-- In an effort to serve daily fantasy players and season-long fantasy players who use daily lineup settings, we present daily notes each day of the season. It's a daily version of our Fantasy Forecaster in which we project the best pitcher game scores as well as the best team hitting matchups based upon a number of factors.
Clayton Kershaw really deserves a tier of his own. His 88 game score for his road start against the San Francisco Giants dwarfs the other hurlers on the slate. Kershaw was already in top form on Opening Day against the Padres, and he holds a 1.73 ERA with nearly a 10:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 14 starts against the Giants during the past three seasons. Don't overthink this. The Dodgers ace needs to be in your cash game lineups.
If you're feeling gutsy and want to fade the best pitcher on the planet, Chris Sale is the next-best thing. Although he doesn't have Kershaw's floor, he has a similar ceiling, as he ripped off 13 double-digit strikeout performances in 2015 (the same number as Kershaw). With Michael Brantley still sidelined, the Indians' lineup is rather non-threatening and should yield a high point total to the White Sox ace on Saturday.
Squaring off against Kershaw is Madison Bumgarner. Although it's not surprising that Bumgarner cracks the top tier given his track record, there's reason for hesitation right now. He dealt with a foot injury and struggled with his mechanics in the spring, and he clearly wasn't firing on all cylinders in his season debut against Milwaukee, walking five and allowing three runs (including two homers) in five innings. The left-hander was recovering from the flu, which might have negatively affected his performance. Ultimately, there's little reason to think Bumgarner won't soon return to form, but I'm looking elsewhere for my cash game hurler.
Zack Greinke is coming off a rough first outing (though a bout with the flu might be partly to blame), and he has a difficult matchup Saturday against the Cubs, who are averaging more than eight runs per game in the season's first week. Given the Cubs' swing-and-miss tendencies, there's always high upside with an ace like Greinke on the mound, but there are other pitchers in better spots.
After being delayed due to inflammation in his rib cage, Gerrit Cole is set to take the hill for the first time in a favorable home matchup against the Reds. Aside from Joey Votto, the Reds lineup can be easily exploited, which sets things up nicely for the Pirates right-hander. It's also worth noting that April has been Cole's best month during his short career, as he owns a 2.51 ERA in 10 starts. The downside is that he is squaring off against Raisel Iglesias, who actually registers a higher game score, but Cole is still a strong bet for a victory here.
Speaking of Iglesias, the Reds right-hander had plenty of hype in fantasy drafts last month and he didn't disappoint in his first start against Philadelphia, allowing two runs in six innings while whiffing seven and walking none. A favorable venue in PNC Park and great strikeout potential make Iglesias appealing once again on Saturday, but with a weak lineup and bullpen behind him, it's best to stay away on DFS sites that reward heavily for wins.
Vincent Velasquez is in a similar boat. Although he has electric stuff and can rack up the strikeouts, he has a poor offense behind him and an even worse bullpen. In a home start against a Mets team that hasn't generated much offense so far, Velasquez has great upside, but he should be considered more of a GPP play than someone to use in cash games.
In a battle of AL West aces with identical 58 game scores, Garrett Richards faces off against Cole Hamels. Given the lack of firepower in the Angels' offense once you get past Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, Hamels is in the more favorable spot. That said, Richards has kept the Rangers in check the past three seasons (2.75 ERA) and can carve up any lineup when he has his best stuff, so he shouldn't be ignored. Ultimately, though, both Hamels and Richards get lost in the shuffle a bit on a day with a number of quality options.
The Cardinals have had a tough go of it in the early going, but Carlos Martinez is in a prime spot to right the ship against a Braves lineup that's among the worst in baseball. The Braves were one of the hardest teams to strike out last year, but Martinez whiffed more than a batter per inning in 2015 and did the same thing this spring, so there's still a pretty high strikeout ceiling here. If you don't want to pay up for one of the elite, Martinez has plenty of appeal as a mid-tier option.
A fly-ball pitcher like Drew Smyly going to home run-friendly Camden Yards to face an Orioles team that could very well lead the majors in home runs has the potential to get ugly in a hurry. On the other hand, Smyly owns a 24 percent strikeout rate in his big league career, and the Orioles could lead the majors in strikeouts this year, so there's upside here, too. This is a risk/reward play, making him a worthy choice for your GPPs.
Spot starters and streamers
The Cardinals' offense looks like it has been rubbing two sticks together and failing to create so much as a spark. Through three games, the team has scored just seven runs and struck out 37 times. This puts Julio Teheran in a prime spot to deliver Saturday. The right-hander is already owned in 85 percent of ESPN.com leagues, so he's not much of a streaming option, but he'll be a useful second starter in DFS.
No starting pitcher allowed more hard contact than Ian Kennedy last year (35 percent), which doesn't exactly instill confidence. Still, the right-hander misses bats, limits walks, pitches in a favorable pitching environment and has a good defense behind him. Facing a Twins team that is prone to the strikeout, Kennedy is in a favorable spot and should be affordable on most sites. He's also available in nearly 80 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
Joe Ross, who matches up against the Marlins at home, is another worthwhile streaming option given his availability in more than half of ESPN leagues. Although he doesn't have elite stuff by any means, he misses a fair number of bats, limits walks and gets decent grounders. That's more than enough to make him a consideration in a non-threatening matchup.
A free agent in 86 percent of ESPN.com leagues, Nate Karns gets a home matchup against the A's, who have scored just 10 runs in four games and are striking out 26 percent of the time. Karns has gotten into trouble in the past once he starts working his way through a lineup for the third time, so he's not a great bet to go deep into games, but he has decent stuff and the matchup is good, making him a worthwhile streamer.
The Tigers' matchup against CC Sabathia and the Yankees looks awfully good for DFS players. Sabathia was one of the worst pitchers in baseball last year, posting a 4.73 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in 29 starts. The big lefty was particularly vulnerable to right-handed hitters, who put up a .304/.363/.502 slash line against him. As luck would have it, the Tigers' lineup is stacked with righties. Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton, Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez are all tremendous plays here.
Opposing Sabathia on Saturday is Mike Pelfrey, and he has his work cut out for him, too. Left-handed batters knocked him around for a .367 wOBA in 2015, and the Yankees have plenty of lefty swingers to throw at him, making for a nice stacking opportunity. Say what you will about the relevancy of batter-versus-pitcher data, but Brian McCann has crushed Pelfrey in his career, going 19-for-42 (.452) with two homers and eight doubles.
Jorge De La Rosa owns a career 4.59 ERA at Coors Field, including a 5.40 mark there last year. It's unfortunate, then, that Coors is his home park and the venue where he has to pitch on Saturday against San Diego. The Padres lineup is a yawner, but there are some cost-effective options worth consideration in a matchup this good. De La Rosa has been hit hard by right-handed batters in particular, making Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Derek Norris the most interesting names.
Most likely to go yard: J.D. Martinez. Although he has little to show for it, Martinez has been stinging the ball in the early going and gets the platoon advantage against Sabathia, who can't get right-handed hitters out and struggles to keep the ball in the park.
Most likely to swipe a bag: Billy Burns. Karns is not adept at holding runners on, so look for Burns to test him if he gets on base.