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

Hopefully, the rain will have left Philadelphia so that the Braves and Phillies can finally open the 2024 season on Friday. John Geliebter-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, Part II

Expected rain in the Northeast caused Thursday openers in both Philadelphia and New York to be pushed back a day, so while there were previously no scheduled day games for Friday, now we get a pair. First up is Mets LHP Jose Quintana versus Brewers RHP Freddy Peralta at 1:40 ET. It seems a bit lopsided, but Quintana may be better than you think, with a 3.13 ERA (3.16 FIP) in 45 starts over the past two seasons. The prime matchup is Braves-Phillies at 3:05 ET, with Cy Young candidates Spencer Strider and Zack Wheeler facing off. Ah, much better!

While it is nice to have better weather in the Northeast on Friday and two extra games, the original schedule fails to feature every team in action. There'll be no Cubs-Rangers, Nationals-Reds, Twins-Royals, Tigers-White Sox or Angels-Orioles. Only 10 games are on the docket, so those in daily fantasy formats should not blindly assume their players are in action. Yeah, it is weird. As if teams already need a day off after playing just one game. Going forward, expect a nearly full slate of Friday baseball for the next six months.

What you may have missed on Thursday

By Todd Zola

  • New Chicago Cubs manager Craig Counsell declined to commit to a single reliever as the club's closer. Most assumed Adbert Alzolay was the primary candidate, with Hector Neris in the mix. In yesterday's opener in Arlington, Neris preserved a 2-2 tie in the eighth inning, though he did yield a hit and a walk to the defending World Series Champions. After the Cubs scored a run in the top of the ninth, Alzolay indeed logged the first save chance ... and the first blown save as he surrendered a home run to pinch hitter Travis Jankowksi. It will be at least a day until it is learned who will get the next save chance as Friday is an off day for both the Cubs and Rangers. Also of note in this contest, Justin Steele left the game after hurting his hamstring while fielding a bunt. Drew Smyly, last night's losing pitcher, will likely move to the rotation.

  • With Jhoan Duran sidelined due to a strained oblique, Griffin Jax and Brock Stewart were identified as the Minnesota Twins relievers most likely to pick up ninth-inning duties. After Pablo Lopez hurled seven innings of one-run ball against the Royals, Stewart collected a hold as he pitched the eighth with a 4-1 lead. Jax sealed the deal for his first save. Duran is expected to miss most, if not all of April, with Jax likely to fill in.

  • It wasn't all good news for the Twins as Royce Lewis left the contest in the third inning after hurting his quad running the bases. Lewis had homered off Cole Ragans in the first inning, then followed that up with a single in the third. Edouard Julien, who was on the bench with a southpaw starting, came in as a pinch runner. If Lewis is out for an extended period, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli could use Kyle Farmer at third and let Julien play against left-handers, or switch-hitter Willi Castro could see regular action. Castro stole 33 bases in 38 tries last season.

  • Continuing the closer theme, Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch summoned Jason Foley -- and not Alex Lange -- to preserve a 1-0 lead. Lefty Andrew Chafin retired Andrew Benintendi to start the ninth, with Foley fanning switch-hitter Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert Jr. to record the save. The Tigers expect to produce a goodly number of saves in 2024, so Foley notching the first could indicate he's the preferred option

Everything else you need to know for Friday

  • Adding Strider, Wheeler and Peralta certainly beefs up Friday's pitching slate, which features only two other starters among the top 30 in ESPN's rankings (George Kirby, Bobby Miller). Yankees LHP Carlos Rodon, coming off a terrible first season in New York, makes his season debut at Houston. Rodon had a 2.88 ERA over 31 starts for the 2022 Giants, earning Cy Young votes for the second consecutive season. His debut with the Yankees delivered a 6.85 ERA over 14 starts. He pitched fairly well this spring (4.19 ERA, 0.98 WHIP), but some fantasy managers may not trust him, especially on the road against a formidable Astros offense.

  • Meanwhile, the Yankees face Astros RHP Cristian Javier, and fantasy managers may find it tough to evaluate whether he is worth trusting or not, even though he is rostered in 89.5% of leagues. For one, Javier posted an inflated 4.56 ERA last season (more than two runs above his 2022 mark) with an ineffective slider and BABIP correction looking like two major factors. Then again, Javier has excellent career regular-season numbers against the Yankees, with a 2.45 ERA and 0.77 WHIP over 25⅔ innings. Aaron Judge is 0-for-12 versus Javier, with seven strikeouts. It seems a bit early to overthink starting pitchers, though. Stick with Javier as he bounces back this season.

  • Marlins LHP A.J. Puk pitched in relief 120 times over the past two seasons, but now he is in Miami's rotation and coming off a fabulous spring in which he whiffed 23 out of 56 batters and permitted just two earned runs over four starts. Puk is rostered in 43.7% of ESPN standard leagues and rising, as he is one of the most-added players in ESPN leagues. He seems unlikely to stay in this rotation for six months because of his injury history and innings limits, but worry about that later. He faces an uninspiring Pirates lineup on Friday -- a team that slugged a poor .383 versus lefties last season, fourth-worst in baseball.

  • One of Giants LHP Kyle Harrison's seven big league starts last season came against the Padres, and it went rather poorly, as Juan Soto, Xander Bogaerts, Gary Sanchez and Garrett Cooper all homered off him. Of course, three of those fellows are no longer Padres. Only Bogaerts is. The Padres face their first left-handed starter this season, and we await their lineup. Will rookie SS Jackson Merrill (now the center fielder) be in it? What about 1B/2B Jake Cronenworth, a left-handed hitter who batted third in the two Korea games, knocking in four runs in one of them, but with underwhelming career numbers against lefties? Also, how long will it be before 3B Manny Machado, coming back from offseason elbow surgery, can play the field? C Luis Campusano and 3B Eguy Rosario and OF Jurickson Profar should play, and they are worth streaming against a young lefty with concerning walk and home run rates.

  • Betting tip of the day: On Thursday, the Marlins damaged Pirates ace RHP Mitch Keller, he of the 210 strikeouts last season, for five runs. On Friday, hitting soft-tossing Pirates LHP Martin Perez (a career 6.3 K/9) should be even easier. Load up on available Miami bats, take the over on total runs (7.5) and expect the Marlins to win this one (-130).

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 Friday

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 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.

Worst Over-50% rostered hitters for Friday

THE BAT X's Best Stacks for Friday