Week Ahead: Blue Ray Player

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Coming off his worst season, albeit severely shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic, Robbie Ray was at a crossroads entering free agency. Fortunately, the Blue Jays kept the faith and are being rewarded.

The left-hander is having an odd but splendid season in Toronto, flashing the best velocity of his career and ironically showing off the best walk rate of his career (6%) after a career-worst and embarrassing 18% walk rate last season.

Ray has had a lot going against him in finding success this season, including two months of home games at hitter-friendly Dunedin, but he’s been able to overcome an AL-high 18 home runs allowed to post a 3.35 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 14 starts. He also happens to have a brilliant 11.5 K/9, marking the sixth consecutive season that he’s carried a K/9 of at least 11.0. Among MLB starting pitchers, only Max Scherzer and Chris Sale have better overall K/9 rates than Ray (11.8) since 2016, showing the upside he possesses.

The control is also helping Ray work deeper into games. Notoriously a five inning starter with outlandish pitch counts, Ray is averaging 5.8 innings per start thus far and doing so in the tough AL East.

Finally, with a fastball that’s averaging 95 mph for the first time and a slider that has also seen an uptick, Ray is looking like an ace. He’s effectively gone from undrafted in many leagues after posting an ERA over 6.00 in 2020 to being an MVP on fantasy pitching staffs in the first half of the season. He will look to build on his impressive success with a scheduled two-start week that couldn’t appear much easier, against two lineups that haven’t hit lefties in the Mariners and Rays.

-Last year’s 60-game season didn’t allow enough time for some players to regress to the mean. We’re already starting to see regression in 2021 with some fast starters who have hit a wall. Cardinals reliever turned starter John Gant could be the biggest example so far, and his performance is mirroring his team’s defunct season. The long-haired right-hander had a 1.60 ERA through June 1 spanning 10 starts, but many of us screamed about his 39/34 K/BB in 50.2 innings to that point. It was clear that Gant couldn’t remain effective with that level of poor control, and his last four starts have been proof. His ERA has increased more than two runs, after allowing a whopping 18 earned runs in 14 innings. Gant leads the league with 48 walks over 64.2 innings, and would likely lose his rotation spot soon if not for his team’s bevy of injuries. At this point, he’s an obvious drop for fantasy managers.

-Another starting rotation facing major injuries recently has been Cleveland, and they’ve needed to count on young pitchers like Eli Morgan to step up before they planned. Despite his status as a former eighth-round pick in 2017 out of Gonzaga, Morgan was a good prospect prior to his promotion due to outstanding control, and he’s shown it over his last two starts with 14/0 K/BB in 8.2 innings. Unfortunately, Morgan has still struggled overall as an extreme flyball pitcher who relies on his changeup and sub-90 mph fastball, but the minor league track record (10.0 K/9, 2.4 BB/9) does really show upside worth watching, particularly in AL-only leagues. It’s probably too soon to reliably deploy Morgan for his upcoming two-start week, but we shouldn’t rule him out helping in the near future if he can continue to throw strikes.

-Detroit right-hander Matt Manning, on the other hand, was an acclaimed prospect before this season as the ninth overall draft choice in 2016, but his results in two starts have also been mixed. Manning was dominant as a pro before this season, but he had an ERA above 8.00 in seven starts at Triple-A earlier this year due to the long ball and has struggled to miss bats in his two MLB outings. It seems likely that Manning’s excellent fastball-curveball combo will come around eventually, but he’s shown no real reason to be confident he can help in the near future even with his upcoming two-start week.

Going Twice…

Note: Probable pitchers as of Friday, June 25, and are subject to change.

American League

Strong Plays

Lucas Giolito: MIN, @DET

Robbie Ray: SEA, TB

Zack Greinke: BAL, @CLE

Decent Plays

Dylan Cease: MIN, @DET

James Kaprielian, TEX, BOS

Jameson Taillon: LAA, NYM

Nick Pivetta: KC, @OAK

Danny Duffy: @BOS, MIN

Chris Flexen: @TOR, TEX

Bailey Ober: @CHW, @KC

At Your Own Risk

Dylan Bundy: @NYY, BAL

Mike Foltynewicz: @OAK, @SEA

Eli Morgan: DET, HOU

Garrett Richards: KC, @OAK

Brad Keller: @BOS, MIN

Michael King: LAA, NYM

Matt Manning: @CLE, CHW

Jean Carlos Mejia: DET, HOU

Tom Eshelman: @HOU, @LAA

National League

Strong Plays

Brandon Woodruff: CHC, @PIT

Freddy Peralta: CHC, @PIT

Trevor Bauer: SF, @WAS

Trevor Rogers: @PHI, @ATL

Kyle Hendricks: @MIL, @CIN

Anthony DeSclafani: @LAD, @ARI

Decent Plays

Wade Miley: PHI, CHC

Caleb Smith: @STL, SF

Marcus Stroman: @WAS, @NYY

Blake Snell: @CIN, @PHI

German Marquez: PIT, STL

Joe Ross: TB, LAD

At Your Own Risk

Erick Fedde: NYM, LAD

Vince Velasquez: @CIN, SD

Spencer Howard: MIA, SD

Zach Davies: @MIL, @CIN

Chad Kuhl: @COL, MIL

John Gant: ARI, @COL

Matt Peacock: @STL, SF

Chase De Jong: @COL, MIL

Carlos Martinez: ARI, @COL

Kyle Freeland: PIT, STL

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, June 30: Cal Quantrill vs. DET

Quantrill is in the right place at the right time again for pitching streamers, facing a weak Detroit lineup on Wednesday. He’s been solid in three consecutive outings thanks to a schedule that’s included St. Louis, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh.

Friday, July 2: Logan Gilbert vs. TEX

Gilbert’s slow start had some moving on from the top prospect, but over his last five starts he has a 3.29 ERA and 29/6 K/BB in 27.1 innings. The Rangers lineup remains in the bottom of the league against right-handers.

Saturday, July 3: Jordan Lyles @ SEA

Lyles has been an unreliable option, but the matchup is right next week. Seattle has just a .666 OPS against right-handers this season, and Lyles had a quality start against them on May 28 with eight strikeouts in six innings.

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National League

Thursday, July 1: Adrian Houser @ PIT

Your trusty groundball specialist will get to try his hand against the Pirates next week. Most recently, he allowed two runs in 5.2 innings against Milwaukee on June 13, and the team’s OPS against right-handers remains only .656.

Thursday, July 1: Drew Smyly vs. NYM

Smyly has been a disappointment for the Braves and fantasy managers this season, but it’s not too late for the lefty to turn his season around. He’s coming off two excellent starts and faces a Mets lineup with a poor .672 OPS against southpaws.

Saturday, July 3: Kyle Muller vs. MIA

Muller had a strong first start against the Mets this week, allowing just one run on one hit in four innings. His history of minor league control woes shows reason to be cautious, but Miami has been the second worst hitting team in the NL against lefties this season.

Total Games

American League

5: TB

6: BAL, DET, OAK, SEA, TEX, TOR

7: BOS, CLE, CHW, HOU, KC, LAA, MIN, NYY

National League

6: ATL, CHC, LAD, MIA, SD, SF

7: ARI, CIN, COL, MIL, NYM, PHI, PIT, STL, WAS

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.

Ronald Acuna: Day-to-day (back)

Brett Anderson: Placed on IL (knee)

Josh Bell: Day-to-day (side)

Brandon Belt: Status uncertain (knee)

Byron Buxton: Out indefinitely (thumb)

Miguel Cabrera: Day-to-day (calf)

Mark Canha: Status uncertain (hip)

Aaron Civale: Out 4-5 weeks (finger)

Randy Dobnak: Placed on IL (finger)

Adam Engel: Placed on IL (hamstring)

Eduardo Escobar: Day-to-day (quad)

Wilmer Flores: Day-to-day (hamstring)

Max Fried: Placed on IL (blister)

Austin Gomber: Placed on IL (forearm)

Niko Goodrum: Placed on IL (finger)

Carson Kelly: Out indefinitely (wrist)

Joey Lucchesi: Out for the season (elbow)

Ketel Marte: Day-to-day (hamstring)

Adalberto Mondesi: Placed on IL (oblique)

Stephen Piscotty: Placed on IL (wrist)

Lucas Sims: Placed on IL (elbow)

Marcus Stroman: Day-to-day (hip)

Justin Upton: Day-to-day (back)

Gio Urshela: Day-to-day (leg)

Cesar Valdez: Placed on IL (back)

Daniel Vogelbach: Out indefinitely (hamstring)

Taylor Walls: Placed on IL (wrist)