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MLB daily notes: Fantasy rankings for Sunday

Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports

By this time of the season, the day-to-day pitching slate is usually a mix of studs, solid arms and scrubs. However, for the second year in a row, we're dealing with a couple days with the majority of aces scheduled. Of course, in terms of DFS, everything is relative; we're all dealing with the same inventory, but the days when there are choices throughout the docket are more fun and perhaps more challenging, depending on your style of play. Sunday is another one of those slates that looks like Opening Day, with several of the game's best on the hill, along with a goodly number of solid options. Let's see where they rank in Sunday's Daily Notes.


Pitching

Elite

[Editor's note: Stephen Strasburg has been scratched from his Sunday start, with Tanner Roark taking his place.]

Talk about bittersweet. Imagine the phone call between Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington and 23-year-old rookie right-hander Chad Kuhl:

"Chad, this is Neal. I have good news and bad news. The good news is we're calling you up to start Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in PNC Park. The bad news is you draw Clayton Kershaw."

Chances are Kuhl doesn't care. He'll have a great story to tell his grandkids if he can somehow beat the best pitcher on the planet. The Bucs hit lefties well, as evidenced by a 0.339 weighted on base average with a southpaw on the hill, but they also whiff one-quarter of the time in that scenario, which gives one of the most dominant pitchers in the league even more strikeout upside.

When updating his rankings, ESPN colleague Tristan Cockcroft said that if he were sure Jose Fernandez would throw 200 innings, he'd move the Miami Marlins righty into the top three overall pitchers. As the kids say, +1. The problem is the Fish skipped Fernandez last week and are likely to do the same another few times this summer. The 23-year-old is doing exactly what an ace is supposed to do: great control, keeping the ball in the yard and going deep into games. Also, he's carrying a 12.8 K/9, by far the highest of qualified starters. Rosy intro aside, Sunday will be a challenge, with the Chicago Cubs closing out a set in South Beach. However, the visitors' 22 percent strikeout rate against right-handers gives the most dominant hurler in the league even more punchout potential. On this loaded ledger, Fernandez is likely to have the least exposure among the elite, so if you're looking to differentiate in a GPP, he's your guy.

Johnny Cueto might not have the strikeout upside of his fellow aces, but he could be the safest of the lot, as he squares off against the weak-hitting Philadelphia Phillies at AT&T Park. Cueto compensates for a couple fewer punchouts by routinely pitching into the eighth inning, the modus operandi of a DFS cash game anchor.

Solid

Most pitchers would give their non-throwing arm for Chris Sale's skill set, but for someone whose peripherals were nearly identical to Kershaw's last season, an 8.7 K/9 is disappointing. The reason is clear: Sale is generating far fewer swinging strikes. The reason for that is a bit murky. The lanky lefty's velocity is down a little but not enough to account for the drop in swings and misses. Curiously, Sale is throwing more fastballs and few changeups, along with his usual sweeping slider. The numbers don't point to a big jump in whiffs, so if you're a Sale owner in seasonal leagues, plan accordingly. On Sunday, he is tasked with slowing down a Toronto Blue Jays lineup that has been doing damage without Jose Bautista. With so many other high-priced options, Sale is best avoided in DFS play.

Aaron Nola is another solid arm best left on the DFS sidelines. In fact, if you're in a tight race with ratios as the head-to-head week comes to a close, it's defensible to bench him if your rules allow. Long term, Nola still projects as a very solid starter. However, his recent woes serve as a great reminder to pump the brakes when there's an unexpected spike in a youngster's performance level. Nola wasn't expected to be as dominant as he looked early on, fanning well over a hitter an inning. That has now plummeted, fueled by a precipitous drop in swinging strike rate. Nola's past three efforts have lasted a combined 9 2/3 innings -- not what you want when facing the grinding San Francisco Giants lineup. In traditional rotisserie, it's fine to roll with Nola because studies show a pitcher in a slump can snap out of it at any time, but fading in DFS and benching in daily head-to-head are justifiable.

It looks like Drew Smyly is back on track. He fanned 17 with no walks in his past two outings, a span of 13 2/3 innings. The Tampa Bay Rays have an affair with the Baltimore Orioles in Camden Yards. The hosts are both explosive and strikeout-prone, which puts Smyly in the group of contrarian GPP candidates.

Jason Hammel will have a tough time improving on his 7-3 record with Jose Fernandez as his mound foe, but if you're looking for a more affordable cash game arm or perhaps a second one on multiple pitcher sites, the Chicago Cubs righty should do his part. The right-hander's 2.55 ERA is artificially low, as evidenced by a 3.83 FIP and 4.21 xFIP. However, he doesn't beat himself, with a 2.8 BB/9, which is a good trait for DFS cash action.

There are several other intriguing, solid arms on the docket, including Justin Verlander, Jaime Garcia, James Paxton, Sonny Gray and Nate Eovaldi. None profiles all that well for DFS, so we'll move on to the all-important Sunday streaming section. If you want additional analysis on these or any other of Sunday's probable starters, please post your inquiry in the comments or shoot a tweet to @ToddZola.

Streamers

Research shows that pitchers in a groove have better than 50/50 chances to continue the roll. As such, as strange as it is to type how poorly Bud Norris pitched before he was banished to the Atlanta Braves bullpen, the journeyman righty is in play with a home tilt against Bartolo Colon and the New York Mets. Norris has excelled for three straight starts, fanning 19 with just four free passes in a span of 17 1/3 frames.

Anthony DeSclafani's 2016 debut was delayed a little more than two months by an oblique injury. If his previous start is any indication, the 26-year-old right-hander appears poised to remind everyone why he was on many a sleeper list in the spring. His latest time out, DeSclafani stifled the Texas Rangers in Arlington by tossing seven stanzas of two-run ball and fanning six with a sole bases on balls. DeSclafani is in a great spot to build on that effort when he faces the San Diego Padres at Great American Ballpark.

If you need one more win to secure the head-to-head week, Doug Fister and the Houston Astros have a decent shot against Ian Kennedy and the Kansas City Royals. A lot of this is assuming the visitors do some damage against Kennedy. Of all the possible dart throws for the elusive victory, Fister is the least likely to implode and squash your ratios.

Avoid

Head-to-head players know the deal: Throw caution to the wind if you need to make up ground. For everyone else, here are the riskier starters.

Josh Tomlin has managed to register a 3.32 ERA despite carrying a 1.7 HR/9. When he faces the powerful Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park, an ERA correction could be in store. Even though Petco Park isn't as much of a pitcher's park as it was in past years, Luis Perdomo is incurring a downgrade with a date against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ballpark. A 4.4 BB/9 and 1.7 HR/9 do not bode well.

Both scheduled starters check in with projected Game Scores above the 45 necessary to be considered automatic avoids, but your tolerance needs to be very high to deploy either Chad Bettis or Patrick Corbin in the series finale at Coors Field.

Hitting

Let's start the festivities in the Queen's City and feature the Cincinnati Reds taking on the right-handed slants of Luis Perdomo. Joey Votto and Jay Bruce are automatic, as they enjoy the platoon edge with Adam Duvall and Eugenio Suarez, also threats to go deep.

Tyler Duffey has pitched well at times but has been burned by the long ball. That's not a good thing for a right-hander visiting Yankee Stadium. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner are threats to reach the short porch, with Brian McCann always in play versus a weak righty. Switch-hitting Carlos Beltran merits consideration too.

Martin Perez might not give up excessive homers, but he walks far too many for the paucity of punchouts he generates. The Boston Red Sox are battling injuries but are still deep enough to damage from top to bottom. Focus should be on the right-handed brethren, including Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts and Hanley Ramirez.

Then there's Coors Field. The Diamondbacks are sending southpaw Patrick Corbin to the hill, which makes Trevor Story, Nolan Arenado, Ryan Raburn, DJ LeMahieu and Brandon Barnes the chief targets. The Rockies counter with righty Chad Bettis, so at minimum, you'll want to find a spot for Jake Lamb.

Most likely to hit a homer: Jay Bruce is having a solid season and hitting for average as well as power. It's the power that's key, given Perdomo's penchant for allowing the long ball.

Most likely to steal a base: Nothing is guaranteed, but with Jimmy Nelson on the hill, Ben Revere will be running every chance he can. Look for him to grab at least one bag.