Thursday brings yet another abbreviated slate, with six early games and four late ones. Fortunately, there is a pair of aces at the top, and the middle tier has a variety of worthy options. It's not the best Thursday slate we've seen, but it's not the worst, either.
Noah Syndergaard leads the way on Thursday with a home date against the Diamondbacks. The 23-year-old has seemingly faded a bit of late. Over his last seven starts, he sports a 3.99 ERA and 1.57 WHIP. He's also pitched past the sixth inning just once in his last eight outings. Then again, Syndergaard still has elite skills, and his matchup against Arizona is extremely favorable. The Diamondbacks have been well below average versus right-handed pitching this season (87 wRC+), and a 23 percent whiff rate presents plenty of upside for Syndergaard and his 10.9 K/9. The Mets righty will be tough to fade in cash games if you're playing early or all-day slates.
Corey Kluber also cracks the elite tier with a home tilt against the Angels. However, that has more to do with Kluber's effectiveness than this being a favorable matchup. Despite owning one of the worst records in the American League, the Angels' lineup has the lowest strikeout rate in baseball (15 percent) and has done plenty of damage since the All-Star break (110 wRC+). For his part, Kluber has also dominated in the second half, sporting a 1.55 ERA since the break. Good pitching can silence good hitting, and Kluber is one of the most talented pitchers on the docket, so don't completely overlook him because of the tough matchup. He also gets a boost considering Syndergaard isn't eligible for the late slate.
Over 97 innings as a starter this year, Danny Duffy owns a 2.96 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 10.3 K/9. Somehow, he's still a free agent in over 20 percent of ESPN.com leagues. Against a White Sox offense that's been slumping since the break (84 wRC+), Duffy has to be considered one of the day's top cash plays. When the southpaw last faced the Sox in early June, he tossed six shutout innings of three-hit ball with 10 K's.
The Cubs may be entering Wednesday's action with a 12-game lead in the NL Central, but don't expect them to take their foot off the pedal when the Cardinals visit Wrigley Field this week. Jon Lester takes ball for the Cubs on Thursday and will look to set the tone. While the Cardinals have scored the third-most runs in baseball, they've been well below average against lefty pitching this season. I'd rather pay up for Syndergaard in the all-day slate based on the strikeout upside, but Lester is a viable option, too.
Opposing Lester in the Cardinals/Cubs rivalry is Carlos Martinez. It goes without saying that this is a tough matchup for the St. Louis right-hander, as the Cubs feature one of the most dangerous lineups in baseball. But they also strike out a lot. Martinez isn't missing as many bats as years past, but he still sports a decent 8.4 career K/9 and has swing-and-miss type stuff. I'm staying away from him in cash games, but he's worth tournament consideration.
Based on the combination of skill and matchup, rookie Jameson Taillon is one of the day's most intriguing options. The right-hander has delivered five straight quality starts with a 2.40 ERA across them. He also has 28 K's and just one walk in those five outings. Better yet, Thursday's matchup pits him against the Padres, who strike out 24 percent of the time versus righties and have one of the weakest lineups in baseball. Taillon has pitched more than six innings just once in nine starts and has yet to strike out more than seven. However, if there were a time for a breakout performance, this is it.
We're digging deep here, but Braden Shipley is also worth consideration if you're streaming starters and are in need of innings. The rookie has just 17 big league innings under his belt and has walked more guys than he's struck out, so there's certainly risk here. That said, after getting roughed up his first time out, he's allowed just two combined runs over his last two starts, and he gets a Mets team that's done little offensively since the break (85 wRC+).
Michael Pineda has flashed greatness at times this season, and his 10.7 K/9 is enticing. I'm going nowhere near him against the Red Sox, though. The Red Sox clobber right-handed pitching (115 wRC+), and they don't strike out enough (18 percent) to give Pineda any appeal as a GPP option.
The highest hitter rating of the day goes to the Braves, who square off against Matt Garza. The right-hander has had a rough go of it this season, as he holds a 5.03 ERA and 1.53 WHIP over 10 starts. The Braves have one of the weakest lineups in baseball, but even they can take advantage of a matchup like this. Freddie Freeman, Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis are all on the radar here.
Jose Berrios has a very bright future ahead of him, but right now he's someone to target hitters against. The rookie right-hander has made six big league starts this season, and those six starts have seen him post an 8.31 ERA and 1.69 WHIP. Berrios has particularly struggled against right-handed hitters, who have bashed him for a .489 wOBA. It just so happens that the Astros are very right-handed, making this a great stacking opportunity with Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, George Springer and Evan Gattis all in play.
It usually pays to target hitters against Chad Bettis when he's at Coors Field (5.37 ERA), but he hasn't been much better on the road (4.95 ERA), either. Bettis has shown reverse splits in his career, surrendering a .368 wOBA to righty bats. With the Rangers on the docket, Ian Desmond, Adrian Beltre and Jonathan Lucroy all offer plenty of appeal.
Also consider targeting Orioles hitters against Andrew Triggs, one of the lowest-ranked pitchers of the day. The righty is making just his second start of the season, and he's been hit hard in relief by both right- and left-handed hitters. There are plenty of intriguing options in this one, including Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Manny Machado and Mark Trumbo.
Most likely to go yard: Carlos Correa
Let's keep this simple: Berrios has been tattooed by right-handed hitters this season, and Correa has hit 14 of his 15 homers this year off righties. The young slugger makes it 15 of 16 on Thursday.
Most likely to swipe a bag: Jean Segura
Syndergaard is a stud, but he's also allowed 32 stolen bases this year, 12 more than any other pitcher. Go ahead and pencil in a stolen base for Segura in this one.