It's Thursday again, which means (1) the weekend isn't here just yet and (2) we have to make it through another crummy MLB slate to get there. It's not the worst slate we've seen, as Rich Hill and Johnny Cueto make for a nice one-two punch at the top, but it's thin enough to make us pine for Friday, when we'll be treated to a full slate of games with more enticing options.
Hill had a perfect game through seven innings his last time out against the Marlins, but he was removed when his blister issue started acting up again. He's expected to be fine for Thursday's road tilt against Arizona, which has the lefty rated as the day's only elite option. It's hard to argue with the designation. Hill has made only three starts since being traded to the Dodgers, but he's yet to allow a run. In fact, he's allowed just eight batters to reach base in 19 innings while striking out 20. It's true that the Diamondbacks are tough on lefties (113 wRC+). However, they strike out 24 percent of the time against them, and the offense as a whole has tanked in the second half (88 wRC+). All told, this is a very nice spot for Hill with plenty of upside. He's a worthy investment as your cash-game anchor.
It's also hard to go wrong with Cueto in cash. A matchup against the Cardinals, who have a 108 wRC+ against right-handed pitching looks tough on paper, but a lot of the damage the Redbirds did came in the first half. Since the All-Star break, the Cards' offense has been nothing more than average (100 wRC+). Cueto, meanwhile, is as stable as they come. His 20 quality starts ranks in the top five in the NL, and he has an average Game Score of 61 over his 29 starts this season. The Giants righty is the clear No. 2 behind Hill on Thursday.
Adam Wainwright has been hit-or-miss this season, which is not what you want from your cash-game hurler. While the Cardinals right-hander threw eight innings of one-run ball against Milwaukee his last time out, he still walked four. He also has just three quality starts in his past nine outings. While the Giants have been middle-of-the-road against right-handed pitching, their 9.4 percent walk rate is in the top five in baseball, and their 17.5 percent strikeout rate is lowest in the NL, so the matchup is still far from ideal.
Masahiro Tanaka is one of the best pitchers on the slate. The right-hander has a 1.94 ERA over his past seven starts. While his 7.7 K/9 this season is unimpressive, he's racked up 48 strikeouts over his past 46 innings of work. Unfortunately, the Yankees' road matchup against Boston is one of the day's toughest spots. After all, the Red Sox's 115 wRC+ against right-handers is the best in baseball, and they don't strike out much (18.3 percent). Tanaka has pitched well against Boston this year (2.13 ERA in two starts), so it's not necessarily a spot you need to avoid on Thursday, but it's not a favorable one, either.
After posting a 3.36 in the first half, Toronto's J.A. Happ has come right back with a 3.26 ERA so far in the second half. Better yet, his 7.1 K/9 in the first half has jumped to 9.3 since the break. The Angels are a low-upside opponent, as they strike out less than any team in baseball, but aside from Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, it's a nonthreatening group. Happ makes for a solid SP2 option.
In terms of an upside play, take a look at Mike Montgomery against Milwaukee. The negative is that the Cubs southpaw isn't pitching deep into games. He's made six starts this season, posting a 3.64 ERA, and he's pitched more than five innings just once. That said, he's striking out nearly a batter per inning as a starter, and the Brewers are fanning at a 25 percent clip versus lefties.
The results haven't been flashy, but Chad Kuhl has held his own since stepping into Pittsburgh's starting rotation. On Thursday, he should find success in a prime matchup against the Phillies, who have been the second-worst team in baseball against right-handers this season (82 wRC+). Kuhl is available in 91 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
You wouldn't think it based on the number right-handed sluggers in Baltimore's lineup, but the Orioles have been the worst team in the AL against left-handed pitching (79 wRC+, 22 percent whiff rate). That sets things up nicely for the Rays' Blake Snell. The lefty has had his issues (that 5.3 walk rate being one of them), but he has a solid 3.57 ERA since the break, with a 9.6 K/9 that can help cover up many warts. His ESPN.com ownership sits at just 16 percent.
Don't let that 4.70 ERA fool you. Since the All-Star break, Boston's Eduardo Rodriguez has a 2.76 ERA over 58⅔ innings. Against a Yankees team that struggles against lefties (86 wRC+), Rodriguez is in a good spot to keep the training rolling. He's a free agent in 80 percent of leagues.
Hector Santiago is a guy I often stay away from, and that's the case again on Thursday. To be fair, the Angels lefty is coming off three straight quality starts. Then again, he still posted a 5.1 BB/9 over those three starts; he's allowed seven or more runs twice in the last month; and his 29 homers allowed is the fifth worst in the American League. There's just too much risk here and not enough reward.
The White Sox's James Shields has already allowed 37 homers this season, putting him on pace to allow 42 on the season. The last pitcher to allow 40 home runs in a season was Bronson Arroyo in 2011. The right-handed Shields also has an ERA north of 6.00 and is getting hammered by both right-handed (.394 wOBA) and left-handed (.376 wOBA) batters. Needless to say, Cleveland bats are a high-upside stacking option for Thursday's game at U.S. Cellular Field.
Archie Bradley still might have a bright future, but he doesn't match up well with the Dodgers, who hammer right-handed pitching (109 wRC+). It also doesn't help that the young Diamondbacks righty has a 7.11 ERA since the beginning of August and has yet to figure out Chase Field (6.29 ERA). Lefty swingers have given Bradley the most trouble this year (.393 wOBA), so Chase Utley, Corey Seager, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Reddick and switch-hitter Yasmani Grandal are all in terrific spots.
Also consider targeting left-handed Rays bats against the Orioles' Yovani Gallardo, who has a 5.44 ERA this season (including a 5.16 mark in the second half). Brad Miller, who has swatted 25 of his 28 homers this year off righties, is the top play, with Corey Dickerson and switch-hitter Nick Franklin warranting consideration as well.
Daniel Wright has made only five appearances (three starts) this season, but he's allowed at least three runs in each appearance. That amounts to a 7.50 ERA and 1.89 WHIP over 18 frames. While it's a small sample size, until the Angels starter shows he can get big leagues hitters out, it's a situation to target. With the Blue Jays in town, it's all hands on deck, regardless of whether they have the platoon advantage.
Oakland's Daniel Mengden is striking out 9.1 batters per nine, but that's about where the good news ends. Hits walk rate sits at 4.8, his ERA since the All-Star break is 9.58 and he's been ineffective against both right- and left-handed batters. Take a look at the Royals hitters in this one, particularly Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez and Kendrys Morales, who is batting .368 with five bombs in 10 September games so far.
Most likely to go yard: Mike Napoli
You knew I was going to target a hitter facing Shields; it was just a matter of which one. Let's give the nod to the Indians' Napoli, who has bashed 26 of his 33 homers off right-handers this year.
Most likely to swipe a bag: Dexter Fowler
Milwaukee's Jimmy Nelson has allowed more stolen bases (27) this year than any pitcher not named Noah Syndergaard. This bodes well for Fowler, who is looking to secure double-digit steals for the eighth straight season.