<
>

MLB daily notes: Fantasy rankings for Monday

Even though everyone is a weekend removed from a four-day respite, eight teams are off on Monday. However, the reduced quantity does not result in poor quality as several aces return to action as their clubs used the short week to give them an extra day to recharge.

If the weekend is any indication, the pitchers are a little ahead of the hitters, as scoring was way down compared to going into the break. It shouldn't be long before the hitters get their timing back and home runs return to leaving the yard at a record pace.

This week also marks the homestretch for those making a playoff push in seasonal head-to-head leagues. No matter what game you play, everything you need to start the week in the right direction is here in Monday's daily notes.


Pitching

Elite

While nothing has been announced officially, most expect Jose Fernandez to be capped around 180 innings, leaving him about 73 to go. That equates to 11, maybe 12, more starts. There are 11 weeks left in the campaign, so by delaying the righty's post-break debut through the weekend, the Miami Marlins will only need to skip their prized, soon-to-be 24-year-old's turn once or twice more. Fernandez opens his second half in Citizens Bank Park against a middling Philadelphia Phillies squad. He'll cost, but as usual, Fernandez is worth the hefty DFS price tag.

With 125 frames and an All-Star start already on his 2016 ledger, the Chicago White Sox opted to give Chris Sale an extra day, as he was originally scheduled for Sunday. Now he draws a date in the Pacific Northwest against the Seattle Mariners. Sale's strikeout rate is markedly down, and its decline is supported by a lower swinging strike rate along with fewer first-pitch strikes. It's premature to confidently declare this is a new baseline for the ace, though the safe approach is to temper expectation in terms of strikeouts going forward. There's nothing wrong with a rate right around a batter per inning, but it's just not the double-digit level everyone anticipated. As for this matchup, it's better to pay up for Fernandez in DFS cash play and look for cheaper options for tournament action.

While most hurlers would give their non-throwing arm for a 3.61 ERA, Corey Kluber and his fantasy owners deserve to be a little disappointed, as he's pitched to a slightly better ERA. The Cleveland Indians right-hander opens the unofficial second half in Kauffman Stadium against a Kansas City Royals club that is battling through injuries. There isn't much strikeout upside past Kluber's usual hitter per inning, but the matchup is safe enough to deploy the All-Star in cash games.

Solid

After averaging 207 regular-season innings for the past eight years and pacing for another 200-frame campaign, no one may have benefited from a week off more than Jon Lester. The veteran lefty entered the break on a tailspin but is in a great spot to get things going again as he faces a New York Mets club that whiffs at a 24 percent clip against southpaws. This avails Lester the strikeout upside intrinsic to GPP action.

Streamers

Mike Leake kicks off the potential spot starters as he's owned in just 41 percent of ESPN leagues. Not only is the St. Louis Cardinals righty in play as a seasonal league streamer, but with an affair in pitcher-friendly Busch Stadium against the strikeout prone San Diego Padres, Leake is a lower-end GPP candidate, too.

Since I prefer to take chances early in the head-to-head scoring week, it's worth incurring the risk and letting Nick Tropeano loose for a home date with the Texas Rangers. Angels Stadium is a pitcher's park, which helps buffer the risk.

Let's ignore the name for a moment. You have a chance to use a guy sporting 9.9 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 and .94 HR/9 -- all much better than league average -- at home against the Marlins. It's a no-brainer, right? What if the pitcher in question is Aaron Nola? Not so easy anymore?

Nola's June swoon and subsequent extra time off around the break is well documented, so no need to reiterate. The concern from a numbers perspective is his swinging strike rate plummeted as the first half progressed. Again, with an aggressive philosophy, I want Nola active when, not if, he gets back on track. I like his chances Monday night.

There aren't many spots where streaming Brandon Finnegan is a viable option. A home affair with the punchless Atlanta Braves qualifies.

Since neither are going to make the "avoid" section, let's tackle the Coors Field dilemma as Drew Smyly and the Tampa Bay Rays head to the mountains for an interleague tussle against Tyler Anderson and the Colorado Rockies. There's no more challenging rest-of-season projection than Smyly. The number crunchers still love him, contending all he needs to do is get the homers under control. The watch-the-game crowd asks, "Have you seen him pitch?" As a card-carrying member of both factions, I'm still on the Smyly bandwagon but have a hard time trusting him a mile high.

That said, there's serious strikeout potential, so if you need a boost in that category and can absorb a hit to ratios, the lefty is in play. The confidence level is a little higher for Anderson, one of the first half's pleasant surprises. The Rays are one of the best teams in the league against southpaws but also whiff a ton in that scenario. Anderson is like Smyly, viable for punchouts with risk to ratios. Forced to pick one, the nod goes to Anderson.

Avoid

Despite falling short of the projected game score threshold of 45 to be an automatic avoid, Edinson Volquez, Matt Wisler, Ricky Nolasco and Christian Friedrich are all too risky for my tastes. If you're curious why, or have any other questions pertaining to Monday's slate, please post the query in the comments section or fire a tweet to @ToddZola, and I'll do my best to reply.

Hitting

The Baltimore Orioles get top billing as they square off with the only hurler falling in the auto-avoid range, Ivan Nova. The New York Yankees' incendiary righty is equally charitable to all hitters, so platoon edge isn't as important. Using Yankee Stadium's inviting right-field porch as a tiebreaker, we'll favor lefty swingers like Chris Davis and Pedro Alvarez, but don't eschew Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop and especially Mark Trumbo.

Until Wisler figures out how to keep left-handed batters in check, he's going to be vulnerable to rough outings. In homer-friendly Great American Ballpark, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce make for a great mini-stack.

The Cardinals used to be a great stacking option with a righty on the hill, but with the emergence of Stephen Piscotty, Aledmys Diaz, Randal Grichuk and Tommy Pham, along with veterans Matt Holliday, Jhonny Peralta and Yadier Molina, they can give southpaws like the San Diego Padres' Friedrich fits.

Nolasco doesn't beat himself. He pitches around the plate, forcing teams to put the ball in play to beat him. This can be a successful recipe at times, but a matchup at Comerica Park against the Detroit Tigers isn't one of them. For his career, the Minnesota Twins righty has exhibited reverse splits, which feeds right into the heart of the Tigers' lineup. Starting with Ian Kinsler and Cameron Maybin, passing through Miguel Cabrera and Nick Castellanos and ending with Justin Upton, Nolasco could be in for a long evening. And that doesn't even include switch-hitting Victor Martinez, who's also in play.

The contrarian stack consists of the Indians visiting Kauffman Stadium, where Volquez will take the ball for the Royals. Switch-hitters Carlos Santana and Francisco Lindor sandwich lefty Jason Kipnis at the top of the Tribe's order. Further down resides Lonnie Chisenhall as a cheaper addition to the stack.

Most likely to hit a homer: Despite the overall boost in long balls, Chris Davis is lagging behind last year's pace. Look for Crush to pick up said pace against Nova and his 1.7 HR/9.

Most likely to steal a base: Jose Reyes is in a great spot to jump-start his running game with Lester on the hill.