There will be no shortage of baseball tonight, as we’ve got a massive 14-game slate to keep us all entertained. However, with just a week remaining till the MLB’s trade deadline, we can now officially say we’ve reached the #HugWatch stage of the season, as perfectly illustrated on Thursday by the Twins moving on from Nelson Cruz. That means keeping your head on a swivel and possibly reacting to some pre-game news.
For everything else, I’ve got you covered. Let’s go position-by-position and break down this evening’s slate.
Zack Wheeler, Philadelphia Phillies vs. Atlanta Braves, $9,800 - There are three elite strikeout pitchers at the top of tonight’s pricing list, but it’s Wheeler who easily garners the softest matchup. Without Ronald Acuna, the Braves have registered just a 97 wRC+ across the past two weeks; not to mention the fact that Wheeler’s already dominated Atlanta twice in 2021, exceeding 39.0 DKFP on both April 3 and June 10. That’s a pretty high ceiling, but one that’s not all that surprising when taking a look at the right-hander’s season-long statistics. Wheeler’s been particularly dominant when pitching in Philadelphia, posting a 2.16 ERA to go along with 32.6% strikeout rate. Opponents have also managed just a .225 wOBA within the split, painting a tantalizing picture of what Wheeler can accomplish this evening.
Wily Peralta, Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals, $6,500 - The Tigers seemingly can’t stop winning baseball games and Peralta is a big reason why. The right-hander has been fully stretched out for four starts this season and it’s hard to argue that those outings could have gone much better. Peralta owns a sterling 0.38 ERA in that span, as he’s surrendered just a single earned run across 24.0 innings of work. Sure, the opponents haven’t exactly been the most daunting in the world — he’s faced Cleveland, Texas and Minnesota twice — but that’s the magic of calling the AL Central home. The Royals have been just as underwhelming offensively, with a .138 ISO and an 87 wRC+ so far in July. At this price, I’ll keep rolling with Peralta.
Eric Haase, Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals, $4,500 - The other reason the Tigers can’t stop winning is that Haase has turned into the second coming of Johnny Bench. The catcher has registered an eye-popping .299 ISO in his 190 plate appearances at the MLB level in 2021, doing a majority of his damage against left-handed opponents. Haase is slashing an insane .338/.358/.785 with nine home runs in 65 at-bats within the split and I have my doubts that Kris Bubic ($5,000) is going to be the one to slow him down. In fact, Bubic’s allowed opponents to combine for a .445 wOBA since the beginning of June.
James McCann, New York Mets vs. Toronto Blue Jays, $3,600 - Well, we all know the drill here. McCann has always hit better against left-handed pitching than right-handed pitching and 2021 is certainly not an exception. Coming into play on Friday, McCann is slashing .317/.403/.556 with a 164 wRC+ in his 72 plate appearances within the split. With Steven Matz ($7,100) having looked shaky since his return from the COVID injured list, McCann should be able to bring back some value this evening.
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Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays at New York Mets, $5,700 - We’ve reached the point where Guerrero is basically viable on any slate, but especially so on the rare occurrence his price tag drops below $6K. Don’t get me wrong, Tylor Megill ($9,000) has pitched really well in his rookie campaign, but the Blue Jays are a small step up from the Pirates in terms of offensive potency. That begins and ends with Guerrero, who owns a .384 ISO and a 208 wRC+ when facing RHPs in 2021. Those are video game numbers.
Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals, $2,700 - From a man gunning for a Triple Crown to the last man to accomplish the feat. In no way is Cabrera the same hitter he was a decade ago, but it is worth noting that all of his success so far this season has come against left-handed pitching. While Miggy has posted an ugly 56 wRC+ versus RHPs, that number jumps to 114 when facing southpaws. Heck, Cabrera is batting .314 within the split in his 88 plate appearances. With the aforementioned Bubic struggling and the Tigers scoring runs in bunches, you could so worse than saving some serious salary with the former MVP.
Jose Altuve, Houston Astros vs. Texas Rangers, $5,300 - It appears that the wheels are starting to fall off for Kolby Allard ($5,500). While the young lefty had been producing early in the season, July has been a rude awakening, with opponents clubbing 2.70 home runs per nine and the 23-year-old pitching to a 6.22 FIP. Well, things son’t get any easier with Houston on the schedule. In particular, Altuve has been crushing the ball going back to the beginning of May, a stretch of time where the All-Star possesses a .268 ISO and a 151 wRC+. Expect the Astros to put up some crooked numbers this evening.
Cesar Hernandez, Cleveland Guardians vs. Tampa Bay Rays, $4,000 - Congratulations on the new nickname, Cleveland. To celebrate, Hernandez is probably going to mash a leadoff home run tonight. I’m not kidding. The 31-year-old is suddenly a power hitter? Dating back to May 1, Hernandez has hit 15 home runs — a total that would match his career-high for a full season. Most of this shocking pop has come while batting from the right-side of the plate, as Hernandez has registered a .338 ISO and a 150 wRC+ against LHPs within this same span. I’m sure Josh Fleming ($6,800) knows all this, but can he do anything to stop it?
J.D. Davis, New York Mets vs. Toronto Blue Jays, $4,500 - Injuries have limited Davis to just 66 plate appearances so far in 2021, but goodness has he taken advantage of his few opportunities to hit. Davis comes into tonight’s contest with a .431 expected wOBA and a 193 wRC+. Now, obviously there’s going to be some regression going forward, but don’t expect it to start on Friday. Davis owns an .865 OPS and a .210 ISO against lefties going back to the beginning of 2019, so it would be wise of Matz to tread carefully with the 28-year-old.
Brock Holt, Texas Rangers at Houston Astros, $2,000 - I am fully aware of how unappealing the idea of using Holt in a lineup is in a vacuum; however, Chris Woodward appears determined to make “Brock Holt: Leadoff Hitter” happen. Did Woodward lose a bet? It’s unclear, but Holt has been consistently batting atop the Rangers’ lineup in July when the team has been facing a right-handed opponent. The prospect of five plate appearances at the absolute minimum has to at least be considered, right?
Trea Turner, Washington Nationals at Baltimore Orioles, $5,700 - This is a hefty price tag for Turner, but the All-Star has been nearly unstoppable at the plate since the beginning of June. In that span, Turner is slashing .339/.393/.560 with a 155 wRC+ and, of course, nine stolen bases. The shortstop can truly burn an opponent in so many different ways, and I’m expecting big things tonight against the Orioles. I mean, Jorge Lopez ($6,000) has a 7.29 ERA in his past seven starts. There’s a reason the Nationals have one of this slate’s highest implied team totals.
Jose Iglesias, Los Angeles Angels at Minnesota Twins, $3,400 - Obviously, the main draw of Iglesias is his matchup with J.A. Happ ($6,100). With Minnesota lacking alternatives, the lefty is still taking the mound every fifth day, despite an 8.11 ERA in his past 12 starts and opponents combining for a massive .433 wOBA within that same span. Still, Iglesias does provide some value on his own merits, as he’s hit .308 with a 120 wRC+ off of left-handed pitching so far in 2021. He’s a cheap element of what should be a popular stack.
Juan Soto, Washington Nationals at Baltimore Orioles, $5,600 - You’re going to want to have Soto in a few lineups on Friday. The 22-year-old phenom has been red-hot in July, slashing .390/.513/.780 in his 76 plate appearances. He also owns the fourth-highest expected wOBA for the month (.459), a stat which really showcases the type of contact that Soto has been making the past three weeks. Between Lopez and an underwhelming Baltimore bullpen, I just can’t see the outfielder having a quiet night.
Justin Upton, Los Angeles Angels at Minnesota Twins, $3,300 - It’s difficult to know what you’re getting from an asset coming off of a long stay on the IL, but Upton was crushing left-handed pitching prior to his back issue. To wit, the veteran is sporting a .976 OPS and a 167 wRC+ within the split in 2021. He also immediately hit third in the Angels’ order on Thursday, so you’d have to assume he’ll have another high-leverage lineup slot this evening.
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