We’re almost there! There are only 10 more days in the season and hopefully, you’re counting your monies as you excel towards the finish line. Three teams, Washington, Cleveland and Houston all clinched their division already and have nothing to play for. And as we get this deep into September, teams really start throwing out questionable lineups, and Dee Gordon starts trying to pad his stats by trying to steal at every opportunity. One key this late in the season is to make sure to follow all the lineup announcements pretty closely, as teams work in their minor leaguers (who are almost always punt-priced) into the lineup. Yesterday we had Mallex Smith, Austin Hays and Teoscar Hernandez all batting leadoff, all punt-priced, and all in decent enough matchups to be playable. I can’t tell you who specifically will be out there today as a punt-priced hitter at the top of the order, but I can tell you that it’s highly likely there will be a few options to choose from. I will even go so far as to guarantee at least one team will throw out numerous punts (but I’ll get to that later, at the end of the article). Now I’m sure you’re asking – but if there are a bunch of options, how do I choose between all the different uninspiring AAA-level punt-priced hitters at the top of the order? Well it’s a good thing you asked! I’d focus on looking at the rest of the lineup (although it should seem obvious, if AAA-caliber punt OF #1 is batting leadoff for an otherwise great lineup and AAA-caliber punt OF #2 is batting leadoff for an otherwise uninspiring lineup, the former is far more likely to be driven in, if he does luckbox his way on-base, and also is far more likely to get that extra at-bat because the rest of the lineup cycles around), while also focusing on who is facing the inferior pitcher and/or the inferior bullpen (for much the same reasons). I’d also give a lot of weight to each spot in the lineup, so I’d much rather use leadoff-batting AAA-caliber punt OF than fourth-batting AAA-caliber punt OF. Two final notes – first – some managers (*coughDustyBakercough*) love to ask their weak-hitting #2 batter to sac bunt, so I’d also be a little weary of using a punt OF if he’s batting 2nd for a one of these managers who are a little more “old school”. Second – NL teams still (stupidly) have the pitcher hit (seriously, just end this abomination) and they double switch guys out all the time, so your favorite NL punt might be out of the game in the 5th because the Manager must insert himself into the game by using some next level strategery, which you know, proves he’s there.

On to the picks once punting season begins…

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PITCHERS

Justin Verlander, SP: $10,800 – On the season, Verlander has struck out 25.8% and walked 8.7%, but in the 2nd half he’s been one of the best starters in the league, striking out 31% and only walking 5.7% with a 3.3 xFIP. The Angels provide a bit of a conundrum, since acquiring Justin Upton, they have an above average offense and don’t strike out, but it’s not an offense to avoid and Verlander is still really quite good, so I’d have no problem rolling out Verlander.

Zack Greinke, SP: $10,100 – Greinke this year has a strong 27.4% strikeout rate and a 5.4% walk rate. The Marlins are a little below average vs right handers this year with a tougher than average team in strikeouts. Greinke’s skills are strong enough on a day without an ace in a great situation to be a comfortable play.

Rich Hill, SP: $9,500 – Hill’s first half saw his command waver and his pitches be less effective. The 2nd half, Hill fixed whatever ailed him and is back to normal, with a 31.3% strikeout rate and 6.9% walk rate. The Giants are a super weak lineup, though they avoid the strike out decently, they cannot hit and HIll should be able to slice and dice his way through this lineup.

Jon Gray, SP: $9,000 – Are you a right handed pitcher facing the Padres? If so, come on down and be played in DFS.

Trevor Bauer, SP: $8,800 – Bauer has pitched pretty well this year, 26.1% strikeout rate and 8.1% walk rate. He’s combining this with a 45.9% ground ball rate. It all adds up to a good 3.63 xFIP. I’m not on the Bauer train yet, but there’s no denying he’s got big upside for GPPs. He’s not a cash game play as there are safer guys in the same price range, but he’s got the upside to be the highest scoring pitcher of the night.

HITTERS

Tampa Bay Rays – Tampa Bay lefties are once again too cheap. Ubaldo isn’t a particularly good pitcher at this point in his career, but he still gets a lot of ground balls vs righties. It’s very tough to sustain an offense on ground balls only, so if the lefties hit him, he should run into some trouble, but if he gets through the lefties and has one of those days, he actually could be a decent GPP option. So given that you want to target lefties with power against Ubaldo, Lucas Duda (.368 wOBA and .309 ISO), Logan Morrison (.366 wOBA and .295 ISO), Kevin Kiermaier (.361 wOBA and .215 ISO) and Corey Dickerson (.334 wOBA and .224 ISO) are the top plays. I don’t really have a problem with the righties in stacks, but I’m not going to play them.

Minnesota Twins – As a starter Daniel Norris is about average in strikeouts (20.3%), but walks 10% of guys and is well below average ground ball guy (39.4%). I know Norris came up as a heralded prospect, but the numbers have never really supported it as his walk rate has always been high. He has had a career 4.2 BB/9 in AAA and 4.3 in AA. In the past 2 years, Brian Dozier is a monster vs lefties (.408 wOBA and .310 ISO), Robbie Grossman (.378 wOBA and .404 OBP) and Byron Buxton (.332 wOBA and .350 wOBA this year) are the top plays and you can stack everyone in this juicy matchup as the Tigers bullpen is also pretty work.

Rhys Hoskins, OF: $4,400 – Hoskins has a .484 wOBA in his short career vs lefties. Barry Bonds had a .537 wOBA in 2001 and 2004 and a .544 wOBA in 2002. That has nothing to do with Rhys Hoskins, just that Bonds was ridiculous and probably would have been more ridiculous if we had statcast around when he played. Anyway, Newcomb is a guy who is going to give up a lot of walks, with a lot of strikeouts and neutral fly balls. It’s the kind of guy who gives Hoskins a floor of a few points since it’s pretty likely he walks, but the upside is obviously there for a whole lot more.

Arizona Diamondbacks – Arizona vs a lefty at home is fantastic matchup and vs Adam Conley it’s downright tasty. Conley doesn’t strike guys out (16.5%), walks a decent number (8.7%) with below average ground balls (39.6%). JD Martinez still has a ridiculous .522 wOBA and .500 ISO vs lefties this year. Paul Goldschmidt has a .392 wOBA and .262 ISO, Chris Iannetta has a .388 wOBA and a .203 ISO, AJ Pollock has a .363 wOBA and a .269 ISO. Martinez, Goldschmidt, Iannetta and Pollock are obviously the cash plays. Actually, I want to stress how obvious these guys are in cash –

J.D. Martinez, OF: $4,600 – Obvious Diamondback Cash Play #1 – A little expensive but well worth it.

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B: $4,200 – Obvious Diamondback Cash Play #2.

Chris Iannetta, C: $2,400 – Obvious Diamondback Cash Play #3.

A.J. Pollock, OF: $4,200 – Obvious Diamondback Cash Play #4 – If he’s batting 7th for some odd reason like he did last week, it’s tough, but assuming that random managerial brain-fart won’t happen again, he’s good to go. The other guys are very stackable and if Rosales or Marte are batting at the top of the order, they become viable cash game punts.

Oakland AthleticsNick Martinez has been sub replacement level this year (-.2 WAR) and over his career he’s been worth -.3 wins. He just pounds the zone with super hittable stuff and is bad vs righties (4.79 xFIP) and is truly bad vs lefties (5.65 xFIP). Matt Olson has been a man on fire this year with a .437 wOBA and a .431 ISO. Khris Davis (.371 wOBA and .295 ISO), Jed Lowrie (.358 wOBA) and Matt Joyce (.358 wOBA and .256 ISO) are very good plays who should reward you.

Washington Nationals – Finally, I’ll end with this whopper of a recommendation – someone on the Nationals. That’s right – I don’t know who, but someone, actually probably two or three people, will be playable on this team today. That’s the type of insight you read this column for, right? The reason I can’t offer anything more substantive is that Dusty Baker has announced he’s going to rest his regulars today (at least that was what the beat-writers were saying), which means that lots of punt-priced guys are going to be in the lineup. They’re facing Robert Gsellman today, and he’s not exactly someone we have to fear. But I have honestly no idea who specifically will be playing and more importantly, where in the order. It could easily be Victor Robles, or Andrew Stevenson, or Adrian Sanchez, or Rafael Bautista. There are a lot of possible guys for Dusty Baker to play, and since most of them aren’t very good, I’d limit myself to only using anyone hitting in the top-4 and only if they’re under $2300. First note – do be weary of whoever bats 2nd, only because Dusty Baker loves sac bunts, and loves them from the #2 batter, so I’d give a slight downward nudge to whichever punt ends up batting 2nd. That said, it’s a very minor consideration, particularly because if the entire lineup are minor league quality hitters, Dusty Baker may end up asking for sac bunts every inning – gotta manufacture runs, after all. Second note – part of the reason I’m comfortable throwing out a punt like Robles or Stevenson (if they’re in the top-4) is that Gsellman is not particularly good. However, if the Nationals lineup is extremely ugly, it may get to the point where Robert Gsellman becomes a pitching possibility, particularly in GPPs.  “It wouldn’t be the first time a pitcher throws the game of his life because the other team decided to throw out an AAA lineup.”

I’m Only Happy When It Rains

No rain.

Doing Lines In Vegas

At the time of this writing, the Mets are only -139. I’ll trust my sources (they’re not a secret – do an internet search for the Nationals beat writers) that the Nationals will have a complete joke of a lineup tomorrow and take the Mets. Once the lineup is announced, I expect the line to move substantially, so make sure to get on the action before the Nationals lineup is announced. And if somehow Dusty bluffed us all and plays his normal lineup? Well, then well played Mr. Baker, your lineup shenanigans put me into an unfavorable bet (Pete Rose probably tried this all the time when he was managing).