Buckle up, it's going to be a fun one on Sunday. Not only do we have an intriguing slate with three pitchers making their debuts after being traded, along with the long-awaited return of a promising young arm, but also trade rumors continue to be the buzz. Without further ado, let's get right to it and get you ready for a big day of baseball.
Brian Matusz has been named the Sunday starter for the Cubs. Joel De La Cruz will pitch for the Braves. Carlos Rodon will take to the mound for the White Sox.
Since the New York Mets announced that Noah Syndergaard is pitching with bone spurs in his throwing elbow, his peripherals are very good -- they're just not at the level that was on display earlier in the season. In addition, he isn't going as deep into games. Thor is still an elite arm, but until his DFS price tag comes down to match his current baseline performance, it's a risk to pay top dollar. There will be occasions in which Syndergaard faces a team that whiffs excessively, putting him in play for tournaments, and others in which he squares off with a weak offense and can be used in cash games. On Sunday, Syndergaard draws the Colorado Rockies at Citi Field; that team doesn't fan much and is average on the road against right-handers. As such, Syndergaard is fine for cash games but not an efficient play for GPP action.
Truth be told, if cash games are your fancy, Corey Kluber is a better option than Syndergaard. The Cleveland Indians right-hander doesn't have the raw strikeout potential of his Mets counterpart, but he's a better bet to toss at least seven frames, especially because he's facing a pedestrian Oakland Athletics offense, albeit one that doesn't fan much.
Michael Pineda has had two straight solid efforts against dangerous offenses. He fanned eight with only two walks each time out against both the Astros and Orioles. Next up for the New York Yankees right-hander is the Tampa Bay Rays at pitcher-friendly Tropicana Field. The hosts really struggle against righties, as evidenced by their 0.311 weighted on base average (wOBA) in that scenario. For the season, they sport a 24 percent strikeout rate when facing right-handers, though that has dipped to 22 percent in the past month. Regardless, Pineda is very much in play for DFS tournament action.
Carlos Martinez is having a great season, right? If you focus strictly on his surface stats -- a 2.87 ERA and 1.16 WHIP -- sure, that's impressive. His 7.5 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9, on the other hand, are nothing special, and in fact, both are worse than that of a league-average pitcher. The primary factor driving Martinez's success is an unusually low 0.270 batting average on balls in play (BABIP); that kind of mark is usually reserved for fly ball pitchers, and an extreme ground ball hurler usually carries a BABIP closer to 0.300. Of course, countering a customarily high hit rate for a ground ball pitcher is fewer homers, and sure enough, in a season in which the ball was flying out of the yard at a near-record pace heading into the All-Star break, the St. Louis Cardinals righty did a great job minimizing long balls; that's the other reason he has outpitched his walk and whiff rates. Seasonal owners would be wise to anticipate a spike in hit rate, pushing Martinez closer to a 3.10/1.20 plateau, though those numbers are still outstanding. As for Sunday, the Miami Marlins wrap up a series in South Beach with the Redbirds. There isn't much strikeout upside, so Martinez is best used in DFS cash play.
The next two starters, according to projected Game Score, are familiar names having unfamiliar (at least to them) seasons. More was expected from both Felix Hernandez and Dallas Keuchel. If you're hoping Sunday is the day they turn things around, you're likely looking at more disappointment. Fernandez and the Seattle Mariners have a date with the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, while Keuchel takes the ball for the Houston Astros in their finale with the Detroit Tigers in Motown. The only positive in play is that both home teams are strikeout prone, so if you're looking for a contrarian GPP option, Hernandez and Keuchel are in play.
After a couple road hiccups after the All-Star break, Bud Norris got back on track with a solid effort at home against the Rays. There was a time when "back on track" for Norris would have been tongue-in-cheek, but the journeyman righty has found a home with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he boasts a 3.30 ERA and 1.12 WHIP over the past two months. The right-hander is in a great spot to keep the ball rolling, as the Arizona Diamondbacks close out a set at Dodger Stadium. The Snakes are an average squad on the road against right-handers, with a slightly above average strikeout rate. Norris is in the mix for all forms of DFS action.
The only other candidate for DFS play in the solid tier is Jerad Eickhoff, who is taking the ball for the Philadelphia Phillies for a tilt against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. The Phillies righty is a less expensive cash game candidate.
With references to the trade deadline frequenting most fantasy talk this week, the fact that it's crunch time in many head-to-head leagues has been overlooked. Teams are battling to make the playoffs or perhaps improve their seeding and earn themselves a bye. As such, let's put trade talk on the back-burner and turn our attentions to finding the better spot starters on this all-important final day of the fantasy week. If you have a question about a player not covered, please take advantage of the comment section below or fire a tweet to @ToddZola.
Welcome back, Homer Bailey. Not many saw fit to stash the Cincinnati Reds Tommy John recoveree, as he is owned in only 7 percent of ESPN leagues. Not much can be done by means of cogent analysis other than to say Bailey draws a great matchup for his 2016 debut, as he faces the meek San Diego Padres at Petco Park. There's minimal blow-up potential, so if you need a safe play to chase a few whiffs and maybe a win, Bailey is likely available.
It's been a great month so far for Ervin Santana, as he has tossed four quality starts in five outings, including a pair of complete games. The Minnesota Twins righty is in a favorable spot to make it five of six with a date against the Chicago White Sox at Target Field.
Streaming Francisco Liriano, especially on the road, is never a comfortable position, but if you need a boost in punchouts, the Milwaukee Brewers are the perfect fodder for the Pittsburgh Pirates lefty.
Steven Wright's ESPN ownership is 86 percent, which should exclude him from comment in this space, but you might be wondering why his projected game score is so low. Take away the knuckleball aspect of the Boston Red Sox righty, and we have a guy with a below-average whiff rate and an above-average walk rate. Further, no team has hit righties harder than the Los Angeles Angels for the past month. The little black box doesn't know it's calculating the Projected Game Score for a knuckleball artist. That said, regardless of how well the Halos have fared against right-handers the past month, throw all that out the window against the floater. If you own Wright, you know what to do. Start him, and watch a different game.
There are three pitchers taking the mound wearing new uniforms for the first time Sunday, beginning with Jarred Cosart making his San Diego Padres debut against the Cincinnati Reds. This is more an anti-Reds than pro-Cosart call, but if the Friars righty can keep Jay Bruce and Joey Votto in check, the rest of the Reds don't pose a huge threat.
Andrew Cashner puts on the Miami Marlins' uniform for the first time facing a big challenge in the St. Louis Cardinals. The projected Game Score hasn't captured it yet, but Cashner has come out of the break with a couple extra ticks on his heater. It remains to be seen if he sustains that, but if you're looking for a reason to take a chance on the righty, there it is.
Finally, Lucas Harrell joins the Texas Rangers rotation. If you're trolling for a win, the right-hander should get some run support, as the opposing Kansas City Royals are sending Dillon Gee to the bump at Globe Life Park.
The only pitcher joining Dillon Gee, Mike Pelfrey and Matt Cain on the fantasy sidelines, unless you are truly desperate, is Matt Garza, as the Milwaukee Brewers entertain the Pittsburgh Pirates at Miller Park. The Bucs enjoy a big park upgrade and have the bats to take advantage.
Stacking against Mike Pelfrey is a hit-or-miss proposition. In three of his past six games, he has allowed just one run, but in the other three, he has surrendered at least four each time out. In those six outings, he has fanned eight total batters while walking 14, so you'll ultimately want exposure in the likely event that the bad version shows up Sunday. As such, the Houston Astros lead off the hitting section, as they're the lucky team that draws the Detroit Tigers righty at Comerica Park. The Astros have a few moving parts, even without the injured Luis Valbuena, so monitoring the lineup is key. George Springer, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa will almost assuredly be active, and Preston Tucker and Colby Rasmus will be swinging with the platoon edge. Whoever is left -- perhaps Alex Bregman, Tyler White or Marwin Gonzales -- is also in play.
Dillon Gee is tasked with keeping the powerful, left-handed Texas Rangers bats under control in Arlington. Good luck with that, as switch hitter Jurickson Profar, Nomar Mazara, Rougned Odor, Mitch Moreland and Joey Gallo are all threats to leave Globe Life Park.
In his two starts since he came off the disabled list, Matt Cain has allowed five homers in just 7 2/3 innings. That pace will obviously wane, but even so, the Washington Nationals are in a good spot to do some damage against Cain at AT&T Park. Lefties Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy (if he's back in the lineup after missing Saturday's game with leg tightness) are the chalk plays. Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman are in play too, as many will avoid them in a pitcher's park while lacking the platoon edge. The reason for using them is lineup differentiation, especially in DFS tournaments.
Matt Garza's WHIP is 1.68. That's allowing an awful lot of base runners, something you don't want to do against a grinding lineup such as the one possessed by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Because the Bucs are mostly right-handed, they won't be a popular stack, but they should be. Gregory Polanco is the only lefty swinger assured of being active on Sunday. From there, pick and choose among Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Jung Ho Kang and Francisco Cervelli, all of whom are capable of a productive game against the weak right-hander.
Most likely to hit a home run: With Gee on the hill in Arlington, it has to be a Ranger, right? The question is which one? Profar has run into a handful of homers so far this season, but generally, he hits the ball hard. Let's give the nod to the Texas leadoff hitter, expecting him to loft one over the fence.
Most likely to steal a base: Jose Peraza isn't playing regularly for the Reds, but there's a good chance he'll play because Sunday is the day to get the bench some at-bats. If Peraza plays, he runs. Book it.