After a few Fridays with teams having off days in order to squeeze in a two-day interleague set, all 30 teams are in action, the way it should be. As is the Friday tradition when the Chicago Cubs are at home, there is a matinee in Wrigley Field as the St. Louis Cardinals play the Cubs in the second game of an important series between the NL Central rivals.
The slate isn't replete with spot-starting options, but there are a few intriguing candidates. Hitting remains plush, though scoring is down about 0.6 runs as temperatures drop.
Here are the players in a great spot to get your weekend off on a strong note. Everyone is available in at least half of ESPN leagues.
Mike Fiers (R), rostered in 50% of ESPN leagues, Oakland Athletics vs. Texas Rangers: Fiers is a great reminder not to take anything for granted. It's not like he's a Cy Young candidate, but for much of the season Fiers was rostered in well more than 50% of ESPN leagues. To be fair, Fiers has been horrible his last two outings, giving up five homers to the Astros in one inning two starts ago, then following that with another short effort against the Rangers. The latter start was in Arlington where Texas is much more dangerous, so look for Fiers to get back on track in The Coliseum where Fiers spots a tidy 3.15 ERA and 1.11 WHIP this season. That said, Fiers could be on a pitch count after leaving his last start early with nerve irritation. Jesus Luzardo could piggyback, putting the rookie in play as well since he could vulture a win if Fiers doesn't last five frames.
Anibal Sanchez (R), 24%, Washington Nationals at Miami Marlins: Sanchez is coming off consecutive seven-inning outings, holding the Braves scoreless last time out while allowing just a pair of tallies to the Twins the previous start. Sanchez is in a great position to make it three straight solid efforts, drawing a Marlins offense averaging just 3.8 runs a game, ahead of only the Detroit Tigers league low of 3.7 runs.
Merrill Kelly (R), 18%, Arizona Diamondbacks at San Diego Padres: Kelly is doing his part to keep the Diamondbacks in the wild-card hunt with a 1.35 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in three September outings, fanning 19 in 20 frames. Since the break, the Padres have been the second worst offense with a righty on the hill, fanning at an elevated 26% clip.
Dylan Cease (R), 7%, Chicago White Sox at Detroit Tigers: While Cease is still exhibiting the inconsistencies often characteristic of a young hurler, there are signs of growth over the second half. Most notably, Cease's four-seam velocity and spin has increased, buoying a solid 25% strikeout rate since August, though walks and especially homers remain an issue. That said, with the tame Tigers on deck, Cease should desist from some of his rookie woes.
Catcher -- Zack Collins (L), under 1%, Chicago White Sox at Detroit Tigers (RHP Jordan Zimmermann): Collins enters Friday's action riding a four-game hitting streak, including leaving the yard in both of his last two starts. The freshman backstop is fanning at an alarming 40% clip (though he's walking 16% of the time), making him useful in points leagues that don't penalize for strikeouts. Collins' contact issues shouldn't be as stinging facing Zimmermann who has only whiffed 74 batters in 104 frames.
First Base -- Mark Canha (R), 41%, Oakland Athletics vs. Texas Rangers (LHP Mike Minor): Fresh off an 11th inning walk-off double on Wednesday night, Canha has been one of the primary reasons the Athletics are currently in the driver's seat with respect to hosting the wild-card playoff game. He's also perfect to remind us platoon splits for a young player are unreliable. Last season, Canha crushed southpaws; this year he's pounding righthanders. The bottom line is Canha is an underrated hitter, dangerous in all scenarios.
Second Base -- Shed Long (L), 1%, Seattle Mariners at Baltimore Orioles (Undecided): The Orioles will likely deploy a bullpen game with righty Aaron Brooks serving as the primary pitcher, giving Long the platoon edge. The former Reds prospect is making a strong case for the 2020 opening day roster, carrying a modest seven-game hitting streak into Friday's tilt, including six multi-hit efforts. Long has been rewarded with batting out of the leadoff spot.
Third Base -- Harold Castro (L), 3%, Detroit Tigers vs. Chicago White Sox (RHP Dylan Cease): Castro may be the only Tigers player upset the season is drawing to a close. The 25-year-old infielder is slashing .383/.403/.483 for the month through Wednesday's action.
Shortstop -- Brandon Crawford (L), 5%, San Francisco Giants at Atlanta Braves (RHP Mike Foltynewicz): Crawford has a few things going for him. He's fresh, after sitting out Thursday's contest. Previous to that, Crawford hit safely in six straight, batting .455 (10-for-22) in that span. Further, he enjoys a significant park upgrade against a hurler vulnerable to lefthanded swingers.
Corner Infield -- C.J. Cron (R), 42%, Minnesota Twins vs. Kansas City Royals (LHP Eric Skoglund): Cron gets lost in the shuffle in Minnesota but has contributed a useful 24 homers to the record-settings Twins total. He's especially adept with the platoon advantage, slugging .574 with a southpaw on the hill since 2017. Meanwhile, Skoglund is one of the worst pitchers in the league.
Middle Infield -- Jon Berti (R), 7%, Miami Marlins vs. Washington Nationals (RHP Anibal Sanchez): Berti has been one of the few brought spots for the Marlins, bouncing around the infield. On Friday, he's one of the better plays for those needing steals. He's swiped 11 in 12 tries while Nationals have issues with the running game as evidenced by Miami's 10 in stolen bases in Friday's rankings.
Outfield -- Harrison Bader (R), 40%, St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs (RHP Alec Mills): Bader is another candidate to boost bags as he's snagged four over the past three weeks. He also has three longballs over the past week, making him a dual threat.
Outfield -- Brett Gardner (L), 41%, New York Yankees vs. Toronto Blue Jays (RHP Jacob Waguespack): Gardner continues to be a key cog in the Yankees machine, offering a veteran influence in a constantly changing clubhouse as the AL East leaders have battled injuries all season. Gardner has quietly set a new personal best in homers, despite significantly fewer plate appearances than he's receiver the past six seasons.
Outfield -- Willie Calhoun (L), 28%, Texas Rangers at Oakland Athletics (RHP Mike Fiers): Calhoun needs just two more dingers to reach 20 in what amounts to half a season. Fiers has allowed at least 30 homers for the last three campaigns.