stretched out, then, for this turn against the worst offense in baseball, and he remains undervalued with his 3.31 xFIP.
Cole Irvin SP
OAK Oakland • #19 • Age: 27
The Athletics generally let him go deep into games when he's pitching well, which is not a quality to take for granted this time of year. The second matchup could be better, but I generally subscribe to the premise that two starts are better than one.
OAK Oakland • #40 • Age: 32
His inspiring return from a liner off the face lasted only 48 pitches Thursday, but he looked exactly like the must-start pitcher we remember. He'll likely be limited in his second start back, too, but the Mariners lineup could help him stretch it to five-plus innings.
SEA Seattle • #36 • Age: 24
The matchup is nothing special, but it really seems like the rookie has figured things out this month. His start over the weekend was a little shaky, but his whiffs and innings have both been up otherwise.
COL Colorado • #49 • Age: 26
His streak of seven straight quality starts came to an end last week against the Dodgers, but he started a new streak Sunday against the Giants. His opponent this week is on the other end of the spectrum from those two, and his elite ground-ball and walk rates should help him take advantage.
Josiah Gray SP
WAS Washington • #40 • Age: 23
The once-ascendant rookie seemed to rediscover his slider in his latest start, showing he still has the potential to dominate with 20 swinging strikes. The matchups couldn't be much worse for a pitcher who has struggled to keep the ball in the yard, but if you're in a position to sell out for upside, he could make a splash.
Brady Singer SP
KC Kansas City • #51 • Age: 25
He went seven strong against this same opponent last time out and has now allowed two earned runs or fewer in five of his past six starts.
KC Kansas City • #43 • Age: 24
The hard-throwing righty was recently given some extra time off after an ugly outing, and he looked OK in his return this weekend. He had been on a nice run before the misfire, compiling a 1.68 ERA in eight appearances.