After some allowances for home openers the past few weeks, Friday is a full slate with everything under the lights expect the traditional Friday matinee in Wrigley Field. Cold and wet weather in the Midwest and Northeast have resulted in a low-scoring week, so fortifying lineups is important over the weekend, beginning with Friday's docket.
Here are the players in favorable spots to help, all available in over half of all ESPN leagues.
JT Brubaker (R), rostered in 38% of ESPN leagues, Pittsburgh Pirates at Minnesota Twins: Brubaker was initially slated to face the Tigers on Thursday, but a Wednesday rainout pushed his outing until Friday. Here's what my colleague Mike Sheets had to say. "Brubaker has attracted the attention of fantasy managers by putting up a 1.76 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 10.6 K/9 over his first three outings. While we can't necessarily take hot starts like this at full value, Brubaker's stuff looks legit. His four-seamer has been unhittable so far, as he's thrown the pitch 59 times this season and has yet to allow a single hit (with it)."
Admittedly, the Twins on the road is much tougher than a date with the Tigers, but Brubaker' early success warrants trust in this big test.
Casey Mize (R), 31%, Detroit Tigers vs. Kansas City Royals: Cody Stavenhagen of The Athletic recently notes nobody has added more zip to their fastball in the early going than Casey Mize. According to Statcast, Mize has added over 3 ticks as he's averaging 95.2 mph over his first three efforts. Strikeouts have yet to manifest, but if Mize maintains the increase, they're likely to dovetail. That said, the Royals are among the toughest lineups to punch out.
Huascar Ynoa (R), 28%, Atlanta Braves vs. Arizona Diamondbacks: This feels like a trap game. That is, on paper, Ynoa's 20 strikeouts with just three walks in 16 innings is impressive, but there is little to support the early season success when looking at Ynoa's minor league and limited major league track record. Further, he's allowed four homers and the Diamondbacks have some good lefty pop. That said, a 97-mph fastball helping to fuel a 14% swinging strike mark is too much to ignore.
Dylan Cease (R), 17%, Chicago White Sox vs. Texas Rangers: Cease remains one skill away from the long-awaited breakout as the 25-year-old righty has walked nine in 14 frames to begin the 2021 campaign. In his favor is facing a Texas lineup fanning the second most in the league while sporting a slightly below-average walk rate.
Cole Irvin (L), fewer than 1%, Oakland Athletics at Baltimore Orioles: The Athletics carry an 11-game winning streak into Friday's contest with Irvin starting Oakland's last loss on April 8. In his next start, the southpaw tossed six scoreless frames against the Tigers, whiffing six with no walks. On Friday, Irvin draws a Baltimore offense posting the league's lowest weighted on-base average with a generous 27.7% strikeout rate.
Bullpen: You've probably heard some say something like, "Even bad teams get saves." Sure, they do, and you can cherry pick instances of closers on second division teams being among the league leaders. However, my research demonstrates save chances correlate best with team winning percentage and team ERA. The former is intuitive, but the latter may have been thought to be run differential. I repeat the study every year and sure enough, it is ERA and not runs scored or run differential the better predictor for save opportunities.
For the latest team-by-team closer situations, please consult our Closer Chart.
Catcher -- Omar Narvaez (L), 29%, Milwaukee Brewers at Chicago Cubs (RHP Kyle Hendricks): Narvaez already has as many hits (19) and RBI (10) as he had all of last season, along with blasting one more homer (3) than he did in 2020. Normally, it's best to avoid Hendricks, but the Cubs veteran is in a rut, walking seven with five homers in his inaugural 13 stanzas of the season.
First Base -- Evan White (R), 4%, Seattle Mariners at Boston Red Sox (LHP Martin Perez): White is off to a slow start, but he's in a good spot on Friday, facing a lefty who has difficulties against righty batters. It will be cold, but Fenway Park is still an upgrade over T-Mobile Park.
Second Base -- Enrique Hernandez (R), 47%, Boston Red Sox vs. Seattle Mariners (LHP Yusei Kikuchi): We're almost there friends, just a few more percentage points and Hernandez will eclipse the 50% rostership for inclusion in the space. He remains a production sparkplug for the American League's top offense, enjoying the platoon bump from the leadoff spot.
Third Base -- Maikel Franco (R), 17%, Baltimore Orioles vs. Oakland Athletics (LHP Cole Irvin): It's also still cold in Baltimore but even so, Camden Yards remains plus for power. Irvin has been effective, but he's fanned only 11 in 15 frames. Franco already makes frequent contact so having several chances to loft one of his fly balls over the fence is a solid play.
Shortstop -- Willi Castro (S), 15%, Detroit Tigers vs. Kansas City Royals (LHP Mike Minor): Castro was initially slated to be a super-utility type this season, but a strong spring resulted in the 24-year-old switch-hitter starting almost every game at shortstop, though there are indications he may slide over to second base with Niko Goodrum manning shortstop, a move Detroit fashions as a means of upgrading their defense at two spots. Castro has yet to get going at the dish but he faces a struggling starter in Minor and a vulnerable Royals bullpen, with the platoon edge each at-bat.
Corner Infield -- Jesus Aguilar (R), 15%, Miami Marlins at San Francisco Giants (LHP Alex Wood): While Wood was impressive in his Giants debit last time out, Aguilar has historically been solid facing lefty pitching.
Middle Infield -- Tommy La Stella (L), 19%, San Francisco Giants vs. Miami Marlins (RHP Sandy Alcantara): La Stella is a sneaky option for points leagues as he's quietly posted a solid on-base mark the past several seasons and he's not hitting at the top the Giants order with a righty on the hill.
Outfield -- Manuel Margot (R), 38%, Tampa Bay Rays vs. Toronto Blue Jays (LHP Steven Matz): Even though Margot hits righthanders well enough to keep his glove and speed in the lineup regularly, he's especially effective with the platoon advantage.
Outfield -- Pavin Smith (L), 3%, Arizona Diamondbacks at Atlanta Braves (RHP Huascar Ynoa): As indicated when discussing Ynoa earlier, Arizona has some dangerous lefty swingers, including David Peralta and Kole Calhoun along with Smith. Smith hasn't taken full advantage of the extra playing time he's seen to begin the season, though, Statcast data suggests he's been a bit snake bit. The main reason is Smith hits the ball hard, but mostly on the ground. If he can add more loft, hits, especially homers, should increase.
Outfield -- Justin Williams (L), 2%, St. Louis Cardinals vs. Cincinnati Reds (RHP Sonny Gray): After a 1-for-17 stretch to open the season, Williams has slashed 321/.424/.536 since has he's been a mainstay in the Cardinals lineup with a right-hander on the hill.