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What you need to know for Thursday's MLB games
By Todd Zola
Action for Thursday's nine-game slate begins at 1:10 p.m. ET, with a second afternoon affair soon thereafter. The remaining seven contests are under the lights. Even with the abbreviated schedule, there are opportunities to fill pitching and hitting lineup holes. Let's dig in.
Not only is Ranger Suarez (29.1% rostered) the highest ranked streamer on the Thursday ledger, but he's also the top overall pitcher. Pitching at home for a team in playoff contention adds to his appeal. The ranking is matchup driven, though the southpaw has pitched well down the stretch. That said Suarez's 2.86 ERA in his last six starts is misleading as he's walked hitters at a high 10.7% clip, and he's been burned with a .315 BABIP. However, Suarez has fanned 36 in those 34 2/3 innings while allowing just four homers. The Mets don't strike out at an excessive rate, though the pace picked up over the second half. However, they remain one of the least potent lineups with a lefty on the hill.
Normally, we restrict these recommendations to pitchers available in more than half of ESPN leagues, but with the importance of fortifying a Thursday lineup so close to the end of the season, Tarik Skubal (52.5%) deserves a mention. The left-hander has been one of the best starters in MLB since debuting in early July after rehabbing from flexor tendon surgery. Early in his career, Skubal had bug issues with the long ball, but he's been excellent at keeping the ball in the yard this season and last. So far in 2023, Skubal has surrendered only four homers in 69 1/3. If he had compiled enough innings to qualify, Skubal's 25.9% K-BB% would be the second best in the league, behind only Spencer Strider. On Tuesday, Skubal is in a great spot to finish strong with a road date against the Oakland Athletics. Over the last month, the Athletics have fanned at a 28% rate facing lefties, the highest in the league.
"Don't chase wins" is a popular axiom in fantasy baseball. It makes sense, unless you need wins in a category league, or could use the points they bring in points formats. Kyle Hendricks (14.7%) doesn't rack up strikeouts, which tempers his ranking, but he and the Chicago Cubs will be favored over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field on Thursday. Through Tuesday's action, the Pirates are 9-8 in September, but the Cubs get an edge since they're in the throes of a wild card chase. Hendricks usually provides innings, which is another important element of points league scoring.
Pivoting to hitting, stacking a potentially productive lineup is facilitated on a short slate. Deploying a team with something on the line facing a lesser pitcher is optimal, with the Baltimore Orioles checking all the boxes. Many of their top batters are probably already rostered, but there are a few likely available, beginning with Ryan O'Hearn (6.5%). With an .858 OPS, O'Hearn is having a career season. He was expected to cool off after an unexpected hot start with the club, but with just over a week left in the season, he's still raking with a 1.000 OPS in September. Baltimore has been aggressive promoting their young bats with Heston Kjerstad (1.3%) the latest example. The 24-year-old outfielder has already left the yard twice in his first week in the majors. Austin Hays (26.6%), Jordan Westburg (3.7%) and Jorge Mateo (14.6%) are also in the mix.
One of the sagest Thursday tactics is filling a batting hole with someone capable of stealing a base. Here are the stolen base leaders over the past month in action on Thursday. By way of background, research demonstrates that while the ability of the battery helps deter steals, the driving force is the skills of the runner. Further, not running on southpaws isn't an issue this season with the restrictions on pitcher disengagements. With that in mind, the top targets for a Thursday steal are Brice Turang (2.2%), Esteury Ruiz (21.5%), Jacob Young (0.3%), CJ Abrams (29.7%) and Ronny Mauricio (7.3%).
Starting pitcher rankings for Thursday
Bullpen usage for Thursday
The Los Angeles Dodgers come up a lot in this scenario since they're favored to win most of their games and they don't use a set closer, so the rosteraship of their late-inning relievers is low. Starting on Thursday, the Dodgers host a four-game set with the San Francisco Giants., rendering Evan Phillips (35.1%) and Brusdar Graterol (6.1%) as solid acquisitions. Both relievers pitched last night, with Phillips appearing on several days' rest so he should be available today. Graterol also pitched Tuesday, so he may get today off, but that means he'll be the likely closer on Friday if Phillips were to pitch today.
An under-the-radar team to target is the Detroit Tigers as they embark on a four game set on the road against the Oakland Athletics. Alex Lange (19%) has been the primary closer, though Jason Foley (3.0%) has chipped in with a handful of saves. Both should be available today, but it's worth keeping an eye on Will Vest (.8%). With Lange unavailable on Wednesday, Vest filled the void by collecting his second save this week, to go along with 10 holds on the season. Vest has posted a tidy 2.80 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 45 innings. fanning 52 along the way.
The Tampa Bay Rays finish a set with the Los Angeles Angels today before hosting the Toronto Blue Jays over the weekend in a series with all sorts of playoff implications. In previous seasons, the Rays spread save chances around, and did so again this year when Jason Adam was healthy. However, with Adam on the shelf, Pete Fairbanks (43.6%) is the primary closer and merits a pickup, especially since he did not appear yesterday.
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.
Ryan O'Hearn (BAL, 1B -- 6%) at Gaddis
Mark Canha (MIL, LF -- 13%) at Mikolas
Jack Suwinski (PIT, LF -- 8%) at Hendricks
Carlos Santana (MIL, 1B -- 24%) at Mikolas
Wilmer Flores (SF, 2B -- 34%) at Sheehan
Worst over-50% rostered hitters for Thursday
Lane Thomas (WSH, LF -- 59%) vs. Fried
Matt Chapman (TOR, 3B -- 68%) at Cole
Brandon Nimmo (NYM, CF -- 88%) at Suarez
Nick Castellanos (PHI, RF -- 89%) vs. Peterson
The BAT X's Best Stacks for Thursday
Prop of the day
Max Muncy 0.5 hits (-182/+138)
THE BAT sees Muncy putting up 0.66 Hits for this matchup on average, while projecting him to exceed his player prop total 48.5% of the time.
THE BAT believes there is positive value on the UNDER with an expected value of $22.47.
FACTORS THAT FAVOR THE OVER
The BAT X projects Muncy in the 95th percentile when it comes to his overall offensive talent.
Among every team playing today, the fourth-worst infield defense is that of the San Francisco Giants.
FACTORS THAT FAVOR THE UNDER
Max Muncy has primarily hit in the top-half of the batting order this year (94% of the time), but he is penciled in sixth in the lineup today.
This contest is expected to have the second-most favorable weather for pitching among all the games scheduled today.
Kyle Harrison will have the handedness advantage against Muncy in today's matchup.
In today's matchup, Muncy is at a disadvantage facing the league's eighth-deepest RF fences given that he hits his flyballs to the pull field at a 36.8% rate (94th percentile).