Fantasy baseball pitcher rankings, lineup advice for Thursday's MLB games

Frankie Montas could have a strong start to 2024 against the visiting Nationals. Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Look for our fantasy baseball starting pitcher rankings, hitter upgrades and downgrades daily to help you make smart fantasy baseball lineup decisions and for MLB betting tips. MLB game odds are provided by ESPN BET, and fantasy advice is geared toward ESPN 10-team leagues with standard scoring.

Note: This file will be 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.

Opening Day has arrived

At long last, Opening Day is here!

For fantasy baseball managers, it means stats that actually count -- well, at least for most of the other teams that didn't play games in South Korea last week. A full 26 teams -- yes, including those Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres, who each have those two games already in the books -- are in action on Thursday, are in action on Thursday, beginning with the Los Angeles Angels at Baltimore Orioles at 3:05 p.m. ET, and concluding with a pair of games in Arizona and Seattle at 10:10 p.m. ET.

Note: Both the Milwaukee Brewers at New York Mets and Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Phillies games originally scheduled for Thursday have already been postponed until Friday due to weather concerns.

Being that it is Opening Day, most teams will start their aces and, in fact, 15 of the 26 starting pitchers scheduled to work are rostered in greater than 90% of ESPN leagues -- with 11 of those rostered in greater than 95%. There's little room for streaming on this particular day, with a couple of exceptions:

  • Frankie Montas, SP, Cincinnati Reds (11.1% rostered, versus Washington Nationals): Though he endured a bit of an up-and-down spring, reports on the velocity of his four-seam fastball as well as the effectiveness of his splitter were generally good and, in perhaps the most important development, he made it through five Cactus League starts without injury. Montas' sinker/splitter-reliant repertoire, if it remains as sharp as it seemed in March, should help counter somewhat the HR-friendly effects of Great American Ball Park, but his appeal on Thursday is largely about the mediocrity of the visiting Nationals offense. They finished 2023 ranked 23rd in both runs per game (4.32) and wOBA (.309), 28th in fly ball rate (23.1%) and 29th in HR rate (2.5%), and added a quartet of hardly threatening bats in Joey Gallo, Eddie Rosario, Nick Senzel and Jesse Winker to the lineup.

  • Brayan Bello, SP, Boston Red Sox (32.5%, at Seattle Mariners): He's coming off back-to-back solid Grapefruit League starts (10⅓ innings, two earned runs, 12 strikeouts), will be facing what was a middling 2023 Mariners offense that has largely swapped out Teoscar Hernandez, Jarred Kelenic and Eugenio Suarez for Mitch Garver, Mitch Haniger and Jorge Polanco, and should benefit both from T-Mobile Park's spacious outfield and Seattle's marine layer.

Everything else you need to know for Thursday

  • Although the game isn't being played at Coors Field, Arizona Diamondbacks hitters align brilliantly against visiting Colorado Rockies left-hander Kyle Freeland. Yes, Freeland's average fastball velocity was up during spring training (92.5 mph on all 80 fastball types across three measured starts, compared to 88.7 in 2023), but he's still one of the more hittable starters out there. Just 12 of his 29 turns in 2023 were quality starts, including only 7 out of 13 away from Coors. He ranks among the worst against right-handed hitters in baseball (.354 wOBA allowed from 2021-23).

  • During the 2023 postseason, the Diamondbacks regularly slotted Ketel Marte (99.1% rostered) in the leadoff spot ahead of Corbin Carroll, with the two switching spots against right-handers, while batting catcher Gabriel Moreno (82.2%) third. Moreno endured a sluggish spring (.182/.250/.303, 22.2% K rate), but he historically mashes lefties (.349/.374/.496 career rates) and is therefore worth a start against the fastball-reliant Freeland. With a left-hander on the mound, expect either Randal Grichuk (0.3%) or Emmanuel Rivera (0.03%) to draw the start at DH. Both players have good track records against lefties, if you're an NL-only manager digging deep, although Grichuk is the more appealing for fantasy purposes.

  • The Detroit Tigers were one of the spring's better-hitting teams, not to mention have a good number of up-and-coming bats, including top-four-in-the-order Parker Meadows, Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson and Kerry Carpenter. They'll face the Chicago White Sox and Garrett Crochet, who will be making his first MLB start after 72 relief appearances sandwiched around April 2022's Tommy John surgery. Suffice to say that Crochet, who threw only 31 pitches in his final spring tune-up on March 21, won't be asked to pitch deep into Thursday's game, putting additional pressure on one of the team's weakest overall bullpens. As Crochet shouldn't last much longer than 60 pitches, don't rely heavily upon platoon advantages, meaning Meadows, Greene and Carpenter should remain in your lineup (assuming they're in the initial batting order), while Mark Canha (11.4% rostered) could be a strong streamer if he sneaks into a top-five slot.

  • Get your left-handed Reds hitters into the lineup against the Nationals' Josiah Gray, especially at homer-friendly Great American Ball Park. Gray struggled this spring (6.61 ERA, 15.9% walk rate in five starts) and has allowed a .361 wOBA to lefties over the last three seasons, making Elly De La Cruz (96.4%) a particularly strong start. Jake Fraley (2.4%), a .256/.349/.456 career hitter against righties, could earn a heart-of-the-order start and is a solid streamer.

  • Both the Diamondbacks (Paul Sewald) and Minnesota Twins (Jhoan Duran) lost their closers to injuries near the conclusion of spring training, leaving their ninth-inning roles up for grabs. Both teams are strongly favored to win their Opening Day games, but as anything goes in baseball on a single-day basis, those gaps might narrow and present hold and/or save opportunities. Kevin Ginkel and Scott McGough, in that order, should be the favorites to finish games for the Diamondbacks, while Griffin Jax's lights-out spring (7⅔ shutout innings, 12 K's, no walks) probably puts him ahead of Brock Stewart and Steven Okert from the Twins bullpen.

  • Betting Tip of the Day: In a game that looks to be closer and more pitcher-oriented than the odds say, I like the New York Yankees both on the money line (+130) as well as under 8.5 runs behind Nestor Cortes, who might throw 75-80 pitches. The Yankees bullpen is deeper than you think, while Houston Astros starter Framber Valdez has 46 quality starts in 62 tries over since the start of 2022.

It's not too late to start a free fantasy baseball league. Finish your draft before the first pitch of Sunday night's game and all stats will retroactively count for Week 1. Come and join the fun!

Starting pitcher rankings for Thursday

Reliever report

To get the latest information on each team's bullpen hierarchy, as well as which pitchers might be facing a bit of fatigue and who might be the most likely suspects to vulture a save or pick up a surprise hold in their stead, check out the latest Closer Chart, which will be updated every morning.

Best Sub-50% rostered hitters for Thursday

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.

Worst Over-50% rostered hitters for Thursday

The BAT X's Best Stacks for Thursday