We're getting a bit of a curveball on Wednesday, as the main slate actually gets underway at 12:20 pm ET and is comprised of today's afternoon games. It's a hefty eight-game offering, and that's a good thing considering there could be weather issues in Cincinnati and Detroit. Note that the Royals-Cardinals games has already been postponed.
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Let's check out the top options on today's main slate.
Max Scherzer ($11,000): At the top, we find Scherzer and Aaron Nola ($10,500) as the two obvious aces of the slate, and both were solid if unspectacular in their 2022 debuts. They're going head-to-head with tougher offenses on both sides, so neither one is a must at their lofty salaries.
But if I'm choosing one, Scherzer arguably still gives us a path to the most upside.
Getting through this lethal Phillies lineup will be no easy task, but their active roster was just 17th in strikeout last year (23.2%), so they don't suppress punchouts as much as Nola's spot versus the Mets.
Furthermore, Mad Max had the league's second-best strikeout rate last season (34.1%), and there was nothing about his first start to suggest he won't be mowing guys down at a high clip yet again.
Playing in a dinger-friendly venue like Citizens Bank Park does leave a fly-ball pitcher like Scherzer vulnerable to the long ball, but when strictly looking at ceiling, the ageless veteran is still one of the best.
Sean Manaea ($9,600): In San Francisco, we have another matchup where you can make cases for both hurlers. Manaea and Logan Webb ($9,300) are in the game with the lowest over/under of the slate (7.5), and it's another mild day at pitcher-friendly Oracle Park.
You will get no argument out of me if you roll with Webb, but let's touch on Manaea, who was brilliant in his first start with the Padres.
Against the Diamondbacks, the southpaw twirled seven scoreless innings with seven punchouts and just one walk, which included a promising 30.7% called-plus-swinging-strike (CWS) rate. San Diego let him go 88 pitches, so there aren't any workload concerns, either.
Manaea posted a 3.68 SIERA, 25.7% strikeout rate, and 5.4% walk rate in 2021, so we shouldn't be shocked if he finds success with his new team. He'll have a tougher test against the Giants, but the ballpark should give him a nice assist.
Nathan Eovaldi ($8,500): When considering salary and the matchups of today's higher-salaried hurlers, you could very well consider Eovaldi the top overall option.
Eovaldi is coming off an encouraging campaign with a 3.60 SIERA, 25.5% strikeout rate, and 4.6% walk rate. Although he coughed up some runs against the Yankees in his first start, he struck out seven batters in five innings and boasted a brilliant 38.2% CWS rate.
He should be able to rack up the whiffs against the Tigers, whose active roster ranked 27th in strikeout rate last year (24.4%). Weather could be a concern in Detroit, but the wind is blowing in if this plays without issue.
Atlanta Braves: It feels like the Braves keep making their way onto this list everyday, but this is a loaded lineup that will be hard to ignore all season. They plated 16 runs on Tuesday, and we could very well see another outburst today versus Josiah Gray.
Gray managed a 24.8% strikeout rate last year, but that's mostly where the good news ends, as he struggled with both walks (10.7% rate) and home runs (2.42 per nine innings).
It looked like the same old Gray in his first outing against the Mets, allowing four earned runs in four innings with five punchouts, two walks, and a home run.
Atlanta is looking at a slate-best 4.99 implied total, and the scary thing is you can still stack this team on the cheap with Marcell Ozuna ($2,900), Eddie Rosario ($2,800), Adam Duvall ($2,800), and Dansby Swanson ($2,900) all remaining below $3,000.
The only downside is this will probably also be a chalky stack.
Kelly is an interesting case because he's demonstrated increased velocity this season, and he found success against the Padres in his 2022 debut, striking out seven over four scoreless innings.
That perhaps gives us some pause, but we should probably wait more than one start before buying into these changes considering the right-hander produced a mediocre 4.43 SIERA and 19.5% strikeout rate in 2021.
It's certainly possible that Kelly has found another gear, but we should be skeptical of a 33-year-old who didn't even have a particularly high strikeout rate in the KBO.
The Dodgers have no such worries, though, and should get the job done against Chris Paddack.
Paddack was excellent in 2019, but he's struggled to find that same form ever since. His peripherals weren't completely terrible in 2021, but not a whole lot stands out, either. After all, a 21.6% strikeout rate and 42.9% ground-ball rate aren't going to slow down a juggernaut like the Dodgers.
Just like the prior two stacks, you don't even need to spend a whole bunch of cap space to grab strong bats like Max Muncy ($3,000), Justin Turner ($3,100), and Chris Taylor ($3,000). Cody Bellinger ($2,700) hasn't done anything to suggest that "he's back" yet, but the salary is right at least.
If you have the space, new Dodger Freddie Freeman ($3,600) should top your list with the platoon advantage.