Fantasy owners who need to improve their pitching staff in order to challenge for a title may be inclined to make a big splash and pay the premium price for an ace. But the five starters listed below could offer ace-like production during the final two months of the season, for a smaller acquisition cost.
Hector Santiago (Angels): The left-hander has shown markedly improved control this season, as his 2.9 BB/9 rate in 2015 is notably lower than his 3.9 career mark. Pounding the strike zone has enabled Santiago to hold opposing hitters to a .221 batting average, which has aided him in posting a 2.43 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP. With a career 8.4 K/9 rate, the 27-year-old has all the makings of a high-end starter in mixed leagues if he can maintain his control gains down the stretch.
Francisco Liriano (Pirates): Like Santiago, Liriano has used better control to spur an overall uptick in production this season. The left-hander has posted elite ratios (2.91 ERA, 1.03 WHIP) in 2015, and his 10.1 K/9 rate is among the best of any starter in baseball. Liriano, who's playing on a contender with an excellent bullpen, could dramatically improve on his current 6-6 record if he continues to post high-end ratios during the final two months of the season.
Scott Kazmir (Astros): The left-hander was a coveted asset on the Major League trade market prior to heading to Houston last week, and he owns a 2.24 ERA with a 1.05 WHIP on the season following his initial start with his new club. Fantasy owners can follow the Astros' lead and pick up this ace-level starter for a smaller cost than traditional No. 1 arms. Kazmir could thrive in Houston, where he joins a postseason contender with one of the best defensive units in baseball. Only Zack Greinke and Jacob deGrom have produced a lower ERA than Kazmir to this point in the season.
Jason Hammel (Cubs): A career-high 9.0 K/9 has fueled a breakout season for the right-hander, who has recorded a 2.82 ERA with a 0.98 WHIP. Since posting a respectable 3.55 ERA in April, Hammel has produced an ERA below 3.00 during each of the subsequent three months. And with a season-to-date 3.08 FIP, the 32-year-old has given fantasy owners little reason to believe that he is due for a major decline.
Wei-Yin Chen (Orioles): Chen, who's heading into free agency after the current season, has pitched like a man on a mission while producing a 2.86 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP. Although the southpaw does not typically compile a high strikeout rate, his 7.2 mark this season is respectable. Chen has accumulated just four wins, but a productive Orioles lineup should enable him to collect victories at a higher rate down the stretch if he continues to hold the opposition in check.
All statistics are accurate through the completion of Saturday's games.
Fred Zinkie is the lead fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredZinkieMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.