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

Chris Sale faces a big test against the Yankees. AP Photo/John Bazemore

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.

Flash forward

As the midpoint of the season approaches, one of the winter's best free-agent pickups is shaping up to be the Detroit Tigers' $14 million, one-year agreement with Jack Flaherty, nicknamed "Flash," a pitcher who placed fourth in the National League Cy Young Award race in 2019 but has struggled with injuries and inconsistency since.

Flaherty, who couldn't even retain a rotation spot with the Baltimore Orioles after a midseason trade last season, posting a 6.75 ERA for them in seven starts and two relief appearances, is on track to set a slew of personal bests this year. His 2.62 FIP, 9.1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, 33.3% strikeout and 3.7% walk rates would all represent career bests if they hold until season's end.

Among the changes Flaherty has made that are responsible for this rebound are his abandoning his cutter, a pitch he introduced in 2022 but afforded opposing hitters a .318 batting average and .545 slugging percentage with 9.1% overall usage last season, and leaning more on his knuckle curve against batters of both handedness. Entering 2024, he had thrown the pitch only 7.6% of the time against right-handed hitters, but this season, he has thrown it 18.6% of the time against them, generated a 43.4% whiff rate and recorded 12 of his 47 K's against righties.

Flaherty will be making his second start since skipping a turn due to a lower back injury, and while he was limited to only 73 pitches in his last outing, he extended his active scoreless innings streak to 16 2/3 innings. Beginning with his 14-strikeout, April 30 masterpiece against his drafting team, the St. Louis Cardinals, he has a 1.86 ERA, six quality starts and a 36.4% K rate in eight starts.

Expect Flaherty to be closer to a full workload in Friday's extremely favorable assignment at home against the Chicago White Sox, a matchup that only has him beneath the upper tier of the fantasy projections because it accounts for a pitch count in the low-90s. If he's a full-go, he's one of the day's top options.

What you may have missed on Thursday

By Todd Zola

  • What a night in Birmingham, Alabama. The festivities celebrating the Negro Leagues and the sad passing of Willie Mays were moving. Beyond that, the game did not disappoint. The ball carried and Rickwood Field couldn't hold early homers from St. Louis Cardinals OF Brendan Donovan and San Francisco Giants OF Heliot Ramos. The bullpens were the stars with the Giants relievers keeping the game close with 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball, while the Cardinals bullpen tossed 3 2/3 scoreless frames, capped by Ryan Helsley's league-leading 25th save. Cardinals 3B Nolan Arenado missed the game due to a sore elbow, but he hopes to play today. Ivan Herrera was also unable to play with C Pedro Pages handling the duties behind the plate. Giants OF Mike Yastrzemski was forced out of the contest with a tight left side. His status is day-to-day.

  • New York Yankees 2B Gleyber Torres left yesterday's matinee in the sixth inning after a groin injury. Manager Aaron Boone deemed the move as precautionary, though Torres' availability for tonight's opener in the Bronx against the Atlanta Braves is unclear. Yesterday, the Yankees were swept by the Baltimore Orioles, losing 17-5. Yankees SP Luis Gil had a rare subpar outing, surrendering seven earned runs in just 1 1/3 innings. Gil gave up eight hits, all of which were struck with an exit velocity of at least 93 mph, including five exceeding 98 mph. This wasn't regression, but rather a potent Orioles lineup making hard contact.

  • Colorado Rockies 2B Adael Amador was lifted from yesterday's afternoon affair after the seventh inning due to a mild oblique strain. The club has started play with two of their starting outfielders (Nolan Jones, Charlie Blackmon) on the bench. Jones was able to pinch hit late in the Rockies' 5-3 loss to the Dodgers.

  • The Dodgers captured three of the four games in Coors Field. Shohei Ohtani enjoyed his first visit there in a Dodgers uniform, posting a .444/.524/.944 line with two homers and a steal. Evan Phillips collected a pair of saves in the set. The Dodgers will return to Denver again for the last three games of the regular season.

  • The Washington Nationals were again without SS CJ Abrams as he was diagnosed with a ganglion cyst on his left wrist. This is a non-cancerous condition, but it can be painful. However, it often disappears without any treatment. Still, Abrams' availability for the Nationals only trip to Coors Field this weekend is in jeopardy.

  • With RP Robert Suarez ostensibly unavailable after pitching both of the prior two days, the San Diego Padres tasked RP Jeremiah Estrada with sealing the deal last night against the Milwaukee Brewers. Estrada had also pitched the previous two days, throwing a total of 30 pitches compared to only 22 for Suarez. Even so, Estrada took the Petco Park hill in the top of the ninth with a 6-4 lead. The Brewers rallied to tie the game, but 1B Jake Cronenworth walked it off with a two-out homer, giving Estrada the win.

  • Tampa Bay Rays RP Pete Fairbanks also collected a win after blowing a save, but he had to pitch a second inning in the Rays' 7-6, 10-inning win over the Minnesota Twins. In his first appearance since being hit in the thumb by a comebacker on Tuesday night, Fairbanks was brought in with runners on first and second with no one out and the Rays ahead 6-3. Fairbanks recorded two outs, but then administered a game-tying homer to Twins 3B Jose Miranda. After Rays OF Jonny DeLuca pushed across the ghost runner with a single in the top of the 10th, Fairbanks came out for the bottom of the frame and retired the side, albeit aided by a strong throw from OF Jose Siri, who caught Royce Lewis trying to advance to third on a fly out.

Everything else you need to know for Friday

  • Washington Nationals-Colorado Rockies should be one of the day's highest-scoring matchups, though it does feature the follow-up to one of the year's best performances by a starting pitcher, Nationals rookie DJ Herz's June 15 outing. That one, six shutout innings of one-hit, 13-strikeout baseball, was worth 32 fantasy points in ESPN leagues, tied for the eighth-most by any pitcher in a single game all year. Unfortunately, as Herz is more of a change-of-pace (fastball/changeup) pitcher who struggles at times with his control, he's probably in for a letdown in baseball's best hitting environment. It's still a good day in which to have Rockies righties Ezequiel Tovar, Jacob Stallings (.387/.444/.806 against lefties this year) and Hunter Goodman (.269/.296/.731) in your lineup.

  • Chris Sale is off to his best start to any season since 2018, though he and the Atlanta Braves face one of their bigger tests with a road game at the New York Yankees. Interestingly, Sale's two worst starts this season -- the only ones that could really be characterized as that, and the only ones worth fewer than 12 fantasy points -- came against two of his softest matchups (@MIA, April 13; OAK, June 1). This game presents Sale his toughest matchup challenge to date, though the health status of Aaron Judge, who left Tuesday's game after being hit in the hand by a pitch, has a bearing on it. Sale is on too good a run to bench in fantasy leagues, and his projection seems to fairly account for the difficulty of his matchup.

  • The Toronto Blue Jays at Cleveland Guardians game should also be a good source of offense, as Yariel Rodriguez and Carlos Carrasco square off. Rodriguez has typically been kept on strict pitch counts, making a five-inning outing or greater a slim possibility, while Carrasco has a 7.90 ERA in his three June outings, including having allowed five runs in as many innings against these Blue Jays in his most recent turn last Saturday. Consider it a good day to get players like Daulton Varsho (available in more than 50% of leagues) and Andres Gimenez into your lineups.

  • Betting tip of the day: The Miami Marlins have been a more strikeout-prone offense of late, their 25.2% rate in June checking in at fourth-worst in the league, which boosts the matchup for Seattle Mariners RHP George Kirby. Yes, the Marlins walked off back-to-back victories on Tuesday and Wednesday, but this one's all about the opposing starter. Go with Kirby OVER 6.5 strikeouts (+110).

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