Saturday's slate is a bit unusual. Sixteen games are on the schedule, as the Pirates and Reds are suiting up for a doubleheader, with six early games and eight late. While there are three elite options at the top of the rankings, they're all pitching in games with afternoon start times, which leaves the late slate fairly sparse. That's just the way the cookie crumbles sometimes, though, so let's push forward and try to make some sense of it all.
The Brewers have established themselves as a popular team to target starting pitchers against, and it's easy to see why. Not only is Milwaukee's lineup below average (91 wRC+), but the team's 25 percent strikeout clip is the worst in baseball. Needless to say, Jake Arrieta is in an incredibly appealing spot on Saturday. The right-hander's production has tapered off in the second half, and the collapsing whiff rate is somewhat concerning (9.5 K/ in the first half, 6.9 K/9 in the second half). Still, this matchup is too good to ignore. With an afternoon start time, the Cubs righty will be limited to early and all-day slates.
Also in the early slate is Carlos Carrasco, who draws a home matchup against Detroit. Like Arrieta, Carrasco has been less effective since the All-Star break (4.17 ERA). In his past four outings, he's registered only one quality start. That said, the lone quality start included 7 1/3 innings of shutout ball with 11 K's against Miami. Carrasco has elite stuff when he's on his game, but his recent struggles give me some hesitancy in cash games, especially considering the Tigers' lineup is no pushover. I like him better in tournaments.
David Price rounds out the elite tier with a home tilt against the Yankees -- and yes, this game has an early start time, too. The lefty's 3.81 ERA is disappointing, but his 9.2 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9 are identical to 2015, when he held a 2.45 ERA. In fact, Price's recent numbers are a callback to last year, as he's 7-0 with 2.16 ERA and 0.82 WHIP over his past seven starts. Against a Yankees team that's not good against left-handed pitching (84 wRC+), Price should stay on a roll. The only downside is that the Yanks make plenty of contact, which keeps Price's strikeout ceiling in check.
Facing off against Carrasco on Saturday afternoon is Justin Verlander. The right-hander has been carving through lineups, posting a 2.29 ERA and 10.5 K/9 since the All-Star break. A matchup against the Indians, who handle right-handed pitching well and have produced one of baseball's best offenses since the break (108 wRC+), is far from ideal. It also doesn't help that two of Verlander's worst beatings this season were handed down by the Indians. Then again, that version of Verlander isn't the same version we're seeing now. I prefer Verlander to Carrasco on Saturday despite the game score ratings.
Is every quality option on Saturday pitching in the afternoon? Most, but not all. Thankfully, Yu Darvish, who draws a favorable home matchup against Oakland, is a late-slate option. While the A's are a high-contact team, they're also the worst team in the American League against right-handed pitching. Look for Darvish to be a very popular cash-game target for those playing the late slate on Saturday.
I'll never use a Coors Field hurler in cash games, but I'm open to the idea in tournaments. Jon Gray's matchup against San Diego is exactly the type of spot where it might be worth rolling the dice. There's no denying that Coors has given Gray trouble this year (4.82 ERA). However, it's Gray's 9.4 K/9 rate, combined with the Padres' 25 percent whiff rate versus righties, that offers plenty of GPP intrigue. Granted, the game was in San Diego, but Gray's highest strikeout performance (12 K's) this season came against the Padres back in June.
With a wRC+ of 75, the Braves are downright brutal against lefty pitching. Enter Gio Gonzalez, who finds himself in a highly intriguing spot. The Washington southpaw has been inconsistent this season, but he's pitched better in the second half and has allowed two or fewer runs in three of his past four turns. There are other cash options I like more, but Gonzalez is at least in the discussion.
Slated to start the first game of Saturday's doubleheader against Cincinnati, Jameson Taillon owns a 3.00 ERA and 1.02 WHIP since the break. Only once in his past 11 starts has he allowed more than three earned runs. That gives him a safe floor against a Reds team that has been below average against right-handers this season.
The Rays have been hitting well since the break (105 wRC+), but they are still striking out at a 24 percent clip versus righties, which gives Chris Tillman some nice upside on Saturday. He hasn't whiffed double-digit batters in any game this year, but one of his nine-K performances came against Tampa earlier this year.
Seth Lugo sports a 2.27 ERA in five starts since joining the Mets' rotation, and he'll look to keep on rolling with a home date against Minnesota. The Twins' lineup has been hot lately, but they're also striking out 25 percent of the time so far in September and will be without a DH. Lugo is available in nearly half of ESPN.com leagues.
Squaring off against Lugo is Ervin Santana, who has been an underrated fantasy option over the past couple of months. Since the break, the righty holds a 2.82 ERA over 70-plus innings. The Mets are in the thick of the playoff race, but their lineup has still been below average in the second half. Santana is ripe for the picking in 60 percent of leagues.
A free agent in 81 percent of leagues, James Paxton travels to Houston to take on the Astros. The Astros can be a dangerous team against left-handed pitching, but they can also be a very exploitable team, thanks to their 24 percent strikeout rate. So if you don't mind a little risk with your upside, Paxton might be worth a look here.
Some people are still drawn in by Francisco Liriano's high strikeout and ground ball profile, but he remains a no-go for me. While the whiffs and grounders are nice, the walks (5.0 BB/9) and homers (1.6 HR/9) are not. Against an Angels team that rarely strikes out and is above average against southpaws, it should be an easy decision to steer clear here.
Edwin Jackson owns a 5.21 ERA as a starter this year. He also has a 7.59 ERA away from home. Now consider that he has to face the Rockies at Coors Field on Saturday. This one could get ugly in a hurry. Left-handed bats Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez and David Dahl are definitely great plays here, and I'm not shying away from DJ LeMahieu and Nolan Arenado even though they hit from the right side.
I highlighted Liriano above as a guy I'm avoiding, so it only makes sense to target hitters against him. With the Angels on the schedule, right-handed swingers Yunel Escobar, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols are all in play.
Shelby Miller still hasn't figured things out. Since rejoining Arizona's rotation, he's allowed 12 earned runs in 15 1/3 innings, good for a 7.04 ERA. Maybe he'll get back on track eventually, but we might as well stack hitters against him until that happens. Left-handed swingers Chase Utley, Corey Seager, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Reddick and switch-hitter Yasmani Grandal are all enticing options.
The lowest-ranked pitcher of the day is the Yankees' Bryan Mitchell, who owns a 4.88 ERA over 48 big league innings. The righty had made only two starts this year, and while the first one went well, he didn't make it out of the third inning in the second outing. This is spot where the Red Sox, who have one of the most dangerous lineups in baseball, could put up a crooked number. All of Boston's big bats are in play here, though lefty David Ortiz is the top play of the bunch.
Raul Alcantara has only two big league starts under his belt, but all he has to show for it is a 7.27 ERA and 4.2 K/9. The Rangers, who have put up a 117 wRC+ so far in September, won't go easy on the righty in start No. 3. Lefty Rougned Odor and switch-hitter Carlos Beltran are the top plays, but Ian Desmond, Adrian Beltre and Jonathan Lucroy are also in the mix.
Most likely to go yard: Albert Pujols
Entering this season, Liriano had allowed 20 homers just once in his career, back in 2009. He's on pace to threaten 30 dingers this year. Pujols is a good bet to help the lefty get closer to that number this weekend.
Most likely to swipe a bag: Hernan Perez
Arrieta may be the top pitcher of the day, but he's also the easiest to run against, having allowed 21 stolen bases this season, fourth-most in the NL. Jonathan Villar would be the easy call here, but we're going with Perez, who already has 30 swipes of his own.