Friday's card is jam-packed, featuring a trio of twilight doubleheaders beginning with the Cardinals and Pirates meeting in PNC Park and the Blue Jays and Phillies getting together in Citizens Bank Park.
Please note, the teams will flip-flop home team designation in the pair of Keystone State twin bills. The third doubleheader is in South Beach with the Marlins hosting the Nationals. Who would have though this series would be integral for the Marlins in their quest to win the NL East while the defending champs are playing out the string. Please note, even though the Mariners are listed as the home team in their interleague affair with the Padres, the weekend series has shifted to Petco Park as a result of the air quality in Seattle.
Bad news for those looking for pitchers as despite the half dozen extra options, there aren't many with favorable matchups also meeting the criteria of a %ROST level below 50%. To help make up for it, this will be "phone a friend" day among hitters as most selections will come with a teammate also in a good spot.
Zach Eflin (R), rostered in 20% of ESPN leagues, Philadelphia Phillies at Toronto Blue Jays: Admittedly, some of this pick is confirmation bias as I continue to believe he's better than his 5.01 ERA and 1.52 suggests. In fact, a 3.67 FIP and 3.21 xFIP are proof positive. A bloated .378 BABIP and 18.9% HR/FB mark are driving up Elfin's surface stats. Regression doesn't punch a time clock, but it's coming.
Adrian Houser (R), 19%, Milwaukee Brewers vs. Kansas City Royals: It has been a frustrating campaign for Houser as he's taken a couple steps back while rotation mates Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes continue to develop. Granted, Houser's ERA estimators hint he's pitched better than his actual 5.40 mark, but a significant drop in K% in tandem with a higher BB% signify Houser's woes are more than bad luck. He has a chance to finish strong, facing a Royals lineup with the 22nd ranked wOBA (weighted on base average) against righties in combo with a generous 24.3% strikeout clip in that scenario.
Alex Cobb (R), 5%, Baltimore Orioles vs. Tampa Bay Rays: Cobb faces the organization that drafted him in the fourth round back in 2006 and where he pitched through 2017 before joining the Orioles. After starting out strong, Cobb is mired in a tailspin, sporting a 7.32 ERA and 1.73 WHIP over his last four starts, spanning just 19 2/3 innings. In Cobb's favor is his former team has struggled to score runs in September, posting the sixth worst wOBA versus righties this month while fanning a bloated 31% of the time.
Wes Benjamin (L), fewer than 1%, Texas Rangers at Los Angeles Angels: File this under "Break glass in case of emergency." Technically, Benjamin will be the bulk reliever with Jimmy Herget opening. However, Benjamin worked four innings in his last outing and can be expected to match or surpass that. The 26-year-old southpaw has fanned 13 in 12 1/3 innings, walking four while allowing just one homer. Warning, the Angels have hit southpaws hard this month so only deploy Benjamin if you're desperate for another starter and the other discussed options aren't available.
Bullpen: Keeping with the theme of this doubleheader laden campaign, focusing on the bullpens with two games doubles the chance of notching a save, maybe even two. Further, all six teams lack a lockdown closer so there's probably an arm or two to secure. As a reminder, the teams playing two are St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Washington, Miami, Toronto and Philadelphia. While you can check out all the candidates in the following link, the Marlins Brandon Kintzler is a prime option and is only on a roster in 43% of ESPN leagues.
For the latest team-by-team closer situations, please consult our Closer Chart.
Projected game scores
Catcher -- Max Stassi (R), 8%, Los Angeles Angels vs. Texas Rangers (Bullpen game): As discussed earlier, lefty Wes Benjamin will be the bulk reliever, capable of working four or five frames. Stassi has been a large part of the reason the Halos have mashed lefties this month, posting a .304/.400/.478 since returning from the IL a little over a week ago. A rejuvenated Justin Upton is another option.
First Base -- Alec Bohm (R), 31%, Philadelphia Phillies at Toronto Blue Jays (LHP Robbie Ray): Not only does Bohm continue to impress at the dish with an .818 OPS, he looks comfortable manning the hot corner. With the Phillies battling for a playoff berth, they may use Bohm in both ends of their doubleheader. If you need steals, Roman Quinn and his nine bags on the season will likely play in at least one game with the chance to pinch-run in the other.
Second Base -- Christian Arroyo (R), 1%, Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees (LHP Jordan Montgomery): On September 8, the Red Sox sent Jose Peraza to the alternative training facility and handed Arroyo the keys to the keystone. Ever since, Arroyo is displaying some pop down the stretch, slugging .542. Yairo Munoz is another castoff getting a good look, also enjoying the platoon edge on a middling lefty. However, Munoz was taken out of Thursday's game early with back spasms.
Third Base -- Austin Riley (R), 37%, Atlanta Braves at New York Mets (LHP Steven Matz): Riley has been quiet since his record-setting performance, scoring five runs on September 9 versus the Marlins. However, he's always a power threat and has only fanned once in his last three games, a good sign for someone often struggling to make contact. Batters making contact have had good results against Matz this season. The left-hander returns from the IL with a 8.63 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP.
Shortstop -- Joey Wendle (L), 8%, Tampa Bay Rays at Baltimore Orioles (RHP Alex Cobb): Wendle could be snapping out of a cold spell with hits in his last four games heading into Thursday's play. Manny Margot has been playing a lot against righthanders and is among the league leaders in steals with nine.
Corner Infield -- Garrett Cooper (R), 4%, Miami Marlins vs. Washington Nationals (RHP Erick Fedde): As mentioned a couple of times, Miami is in strong contention for a playoff berth so this isn't the time to make sure everyone plays. Cooper has been one of the Marlins best hitters with knocks in nine of his past 12 games, including two homers. A couple of frequent visitors to this space, Miguel Rojas and Corey Dickerson are also in play, especially Rojas as he also has a shot at starting both ends.
Middle Infield -- Asdrubal Cabrera (S), 32%, Washington Nationals at Miami Marlins (RHP Sixto Sanchez): The Nationals keep trying to find player to replace Cabrera, but injuries and performance have kept the veteran in the lineup. Truth be told, unless he plays both games, it would be better if Cabrera didn't draw Sanchez, but if he does, he has the experience to hang in against the exciting rookie hurler. Middle infielder Luis Garcia could also start in each tilt.
Outfield -- Clint Frazier (R), 43%, New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox (LHP Martin Perez): Frazier's production the past several weeks will keep him in the everyday lineup even after Aaron Judge and Giancarlo return. It helps Frazier is 7-for-13 with two homers heading into Thursday's action.
Outfield -- David Peralta (L), 41%, Arizona Diamondbacks at Houston Astros (RHP Zack Greinke): Greinke continues to get it done, but Peralta and Kole Calhoun are both viable whenever a righty is on the hill. Calhoun is coming off a great series in his old digs, homering three times in Angels Stadium.
Outfield -- Avisail Garcia (R), 34%, Milwaukee Brewers vs. Kansas City Royals (LHP Danny Duffy): Hitting leadoff agrees with Garcia as he has slashed a robust .414/.514/.552 in nine games since assuming the top spot in the Brewers lineup. Jedd Gyorko and Ryan Braun are also in play with an inconsistent lefty on the hill.
Hitter ratings account for the opposing starting pitcher's past history (three years' worth as well as past 21 days) 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 1-10, 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. A "*" means that the pitcher lacks requisite career major league data to produce an accurate hitter rating; these are the author's ratings.