There are a ton of stacking opportunities today, with weak pitchers facing off against heavy lineups and the likelihood that several games will dip into the bullpen early.
Justin Upton, OF ($4400)
vs. RHP: .273/.342/.464 with 86-of-116 SB in 3371 PA
Upton has fooled us all many times, from an early-career performance that harkened memories of Ken Griffey Jr to multiple seasons with fast starts, only to watch the performance evaporate. There were natural questions about his ability to hit for power in the marine-soaked confines of Petco Park, but Upton has silenced the critics with his strongest season to date. His current slugging percentage of .554 would register as the highest of his career if Upton were able to sustain that level of pop for the full season, though he is likely to give back a few homers in exchange for doubles when comparing what he has done this far in 2015 to what he might do for the balance of the campaign. It could be the push of playing for his next contract, as Upton is a free agent after the season, but he has even resurrected the impact that he had on the basepaths in his younger years, as the former 20-steal threat has already recorded 10 thefts (caught zero times) in 48 games this season, his most since 2012. Upton has raked southpaws for much of his career, but he has yet to get going against them this season in a very limited sample (26 of his 196 plate appearances have come against lefties), so today's matchup with Francisco Liriano might just provide Upton with the opportunity to bolster a career OPS split that is 111 points higher when he faces a left-handed pitcher.
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Ryan Howard, 1B ($4100)
vs. LHP: .224/.302/.428 in 1878 PA
vs. RHP: .285/.378/.574 in 3960 PA
Howard is on fire lately, resurrecting the ghost of what was once an elite career track. He hasn't slugged over .488 for a full season since 2011, but this season's .519 mark is more than 50 points higher than anything that he has put together for the past three seasons. The OBP is still a major problem at .298 for the year, and his fogginess with regard to the strike zone is reflected in his drawing just eight walks against 49 punchouts in 172 plate appearances this season. The line stood at .177/.235/.380 at its low point back on May third, and the combination of his ineptitude and advanced age led most to assume that the end was nigh. But Howard has knocked 13 extra-base hits in the 24 games since, bringing his homer total into double digits for the 11th consecutive season, and though the shape of his season clouds his future value, Howard is a strong play against novice right-hander Chad Bettis.
Rajai Davis, OF ($3800)
vs. LHP: .303/.359/.449 with 109-of-139 SB in 1082 PA
vs. RHP: .254/.297/.348 with 206-of-257 SB in 2172 PA
Known primarly for his legwork, Rajai Davis becomes an OPS machine when a lefty is on the mound. The Tiugers have one of the most formidable offenses in the game, and the right-hand-heavy roster has a number of players who torch southpaws, leading off with Davis and continuing on down the line through Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera, Yoenis Cespedes, and J.D. Martinez, so there will be plenty of run-scoring opportunities for the hitter at the top of the order. Many base-stealers take a severe hit to their base-running acumen when a lefty is on the mound, but Davis doesn't fall into that category, with a nearly identical rate of takeoffs and successful thefts regardless of the handedness of the pitcher on the mound. Between the enhance ratios and the intact baserunning, Rajai is a sneaky play who could post a massive line today against southpaw Hector Santiago and the Angels.
Anibal Sanchez, DET at LAA ($8400)
The Angels' offensive struggles this season would seemingly present an ideal scenario for the scuffling Sanchez, who has given up seven earned runs in each of his last two starts and six or more runs in three of his last four turns. His walk rate of 6.6 percent is within spitting distance of last season and is actually better than he had in his 2013 breakout, but Anibal's lack of command is apparent by his tendency to fall into fastball counts and a homer rate that has skyrocketed to 4.3 percent this season (his career rate is 2.0 percent). He has given up five homers in his last two contests, and though a lack of power is one of the most glaring issues for the Angel offense, they also contain a few players that could torment the Tiger hurler if he continues to elevate fastballs in hitter's counts.
Mark Buehrle, TOR at MIN ($6000)
Buehrle is available as a cheap option to pair with one of the elite starting pitchers today, and he faces a Minnsota ballclub that can often be thwarted by left-handed pitchers. However, a couple of the more-vulnerable lefty bats will be out of the lineup, with Kennys Vargas sent down to the minors and Oswaldo Arcia currently on the disabled list, and the platoon advantage enjoyed by right-handed bats Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe more than offsets any theoretical advantage against Joe Mauer and company. This notice is a call to arms for players like Dozier and Plouffe moreso than a suggestion to roster iron man Mark Buehrle.
Steven Wright, BOS at TEX ($4100)
Wright is by far the cheapest pitcher going today. His modest track record in the minors (7.2 strikeouts per nine and 3.3 walks per nine), advanced age (he's 30 years old), and formidable opponent all act to limit Wright's upside (he's facing a Texas lineup that has been rhyming and ripping like Dylan this season). That said, Wright needs very few points (eight or nine) to justify his salary, and the right-hander has strung together four consecutive starts with more than five innings pitched yet three or fewer runs allowed. It's not a sexy profile, and rostering Wright has more to do with the financial flexibility to afford the top-shelf talents elsewhere on the roster, but he has thrown as many as 110 pitches in a ballgame this season to help squelch the question of workload and increase the odds that he can justify his salary.
Troy Tulowitzki, SS ($4000)
It's rare to see such a low priced attached to Tulowitzki, even playing against a tough lefty (Cole Hamels) on the road, as his career numbers as a visitor are still good enough to qualify as one of the most potent from the shortstop position. The problem is that Tulo has not been himself this season. The right-handed batter has walked just five times in 161 plate appearances this season, with a frequency that has plummeted from last year's career-high of 13.3 percent walks to this season's career-low of 3.1 percent, with the latter mark standing out as one-third the rate of free passes that he had in his next-lowest season. The result has been a horrific .266/.286/.403 line thus far that looks even worse when considering that he plays his home games at altitude.
His only power in 2015 has been to the extreme pull side, yanking doubles down the left-field line, whereas last season was noted for his ability to drive the ball to all fields. Between the hacktastic approach and the weak results on contact, the indicators point to a player whose skills have been greatly compromised across the board. Perhaps he hasn't fully recovered from last season's torn hip labrum, sapping his power as well as his approach as Tulo attempts to compensate for his weakened foundation by taking guesses and hacking earlier in the count. That's merely guesswork on my own part, based on the evidence at hand, but the discrepancy between 2014 Tulo and the '15 version is enough to keep him out of my view for DFS roster purposes in the foreseeable future.
There are heavy rains in Minneapolis (TOR-MIN) this afternoon, but the skies are expected to clear throughout the evening to allow for a full ballgame – check here for updates
Scattered thunderstorms are set to infiltrate St. Louis (LAD-STL) today, starting sporadically in the afternoon and worsening into the night, and if the current weather reports hold then there is a chance that this ballgame gets canceled – check here for updates
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