FantasyDraft divides Thursday’s schedule into a five-game afternoon slate and four-game evening tilt. The opening bout unfortunately begins after Arizona’s 12:10 p.m. start at Miami, eliminating Zack Greinke as a premier top starter. This other decent guy called Clayton Kershaw also makes an early start, but I need to see a strong, full-length turn before investing $23,100 in the Dodgers’s ace. I’m also skipping Nola Night and choosing high-risk, high-reward hurlers in both bouts.
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Am I falling into Jon Gray’s latest trap? When the highly erratic righty tossed a gem in May, he relinquished 10 hits and six runs for an encore. So perhaps Friday’s seven-inning, 12-strikeout masterpiece was the latest in a long line of teases from a confounding pitcher whose 5.52 ERA does not compute with a 3.02 FIP. He has a 5.40 ERA on the road, so it’s not as easy as starting the 26-year-old whenever outside of Coors Field. But this is a guy with 31 strikeouts in his last three starts, and he’s not just away from Coors. He’s at AT&T Park, the bane of any slugger’s existence. Although this logic didn’t land on May 19, when he surrendered five runs in 3.2 innings at San Francisco, I’m too stubborn to give up on an intermittent ace with a 28.6 K% and .298 xwOBA.
Evening SP: Lance McCullers ($21,600) at Tampa Bay Rays
Another occasional ace, occasional headache, at least Lance McCullers’s inconsistencies aren’t nearly as extreme. Since allowing seven runs to Cleveland on May 26, he has posted a 3.48 ERA by yielding two or three runs in at least six innings in each of his last five starts. A 3.82 ERA and 3.62 FIP will leave his ardent supporters wanting more, especially when still supplemented by a 25.7 K % and 53.0 % ground-ball rate. On the bright side, staying healthy and working deeper into starts represents major progress for his long-term outlook. From a more immediate standpoint, the sneaky Rays bring little power (only four teams have hit fewer homers) and plenty of strikeouts (23.0%) for McCullers to register another quality start at Tropicana Field.
Lucas Giolito is gradually turning the corner. He has posted a 5.79 ERA in June, a vast improvement from his 7.53 ERA in 11 previous starts. Hooray? He compiled more strikeouts (14) in his last two outings than the past five combined (13), but he still permitted 13 hits and nine runs to the Tigers and A’s. He still has a 7.01 ERA with one more strikeout (48) than walk, and opposing lefties still wield a .403 wOBA. OK, one more alarming stat: He has surrendered 41 runs (all but one earned) in 36.1 home innings this season. Eduardo Escobar, meanwhile, has earned everyone’s admiration by clobbering 20 extra-base hits (14 doubles, two triples, and four homers) in June. The switch-hitter has belted 10 of his dozen homers as a lefty, and yet he’s still $900 cheaper than Twins teammate Eddie Rosario.
Justin Upton is batting .222/.311/.333 against lefties this season. Hence his $8,600 cost against Brian Johnson–making his first start since April 2–despite batting .278/.396/.532 with six of his 17 home runs in June. Those struggles against southpaws have developed despite a 44.1 % hard-hit rate. They also run counter to his career .377 wOBA versus them, so trust the full body of work against an unproven swingman with a career 4.68 ERA.
Value: IF/OF Enrique Hernandez ($7,300) vs. Chicago Cubs (LHP Jose Quintana)
A steep rise in fly balls has led Enrique Hernandez to sock 13 home runs, already a personal best. Improvements against righties have made him a staple in Los Angeles’s lineup, but the spark plug has always pummeled lefties. He brings a career .369 wOBA versus southpaws into Thursday’s matchup against Jose Quintana. Cast aside prior sentiment’s about the accomplished starter, as a 4.26 ERA, 11.3 K-BB%, and 39.1 % hard-hit rate makes him just another guy. Don’t let past success scare you away from a superb value.
Jimmy Yacabonis sounds like a person I just made up, but I swear he’s Baltimore’s scheduled starter. While the 26-year-old has yet to make a major league start, he has recorded a 5.48 ERA in 16 relief outings with 19 walks and nine strikeouts. Fresh off punctuating eight runs last night, the Mariners get another golden matchup to inflict damage at Camden Yards. Pass on Nelson Cruz, who costs an exorbitant $10,500 despite missing the last two games with back tightness, but don’t rule out anyone else. Mitch Haniger ($9,400) has slapped 10 hits in the past six bouts and 14 long balls versus righties this season. Searching for his stride, Kyle Seager ($8,200) has homered in back-to-back nights, and Jean Segura ($8,800) has reached base eight times in three games since returning to the lineup. Ben Gamel ($7,500) and Ryon Healy ($7,300) offer some cheaper exposure. For those worried about Yacabonis operating more of an opener role, Baltimore Orioles holds a 4.35 ERA after Zach Britton’s blown save yesterday.
Honorable Mentions: Angels at Red Sox (Johnson); Twins at White Sox (Giolito)