Saturday sets up very well for DFS players. There's a three-headed monster at the top of the rankings, with Jose Fernandez, Jake Arrieta and Chris Sale all toeing the rubber for their respective teams, and there are plenty of high-upside options available in the lower tiers. So settle in and let's get to it.
Lucas Harrell will start for the Braves, according to the team.
With Clayton Kershaw on the shelf with a back injury, is Jose Fernandez now the best pitcher in the National League? You could certainly make a case for him. He's been absolutely lights-out. The right-hander has allowed more than one run just once in his last nine starts, and his 13.1 K/9 is tops in baseball -- and it's not even close. A matchup against the Braves, who are the worst team in baseball against righty pitching (75 wRC+), looks to be very, very lopsided. In fact, when Fernandez faced Atlanta last week, he spun seven shutout innings of one-hit ball. The Braves might make more contact than most teams. However, when you're whiffing 38 percent of the batters you face, you plan on double-digit strikeouts in every start, no matter the opponent. There are other elite options to consider on Saturday, but Fernandez will be the toughest to fade.
Much has been made of Arrieta's climbing walk rate. After issuing just 48 free passes in 33 starts in 2015, he's already allowed 40 walks in 16 starts this season, including nine in his last two starts combined. Then again, Arrieta's 2.10 ERA is still top-five in baseball, his 55 percent ground-ball rate is right in line with last year and his 9.7 K/9 (which includes an 11.1 K/9 over his last 10 starts) is a career best, so let's not overreact. He's still an ace. He's also set up very well on Saturday with a road tilt against the Mets, who are below average against righties and fan at a 23 percent clip. With Fernandez and Sale both pitching in the afternoon, Arrieta is the top cash-game option for the late slate.
The final head in the aforementioned three-headed monster is Sale, who draws a road start against Houston. While the left-hander isn't missing nearly as many bats as years past, he's still in a great spot to rack up K's on Saturday, as the Astros are whiffing 25 percent of the time versus southpaws, the highest rate in the American League. And despite a lineup that features plenty of right-handed thump, the Astros have actually been below average against lefties this season. If anything, Sale looks to be an intriguing GPP play, as Fernandez and Arrieta figure to have higher ownership.
Justin Verlander hit a speed bump his last time out, as the Indians thumped him for eight runs, including four homers, in just 4 2/3 innings. The right-hander will hopefully have an easier path to success on Saturday. A road game against the Rays has Verlander matching up with a lineup that averaged the fewest runs per game in the AL in June and whiffs at a bloated 25 percent clip versus righties. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the former Cy Young winner net his fourth double-digit K game of the season.
Drew Pomeranz also finds himself in a favorable spot, as the Padres play host to the Yankees. The Bronx Bombers strike out just 17.7 percent of the time against southpaws, the second-lowest mark in baseball, so this isn't necessarily a high-upside matchup for Pomeranz and his 10.4 K/9 rate. That said, the Yankees have also been the least productive offense in the AL against lefties this season (85 wRC+), putting the 27-year-old in the cash-game conversation.
Joe Ross doesn't carry the strikeout upside of the names above him, but that's OK. His road matchup against Cincinnati still makes him a very appealing SP2 in cash games. The Reds are one of baseball's worst offense against right-handed pitching, fanning 23 percent of the time and putting up an 80 wRC+.
Although he still doesn't look like the ace of old, Adam Wainwright has been better of late. Good enough to at least be in the DFS discussion, which wasn't the case earlier this season. Despite a 5.04 ERA on the season and a lackluster 6.7 K/9, the right-hander has put up a much-improved 3.51 ERA over his last eight starts to go along with an 8.0 whiff rate. With the Brewers in town, Wainwright figures to find success against a Milwaukee lineup that's well below average against righty pitching and fans 24 percent of the time.
Rich Hill is set to return to the mound on Saturday after being sidelined for a month with a groin injury. After pitching three-plus innings in a rehab start for High-A Stockton on Monday, the lefty could be kept to a pitch count on Saturday, which limits his cash game appeal. However, Hill is facing a Pirates team that strikes out 24 percent of the time against left-handed pitching and was the worst offense team in baseball in June (82 wRC+), so there's enough upside here for tournament play.
In nine starts this season, Danny Duffy owns a 3.33 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 10.7 K/9. However, he's somehow still available in 62 percent of ESPN.com leagues. He should be snatched up for Saturday's matchup against the Phillies, who are truly awful against lefty pitching, sporting an MLB-worst 60 wRC+ to go along with a 24 percent strikeout rate. Duffy is also in play as a DFS tournament option.
A matchup against the power-heavy Orioles could scare some owners away from James Paxton on Saturday. Some hesitancy is warranted, but consider that the O's are only middle-of-the-road versus left-handed pitching this year, whiff at a 23 percent clip, and suffer a big park downgrade going from Camden Yards to Safeco Field. For his part, Paxton has shown big strikeout upside this season (10.6 K/9) and sports a 2.75 ERA in 95 career innings at Safeco. There's some risk here, but there's also plenty to like. The 27-year-old's ownership sits at just 25 percent.
Many of Aaron Nola's numbers are still terrific - 9.8 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 56 percent GB rate - but his recent struggles have me steering clear for the time being. He hasn't made it out of the fourth inning in any of his last four starts, and his ERA in that stretch went from 2.65 to 4.45. The Royals offense isn't overpowering by any means, but they don't strike out enough to justify rolling the dice here. Wait until Nola straighten things out before spending any cap dollars on him.
With soft-tossing righty Tyler Wilson taking the hill for Baltimore on Saturday, Mariners bats are definitely in play. Wilson holds a 4.89 ERA as a starter this season, doesn't miss bats (4.7 K/9) and allows plenty of hard contact (32 percent). Safeco Field suppresses power, but left-handed bats Leonys Martin, Seth Smith, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager all still carry plenty of appeal.
The Rangers are in a good spot to do some damage against Tyler Duffey on Saturday. Not only does the right-hander sport a 7.68 ERA over his last seven eight starts, but he's been hammered at Target Field this year (7.71 ERA). While Duffey has shown reverse splits this season (.374 wOBA allowed to right-handed bats), I'm comfortable using both righty and lefty Rangers hitters in this one.
Doug Fister has been pretty effective for the Astros this season, but left-handed hitters have still gotten the best of him, evidenced by the .373 wOBA and 11 homers they've cracked in 46 innings. The White Sox lineup is right-handed heavy, so this isn't necessarily a stacking opportunity, but lefty swinger Adam Eaton and switch-hitter Melky Cabrera are both on the map for Saturday's DFS action.
Jimmy Nelson has had trouble with left-handed bats in his career, and the Cardinals have multiple lefty sticks that can make him pay. Matt Carpenter is nearly always a top play, while Brandon Moss and Matt Adams, depending on who's in the lineup, bring nice upside to the table, as well. Kolten Wong could also be an option if he's hitting high in the order.
Most likely to go yard: Ian Desmond
Duffey has struggled against right-handed batters this season, and Desmond has hit 10 of his 14 homers off righties. Look for him to make it 11 of 15 on Saturday.
Most likely to swipe a bag: Curtis Granderson
It's not easy reach base against Arrieta, but he doesn't hold runners on well when they do. Plus, the righty's recent walk issues haven't helped. The Mets aren't a big running team, but Granderson (assuming he's back in the lineup) will look to test him if he gets on.