While the All-Star break is often used to delineate between the first half and second half, Sunday marks the end of the thirteenth week of the season -- the true midpoint. Let's have a show of hands -- who had Sean O'Sullivan and Chad Green closing out the first half for the Red Sox and Yankees? Yeah, me neither. It has been a crazy first half, with homers, runs and strikeouts up, but fewer steals. Not only that, it's supposed to be warm this summer, which should mean the power spikes even more. We'll worry about that later, but for right now, let's focus on the last Sunday slate of the first half. Here's everything you need to set your seasonal and DFS lineups.
Stephen Strasburg made it through a couple of bullpens unscathed and thus will be rejoining the Washington Nationals rotation on Sunday without going out on a rehab assignment. His return comes against the Cincinnati Reds, one of the league's weakest lineups with a right-hander on the hill. Normally this is an all-in matchup but there is some risk that Strasburg's stamina isn't quite there -- or even that he'll get reinjured. If you play multiple lineups you'll want some GPP exposure, but Strasburg is a fade in cash action.
What a way to close out the first half, with two of the game's finest squaring off as Jon Lester leads the Chicago Cubs into Citi Field to close out a set with Noah Syndergaard and the New York Mets. By this time, you know the situation -- Thor is pitching with a bone spur in his right elbow. The club contends it will not require surgery, but the fantasy community is skeptical. To wit, last time out, Syndergaard was roughed up by the Washington Nationals, who chased the righty after three innings by scoring five runs on seven hits.
Lester has been one of the first half's steadiest hurlers, registering a quality start in 14 of his 16 outings, including his past six starts. With Clayton Kershaw sidelined, both Lester and Syndergaard will be in the mix to start the All-Star game.
Of the two, Lester is set up better, as the Mets sport a lower weighted on-base average (wOBA) and strike out at a much higher rate than the Cubs in their respective scenarios. This makes the veteran lefty the more logical choice for all forms of DFS action, pushing Syndergaard to contrarian status. He'll stay that way until we get a better feel for how Syndergaard will pitch with the bone spur, so it's best to consider him like Coors Field with the chance of a rainout -- there's a risk, but there's also a big potential reward.
Despite an unsightly 4.76 ERA and league-leading 11 losses, Chris Archer's projected Game Score continues to hover in the elite range. The primary reason for that is he's still whiffing hitters at an impressive rate, and he has pitched at least six frames in most of his starts. Still, his ranking seems generous, especially in light of his averaging a 52 in terms of Game Score so far this season. That said, keep in mind he gets a boost at home in pitcher-friendly Tropicana Field, albeit against the powerful Detroit Tigers.
Seasonal owners may want to consider acquiring Archer for the second half. While the righty's track record with the Tampa Bay Rays isn't extensive, it's sufficient enough to anticipate a much better second half. For DFS, the strikeout potential renders Archer a GPP option whenever he takes the hill.
Tallying 17 runs against the likes of Chi Chi Rodriguez, Cesar Ramos and Luke Jackson is one thing, but facing Cole Hamels is another beast entirely. The Texas Rangers southpaw stopper faces a Minnesota Twins squad fresh off their most prolific output of the season. Look for Hamels to take advantage of the Twins' 24 percent strikeout clip against southpaws, which should result in a much different outcome. Hamels' solid floor, combined with the aforementioned strikeout potential, puts him in play for both DFS cash and GPP action.
It's going to be a fun one as Corey Kluber and the Cleveland Indians cap off a wild holiday weekend in Canada against the Toronto Blue Jays. It took nine Toronto runs against the Tribe in a bullpen-heavy game to snap the Indians' 14-game winning streak. Kluber will be tasked with keeping the explosive Blue Jays in check. When he's on, Kluber is one of the league's most skilled hurlers; both Archer and Hamels are better DFS tournament options than cash game picks.
Early returns suggest that the Colorado Rockies may have finally developed an area in which their franchise has sorely been lacking; Jon Gray has been impressive both in and out of Coors Field. This time he's out, as the Rockies conclude a series in Chavez Ravine against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Gray's 9.8 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 are excellent regardless, but even more so from a rookie.
The 24-year-old right-hander has pitched at least six frames in nine of his 13 outings, which is integral in DFS. Gray faces an offense that's weak against righties, and the Dodgers will also be without Joc Pederson. Additionally, his mound foe will be the returning Brandon McCarthy, who hasn't thrown a pitch, at least at the major league level, since April 2015. This all adds up to Gray being a solid DFS choice in all formats.
Head-to-head players want to close out the first half on a high note, so in an effort to give the streamers fair treatment, let's quickly run through the rest of the solid tier for DFS. Michael Wacha has excellent strikeout upside against the Milwaukee Brewers in Busch Stadium. Adam Conley is a nice complementary pitcher on sites requiring more than one, as he takes on the Atlanta Braves in Turner Field. Albert Suarez and Jose Quintana are tasked with taming solid offenses on the road in hitters' parks, but both also have strikeout upside if you want an extreme contrarian option in a tournament.
Vince Velasquez is already owned in 65 percent of ESPN leagues, but for those in which he's available, the current Kansas City Royals lineup offers some strikeout upside -- especially because they don't have their customary designated hitter in an National League park. Well, Kendrys Morales is playing the outfield, to be fair, but the Royals do have to send a pitcher to the dish at least a couple of times.
Matt Shoemaker toes the Fenway Park rubber in what should be yet another fun one; the Los Angeles Angels righty is one of the biggest surprises of the first half. He'll be challenged by one of the best offensive attacks against right-handers, but as the Boston Red Sox demonstrated for much of June, they can be held in check. It's a risk, but how can you sit a guy after he has whiffed 68 while walking just five over his past 57 2/3 innings?
They've been hot, but the Cleveland Indians aren't as dangerous with a lefty on the hill, so don't be afraid to start J.A. Happ
Opposing Shoemaker is Sean O'Sullivan, up for his second stint with the Red Sox. The journeyman right-hander is having an outstanding campaign at Triple-A Pawtucket, boasting a 2.79 ERA and 1.11 WHIP with 51 punchouts to only 10 walks in 71 frames. He didn't fare well in his first go-round in Beantown, but if you're desperate for a win, O'Sullivan has as good of a chance as any of the other candidates in this category.
Chad Green's numbers at Triple-A Scranton are even more favorable; he's sporting a 1.54 ERA and 0.99 WHIP with 82 whiffs against only 19 free passes in 81 2/3 innings. The New York Yankees don't want CC Sabathia swinging a bat or lumbering 'round the bases, so they're bringing up Green to face the weak San Diego Padres in Petco Park.
In what could be a first, Mike Pelfrey escapes avoid status and is actually a viable option, as the Detroit Tigers right-hander has a chance to hang in there against the light-hitting and strikeout-heavy Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg.
Unless ratios aren't a concern and all you are looking for is a handful of strikeouts with a chance to vulture a win, John Lamb, Robbie Ray, Ubaldo Jimenez and Chase Anderson are all in very tough spots, facing potent lineups.
Whenever Matt Wisler is scheduled, the Pavlovian response is to check out the lefty swingers for the opposition. In this instance, the Miami Marlins left-handed contingent is the one benefitting from Wisler's continued woes in getting lefties out. Ichiro Suzuki, Christian Yelich, Justin Bour and Derek Dietrich are the targets.
Left-handed hitters also thrive when Ubaldo Jimenez is on the hill and, unfortunately for the Baltimore Orioles, the Seattle Mariners can parade Leonys Martin, Seth Smith, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager and Adam Lind to the dish.
The San Francisco Giants enjoy a big park upgrade in the desert, along with the benefit of facing promising but still inconsistent Arizona Diamondbacks lefty Robbie Ray. Granted, several of their top righties are sidelined, but Buster Posey, Mac Williamson and Angel Pagan are still around to take advantage, along with Brandon Belt, who's hitting lefties well and will likely see a turn or two against the D-Backs' bullpen.
Turning attention to some right-handers, with southpaw John Lamb taking the hill in Nationals Park, Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos, Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman are all viable plays for the Washington Nationals.
Most likely to go yard: Bour has quietly gotten the power stroke going. Look for him to make some noise against Wisler.
Most likely to steal a base: Lester and Syndergaard may be front-runners to start the Midsummer Classic, but they're also two of the worst at controlling the running game. Jason Heyward is a little banged up, but even so, he's in the best position to bet on and take off against Thor.