The end is drawing near. The final Thursday of the regular season brings us a decent 12-game slate. It's a little light at the top, but there are some decent options in the lower tiers to help make up for it, although many of them are suited more toward GPPs than cash games. If you were hoping for some bona fide fantasy aces like Kershaw or Bumgarner to build your cash lineups around, well, that'll have to wait until Friday.
Three hurlers draw an identical 60 Game Score on Thursday, but it should come as no surprise that Johnny Cueto is the preferred cash-game option. The right-hander has held an ERA of 3.38 or lower in all but one month this season, and so far in September his ERA sits at 1.59 in four starts. Only once in his past seven starts has he allowed more than two earned runs. Cueto is as reliable as they come. Against a Rockies team that withers away from Coors Field (84 wRC+, 24 percent whiff rate), Cueto should be locked into cash lineups.
Chris Archer might be teetering on the edge of 20 losses with his highest ERA since he made six appearances as a rookie in 2012, but most of that damage came in the first half. Since the All-Star break, he owns a 3.19 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. His 10.5 K/9 is also second-best in the American League. Although traveling to U.S. Cellular Park isn't ideal, Archer, who is a threat for double-digit whiffs every time he takes the mound, matches up well with a White Sox club that struggles against right-handed pitching (91 wRC+). On a shortened Thursday slate, he's one of the day's top options.
The last pitcher who draws an elite Game Score is Jon Gray, who gets a road start against the Giants. Gray's upside has been on full display of late, as he's whiffed a whopping 26 batters during his past two starts, spanning 13 innings. The trouble is that, despite whiffing 10 Dodgers in his last start, he didn't make it out of the fourth inning. In fact, his 16-strikeout complete game shutout against the Padres two weeks ago was his lone quality start in his past four tries. The matchup against the Giants on Thursday is a mixed bag. On one hand, the Giants' offense has collapsed in September, as their 68 wRC+ is by far the worst in baseball. On the other hand, the Giants sport the lowest strikeout rate in the National League. Ultimately, I'd still consider Gray in tournaments, but I'm looking elsewhere in cash.
Stop me if you've heard this before, but there's plenty of validity in fading the top tier entirely and anchoring your cash-game lineups with Jose Quintana. The left-hander has followed up his 3.21 first-half ERA with a nearly identical 3.20 mark in the second half, showcasing the stability he offers. He's also in a tremendous spot, facing a Rays team that whiffs 26 percent of the time versus southpaws, so there's a nice ceiling here, too.
Julio Urias draws a tasty road matchup with the Padres. In his past seven outings (five starts), Urias holds a 1.47 ERA. He doesn't typically pitch deep into games, which lowers the upside a bit, but that's partly offset by the fact that he's whiffing 9.6 batters per nine innings. The matchup is still favorable, but it's worth noting that while the Padres are the worst offense in baseball against righties, they're average against lefties. That said, their 25 percent whiff rate versus lefties is worst in the National League.
Danny Duffy has hit a few rough spots of late, but he's still highly appealing Thursday thanks to a home matchup against Minnesota. While the Twins are an average offense against left-handed pitching, they strike out at a 24 percent clip, including a 26 percent clip so far in September. Armed with his 9.6 K/9 rate, Duffy carried double-digit strikeout upside in this matchup. In fact, the lefty fanned 10 when he last faced the Twins earlier this month.
If you can get past the 4.7 walk rate (which, admittedly, is hard to do), then it's easy to get excited about Alex Reyes and his home matchup against the Reds. In 40 big-league innings, the young right-hander sports a 1.58 ERA and 10.4 K/9 rate. Against the cellar-dwelling Reds, who are well below average against right-handed pitching, Reyes brings intriguing potential. The high walk rate has me apprehensive about using him cash, but the rookie is a fine tournament play.
Marcus Stroman has been on a nice little roll lately. Since the beginning of August, the right-hander holds a 3.06 ERA with a strikeout per inning. A matchup against the Orioles, who lead baseball in homers and are one of the game's toughest teams against right-handers, is far from ideal. Still, Stroman has regained his form after a brutal first half (4.89 ERA), which leaves him in play for Thursday's slate.
The owner of a 3.26 ERA since the break, Daniel Norris gets a home tilt against the Indians, who have been league average against lefties this year. Since joining Detroit's starting rotation, the young left-hander has allowed more than three runs in a start ... never. He's yet to pitch more than 6 1/3 innings in any outing, but his 9.1 K/9 rate still gives him a nice ceiling. Norris is a free agent in 71 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
The Cardinals have scored the third-most runs in the NL, but since the All-Star break they've been a below-average offense (96 wRC+) with an above-average whiff rate (23 percent). That sets things up nicely for Dan Straily, who owns a 3.00 ERA since the break, including a 2.87 mark in September. He's also produced an 8.2 K/9 in the past two months are holding a 7.2 K/9 from April-July. Straily's current ownership sits at just below 50 percent.
Thanks to his 11.4 K/9 that ranks second in baseball, Robbie Ray is always a tournament consideration. However, considering he holds a 7.66 ERA and 1.62 WHIP in his past five starts, it's hard to trust him in anything else. Against the Nationals, an above-average offense versus righties, Ray is not a hurler to target if you value safety over upside.
Ryan Merritt is on track to make his first big league start Thursday against Detroit. He has pitched well in relief for Cleveland this season, but he's still a soft-tossing lefty with no strikeout potential (5.8 K/9 in 24 Triple-A starts this year) who will be tasked with facing a right-handed heavy Tigers lineup that hits lefties hard. Needless to say, it's a tough spot for the 24-year-old. As a result, it'd be a good idea to get some exposure here, with Ian Kinsler, Cameron Maybin, Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton all carrying plenty of appeal.
It's almost always a good idea to target left-handed swingers against Ubaldo Jimenez, who has allowed a .381 wOBA to lefty hitters this season. It's unfortunate that the Blue Jays' lineup is so right-handed, but lefty Michael Saunders is an awfully intriguing play, especially considering he's 9-for-19 (.474) with a double and four homers in his career against Jimenez.
It's also advantageous to target lefty hitters against Kyle Gibson, who sports .382 wOBA allowed and a 5.06 second-half ERA. With the Royals playing host to the Twins on Thursday, left-handed hitters Jarrod Dyson, Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon and switch-hitter Kendrys Morales are all in play.
We've already discussed Robbie Ray's strikeout potential, but he also has plenty of blowup potential, especially against a right-handed heavy lineup like Washington's. The loss of Wilson Ramos to a season-ending knee injury hurts, but righty hitters Trea Turner, Jayson Werth, Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman still offer plenty of potential in this matchup.
Most likely to go yard: Brandon Moss
Dan Straily is a worthwhile streamer Thursday, but the fact remains that the Cardinals lead the NL in homers and Straily has allowed 29 of them. Moss has been in a funk of late, but this is a good spot for him to break out of it. Of his 27 homers this year, 24 have come against righties.
Most likely to swipe a bag: Kevin Pillar
Ubaldo Jimenez has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball at keeping baserunners honest. His 25 stolen bases allowed are third-most in baseball, behind only Noah Syndergaard and Jimmy Nelson. With the Blue Jays on tap, Pillar is the most likely to take advantage. In 16 career at-bats against Jimenez, he has three swipes.