Sometimes good things come in small packages. Thursday brings yet another abbreviated slate, yet one that is brimming with aces and high-upside arms. Next Thursday could very well bring a barren elite tier and nothing but middling options to choose from, so let's enjoy this one while we can.
A quartet of aces headline Thursday's shortened slate, and Jose Fernandez leads the way. It's hard to fade Fernandez anytime he's on the docket. His upside is unmatched. He's sporting a 12.9 K/9 this season, while Max Scherzer is next best with an 11.3 K/9. A road matchup against the Reds, who strike out at a 22 percent clip against righties (to go along with an 86 wRC+) has Fernandez sitting pretty Thursday, even though going from Marlins Park to Great American Ballpark is a big downgrade. Fernandez is a must-play on many slates, but as good as he is, there are other options to consider Thursday.
Madison Bumgarner is another arm worthy of premium dollars in cash games. The left-hander owns a 1.93 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 10.1 K/9 since the beginning of July, and he gets a Mets team that's middle-of-the-road versus lefties, whiffing 22 percent of the time. The only negative here is that Bumgarner is squaring off against fellow ace Jacob deGrom, which lessens the chance of a win. If you're debating Bumgarner and Fernandez, there's no right or wrong answer. Both are elite options worth the investment.
Speaking of deGrom, the Mets' righty has been as good as any pitcher in baseball during the past couple of months. He has surrendered more than one run just once in his past six times out, and his ERA during his past nine starts sits at just 1.49. He's not my preferred play Thursday because the Giants are such a tough team to strike out (17.5 percent), but he certainly belongs in the conversation, given his recent dominance.
Jake Arrieta gets one of the day's most enticing matchups, a home start against Milwaukee. The Brewers have been one of baseball's worst teams against righty pitching this year (87 wRC+), but the real draw here is the Brew Crew's inability to make consistent contact. They strike more than a quarter of the time -- more than any team in baseball -- and that includes a 26 percent whiff rate against right-handers. Arrieta has fanned more than six in a game just once in his past nine times out, but he could very well threaten double-digit K's in this matchup. The only downside is that an afternoon start time limits his DFS availability.
Joe Musgrove has only 18 big league innings under his belt, but they've been 18 dominant innings. In two starts and one extended relief appearance, the 23-year-old righty has racked up 21 strikeouts against only two walks while putting up a 1.47 ERA. Given his inexperience, there's some risk running him out there against an Orioles team that mashes righties (110 wRC+). However, there's enough strikeout upside here to justify giving the rookie some GPP consideration.
A sore shoulder has pushed Chris Tillman to Saturday, moving Kevin Gausman's home date with the Houston Astros up a day, when he'll still be working on regular rest due to Monday's off day. While the Astros' lineup has plenty of thunder, it's been slightly below average against right-handed pitching this season. Not only that, but Houston fans 24 percent of the time versus righties, making this a high-upside matchup. There's plenty of tournament appeal here.
After highlighting so many big-upside arms, you'll be forgiven for yawning when reading Hisashi Iwakuma's name. But, sometimes boring is good. Iwakuma owns a 2.52 ERA and 1.09 WHIP since the All-Star break, and he's spun seven or more shutout innings in two of his past three starts. On Thursday, the right-hander is pitted against an Angels team that's been middle-of-the-road against right-handed pitching this season and below average in the second half. Don't expect many strikeouts, as Iwakuma doesn't generate many swings and misses and the Angels strike out less than any team in baseball. That said, Iwakuma makes for a solid, cost-effective SP2 in cash formats.
Archie Bradley has hit some speed bumps of late (5.46 second-half ERA), but a matchup against the Padres at Petco Park is enough to earn the right-hander some GPP consideration Thursday. After all, despite the right-hander's struggles, he's still striking out nearly a batter per inning. The Padres, meanwhile, are fanning 24 percent of the time with an 83 wRC+ versus right-handers.
If you're streaming starters and are in search of innings, Ross Stripling's matchup against Philadelphia is about as good as it's gonna get. The Phillies, after all, are one of the worst teams in baseball against righty pitching (83 wRC+) and strike out at a healthy 22 percent clip.
Likewise, Reynaldo Lopez has plenty of appeal against a Braves lineup that is the worst in baseball against right-handed pitching. In fact, Lopez faced Atlanta his last time out and pitched seven innings of one-run ball. There's some volatility here due to an inflated walk rate (4.6 BB/9), but the matchup is prime. Lopez's ownership sits at just 5 percent.
Danny Salazar has electric stuff and carries nice upside into each start, but his recent track record has me staying away in cash formats. During his past five starts, the right-hander owns an ugly 7.88 ERA and 1.79 WHIP. He didn't even make it past the second inning his last time out. The White Sox have an underwhelming lineup that can be exploited, but they also make a good amount of contact, which hampers the tournament upside.
Tyler Duffey has displayed some pretty ugly reverse splits this season. He's faced nearly an even number of lefties and righties, yet 14 of his 19 homers allowed have come off the bat of a right-handed hitter. The Kansas City Royals aren't typically a strong stack, but using Paulo Orlando, Lorenzo Cain, Cheslor Cuthbert, Salvador Perez and switch-hitter Kendrys Morales could reap benefits.
Targeting hitters at Petco Park isn't ideal, but sometimes the matchup is just too good to ignore. That's the case Thursday, with Paul Clemens toeing the rubber against the Diamondbacks. The right-hander has allowed a .434 wOBA to right-handed swingers this season, which includes eight homers allowed in 17 1/3 innings. Fire up Jean Segura, Paul Goldschmidt and Yasmany Tomas in this one.
Rob Whalen sports a 9.6 K/9 in his first three big league starts. He also sports a 7.31 ERA with a .356 wOBA allowed to lefties and a .359 mark allowed to righties. With the Nationals in town, there are plenty of worthy targets, with lefty bats Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper being the primary ones to consider.
Dillon Gee is one of the weakest pitchers on the slate, and the Twins have had one of the game's best offenses since the All-Star break (108 wRC+). Lefty swinger Max Kepler should be the primary target here, but I'm not shying away from guys like Brian Dozier and Miguel Sano, even though they don't have the platoon advantage.
With Clay Buchholz on the mound for the Red Sox on Thursday, it's time to target left-handed batters opposing him. The righty is allowing a .384 wOBA to lefty bats. It's unfortunate that the right-handed heavy Tigers are on top, though Tyler Collins and switch-hitter Victor Martinez are both in play.
Most likely to go yard: Paul Goldschmidt
Paul Clemens has surrendered eight home runs in just 17 1/3 innings against right-handed hitters this season, and Goldschmidt has hit more than 70 percent of his career homers off righties. Look for the Arizona slugger to tee off here.
Most likely to swipe a bag: Jonathan Villar
Jake Arrieta is not good at keeping baserunners honest, and you know Villar, whose 46 steals are second-most in baseball, will be itching to take off should he find himself on first base.