A Thursday slate with no elite options is nothing new, but the news isn't all bad. While no hurlers crack a 60 game score to get into the elite tier, four pitchers draw game scores between 57 and 59. All 10 regularly-scheduled games place in the evening, so we don't have to worry about a split slate. However, there will be a single afternoon game, due to last night's postponement of Detroit-Minnesota. they'll play twice today. But enough with the formalities -- let's get to work.
Nope. Not this time.
Justin Verlander's game score on Thursday falls just short of the elite tier, but make no mistake: The Detroit right-hander has re-established himself as an elite fantasy hurler. He currently resides in the top 10 among starting pitchers on the Player Rater, thanks in part to a tremendous second half that has seen him post a 2.11 ERA and 10.3 K/9 over 13 starts. The last time he allowed more than three runs in a start was June 26. Verlander will work the second game of the doubleheader and finds himself in a terrific spot, facing a Twins team that's below average against right-handed pitching and is whiffing at a 25 percent clip in September. He'll be a popular target in cash games.
Over the last 30 days, David Price is the No. 1 pitcher on the Player Rater. Winning seven of his last eight starts has something to do that, but he has also posted a 2.73 ERA and 0.86 WHIP over that span. Heading to Camden Yards, which greatly inflates power, is no easy task. Then again, Baltimore has been the worst offense in AL versus left-handers this season, sporting an 82 wRC+ to go along with a 22 percent strikeout rate. Price has battled the Orioles three times since June, posting a 2.45 ERA with 24 whiffs in 22 frames.
Seth Lugo has made a strong impression since stepping into the Mets' starting rotation. Over six starts, he owns a 2.21 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. A 5.4 K/9 keeps any upside at bay, but he has been reliable in terms of run prevention. That should continue as Lugo draws a home date against the Phillies, who are tied with the Padres for the worst wRC+ (82) in baseball against right-handed pitching. They are also striking out a whopping 29 percent of the time so far in September. Lugo is a worthwhile cash-game SP2 on multi-pitcher sites.
Drawing the always-coveted Padres matchup is Jeff Samardzija. The Padres, of course, present the best matchup in baseball for right-handed pitchers, sporting an 82 wRC+ and a 25 percent strikeout rate. For his part, Shark has allowed three or fewer runs in seven of his last eight outings and owns a career 2.54 ERA and 1.02 WHIP at Petco Park. The right-hander has yet to whiff double-digit batters in a game this season, but he's a threat to hit that mark on Thursday.
Tyler Chatwood's home/road splits have been highlighted in this space before, but they're worth mentioning again. At Coors Field, his ERA sits at 6.12. On the road, however, that mark drops all the way to 1.77. Fortunately, Chatwood and the Rockies are traveling out of town on Thursday to face the Dodgers in Los Angeles. The Dodgers present an imposing matchup, as their 108 wRC+ against righties is tops in the National League, so it's not an ideal time to target Chatwood. Still, his effectiveness on the road this season keeps him in play.
Streaming options are few and far between on Thursday, but Ervin Santana stands out as the best. Drawing the nightcap against the Tigers is no picnic, but the Twins righty has quietly been a fantasy asset over the last couple of months. Dating back to July 1, Santana owns a 2.33 ERA and 1.02 WHIP over 14 starts. And while his K/9 this season sits at 7.3, he sports a 9.5 K/9 over his last eight turns. Santana's ownership is at just 57 percent on ESPN.com.
Available in 72 percent of leagues, Mike Fiers gets a home matchup against an Angels team that has done little offensively since the break (94 wRC+) and even less so far in September (79 wRC+). Fiers has been an inconsistent fantasy option this season, but he has shown at least a bit of stability of late, allowing no more than three runs in five of his last six starts.
After a rough first half (5.22 ERA), Ricky Nolasco has settled down since the break (4.14 ERA). In fact, he has posted game scores of 69 or above in three of his last four outings. On Thursday, Nolasco faces an Astros offense that's league average against righties and strikes out at a 24 percent clip. He's a free agent in 95 percent of leagues.
Jose Urena certainly presents risk, as his last start can attest (7 ER in 2 IP). However, his most recent outing aside, he has pitched pretty well over the last month. He actually produced a game score of 87 against the Dodgers two Sundays ago, when he twirled 8 2/3 innings of shutout ball. A matchup against the Braves, who have one of the weakest lineups in baseball, puts Urena in play if you need innings in deeper formats.
Chris Tillman finds himself in a tough spot, facing a Red Sox team that smashes the ball against right-handed pitching (116 wRC+) and has scored 106 more runs than any other AL team. The Orioles righty is solid and usually able to avoid any really bad outings, but there are better pitchers in better spots on Thursday.
Pat Dean has been slated to pitch the afternoon affair in the Twins-Tigers twinbill, coming out of the bullpen after losing his rotation spot. Not only is it a tough matchup against a right-heavy lineup, but Dean is no longer stretched out, thus won't throw many innings regardless of effectiveness.
Adam Morgan has been pitching a little better since the All-Star break, but he's still a highly volatile pitcher who is particularly generous to right-handed hitters (.385 wOBA). With the Mets on the docket, Yoenis Cespedes and switch-hitters Jose Reyes and Asdrubal Cabrera should be high on the priority list.
Drawing the lowest game score of the day is Jason Vargas, who's matched up with Cleveland on the road. He managed just three innings in his first start back from Tommy John surgery, and he's unlikely to have high pitch count in this game, either. Still, the Indians' lineup is tough on left-handed pitching, and they figure to be in for a productive night on Thursday. Target Mike Napoli and switch-hitters Carlos Santana and Francisco Lindor in this one.
Ryan Vogelsong owns a 5.40 ERA since the break, and left-handed hitters have particularly given him trouble, putting up a .382 wOBA against him. Jonathan Villar is the prime play here, along with Scooter Gennett, a career .297 hitter against righties.
Opposing Vogelsong and the Pirates is Chase Anderson, who has shown reverse splits this season, allowing a .386 wOBA to right-handed batters. Feel free to fire up the right-handed Pirates bats, including Andrew McCutchen, who has done more damage versus righties this year.
Most likely to go yard: Yoenis Cespedes
Cespedes mashes lefties, and Morgan has trouble with righties. Let's not overthink this one.
Most likely to swipe a bag: Jonathan Villar
Francisco Cervelli has allowed an MLB-high 101 stolen bases this season. Meanwhile, the Brewers lead all of baseball in steals. Villar must be licking his chops.