Chris Sale & Co. headline a handful of top-tier starters, but the matchups for hitters steal the show on Thursday's abbreviated slate. Let's take a look at the ratings for every matchup to help build optimal lineups for both season-long and DFS games.
Chris Sale is the leader of the pack for Thursday's slate, drawing a 69 game score for his home tilt against the Astros. The lefty's strikeout rate is down this season, which hampers the upside a bit, but he's still in a great spot to rack up K's against an Astros team that's fanning 26 percent of the time against southpaws, the highest rate in the American League. And what Sale lacks in whiffs this season, he has made up for in run prevention, as he has allowed one or zero runs in five of his past six starts. Given the other elite options and the fact that, aside from the strikeouts, the Astros are above average against left-handed pitching, Sale isn't a must-play in cash. But he should still deliver if you make the investment.
Stephen Strasburg heads to the Big Apple to try to fend off Matt Harvey and the Mets. The right-hander holds a 1.67 ERA over four road starts this season and has whiffed double-digit batters in half of his past six outings. The Mets are no pushovers against right-handed pitching (.329 wOBA), but they've been striking out nearly 24 percent of the time in May, which is obviously something Strasburg knows how to exploit. In six career starts at Citi Field, he's 4-1 with a 2.17 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 12.4 K/9.
Every starting pitcher should want a shot at the Padres, who rank second to last in the majors with a .277 wOBA against righty pitching while fanning more than a quarter of the time. Thursday is Jeff Samardzija's turn. Shark has pitched into the eighth inning in four of his past five starts, which showcases his high cash-game floor. And while his 7.5 K/9 is middling, he's inducing more grounders than ever before (51 percent) and his 25 percent hard-hit rate ranks top 10 in the National League. Samardzija is a solid cash-game pivot if you're fading the top-priced guys.
Things have yet to really click for Matt Harvey this season. Although the underlying skills are still solid, he owns a 4.93 ERA and has yet to pitch more than six frames in a start. The 8.1 K/9 is also the lowest of Harvey's career. A home start against the Nationals, who are below average against righty pitching, offers some appeal, but a below-average whiff rate and matchup against Strasburg keeps any upside in check. I'm looking elsewhere in both cash and tournaments.
Jason Hammel takes his 1.77 ERA to battle the Brewers in Milwaukee. The righty doesn't go deep into games and he hasn't pitched as well as the ERA suggests, but the skills are still solid and the Brewers, who strike out more against righties than any team in the NL (26 percent), are a high-upside opponent. Hammel makes for a fine SP2 on sites with multiple starting pitchers, though the afternoon start game means he won't be an option in most contests.
Put aside Jon Gray's 4.71 ERA for a moment. Consider that he sports a 5.1 K/BB ratio through five starts, including a 31 percent strikeout percentage, and that he owns a 1.80 ERA and 0.70 WHIP over his past three outings. I'd be hesitant to use Gray in cash considering the Cardinals have scored the second-most runs in the NL and hammer right-handed pitching (.365 wOBA), but he has nice upside in tournaments.
Michael Wacha owns a 2.06 ERA at Busch Stadium this season, and that's where he'll square off against the Rockies on Thursday. The Rockies, meanwhile, are getting a huge park downgrade by going from Coors Field to Busch Stadium. Wacha doesn't have big strikeout upside, as his 7.6 K/9 this year attests, but he does enough to be in the SP2 conversation in cash games.
Marco Estrada travels to Minnesota to take on the Twins. The Twins are non-threatening against righty pitching and strike out 23 percent of the time. Walks can sometime be an issue, but with an 8.5 K/9 rate, there's good upside in this matchup. He's a free agent in over 50 percent of leagues.
Junior Guerra is widely available and is 2-0 in three starts this season, but don't get cute and run him out there against the Cubs. The Cubs mash right-handed pitching (well, they mash all kinds of pitching), and they could easily exploit Guerra and his 43 percent fly-ball rate. When the Cubs aren't mashing, they wear pitchers out with an MLB-best 13 percent walk rate.
The Braves might just have the worst offense in baseball. Even so, I'm not prepared to trust Jeff Locke and his 5.0 BB/9 against them. The southpaw might be fine, but there's no upside for a guy who whiffs six batters per nine to justify the potential ratio damage.
The Cubs should have little trouble overmatching Guerra on Thursday, so this is a lineup you'll want some exposure to. The left-handed and switch-hitting bats -- Dexter Fowler, Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward -- are the most intriguing.
Left-handed Indians bats figure to be popular targets against Adleman, a 28-year-old righty who is getting his first taste of big league action this season. The top three in Cleveland's lineup -- Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor -- are all interesting options.
The lowest-rated pitcher of the day is right-hander Tyler Wilson, the owner of a 3.8 K/9 over 67 big league innings. It's not hard to see the likes of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager doing some damage in this one.
Ivan Nova has had trouble getting left-handed hitters out in the past, including last year when he was blasted for a .387 wOBA. The A's can really stack lefty bats, which puts many options in play here.
Most likely to go yard: Anthony Rizzo
If he qualified, Guerra's 43 percent fly-ball rate would rank second highest in the National League. Rizzo is the most likely to take advantage.
Most likely to swipe a bag: Dexter Fowler
We're going heavy on Cubs today. Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy has allowed an MLB-high 27 stolen bases this season. Look for Fowler to test him if he gets on base.