Thursdays are a frequent off day for major league teams, so it's rare that we get anything close to a full slate.
As luck would have it, the first Thursday of the regular season is a pretty good one, with 12 games on the docket. Don't get used to it, though. We won't see 12 or more games again on a Thursday until May, so enjoy it while it lasts.
Looking for a spot starter on Thursday? Here's a list of potential options available in more than 50 percent of ESPN leagues:
Blake Snell (Tampa Bay Rays vs. Toronto Blue Jays, 23 percent owned): Control has been an issue for Snell, who sported a bloated 5.2 BB/9 in 19 starts with the Rays in 2016. That means he can put your ratios at risk. On the other hand, he generates plenty of swings and misses and pitches in a favorable home park that suppresses both runs and homers. The Blue Jays, even without Edwin Encarnacion playing in Cleveland this season, possess an imposing lineup, but they are less lethal away from the Rogers Centre.
Jason Hammel (Kansas City Royals at Minnesota Twins, 27 percent): Hammel saw his strikeout rate drop last season while his walk and home run numbers went in the wrong direction. Moving to the American League doesn't figure to help matters. The good news for points-leaguers is that the Twins' lineup features plenty of swing and miss, and Hammel has a good shot at picking up a W against opponent Kyle Gibson, who was one of the worst starting pitchers in baseball last year.
Matt Boyd (Detroit Tigers at Chicago White Sox, 5 percent): Wednesday's washout initiated the Tigers to alter their rotation, putting the southpaw Boyd on the hill in newly named Guaranteed Rate Park. Boyd closed out the 2016 campaign with a flurry, continuing that over to the spring where he earned a spot in the Tigers' rotation. Originally scheduled for a tough home matchup against Boston, Boyd is in a much better spot despite it being a road affair, as the paler set of Sox sport a significantly less potent attack .
The Dodgers will probably be favored against the Padres in every matchup this season, and Thursday is no different. It's unlikely that starter Brandon McCarthy goes deep in this matchup, meaning it'll be a good opportunity for Sergio Romo and lefty Grant Dayton to see some action ahead of closer Kenley Jansen. Both Romo and Dayton carry nice strikeout potential while providing ERA and WHIP help.
Projected game scores
Note: W-L, ERA and WHIP are full-year 2016 statistics. GS is the projected game score for the pitcher. A "*" means that the pitcher lacks requisite career major league data to produce an accurate rating; these are the author's ratings.
Here's a position-by-position look at hitters in favorable spots with less than 50 percent ownership.
Josh Phegley, Oakland Athletics (less than 1 percent): The Oakland Athletics are a favorite for this type of thing, as they run a strict platoon with their backstops. With southpaw Tyler Skaggs on the hill for the Angels, Stephen Vogt sits while Phegley swings. Phegley has some pop versus lefties and is almost assuredly available to maximize your at bats on a day it may be hard to predict who's squatting for other teams.
Logan Morrison, Tampa Bay Rays (6 percent): While it's unclear if hot streaks are predictive, the fact the lefty-swinging Morrison is sporting a 1.445 OPS to open the season will certainly ensure he's in the lineup against right-hander Marcus Stroman. Stroman can be tough, but he's not dominant, giving Morrison a chance to put the ball in play.
Howie Kendrick, Philadelphia Phillies (11 percent): Kendrick bats second in the Phillies' lineup, and should get plenty of opportunity against Cincinnati's Rookie Davis, who is making his first major league start and doesn't have overpowering stuff. The veteran won't have the platoon advantage, but he's actually fared better against righties during the past two seasons.
Jose Reyes, New York Mets (32 percent): Considering David Wright is still on the shelf, it's a little surprising Jose Reyes isn't more widely owned in ESPN leagues. He's off to a slow start, but the switch-hitter is batting leadoff, giving him the maximum number of trips to the dish, at least the first few of which will be against Jaime Garcia, coming off the worst season of his career.
Asdrubal Cabrera, New York Mets (35 percent): Locked into the No. 2 spot in the Mets' order, Cabrera smoked left-handed pitching in 2016 (.321/.374/.473) and finds himself in a favorable spot against southpaw Jaime Garcia, who struggled to keep the ball in the yard last season.
Neil Walker, New York Mets (58 percent): We're cheating a bit with Walker, given that his ownership is a bit above 50 percent, but like Cabrera, he finds himself in an enticing spot against Garcia. Walker crushed southpaws in 2016. In fact, his slash sum (AVG + OBP + SLG) versus lefties last season was in the range of elite sluggers Mike Trout and Nelson Cruz.
Yuli Gurriel, Houston Astros (46 percent): Gurriel's ownership will likely creep over our 50 percent threshold soon, as he's a solid contact hitter in the middle of a productive lineup. This could be one of the last opportunities to grab him from the waiver wire. The matchup is strong, as he'll square off with southpaw Ariel Miranda, the beneficiary of Drew Smyly's eight-week absence.
Brandon Moss, Kansas City Royals (15 percent): Kyle Gibson was lampooned by left-handed hitters in 2016 (.380 wOBA), and Moss has the power to make him pay. The strikeout potential may scare away points-leaguers, but the power upside is evident.
Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals (11 percent): The Royals' leadoff hitter is also an appealing option against Gibson. It's true that Target Field suppresses left-handed power, but it's favorable to runs scored. Look for Gordon to spark Kansas City's offense on Thursday.
Gerardo Parra, Colorado Rockies (5 percent): With five hits and four RBI in his first two games, Parra is off to a hot start while filling in for the injured David Dahl, and he finds himself in another fine matchup against mediocre righty Chase Anderson. Miller Park is no Coors Field, but it's still one of the best parks in the majors for left-handed power.
Steve Pearce, Toronto Blue Jays (8 percent): The small-sample-size caveat obviously applies, but Pearce batted .317 and whacked seven homers in just 81 at-bats against lefties in 2016 (while hitting .275 with just six homers in 183 at-bats against righties). In other words, Pearce is an awfully appealing option to plug in when he has the platoon advantage, which is the case on Thursday against Blake Snell.
Andrew Toles, Los Angeles Dodgers (3 percent): It should be of no surprise that we're targeting hitters against Jered Weaver, who set a career low in strikeout percentage for the second straight season in 2016, and was hammered for a career-worst 5.06 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. Toles, the Dodgers' leadoff hitter against righties, is off to a good start, and is a good bet to fill the stat sheet in such a prime matchup.
Notes: Hitter ratings account for the opposing starting pitcher's past history (three years' worth, as well as past 21 days) and ballpark factors. "LH" and "RH" ratings account only for left- and right-handed batters, respectively. Weighted on-base average (wOBA) is the primary statistic used in the calculation. Ratings range from 1-10, with 10 representing the best possible matchup, statistically speaking, and 1 representing the worst. So, for example, a 10 is a must-start rating, while a 1 should be avoided (if possible); a 1-2 is poor, 3-4 is fair, 5-6 is average, 7-8 is very good and 9-10 is excellent.