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Note: This file has been updated with any overnight pitching changes or weather-related game postponements, along with the addition of the latest MLB game odds as of the indicated time of publication.
What you need to know for Friday's MLB Games
By Todd Zola
Friday marks the beginning of Labor Day weekend. It's also the day MLB rosters expand by two to 28. Perhaps most importantly, it's the final Friday of the regular season in ESPN head-to-head leagues. Time is running out for those needing a win to clinch a playoff berth.
Action gets underway early at 1:10 PM ET with the first game of a day-night doubleheader featuring the Cincinnati Reds hosting the Chicago Cubs in the Great American Ballpark. The twin bill has major playoff implications with the Cubs trying to chase down the NL Central leading Milwaukee Brewers and the Reds aiming to get back in the NL wild card chase. Both starting pitchers are viable streaming options, but they carry risk in such a hitter-friendly locale. Jordan Wicks (5.7% rostered) will be making his second career start for the Cubs. In his debut, the 23-year-old southpaw fanned nine in five frames, limiting the Pittsburgh Pirates to one run on two hits. Despite the favorable venue, the Reds offense have posted below average numbers with a lefty on the hill.
Graham Ashcraft (28.2%) will take the ball for the home team. The 25-year-old right-hander has recorded 10 quality starts in his last 11 outings, including his past six. He's only fanned 53 in those 71 2/3 innings, but a fortunate .244 BABIP in that span has buoyed a 2.39 ERA and 1.08 WHIP over this stretch. Even the Ashcraft is at home, and seemingly in a groove, he's more vulnerable to a subpar outing, and Wicks has a higher strikeout potential. It's close, but heads up, the steaming edge goes to Wicks.
Truth be told, overall Friday is not ideal for those looking to fortify their fantasy squad via streaming pitchers. The top option is on a team making headlines this week as Patrick Sandoval (30.3%) will get the ball for the Los Angeles Angels in their road tilt with the Oakland Athletics. The 26-year-old southpaw has taken a couple of steps back this season as he's sporting the lowest strikeout rate and highest walk rate of his career. However, facing the Athletics has proven to be a panacea for many hurlers this season. Facing lefties, Oakland's offense checks in with the third lowest wOBA in the league. They also are one of the least patient clubs, which bodes well for Sandoval and his control lapses.
Speaking of teams serving as elixirs, James Paxton (28.7%) and the Boston Red Sox are coming off a three-game sweep by the Houston Astros at Fenway Park, all but extinguishing their flickering playoff hopes. For the Red Sox to get back into the wild card chase, they will need to take advantage of a weekend series in Kauffman Stadium against the Kansas City Royals. Paxton has sputtered in his past two outings, yielding 10 runs in 81/3 innings to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Astros. He should be able to get back on track facing a lineup with fifth lowest wOBA and 11th highest strikeout rate with a left-hander on the hill.
Eury Perez (51.1%) is rostered in slightly more than half of ESPN leagues, but due to the importance of this fantasy week, and the lack of other options on Friday's docket, it merits checking Perez's availability. It's clear the Marlins plan on limiting the prized rookie's workload, but the 20-year-old right-hander has been very pitch efficient in his last two outings as both have registered as quality starts. Perez will take on a surprisingly productive Washinton Nationals club, but Perez has proven matchup-proof, even after starting just 15 games in his fledgling major league career.
Two games in the Queen City put Cubs and Reds batters in the spotlight. Normally, teams use some non-regulars when scheduled for a pair, but with both teams having Thursday off, and each in playoff contention, they're likely to use their best lineup in the opener and nightcap. The Cubs most likely available to pick up for both games are Seiya Suzuki (49.8%), Jeimer Candelario (38%) and Mike Tauchman (4.7%). The Reds targets are Tyler Stephenson (36.7%), Christian Encarnacion-Strand (8.5%) and Noelvi Marte (3.1%), plus the recently claimed Hunter Renfroe (50.7%) and Harrison Bader (10.1%).
Starting pitcher rankings for Friday
Bullpen usage watch for Friday
By Todd Zola
For the third time this season (and the second time in August), the Atlanta Braves brought in Raisel Iglesias for a third straight day. Like he did earlier in the month, Iglesias delivered, collecting his 27th save. However, it did not come without an anxious moment or two as the Los Angeles Dodgers battled back from a six-run deficit to trail just 8-7 in the ninth inning. Iglesias retired Mookie Betts, who had already homered twice, but then Freddie Freeman coaxed a walk and Will Smith singled. Iglesias settled down to induce a flyout from Max Muncy and then struck out Enrique Hernandez. Iglesias has not yet appeared on four straight days and isn't likely to do so today. Kirby Yates did not pitch last night, so he's the probable closer for the second game of the series between a pair of divisional leaders.
The double-dip at the Great American Ballpark gives twice the chance for a pitcher to get a save or a hold. The Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs both had Thursday off so their respective closers, Alexis Diaz and Adbert Alzolay are rested. After tying Kyle Finnegan for the most saves in August with 10, Alzolay (32.3% rostered) certainly merits a pickup. Due to the importance of these games for both teams, both closers could be used twice, but there is a better chance they're each limited to just one contest. Lucas Sims has nine holds and two saves since the All-Star break, so he's the best addition from the Reds bullpen. Mark Leiter Jr. and Julian Merryweather have both pitched well for the Cubs and make solid candidates to garner a hold.
Best Sub-50% Rostered Hitters for Friday
Best and worst hitters from the day are generated by THE BAT X, a projection system created by Derek Carty using advanced methods like those used in MLB front offices, accounting for a variety of factors including player talent, ballparks, bullpens, weather, umpires, defense, catcher pitch-framing, and lots more.
Mike Tauchman (CHC, LF -- 5%) at Lively and Ashcraft
Jeimer Candelario (CHC, 3B -- 39%) at Lively and Ashcraft
Christian Encarnacion-Strand (CIN, 3B -- 8%) vs. Greene and Wicks
Davis Schneider (TOR, 2B -- 7%) at Flexen
Brandon Belt (TOR, 1B -- 3%) at Flexen
Ezequiel Tovar (COL, SS -- 13%) vs. Ryu
Worst Over-50% Rostered Hitters for Friday
Alec Bohm (PHI, 3B -- 79%) at Peralta
J.T. Realmuto (PHI, C -- 94%) at Peralta
William Contreras (MIL, C -- 73%) vs. Wheeler
Teoscar Hernandez (SEA, RF -- 63%) at Senga
THE BAT X's Best Stacks for Friday
Prop of the Day
Eury Perez, Marlins, 5.5 strikeouts (-110/-115)
THE BAT X sees Perez putting up 4.8 strikeouts for this matchup on average, while projecting him to exceed his player prop total 34.6% of the time. THE BAT X believes there is positive value on the UNDER with an expected value of $25.55.
Note: Expected Value is a measure of how good a bet is, factoring the probability that it will win versus the odds the book is providing. If you were to wager $1.00 100 times on a bet with an Expected Value of $25, you would win some and you would lose some, but in the end you would expect to come away with $25 in profit on your $100 investment.
FACTORS THAT FAVOR THE OVER
Perez projects as the 16th-best starting pitcher in baseball right now when assessing his strikeout talent, via THE BAT X.
In terms of temperature and humidity, the weather report projects the fourth-best pitching conditions on today's slate.
FACTORS THAT FAVOR THE UNDER
THE BAT X projects Perez to throw 84 pitches today (sixth-fewest of all pitchers on the slate), considering both his underlying tendencies and the matchup.
The Nationals (19.5 K%) are forecasted to have the least strikeout-heavy set of batters of the day.
Dan Iassogna, scheduled to be calling pitches today, profiles as a hitter's umpire.
THE BAT X projects Nationals Park as the sixth-worst stadium for strikeouts in MLB.