Thursday's main slate rolls out at a more normal time, but it's still slightly earlier at 6:35 pm ET. We've got eight games to sift through, which includes one at stack-friendly Coors Field. Thankfully, weather shouldn't be an issue tonight, as well.
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Let's check out the top options on today's main slate.
Shohei Ohtani ($10,800): Ohtani's often struggled with walks over his career and is up against an improved Rangers lineup, but he's arguably the night's best choice if we're looking strictly at upside.
Ohtani posted a fantastic 29.3% strikeout rate last season, one of the top marks on the slate, and that firepower was on full display in his first 2022 start, tallying nine punchouts against a tough Astros offense in just 4 2/3 innings. He reached 80 pitches in that start, suggesting he should be closer to a full workload tonight.
Just as importantly, he only issued one free pass in that start, suggesting his improved control in the latter stages of 2021 could stick. In the first half of the season, Ohtani had an ugly 12.4% walk rate, but he dropped that mark to just 3.6% after the All-Star break.
While the new-look Rangers won't go down quietly, they have a modest 3.90 implied total, further giving us confidence in the Japanese superstar.
Buehler hasn't produced mind-blowing strikeout numbers over his career, but he's established an excellent overall track record as one of the top pitchers in the game.
In 2021, the 27-year-old submitted a 3.73 SIERA, 26.0% strikeout rate, and 6.4% walk rate, and he was just one of four hurlers to crack 200 innings. He's also shown a knack for suppressing home runs, allowing just 0.93 per nine innings over his career.
The lack of an elite strikeout rate hurts Buehler's chances of a slate-best score, but he's also the least likely guy to tank your lineup with a poor start. The righty logged 78 pitches in his first outing, so hopefully, he gets up into the 90s this time around.
Charlie Morton ($9,000): Sure, Morton may be getting up there at 38 years old now, but we're getting a pretty nice deal on someone who put up a 28.6% strikeout rate last year.
While the Padres aren't a great matchup for strikeouts, they just aren't that scary with Fernando Tatis Jr. on the mend. Their active roster recorded a below-average 98 wRC+ last season, and they have one of the slate's lower implied totals (3.78).
In terms of pitch count, Morton is in roughly the same boat as Ohtani and Buehler, coming off a 78-pitch debut. The difference is we're getting a good chunk of change back in our pockets, and it's not like Morton's peripherals are all that different from those two.
Morton's solid ground-ball rate could help him stay efficient tonight (47.8% rate in 2021), and much like Buehler, he keeps the ball in the park, allowing under 1.00 home run per nine innings in every season dating back to 2011.
Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies: It's a Coors Field night, so we might as well start with the two teams going toe to toe in Denver. This game has a hefty 11.0-run over/under, leaving both teams with implied totals above five.
Outside of a flukey 2018 campaign with a sub-3.00 ERA, Colorado's Kyle Freeland has been a mediocre left-hander over his career. Last season, he posted a 4.44 SIERA and 20.4% strikeout rate, and with just a 41.6% ground-ball rate against righties, batters with the platoon advantage slugged 1.66 dingers per nine innings.
It's a plus spot for the Cubbies, and they could have an entire lineup of righty bats. They will be comically easy to stack, too, as based on their lineup versus a southpaw earlier this week, Clint Frazier ($2,900), Patrick Wisdom ($3,000), and Frank Schwindel ($3,000) could occupy three of the first four batting slots.
Rostering some combination of these three with Willson Contreras ($3,700) and/or Seiya Suzuki ($3,600) figures to be the conventional, albeit chalky strategy. Suzuki sure looks like he belongs so far, too, already mashing three homers through just five games.
Flipping over to the Rockies' matchup, they face more of an unknown in Justin Steele.
Another southpaw, Steele logged 57 innings between the bullpen and rotation with respectable results last year, but if we narrow things down to just his nine starts, he mustered a 4.71 xFIP, 19.8% strikeout rate, and 10.4% walk rate.
Still, we're talking about a fairly small sample, and the 27-year-old logged five scoreless innings in his first 2022 start, so it's unclear what we're going to get out of him in 2022.
Coors Field can decimate even the best pitchers, though, so loading up on righties like C.J. Cron ($4,100), Kris Bryant ($4,000), Connor Joe ($3,500), Brendan Rodgers ($3,100), and Randal Grichuk ($3,000) could prove fruitful.
Cessa is a low-strikeout righty (20.7% in 2021), so he isn't anyone we should fear for the opening frame or two.
The left-handed Sanmartin figures to get more work, and he's more of a wild card as someone with just 14 MLB innings on his ledger. He showed a smidge of strikeout potential across multiple levels last year, but projections peg him as roughly league average at this stage in his career.
At the end of the day, it's hard to dig too much into the individual matchups, and this really just boils down to the Dodgers having a ridiculous lineup that we'll want exposure to more often than not.
Particularly with Cody Bellinger ($2,700) notching his first round-tripper of the season, this is a batting order you can truly stack from top to bottom, and we could see as many as five different hitters with salaries of $3,100 or below. That's just too cheap for an offense this good.
Washington Nationals: If the bulk of lineups are targeting the previous three teams, that should leave roster percentage fairly spread out amongst the rest. The Nats stand out as a potential pivot in a solid spot versus JT Brubaker.
While Washington isn't a high-caliber offense, Brubaker was crushed by the home run ball in 2021, allowing 2.03 per nine innings, and he struggled in his first start versus St. Louis. Lefties should specifically have the advantage, as the righty had a worse strikeout rate (22.5%) and ground-ball rate (39.7%) in the split.
Of course, Juan Soto ($4,200) is the obvious first choice, and he's a great one-off even if you're sticking with the chalk stacks.
Ageless righty Nelson Cruz ($3,100) is also a no-brainer after putting up a .232 ISO last season.