Fantasy baseball two-start pitching guide for the week ahead

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The reality of prospect hype is that there is some correlation between amateur draft position and expectations. While former Tigers first-round picks Casey Mize and Matt Manning were expected to be the building blocks of the Detroit starting rotation for years to come, it looks like former ninth rounder Tarik Skubal stole their thunder.

The left-hander came out of nowhere to post an elite K/9 above 13.0 in his first two minor league seasons, and he hasn’t slowed down much since arriving to the majors in 2020. Skubal’s ERA has consistently fallen, and he’s carried over the momentum he built from an excellent second half of 2021 when had had an elite 6.56 K/BB along with a 4.30 ERA, and 1.09 WHIP.

Skubal lowered his ERA to 3.04 with a strong outing on Thursday, but it’s his continued elite command that should have fantasy managers so jazzed. He now has 29/3 K/BB in 26.2 innings, showing more elite command of his pitches with a new found ability to keep the ball in the park as a result of the changes in the ball and a groundball rate that’s suddenly above 50%.

Fantasy managers always have to be mindful of early-season breakouts, deducing fact from fiction. Judging just from the early-season peripherals, there’s reason to think that Skubal has even underperformed to this point. It’s great news for a Tigers squad that desperately needed good news with their pitching staff, now that Mize and Manning are sidelined with arm injuries.

Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Tarik Skubal throws to a Houston Astros batter during the first inning of a baseball game Thursday, May 5, 2022, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Tarik Skubal throws to a Houston Astros batter during the first inning of a baseball game Thursday, May 5, 2022, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

The news gets even better if you happen to be rostering Skubal, as he enters a two-start week that couldn’t be much easier with the A’s and Orioles on his home turf. The Cy Young whispers could start getting much louder if Skubal continues to pitch like he’s capable.

-Paul Blackburn has seen a similarly encouraging breakout early this season, with a 7.67 K/BB ratio as a direct result of increased velocity and a new pitch mix that’s included more breaking balls. He’s long been a soft-tossing groundball pitcher who has pitched to contact, with an ugly 5.74 ERA and only a 5.0 K/9 over 138 innings prior to this season. However, this season’s improvement looks like a direct result of skill improvement rather than luck for the former first-round pick. We’re to the point that Blackburn is a must-add in mixed leagues, especially with a two-start week upcoming.

-It’s probably too little, too late for the Reds, but ace Luis Castillo is set to make his return on Monday from a shoulder injury. He’s allowed only one run over three rehab appearances, with his most recent outing on May 4 showing some dominance with seven strikeouts in 4.1 innings. Castillo’s early blunders last season could have some fantasy managers spooked, but the two-start week is probably too enticing to turn down for those in weekly leagues, especially with the latter start at Pittsburgh.

-Is Jose Quintana back? The lefty signed with Pittsburgh to get his career back on track after some struggles over the last three years, and the early returns are good with a 3.38 ERA in five starts. Unfortunately, the peripherals don’t back up the results, as Quintana has a mediocre 2.22 K/BB ratio and has seen his velocity decline further this season. Quintana has made some significant adjustments, throwing his changeup 31% of the time and throwing his fastball less than 50% for the first time in his career. The ERA metrics aren’t bad (3.63 FIP, 4.03 SIERA), but this is a pitcher getting by on smoke and mirrors. There’s a major risk installing him for the upcoming two-start week that includes one outing against the Dodgers.

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Going Twice…

Note: Probable pitchers as of Friday, May 6, and are subject to change.

American League

Strong Plays

Tarik Skubal: OAK, BAL

Lucas Giolito: CLE, NYY

Decent Plays

Frankie Montas: DET, LAA

Jameson Taillon: TOR, @CHW

Robbie Ray: PHI, @NYM

Michael Kopech: CLE, NYY

Corey Kluber: @LAA, TOR

Paul Blackburn: @DET, LAA

Michael Pineda: OAK, BAL

Noah Syndergaard: TB, @OAK

Brad Keller: @TEX, @COL

At Your Own Risk

Zach Plesac: @CHW, @MIN

Kyle Bradish: @STL, @DET

Taylor Hearn: KC, BOS

National League

Strong Plays

Tylor Megill: @WAS, SEA

Julio Urias: @PIT, PHI

Aaron Nola: @SEA, @LAD

Zack Wheeler: @SEA, @LAD

Decent Plays

Brandon Woodruff: @CIN, @MIA

Luis Castillo: MIL, @PIT

Tony Gonsolin: @PIT, PHI

Adam Wainwright: BAL, SF

Alex Wood: COL, @STL

At Your Own Risk

Jose Quintana: LAD, CIN

Elieser Hernandez: @ARI, MIL

Austin Gomber: @SF, KC

Kyle Hendricks: @SD, @ARI

Humberto Castellanos: MIA, CHC

Bryse Wilson: LAD, CIN

Patrick Corbin: NYM, HOU

Vladimir Gutierrez: MIL, @PIT

Streamer City

The following pitchers are generally available in over 50 percent of fantasy leagues and have favorable match-ups this week:

American League

Wednesday, May 11: Beau Brieske vs. OAK

Brieske has been a revelation in his first two starts for the Tigers after showing off elite control in the minors. The Oakland lineup will feel familiar to him in that it has mostly minor league quality hitters, with 106 runs scored in 25 games.

Thursday, May 12: Glenn Otto vs. KC

Otto has been able to deceive hitters in his first two starts of the season, and has an outstanding 10.5 K/9 early in his MLB career. KC’s lineup has been struggling, with Salvador Perez and Bobby Witt Jr. scuffling, scoring only 109 runs in 23 games.

Friday, May 13: Jaime Barria @ OAK

The aforementioned A’s lineup is an opportunity to use a spot starter like Barria, who has had some level of success in MLB with a 4.40 ERA in over 300 innings.

National League

Tuesday, May 10: Jakob Junis vs. COL

The Giants pitching magic has rubbed off on Junis, who has been dynamite as a spot starter for the team. They signed Junis after he showed an increase in velocity last year, and he’s yet to allow a run in 10 innings. The Rox have notoriously struggled to hit away from Coors Field.

Wednesday, May 11: Chad Kuhl @ SF

Kuhl is one reason for Colorado’s surprising start this season, with new found control (2.7 BB/9). He’s been excellent in two road starts and faces a banged up Giants lineup.

Thursday, May 12: Nick Lodolo @ PIT

Lodolo returns from a back injury this weekend and is fortunate to face a weak Pirates lineup next week. The lefty was really coming around before the injury, showing off 19/5 K/BB in 14.2 innings over his first three starts. Despite the terrible supporting cast in Cincinnati, Lodolo gives reason to be optimistic about the long term.

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Total Games

American League

5: BOS, TOR

6: BAL, CLE, HOU, KC, MIN, NYY, SEA, TB, TEX

7: CHW, LAA

8: DET

9: OAK

National League

5: ATL

6: ARI, CHC, COL, MIA, MIL, NYM, SD, SF, STL, WAS

7: CIN, LAD, PHI, PIT

The Infirmary

Here’s some injuries to prominent players from the last week, and other players to watch for in the coming week. You can get a full listing of injured players at NBCSports Edge’s Injury Page.

Tyler Alexander: Placed on IL (elbow)

Luis Arraez: Placed on IL (COVID-19)

Archie Bradley: Out at least one month (abdomen)

Dylan Bundy: Placed on IL (COVID-19)

Carlos Correa: Out indefinitely (finger)

Nelson Cruz: Day-to-day (back)

Kyle Garlick: Placed on IL (calf)

Mitch Haniger: Out indefinitely (ankle)

Enrique Hernandez: Day-to-day (illness)

Jonathan India: Out for two weeks (hamstring)

Cole Irvin: Placed on IL (shoulder)

Tyler Naquin: Placed on IL (COVID-19)

Miguel Sano: Out indefinitely (knee)

Carlos Santana: Placed on IL (ankle)

Nick Senzel: Placed on IL (COVID-19)

Andrew Vaughn: Placed on IL (hand)

Joey Votto: Placed on IL (COVID-19)