Each morning we provide the fantasy baseball first pitch, in which we take a snapshot of some of the more interesting storylines and statistics in order to help you set your lineups for today’s action. There are 13 games on tap for Wednesday, so let’s get ready for the 1:10 p.m. ET first pitch.
Yes way, Jose
Miami Marlins “ace” -- let’s all admit it, that’s what he is, even if he’s slotted in as the team’s No. 2 starter in the season-opening order -- Jose Fernandez makes his 2016 debut, pitching at home against the Detroit Tigers’ loaded lineup. And while names like Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton might seem scary from a matchup perspective, bear in mind that the Tigers are an extremely righty-leaning offense, and Fernandez has been outstanding during his career against right-handed hitters. In fact, from 2013-15 and among pitchers who faced at least 500 righty batters, Fernandez’s .206 wOBA led the majors, and by 28 points at that.
In addition, Fernandez has been untouchable in his career at Marlins Park, with a 17-0 record, 1.40 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 29.6 strikeout rate in 26 starts there. Yes, the team did bring in (and lower) its outfield fences during the offseason, but Marlins Park is still projected to lean more pitching- than hitting-friendly, so this is a plus matchup -- and one to surely exploit in daily games.
Ray Searage’s new toy
Spring training sensation Juan Nicasio makes his Pittsburgh Pirates debut, starting a home game against the division-rival St. Louis Cardinals. It’s a tricky assignment, in that the Cardinals had baseball’s fourth-widest wOBA split in either direction (28 points, with greater success versus right-handers) in 2015, and are likely to stack the upper part of their lineups with lefties Matt Carpenter, Kolten Wong and Matt Adams. Still, the Cardinals did struggle to hit during the Grapefruit League season and scored only six combined runs in their first two games against the Pirates, and Nicasio’s fastball retained enough velocity in the spring to suggest he drop a surprisingly useful stat line on this opponent. At the very least, Nicasio, available in more than three-quarters of ESPN leagues, warrants watching to evaluate him for future matchups.
Stack your Washington Nationals, who get one of the day’s best matchups against Atlanta Braves right-hander Bud Norris. Among pitchers who made at least 10 starts last season, Norris’ 6.72 ERA was fourth worst, backed up by a .174 well-hit average allowed that was worse than all but 10 of 187 pitchers had. He wasn’t much better during Grapefruit League play; he had a 6.46 ERA and .309 batting average allowed.
But beyond the potential hitting goodness, Nationals baserunners might enjoy a big game against A.J. Pierzynski, one of the weaker catchers in the league at reining in the running game. Consider this a wise day to plug in lesser names like Danny Espinosa and Michael Taylor, who could start if Ben Revere (ribs) is unable to play.
The return of Sonny Gray
After being scratched from his scheduled Opening Day start due to food poisoning, then pushed back an additional day to rest, Sonny Gray makes his regular-season debut against the Chicago White Sox, drawing a more favorable starters’ matchup against Carlos Rodon (he was initially matched with Chris Sale). Gray’s owners might have some lingering worries about Gray’s health -- Madison Bumgarner, after all, left us a sour taste after his mediocre Monday outing working through the flu -- but the extra rest should do him some good, as should the home game, as Gray had a 2.82 ERA and 0.99 ERA in his 15 starts at O.co Coliseum last season.
Lefties versus Lewis
After back-to-back games against left-handed Texas Rangers starters, the lefty-heavy Seattle Mariners finally get a game against a righty and a hittable righty at that, in Colby Lewis. Lewis, if you recall, was the Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates for fantasy baseball in 2015 -- sorry, I don’t do impressions -- with as many performances of a 70-plus Game Score (4) as a 23 or worse (4). And while that does mean risk/reward plays up and down the Mariners’ lineup, it also provides stacking opportunities from their left side, from Nori Aoki at leadoff to Kyle Seager to Adam Lind.