October baseball is officially here. This is the last Saturday of the regular season, and we're going out on a high note. Yes, boys and girls, this is the final Kershaw day, so let's enjoy it. Keep in mind, though, that this is a split slate, with seven early games, and the day's three highest-rated hurlers all have afternoon starts. This makes the late slate harder to solve. It's also worth noting that teams that have already secured playoff berths by Saturday could pull their starters a little earlier than normal to keep them fresh for the playoffs, so that's something to at least take into consideration. With that said, let's dive in and sort it all out.
Clayton Kershaw will close out his 2016 season with a road outing against the Giants, who are still vying for a Wild Card spot. The Dodgers ace has been better than ever this season, as his 16.8 strikeout-to-walk-ratio would be the best in baseball history -- by a mile -- if he had enough innings to qualify. He also hasn't allowed an earned run in any of his last three starts. A matchup against the Giants, who strike out less than any team in the NL, might not be ideal, but it's worth noting that he fanned 13 Giants when he last pitched in AT&T Park back in June. In other words, the normal rules do not apply for the three-time Cy Young winner. This is the last time you'll able to roster Kershaw this season. Don't miss it.
If you just can't find a way to fit in Kershaw's massive salary, Jon Lester is a worthy pivot. In fact, a case can be made that taking Lester along with the savings is the better play in cash games. The Cubs lefty has been on a different level of late. Over his last eight starts, Lester has allowed only four runs. Total. Of course, he doesn't have Kershaw's strikeout upside, but he finds himself in a much, much more appealing spot, facing a Reds squad that's one of the worst in baseball against southpaws (82 wRC+) and whiffs at a healthy 23 percent clip. Kershaw is still the top play, but Lester is unhittable right now.
Although he hasn't quite been on Lester's level of dominance, Masahiro Tanaka has been on a nice little roll of his own. The right-hander's last seven starts have seen him post a 1.94 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. Only once in those seven outings did he allow more than two runs. A home matchup against an Orioles team that leads the AL in home runs and smashes right-handed pitching puts Tanaka in a very tough spot, which limits the cash appeal a bit. Then again, given how dominant the righty has been, he makes for a fine contrarian play on Saturday.
Tanner Roark draws a favorable home start against a Marlins team that's struggled against right-handed pitching this season (91 wRC+). They do strike out just 19 percent of the time versus righties, which is the fifth-lowest mark in baseball, but whiffs aren't a big part of Roark's game anyway. Although he got roughed up by Arizona his last time out, the right-hander has been a picture of consistency this season. He's held sub-3.00 ERAs in each of the last three months, and he hasn't posted a monthly ERA north of 3.56. If you're not paying up, Roark is in the cash-game discussion.
The highest-rated hurler in the evening slate is Collin McHugh, who gets a road tilt against the Angels. McHugh has been up and down this season, but he's pitching some of his best baseball right now. His September ERA sits at 3.10, and he's surrendered more than two runs just once in his last six outings. The Angels sport the lowest strikeout rate in baseball, so the upside is limited in this matchup. Of course, McHugh is whiffing nearly a batter per inning this year, so he's still a decent bet for a handful of K's.
After posting a 7.14 ERA in August and a 6.08 ERA so far in September, it's understandable if you want no part of Archie Bradley on Saturday. That said, this is a perfect GPP spot for the Arizona righty. Despite Bradley's recent struggles, he owns a 10.6 K/9 over the last month, and the Padres are the perfect lineup to exploit. In addition to being the worst team in baseball against right-handed pitching (81 wRC+), they strike out 25 percent of the time. Bradley has notched only one double-digit K performance this season, but he could threaten No. 2 in this spot.
Bartolo Colon was knocked around in his last start against the Marlins, which happens from time to time when you're around the plate as much as he is. That said, he's generally a fairly stable option. In fact, his 19 quality starts rank top-10 in the National League. On Saturday, he finds himself in a very friendly spot, facing a Phillies team that can't hit righties (83 wRC+) and strikes out 23 percent of the time.
Hisashi Iwakuma is somewhat boring because of the lack of upside, but he's been a very stable fantasy hurler. The last three months have seen him post ERAs of 3.77, 3.28 and 3.68. He's not someone to build around, but he's in an appealing spot, squaring off against an A's team that poses little threat against righty pitching (91 wRC+).
Eduardo Rodriguez continues to roll. Since the All-Star break, he owns a 3.10 ERA and 1.10 WHIP to go along with nearly a whiff per inning. He's actually coming off his most dominant performance in which he fanned 13 Rays in just 5 1/3 innings. While the Blue Jays present a dangerous matchup, they are striking out at a healthy 22 percent clip in the second half, so there's nice upside here. Rodriguez is still available in nearly 75 percent of leagues.
On one hand, a matchup against the Royals, who own the worst wRC+ (82) in the American League in the second half, looks like a very nice spot for Trevor Bauer on paper. On the other hand, the Indians right-hander has allowed four or more runs in each of his last four starts, which has contributed to his 5.42 second-half ERA. Bauer could certainly find success in such a favorable matchup, but I'm not going to roster him to find out.
James Shields is always one of my favorite pitchers to target hitters against. It doesn't always work out (like his last start against Tampa Bay), but he carries blowup potential each time he takes the mound. When you combine a 4.1 walk rate with home run issues (his 38 homers allowed are most in baseball), bad things tend to happen. A Twins stack, anchored by Brian Dozier, who has clubbed 31 dingers off righties this year, offers plenty of upside.
Chad Kuhl has been solid in the second half (3.78 ERA) and performs very well on the road (2.61 ERA), which is where he'll be pitching on Sunday. However, that doesn't change the fact that he's had trouble with left-handed bats this season (.363 wOBA). With the Cardinals playing host to the Pirates on Saturday, Matt Carpenter, Brandon Moss, Matt Adams and Kolten Wong are all in play depending on who's in the lineup.
It's also a good idea to target bats against the Phillies' Phil Klein. The sample size is small, but he's allowing a .374 wOBA to hitters from the left side and a .390 wOBA to those who hit from the right. I'm focusing on hitters with the platoon advantage here, and the Mets have a multitude of options you can throw out there, including switch-hitters Jose Reyes and Asdrubal Cabrera at the top of the lineup and lefties Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce in the middle of the order.
The lucky hurler who draws the Coors Field start is Wily Peralta. After being pummeled for a 6.68 ERA in the first half, he's rebounded with a 3.23 ERA since the break. That said, left-handed batters are still giving him trouble (.381 wOBA), and Coors Field won't be kind to Peralta's 17.8 HR/FB, which would rank third-worst in baseball if he qualified. Lefties Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez and David Dahl are the obvious plays here, though D.J. LeMahieu and Nolan Arenado are also in play even though they lack the platoon advantage.
There's no way around it: Aaron Blair has been one of the worst pitchers in all of baseball this year. The Braves have handed him 14 starts, and he's responded with an 8.02 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, and a 4.6 walk rate that's in danger of catching his 5.1 whiff rate. You're going to want some exposure to Tigers bats in this one.
Most likely to go yard: Brian Dozier
I just can't get away from a 40-HR bat squaring off against James Shields, who is in danger of hitting the 40-HR mark himself, with 38 homers already allowed this season.
Most likely to swipe a bag: Jose Pereza
While Lester is one of the day's top starters, his struggles at holding runners on have been well documented. Peraza, who has 18 steals in just 68 games, will be off to the races if he reaches base.