Normally, Sunday has a full slate of MLB games, with the trick for fantasy baseball owners being to figure out which players sit. The first Sunday of the 2018 season is a bit of an abbreviated docket with six squads getting a travel day, so don't assume your active lineup is full.
The card features the long-awaited pitching debut of Shohei Ohtani. The 23-year-old phenom served as designated hitter on Opening Day, securing his first major hit in five trips to the plate. But what can we expect from him on the mound?
Find out with the rest of us, and while you're at it, here are some players to pick up if you need to round out your Sunday lineups.
Pitchers to stream
Steven Matz (L), rostered in 16 percent of ESPN leagues, New York Mets vs. St. Louis Cardinals: After a promising 2016 campaign, Matz suffered through an injury-riddled 2017 season. He began the year on the disabled list after having bone spurs removed from his right elbow in the offseason, only to have his season cut short with season-ending surgery to correct a nerve issue in that same elbow. Matz in the spring was a mixed bag, as he struck out 21 in 20 Grapefruit League innings while allowing a generous 30 baserunners. If he can remain healthy, Matz has middle-of-the-rotation potential. Citi Field is one of the better pitching venues, giving Matz a good chance to start 2018 in a strong manner.
Chris Stratton (R), 2 percent, San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Dodgers: Stratton enjoyed a stellar spring, cementing his spot in the injury-riddled Giants rotation. The 27-year-old right-hander fanned 28 while walking only seven in 27.1 Cactus League innings. He draws a productive but not daunting Dodgers lineup, on the road at pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium.
Chad Kuhl (R), 2 percent, Pittsburgh Pirates at Detroit Tigers: Kuhl was a target for a lot of mixed league players with deep reserves, as PNC Park is a good place to stream arms. As such, on the road in an American League park isn't the ideal setup, but Kuhl throws hard and will enjoy the platoon edge on many of the home hitters. Big-picture wise, Kuhl is a lower walk rate away from consideration in 10- and 12-team mixed leagues. Keep an eye on the number of free passes he surrenders, and if it's improved, consider using the 25-year-old righty on a more frequent basis.
Hector Velazquez (R), less than 1 percent, Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays: Since there aren't any glaring arms to avoid, how about a bonus streamer? Velazquez is helping to fill the void while Drew Pomeranz, Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright all convalesce on the disabled list. Velazquez caught the eye of new Red Sox skipper Alex Cora, shutting out the Cubs' regulars for four innings in his last exhibition effort. At least on paper, the Rays' offense is one of the weaker lineups in the league while Tropicana Field is consistently one of the top pitching venues in the league.
Many drafted Mark Melancon at a discount, hoping for better health with a big contract assuring he's called upon to close out games. Those wary of the veteran leaned toward Sam Dyson as the handcuff. The few that threw a dart at Hunter Strickland open the season all smiles, as Melancon began the season on the disabled list and Strickland was asked to garner the first Giants save. This is a scenario likely to remain in flux all year, with Melancon remaining an injury risk and Dyson ready to step in if Strickland struggles.
Projected game scores
GS is the projected game score for the pitcher. The "*" symbol means the pitcher lacks requisite career major league data to produce an accurate rating; these are the author's ratings.
James McCann (R), 6 percent, Detroit Tigers vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (RHP Chad Kuhl): This may not be the best matchup, at least in terms of platoon advantage, but I want to get the other McCann on your radar early. Every season there are players reported to have adjusted their swing or approach, not to mention being in better shape. The trick is separating the news from the noise, sometimes relying on gut more than next-level metrics. McCann is one of my gut calls, in part based on adding 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason but also because he showed some pop last season and will be hitting higher in the new-look Tigers order.
Garrett Cooper (R), less than 1 percent, Miami Marlins vs. Chicago Cubs (LHP Jose Quintana): Throughout his minor league career, Cooper demonstrated he could hit. It just wasn't good enough to compensate for not really playing any defensive position well enough to force a roster spot. On the other hand, Cooper is adept enough at both corner spots in the infield and outfield to warrant a long look from the Marlins, who have nothing to lose. Quintana is tough, but Cooper will have the platoon edge.
Brad Miller (L), 2 percent, Tampa Bay Rays vs. Boston Red Sox (RHP Hector Velazquez): Miller will bounce between first and second, qualifying at just second in most fantasy formats. Miller hopes to return to 2016 form after suffering through multiple injuries last season. Expecting another 30-homer campaign is optimistic, but it's fair to say he has pop versus right-handers, as 27 of those long balls two years ago were with the platoon advantage.
Luis Valbuena (L), 2 percent, Los Angeles Angels at Oakland Athletics (RHP Daniel Gossett): Over the course of the season, you'll learn which hitters are almost always in play, depending on the handedness of the opposing pitcher. With a righty on the hill, Valbuena usually is a strong call. His home park and Sunday's venue aren't favorable, but the Angels sport an improved lineup so Valbuena should be able to be productive.
Jordy Mercer (R), 1 percent, Pittsburgh Pirates at Detroit Tigers (LHP Ryan Carpenter): With yesterday's washout, Ryan Carpenter will be summoned to start the second game of today's double-header. Having two postponements in their first three contests forces the Tigers to need six starters over the next week, so they are taking advantage of the 26th-man provision for twinbills and delaying Francisco Liriano's start until Tuesday. Carpenter almost broke camp as the fifth starter, but was sent down. Mercer's a good option since he'll definitely play against Carpenter, enjoying the platoon edge -- and may he play two as his glove is important to the Bucs defense.
Mitch Moreland (L), 3 percent, Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays (RHP Jacob Faria): Moreland appears to be the odd man out, with J.D. Martinez in town and a rejuvenated Hanley Ramirez impressing manager Alex Cora. However, he's starting his second game in a row after a hitless effort yesterday. "Mitchy Two-Bags" earned his nickname last season with 34 doubles, but he also hit 22 homers -- 21 of which came when facing a right-hander.
Jose Peraza (R), 41 percent, Cincinnati Reds vs. Washington Nationals (LHP Gio Gonzalez): When fishing for steals, it's always better to be facing a right-hander, but Gonzalez has allowed double-digit thefts in six of the past eight seasons while Wieters' throwing declined last year.
Lonnie Chisenhall (L), 4 percent, Cleveland Indians at Seattle Mariners (RHP Mike Leake): Chisenhall is another lefty swinger usually in play with a righty on the hill. Leake has his moments but doesn't miss many bats, which is the scenario you want in a plug-and-play situation.
Howie Kendrick (R), 1 percent, Washington Nationals at Cincinnati Reds (RHP Sal Romano): Kendrick doesn't have the platoon bump, but sometimes it isn't necessary to be in a good spot. Romano has good stuff -- he just needs to harness it. Kendrick isn't the most patient hitter, but the veteran knows how to take advantage of a mistake. Playing at Great American Ballpark boosts his potential.
Curtis Granderson (L), 8 percent, Toronto Blue Jays vs. New York Yankees (RHP Sonny Gray): If you're in a daily league, it's smart to have an emergency "go-to" list for last minute replacements resulting from postponements or changes to scheduled starters. Granderson is always high up on my outfield list, as he's available in many leagues and is always a threat to go deep with a righty on the hill, walloping 46 of his 58 homers over the past two seasons with the platoon edge. Gray is neither generous nor stingy with the long ball.
Hitter matchup ratings
Hitter ratings account for the opposing starting pitcher's history (three years' worth) as well as 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 to 10, with 10 representing the best possible matchup, statistically speaking, and 1 representing the worst. 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.