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

Cole Ragans has established himself as a matchup-proof starter and faces a road start against the vaunted Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday. Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

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 overnight pitching changes and weather-related game postponements, along with the addition of the latest MLB game odds as of the indicated time of publication.

Stat king Cole

Coming off a phenomenal, out-of-nowhere finish to his 2023 season with the Kansas City Royals, left-hander Cole Ragans was understandably a popular breakthrough pick in fantasy baseball drafts this season.

Since the beginning of this past August, Ragans has scored 371 fantasy points, third most among all pitchers behind only Tarik Skubal (424) and Zack Wheeler (402), and 16th most among all players. The adjustments that Ragans made while working with Tread Athletics during the 2022-23 offseason resulted in a 4 mph bump in average fastball velocity and the Royals' minor league development system, which helped him hone a slider that has a 35.8% whiff rate since he joined the organization last June, have lent legitimacy to his statistical success.

Now Ragans, who has four quality starts, a 1.20 ERA and 35.3% strikeout rate in his past five outings, gets one of his stiffest matchup challenges all season, a road start against the vaunted Los Angeles Dodgers lineup. The Dodgers rank third in baseball with a 5.04 runs per game average, first in team wOBA (.335) and walk rate (10.1%), and their top three hitters have a collective four Most Valuable Player Awards and occupy three of the top 22 spots in terms of Wins Above Replacement this year.

As Ragans continues to establish himself as legitimate and sustainable long-term pitcher, his projection continues to swell, to the point that he's one of the best-projected starting pitchers for Friday despite the challenging matchup. Consider that against a league-average matchup, Ragans would be a top-three projected starter for the day, behind only Skubal and Ranger Suarez.

At this stage, Ragans is a matchup-proof starter, with his performance against top-10 offenses that have averaged 4.5-plus runs per game this season as compelling evidence. He's 4-for-6 in quality starts with a 4.06 ERA and 41 K's in 31 innings against them, the ERA mostly done in by a terrible April 20 outing against the Baltimore Orioles. About the worst that can be said for him on Friday is that the Royals haven't backed him with enough run support for him to win any of those six starts, which again could be the case against underrated Dodgers starter Gavin Stone, but remember, going from a win to a loss is merely a maximum four-point swing in ESPN standard formats.

What you may have missed on Thursday

By Todd Zola

  • The Texas Rangers kept SS Corey Seager on the bench, but it was deemed precautionary. On Wednesday, Seager had returned from a four-game absence due to a sore hamstring. He was scratched last night after feeling tightness while warming up. The club expects Seager to be in tonight's lineup when they open a road set with the Seattle Mariners. Josh Smith filled in at shortstop, delivering a 2-for-3 effort with a run in the Rangers' 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

  • Rookie OF Wyatt Langford has quietly enjoyed a productive June for Texas, posting a .289/.341/.421 line with three steals. Improvement from earlier in the season was inevitable, although playing in the outfield since returning from the IL may be helping him mentally. Langford is still looking for his first traditional home run as his only four-bagger was an inside-the-parker.

  • St. Louis Cardinals 3B Nolan Arenado left last night's game in the eighth inning after being hit by a pitch in the right hand. X-rays revealed only a bone bruise, rendering the veteran as day-to-day. Brendan Donovan moved from left field to third base with Dylan Carlson playing left field in the ninth inning. If Arenado is unavailable for today's matinee against the Chicago Cubs, Donovan and Carlson are likely to handle those spots again. The Cardinals defeated the Pirates 4-3 last night, with Andrew Kittredge collecting his first save. Regular closer Ryan Helsley was unavailable after throwing a combined 28 pitches over the prior two days.

  • The Chicago White Sox will activate OF Tommy Pham in advance of tonight's game in the desert against the Arizona Diamondbacks. On the field, the White Sox defeated the Mariners 3-2 in 10 innings. The White Sox were up 2-1 in the ninth, but closer Michael Kopech yielded a game-tying homer to OF Julio Rodriguez. The blast cost SP Garrett Crochet the win after he had thrown seven innings of one-run ball, fanning a career-high 13 batters. On the other side, Andres Munoz was saddled with the loss as he allowed the ghost runner to score on a groundout. It was Munoz's first appearance since Sunday. He had been dealing with a sore back for which he had an injection on Tuesday.

  • It was a quiet night for news in the majors, so let's head down to the farm. The New York Yankees reported that OF Everson Pereira will miss the rest of the season as he requires internal brace surgery on his right elbow. Pereira spent last September with the big club but struggled with only a .427 OPS. After failing to break camp in pinstripes, Pereira posted a .265/.346/.512 line with five steals for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before being shut down.

Everything else you need to know for Friday

  • The opener of the Pittsburgh Pirates-Colorado Rockies weekend series at Coors Field stands out as by far the day's best overall matchup for offense. Luis Ortiz, an injury fill-in who hasn't exceeded 58 pitches in a professional regular-season outing this season, should handle bulk innings for the Pirates, while Ryan Feltner, who has a 5.96 career ERA, starts for the Rockies, meaning a matchup of pitchers with sub-20% strikeout rates in the game's best hitting environment. Ezequiel Tovar, who typically bats second or third for the Rockies, has batted .328/.341/.598 with seven home runs in his past 28 games, 19 of which were on the road. He's available in more than 70% of ESPN leagues.

  • If those two offenses don't score the day's top run total, the Arizona Diamondbacks might be it. While their entire weekend home series against the Chicago White Sox tilts in their favor, it's this game against pitch-to-contact righty Chris Flexen that most stands out from a hitting matchups standpoint. Eugenio Suarez has been one of the Diamondbacks' most successful hitters against lower-velocity (sub-92 mph) fastballs, Flexen's most-used pitch, batting .328 with eight homers and a .746 slugging percentage against them since the beginning of 2022.

  • There are hints that the Miami Marlins will promote Max Meyer to make Friday's start, a rotational opening created by Ryan Weathers' injury, but whether it's Meyer or a fill-in like Shaun Anderson (also on the 40-man roster), this might still be an advantageous matchup for the hosting Washington Nationals. Meyer's hot start to the season in the majors was the source of much fantasy chatter, but since his April 15 demotion to Triple-A Jacksonville, he has a 6.75 ERA in eight starts, none of which featured greater than 74 pitches thrown and seven of which came on six days' rest. That the Marlins altered his routine diminishes the chances that he'll immediately excel upon his recall. Keep C.J. Abrams in there on Friday.

  • San Diego Padres knuckleballer Matt Waldron is riding a streak of three quality starts, and he has a good chance at extending it to four in what's a favorable matchup at pitching-friendly Citi Field against the New York Mets. Citi Field has rated the game's second most pitching-friendly venue, behind only Seattle's T-Mobile Park, for both 2024 alone and the past three seasons combined, per Statcast.

  • The pitching matchup in Baltimore's Camden Yards, between the visiting Philadelphia Phillies' Ranger Suarez, and home-team Baltimore Orioles' Kyle Bradish, should be a more compelling one than you might think, looking at the two teams' offensive performances for the year. Bradish stands out in particular, having tossed six shutout innings of one-hit, no-walk, nine-strikeout baseball in his most recent outing, one that was pushed back after the team raised workload concerns about him. Both his sinker and slider are performing at least as good as -- and arguably better than -- they did during his breakthrough 2023, and the Phillies' lineup isn't quite as scary as it was a few weeks back before Trea Turner and J.T. Realmuto got hurt.

  • Betting tip of the day: The Ragans/Dodgers matchup presents some interesting possibilities, not the least of which is simply the Royals (+135) to win. But also take a look at a parlay of Ragans over 5.5 strikeouts and Royals to win which carries +220 odds. If you're a believer that he will step up in the face of his toughest matchup, that's also a potentially solid payday.

It's never 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 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.

Hitting report

Plan ahead in fantasy baseball with help from our Forecaster projections. Each day, we will provide an updated preview of the next 10 days for every team, projecting the matchup quality for hitters (overall and by handedness) as well as for base stealers.

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