Who doesn’t love some afternoon baseball? Well, full disclosure, I’m not exactly a fan, as an early lock means I’m up past midnight writing this article; but who doesn’t love not sleeping at a reasonable hour?!
Alright. I’m loopy and we’re already getting off track here. Let’s just go position-by-position and break down everything you’ll need to know for Thursday’s eight-game featured slate.
Brandon Woodruff, Milwaukee Brewers at Philadelphia Phillies, $9,300 - Though Gerrit Cole ($10,500) easily possesses the highest ceiling of any asset on the slate, I do worry slightly about his matchup on Thursday, as the Astros have the lowest strikeout rate in baseball (19.4%). I have no such hesitation when it comes to Woodruff. Across the past 14 days, the Phillies have been struggling to do much of anything at the dish, with a 27.0% strikeout rate and a meager 86 wRC+. It certainly doesn’t help their cause that Bryce Harper ($5,400; wrist) hasn’t been playing and that Jean Segura (quad) is on the IL. This isn’t all about the opponent, however. Woodruff has been amazing in 2021. Only 1.5% of the batters he’s faced have produced a barrel — the second-lowest qualified mark in MLB — and the right-hander’s 2.14 FIP is pristine.
Michael Pineda, Minnesota Twins vs. Texas Rangers, $7,500 - The Rangers have actually been hitting really well recently, yet with the state of “value” pitching on Thursday’s slate, you’re going to have to accept an asset with a few flaws if you’re looking to be thrifty. Pineda’s advanced numbers aren’t nearly as pretty as his 2.30 ERA across 27.1 innings; however, the hulking RHP has managed at least 19.0 DKFP in four of his five starts so far this season. Pineda’s also struck out 27 opponents in that span, a trait that could be magnified against a Texas squad that has the highest strikeout rate against right-handed pitching in all of baseball (30.2%).
Editor’s Note: Twins C Mitch Garver is not in the lineup for today’s game vs. the Rangers.
Mitch Garver, Minnesota Twins vs. Texas Rangers, $4,900 - Let us begin breaking down positional players in a spot we’ll likely be discussing quite a bit on Thursday. Jordan Lyles ($5,600) has been horrendous in 2021, with an ugly 6.25 expected ERA through his first six starts. In particular, Lyles has struggled most with RHBs, surrendering 3.71 home runs per nine within the split. Garver definitely has the pop in his bat to take advantage.
Kyle Higashioka, New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros, $3,500 - Obviously it’s a difficult matchup against Lance McCullers ($8,300), but we know Higashioka will be behind the plate on Thursday with the aforementioned Cole pitching, and the backstop has been hitting really well this season. Like, not even really well for a catcher, just really well in general. In 44 plate appearances, Higashioka has a .405 ISO and a 180 wRC+.
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Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays at Oakland Athletics, $5,500 - Our old friend Mike Fiers ($6,200) is making a spot start for the Athletics on Thursday and that should be music to the ears of all players in the Jays’ lineup. The veteran has only made one appearance so far in 2021 — it was last Friday versus the Orioles — and Fiers was unsurprisingly lit up. The RHP conceded three barrels and a pair of home runs, while 50.0% of his batted ball events were put into play at over 95.0 mph. In short, he’s a gas can. Guerrero and his 207 wRC+ should have some fun in this matchup.
Editor’s Note: Nationals 1B Ryan Zimmerman is not in the lineup for today’s game vs. the Braves.
Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals vs. Atlanta Braves, $4,200 - Of all pitchers in the National League who have induced 50-plus BBEs, no one has allowed barrels more frequently than Drew Smyly ($7,200). In fact, a whopping 16.4% of the left-hander’s events have been barrelled, which is directly correlated to Smyly having surrendered nine home runs in his first 19.0 innings of 2021. Zimmerman, who owns a .413 wOBA in his 23 plate appearances against LHPs this season, should be able to do some damage.
Marcus Semien, Toronto Blue Jays at Oakland Athletics, $4,600 - With George Springer (quad) headed back to the IL, Semien has returned to the leadoff spot for Toronto. The veteran has also been picking up his play as of late. To wit, coming into Wednesday night’s 9-4 victory over the A’s, Semien was slashing .333/.409/.538 with a 164 wRC+ dating back to Apr. 21. There’s a chance he’s looking at as many as three plate appearances against Fiers, and I can’t think of a better way to keep a hot streak going.
Josh Harrison, Washington Nationals vs. Atlanta Braves, $3,800 - With Juan Soto ($5,000) still yet to start a game since his activation from the IL, there’s a good chance that Harrison will once again be batting second in Washington’s lineup on Thursday. I mean, he’s done it in five of the team’s past six games. Why change now? Harrison’s been hitting better than you might expect so far in 2021, as the veteran sports a 142 wRC+ across his first 79 plate appearances.
Editor’s Note: Twins 3B Josh Donaldson is not in the lineup for today’s game vs. the Rangers.
Josh Donaldson, Minnesota Twins vs. Texas Rangers, $5,100 - In a vacuum, this is a hefty price to pay for a version of Donaldson that hasn’t quite found his stroke yet in 2021; however, the presence of Lyles supersedes that issue. Plus, while Donaldson hasn’t been hitting for a lot of power to this point in May, he has at least been making a lot of contact. His strikeout rate through 69 plate appearances is a career-low 11.6%. Any contact tends to be good contact against Lyles.
Austin Riley, Atlanta Braves at Washington Nationals, $3,900 - While Jon Lester ($6,400) survived his first start of 2021, a 5.75 expected ERA and a microscopic 6.8% swinging strike rate tell a much different story than the surface statistics. Lester is in trouble if he’s going to be unable to mitigate opponent contact, especially against hitters like Riley. For his career, the third baseman has a .292 ISO versus LHPs and he’s recently moved up to fifth in the Braves order. Sounds like a recipe for success.
Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox vs. Detroit Tigers, $5,100 - Boston joins Washington as one of two teams with an implied total above five runs on Thursday. It’s not very difficult to figure out why. While Spencer Turnbull ($6,800) actually hasn’t pitched too poorly this season, the Tigers’ team ERA of 5.21 is the highest in baseball. Simply put, they have a real hard time suppressing opponent offense. Enter Bogaerts, who owns a 1.010 OPS and a 176 wRC+ in his 66 plate appearances at Fenway Park in 2020. Xander at home is always viable.
Nicky Lopez, Kansas City Royals vs. Cleveland Baseball Team, $2,700 - This is a complete punt play, but there’s a chance Lopez can muster a decent performance against Triston McKenzie ($6,600) on Thursday afternoon. Basically, the rookie hasn’t been able to get lefties out so far in 2021. In fact, the 39 LHBs that the right-hander has faced have combined to slash .300/.462/.633. Again, this information is likely better put to use in assets like Carlos Santana ($4,800) or Andrew Benintendi ($3,000), but Lopez is cheap enough to serve a purpose.
Teoscar Hernandez, Toronto Blue Jays at Oakland Athletics, $4,000 - Hernandez has hit the ground running since making his way back from the league’s health protocols, racking up seven hits and seven RBI in his first six games off the IL. This shouldn’t come as too much of a shock, either, as Hernandez is on the heels of a 2020 campaign where he took home a Silver Slugger award. The man can hit, and he’ll likely find himself in the clean-up spot against Fiers on Thursday. That’s a premium matchup with a lot of upside at just $4K.
Max Kepler, Minnesota Twins vs. Texas Rangers, $3,400 - With Luis Arraez (concussion) currently on the IL, it seems that the Twins have landed on Kepler as their leadoff man when the team is facing an RHP. The prospect of getting five plate appearances from any asset priced this far below $4K is enticing; however, when a couple of those PAs are guaranteed to be against Lyles, we’re almost looking at a “free space” situation. Kepler has a 123 wRC+ versus RHPs going back to the beginning of 2019. He can do some serious damage here.
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I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is theglt13) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.
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