Another Thursday, another ugly slate. And dare I say it, this one is uglier than most. There are no elite options to speak of, and the middle tier is filled with question marks. Alas, those cash-game lineups still need to get filled out, so let's wade into the muck and try to make sense of it all.
Keep moving. Nothing to see here.
It's a sad day when Jaime Garcia tops the rankings. The left-hander owns a 5.09 ERA since the All-Star break and has allowed five or more runs in three of his last four starts. Not exactly what you're looking for from your cash-game anchor. On the bright side, a home matchup against Milwaukee is prime. Garcia has been much more effective at Busch Stadium (3.87 home ERA versus 5.16 road ERA), and the Brewers whiff 25 percent of the time against lefties. It's also worth noting that Garcia has dominated the Brewers this season in three starts, allowing just three runs over 22 innings (1.23 ERA) with 22 K's. On a normal day, I wouldn't even consider Garcia in cash. Then again, this isn't a normal day.
Trevor Bauer draws a home date with the Astros. Despite a lineup that features plenty of young talent, the Astros have been just middle-of-the-road against right-handed pitching this season while whiffing at an inflated 24 percent clip. Bauer has delivered four straight quality starts and has registered a Game Score of 68 or above in three of those outings. The fact that he has whiffed more than four batters just once in his last eight starts throws some cold water on his upside, but he still has three double-digit K games this season and we already discussed the Astros' swing-and-miss tendencies, so this is still a high-upside matchup. The only catch is that Bauer's DFS availability will be limited, considering he's pitching in the day's only afternoon game.
In another high-upside matchup, CC Sabathia gets the Rays at home. While the Rays have been average against southpaws this season, they've also whiffed at a 26 percent clip. Sabathia's K/9 sits at just 7.6 for the season, but he has fanned seven or more in four of his last five starts, including whiffing 12 against Toronto in mid-August, his first double-digit whiff performance since 2013. It's true that the lefty's 4.82 second-half ERA doesn't give much confidence, but he has settled down of late, notching three straight quality starts.
The Pirates' offense has collapsed since the break (87 wRC+). Meanwhile, Dan Straily has been pitching some of his best ball since the Midsummer Classic (2.93 ERA). This puts the Reds righty in an appealing spot on Thursday. He belongs in the cash-game discussion due to the abbreviated slate.
Straily's opponent, Ivan Nova, also finds himself in an appealing spot, matching up against a Reds team that does little damage against righties (89 wRC+) and strikes out 21 percent of the time. Not only does the right-hander hold a 3.13 ERA since the All-Star break, but he owns a 2.89 ERA and 1.00 WHIP since joining the Pirates. Like Straily, Nova is cash-game viable on Thursday.
A matchup against the Cardinals, who sport an NL-best 109 wRC+ against right-handed pitching, has Junior Guerra in a tough spot. Then again, what Guerra has done this season has largely gone under the radar. In 18 starts, the right-hander sports a 2.85 ERA, and he has allowed more than three earned runs in a start just twice since early May. The strikeout upside is limited, and, again, the matchup isn't ideal, but Guerra still provides a nice floor in cash games.
I generally don't like relying on a guy like A.J. Cole, who has minimal big-league experience. That said, he misses bats and gets a Phillies team that's one of the worst in baseball against righty pitching (82 wRC+) and strikes out 22 percent of the time. His 57 Game Score is the second-highest of the day.
He's a GPP play only, but rookie Jeff Hoffman has nice upside in a cake matchup against San Diego. The fact that the young righty owns a 6.60 ERA and more walks than strikeouts in three career starts is tough to ignore. However, he held a 9.4 K/9 in Triple-A and is facing a team that's striking out a whopping 27 percent of the time in the second half.
Clayton Richard has made just four starts since stepping into the Padres' rotation, but the results have been good (1.17 ERA). A home matchup against the Rockies, who are unimposing away from Coors Field, should lead to more success for the San Diego righty. A 5.6 career K/9 tells use the upside is nonexistent, though he should still rack up a handful of whiffs against a team that strikes out 24 percent of the time on the road. Richard's ESPN ownership sits at just two percent.
Alex Cobb is set to make his second start since returning from Tommy John surgery. The first went rather well, as he held the Blue Jays to two runs in five innings while striking out seven and walking one. He finds himself in an even better matchup Thursday, facing a Yankees team that's well below average against right-handed pitching. Cobb is a free agent in 83 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
It's hard to recommend rookie David Paulino against an Indians team that's tough on right-handed pitching, but he gets a mention here because of the 2.00 ERA and 10.6 K/9 and 1.5 BB/9 he posted in 90 combined innings between Rookie ball, Double-A and Triple-A. He's worth keeping tabs on.
Even on a short slate, I'm not sure how you can feel comfortable rolling Taijuan Walker out there on Thursday. Since being recalled from Triple-A, the right-hander has allowed at least four runs in each start, and he didn't even make it out of the first inning his last time out, as the Angels pummeled him for six runs in just two-thirds of an inning. I'm steering clear in a matchup against a Rangers team that ranks second in the AL in runs scored.
As discussed above, Walker has been throwing batting practice of late. With the Rangers coming to town, the right-hander could be in long for another long night. Walker has actually had more trouble with right-handed batters, so Ian Desmond, Adrian Beltre and Jonathan Lucroy are the targets here, though lefty swingers Nomar Mazara and Rougned Odor and switch-hitter Carlos Beltran are in play, too.
Paulino has plenty of potential, but I don't have high hopes for a rookie hurler facing a tough Indians lineup in his first major league start. Look at switch-hitters Carlos Santana and Francisco Lindor and the left-handed Jason Kipnis in this one.
Garcia is one of the day's top-ranked pitchers, but on a slate like this, I have no problem stacking against him. Despite the favorable matchup, he has struggled mightily in the second half and the Brewers' lineup is predominantly right-handed. Sluggers Ryan Braun and Chris Carter are the upside plays here.
Alec Asher is set to make his first start since serving an 80-game suspension for PEDs. My bet is that he's going to be a little rusty. With the Nationals on tap, lefty swingers Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper are the top targets, though the Nats' right-handed hitters are also worth consideration.
Most likely to go yard: Evan Longoria
I'm not a believer in batter versus pitcher data being predictive, but sometimes it's too hard to ignore. Longoria is a career .400 against Sabathia (28-for-70) with nine doubles and seven homers. He's my pick to go yard again on Thursday.
Most likely to swipe a bag: Elvis Andrus
Walker has not done a great job keeping baserunners honest this season, making Andrus a great bet to build on his team-leading 21 stolen bases.