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

Jared Jones has 17 strikeouts and just two walks in his first two major league starts. Charles LeClaire-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 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.

Keeping up with Jones

Who had the Pittsburgh Pirates starting their season with nine wins in 12 games? Probably not many, since the Pirates lost 86 games last season and their most recent winning season came in 2018. The Pirates start a four-game set with their Pennsylvania brethren -- who are not off to a great start, yet again -- and hard-throwing rookie RHP Jared Jones makes his third start.

Jones, 22, relying mainly on a four-seam fastball that touches triple-digits and a nasty slider, has struck out 17 of 48 Marlins and Orioles faced in 11 2/3 innings, showing excellent control (only two walks) and permitting a paltry .200 batting average. The Phillies are struggling to make hard contact, especially versus fastballs. Jones is among the most-added pitchers in ESPN standard leagues, but still available in 65% of them.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Pittsburgh's start is the offense, which averaged 4.27 runs per game last season (22nd in baseball), but enters Thursday at a bountiful 5.75 runs, led by OF Bryan Reynolds and left-side IFs Oneil Cruz and Ke'Bryan Hayes. Platoon OF Edward Olivares leads with three home runs, and the Phillies throw left-handers Ranger Suarez and Cristopher Sanchez the first two games of the series. The Pirates boast an .865 OPS versus left-handed pitchers.

Keep an eye on the Pittsburgh bullpen, as reliable closer David Bednar wasn't so reliable in Wednesday's disturbing loss to the Royals, permitting four runs in the ninth inning, as his ERA rose to 12.46. Bednar, who may still be battling a lat injury that hampered his spring buildup, has permitted runs in three of five outings. He hit two Royals in his one-third of an inning. LHP Aroldis Chapman, with 322 career saves and with nary a base hit allowed to 14 batters faced so far, lurks as a replacement.

What you may have missed on Wednesday

By Todd Zola

  • With Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado in an early season rut, backup catcher Ivan Herrera has helped pick up the slack for the St. Louis Cardinals. Herrera's playing time increased when regular catcher Willson Contreras missed a couple of games due to a bruised hand, then returned as the DH for Tuesday and Wednesday's contests. Contreras hopes to be behind the plate again this weekend, but Herrera's .581 slugging mark will keep his bat in the lineup more than initially planned. Contreras will continue to slot in as the DH, squeezing playing time from Brendan Donovan and Alec Burleson. This keeps Herrera relevant in two-catcher formats. Currently, Donovan and Burleson are seeing regular action with Lars Nootbaar out (fractured ribs), but Nootbaar is slated to be activated in advance of Friday's road date with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

  • Cody Bradford improved to 3-0 last night in the Texas Rangers' 6-2 home win over the Oakland Athletics. Bradford began the season in the Rangers rotation, ostensibly to keep the spot warm for Michael Lorenzen. Lorenzen was signed late in the spring, so he needs time to build up his arm strength. Apparently, Bradford didn't receive the memo explaining the move was temporary as he's posted a 1.40 ERA and a 0.62 WHIP over 19 1/3 innings, striking out 17 with just two walks. Lorenzen will likely make his Rangers debut early next week. It's unclear how the Rangers will manage their staff, but a six-man rotation is in play.

  • The Minnesota Twins are 4-6 to begin the season. Half of those four wins have been saved, the first notched by Griffin Jax on Opening Day and the other last night, courtesy of Steven Okert. Jax has two holds, collecting his second yesterday. Okert would have notched another save last week, but the Twins scored some insurance runs in the top of the ninth, extending their lead to more than three runs. This may suggest that Okert is the "interim closer" with Jax in a setup role, but an examination of the box scores reveals Jax has been used against a more potent part of the order. Regular closer Jhoan Duran is scheduled to throw a bullpen session tomorrow, but he's still a couple of weeks away. The recommendation was going to be having both Jax and Okert active in a fantasy lineup today to take advantage of the abbreviated schedule, but Mother Nature foiled those plans with this afternoon's postponement.

  • Spencer Arrighetti struggled in his MLB debut, giving up seven earned runs over three innings in the Houston Astros' 11-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals. He yielded seven hits and three walks, though he did fan three. Arrighetti threw 79 pitches, with only 47 for strikes (59%) -- a level well below the league average. The right-hander will remain in the rotation for at least one more start. Justin Verlander is close to returning, but he needs at least one more rehab outing.

Everything else you need to know for Thursday

  • Rain has already played havoc with the schedule, as the Twins-Tigers game featuring Pablo Lopez and Tarik Skubal is off, the Reds-Brewers game has been washed out, and Wednesday's Mets-Braves postponement moved Atlanta LHP Max Fried, off to an awful start, to Friday night. We are now left with five games, starting with Mets LHP Jose Quintana versus Braves fill-in RHP Allan Winans. Fun! Quintana isn't so bad, with his 3.11 ERA over 47 starts since the start of 2022, but with one of the lowest K rates in the sport, he is a streamer, at best. He is not a streamer versus the awesome Atlanta lineup.

  • Game 2 of the Jackson Holliday era occurs at Fenway Park, in one of the two nighttime games on the schedule (including Pirates-Phillies). Holliday went hitless in four at-bats out of the No. 9 spot on Wednesday, striking out twice. Since he is the top prospect in baseball, fantasy managers dream of huge expectations. The Red Sox throw RHP Garrett Whitlock out there on Thursday, the odd right-hander with far better numbers against left-handed hitters (.219 BAA since 2022, .277 vs RHB). Stick with Holliday. The future for him and the Baltimore offense is immensely bright.

  • Things also look promising for Orioles RHP Grayson Rodriguez, as he seeks his third victory in as many chances. Rodriguez has fanned 16 Pirates and Angels in his 12 1/3 innings, with each of the three runs permitted coming on solo home runs. Rodriguez posted a 4.35 ERA over 122 innings as a rookie. His current ERA is nearly half that mark, even though his fastball velocity is down from 97.4 mph to 96.3. Rodriguez is handling left-handed hitters with his curveball, which he is throwing twice as much as last season.

  • Texas Rangers RHP Jon Gray boasts a "cake" matchup at home with the lowly Athletics, but it hardly means Gray is a safe pick. The former Rockies hurler retired only 11 batters in both of his first two outings, against the Cubs and Astros at home, and nobody enjoys seeing a 2.45 WHIP next to their pitcher's name. Gray is better than this, of course, and he will strike out more hitters than he walks, but streaming him against Oakland remains risky. Gray faced the Athletics three times last season (when they were also bad), going 16 innings, walking nine against 10 whiffs. Perhaps Gray, even outside of Colorado, just isn't worth it.

  • Betting tip of the day: Take over 9.5 runs (-105) in the Athletics-Rangers tilt. Not only is Gray unlikely to suddenly turn his performance around, but Oakland LHP JP Sears permitted nine runs to the Guardians and Tigers over his first two outings, covering 9 1/3 innings. He hit as many batters (two) as he struck out. Both the Athletics and the Rangers seem like candidates to score in double-digits on their own.

It's not too late to start a free fantasy baseball league. Leagues drafted this week will start scoring fresh the following Monday. 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