Nelson Cruz (DH-SEA)
Nelson Cruz will turn 38 on Sunday and is showing no signs of slowing down. He took a 95-mph fastball out of the park for his 21st home run on Thursday, one of three hits to go along with three RBIs. At 38, Cruz trails only 26-year-old Aaron Judge in average exit velocity and ranks in the top-10 in hard hit percentage. His ISO is a career-high .301, and he's actually chasing pitches out of the zone less than 50 percent of the time for the first time since 2009. Meanwhile, he's making contact on pitches in the zone at an 88% clip and has his strikeout rate at a career low. All of this is being accomplished with a BABIP well under .300 for the first time since he joined the Mariners. Therefore, it's entirely reasonable to expect his .277 batting average to improve. Plus, I don't anticipate any negative regression to his 25% HR/FB ratio. It's right in line with career trends. The elite slugger seems to be following the path of David Ortiz, producing incredible numbers into his waning years.
Jake Odorizzi (SP-MIN)
Odorizzi had a nice rebound from Saturday's disastrous outing against Texas. On Thursday, the Twins' offseason trade acquisition did what you're supposed to do against the White Sox: 6 innings, 0 runs, 8 strikeouts. Unfortunately, Fernando Rodney blew the save and therefore zapped Odorizzi's win. Regardless, it was his third scoreless outing of the season and fifth 6-inning appearance. His advanced metrics indicate he is pitching better in 2018 than he did last year. However, the Rays were a much better fielding team than the Twins. What makes owning Odorizzi difficult is his inconsistency. He's mostly a streaming option, but he tends to pitch better against above-average offenses. Three of his best games this season have come against the Brewers, Mariners and Astros. However, don't start him against Cleveland as three of his worst games have come against the Indians. You have to pick your spots, and occasionally you'll get a positive performance like Thursday.
Chris Davis (1B-BAL)
Chris Davis was having none of this "worst offensive season in history" talk. The $161 million black hole popped his 3rd homer in the last week, an opposite-field no-doubter. It was also his first game without a strikeout since May 12! He has 49 strikeouts since then. After homering in Wednesday's game, Davis told reporters, "I'm back." But is he really? Since returning to the starting lineup last week, he does have those three home runs, but he only has one other extra-base hit. His hard hit rate over the last week is still under 25% and his wRC+ is 83. By contrast, in his career year of 2013, his hard hit rate was 41.3% and his wRC+ was 168 so I'm not quite sure what he's "back" to. At least he's probably going to end up hitting double-digit home runs, but he's not "back" and don't be fooled by his recent rekindling of hitting balls in bleachers. However, it might be wise to go back to the well with Davis in DFS (DraftKings: $3,000) on Friday against Felix Pena, who's allowed 3 home runs in his first 11.2 innings and a .473 wOBA to lefties.
Lance McCullers Jr. (SP-HOU)
McCullers Jr. tossed his sixth straight quality start, a 7-inning scoreless gem with 7 strikeouts. He has 25 strikeouts in his last three starts and his ERA seems to be regressing closer to his 3.39 xFIP. Sometimes it's easy to forget McCullers is still only 24 years old. Throughout his career, he has steadily increased the use of his changeup and his swinging strike rate has improved nearly three percentage points since his rookie year. The inevitable question is when the Astros will start monitoring his innings. He threw a career-high 156 innings between the majors and minors in 2015, but his frequent injury history and likelihood of pitching deep into October could cause the Astros to adjust his usage in the second half. Until that is clarified, keep running him out there.
Marcus Stroman (SP-TOR); DraftKings: $6,300
Stroman looked decent in his first start since returning from injury last week. On Friday he draws the powerless Detroit Tigers, who have a .105 ISO over the last 14 days. Righties dominate Detroit and you get Stroman at a cheaper price than guys like Ian Kennedy and Felix Pena. We will have to see how the season plays out, but it's entirely possible Stroman's early struggles were directly tied to an ailing shoulder. After a month and a half of rest, that shoulder appeared strong in his previous start and it's worth taking a gamble in tournament play. In fact, it's not even really a gamble. The Tigers are on a 9-game losing streak and are averaging 2.67 runs per game during that stretch. Pair Stroman with one of the pricier options on Thursday and you can still put together a balanced offense.
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