The NLCS gets underway with Game 1 between the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals at 8:08 p.m. ET.
The single-game format will take center stage today, so let’s start by taking a brief look at the different strategies for DraftKings and FanDuel.
FanDuel will use its traditional single-game format. That means you’ll have to roster one MVP, one All-Star and three utilities. Your MVP will get a 2x scoring bonus while your All-Star will get a 1.5x scoring bonus. You don’t need to pay additional salary to roster players in those premium spots.
FanDuel also features only hitters. You won’t have to worry about choosing between any of the pitchers on either roster and can focus simply on which batters you think will score the most fantasy points.
The DraftKings format is a little more complicated. For starters, you have to roster six players instead of five, and you’ll have to choose between batters and pitchers. DraftKings also features a captain, who earns a 1.5x scoring multiplier, but will cost 1.5x their traditional salary.
Relief pitchers also become viable options in this format. They aren’t as dominant as they were in previous seasons — last year they earned more points for innings pitched and strikeouts than starting pitchers — but they still have the potential to provide excellent value at their current salaries. Most of the relievers are priced at the absolute minimum on DraftKings, so pitchers who have the potential to pitch multiple innings are particularly intriguing.
Both of these teams had to play five games in the NLDS to advance to the next round of the postseason, so neither of them will have their preferred pitching options available today. The Nationals will send out veteran right-hander Anibal Sanchez, while the Cardinals will turn to Miles Mikolas.
Let’s start with Mikolas. He’s had an interesting journey to get to this point of his career. He started as a member of the Texas Rangers before eventually getting released in 2014. He didn’t get any MLB interest after that, so he headed over to Japan to pitch for the Yomiuri Giants. His results overseas were impressive — a 31-13 record and 2.18 ERA over three seasons — so the Cardinals decided to bring him back to the major leagues. They were rewarded for their gamble in 2018, with Mikolas pitching to a 2.83 ERA and finishing sixth in the NL Cy Young voting.
Unfortunately, things have not gone as well for Mikolas this season. His ERA has jumped all the way to 4.16 thanks to a spike in his HR rate. Mikolas is not a strikeout pitcher — he posted a K/9 of just 7.04 this season — so he needs to limit the damage on balls in play to be effective. That simply didn’t happen this season.
He’s priced at just $9,200 on today’s slate — which is cheap for a starter in the Showdown format — but it’s hard to see a ton of upside. He is a slight -122 favorite, but the Nationals have been one of the toughest matchups in fantasy over the second half of the season. They rank third in wRC+ vs. right-handers over that time frame, and they also own the third-lowest strikeout rate. His current strikeout prop is listed at just 4.5, and his K Prediction is listed at a paltry 3.8.
Sanchez is the underdog in this matchup, but he seems like the superior fantasy option. He has a higher median, ceiling, and floor projection than Mikolas in our MLB Models.
Sanchez signed with the Nationals in the offseason after pitching to a 2.83 ERA with the Braves in 2018. He hasn’t been able to duplicate his results, but he’s still posted an effective 3.85 ERA this season.
His matchup is far less daunting than Mikolas’. The Cardinals were simply middle of the pack vs. right-handers over the second half — their 100 wRC+ suggests they were the definition of average — and they also struck out at a much higher rate than the Nationals.
Sanchez provided nice production in a much more difficult matchup vs. the Dodgers in the NLDS, recording nine strikeouts over five innings while allowing just one earned run.
Out of the bullpen, the Cardinals haven’t provided much value during the postseason. Only one pitcher has gone more than one inning so far this postseason: Carlos Martinez went 1.1 innings in Game 1 vs. the Braves. That said, Martinez is priced like a starter on DraftKings, so he’s not really in fantasy consideration.
Their most appealing option is probably Giovanny Gallegos. He’s priced at the absolute minimum and has pitched to a 2.31 ERA and 11.3 K/9 this season. Andrew Miller and John Brebbia are also minimum-priced options who could potentially throw an inning in this contest.
The bullpen has been a major issue for the Nationals this season. They pitched to a 5.66 ERA during the regular season, which was the worst mark in the entire league. The fact that they even made the postseason with that bullpen is a testament to the amount of talent on the rest of the roster.
Thankfully, that’s not a huge issue during the postseason. They have used all three of their ace starters out of the bullpen at certain points, so the only true relievers that will likely pitch in the biggest spots are Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle. Hudson is priced at $7,600 — which makes him too expensive to consider — but Doolittle fits the mold at just $3,000.
I am a big proponent of targeting relievers in Showdown, but this does not feel like a slate where it’s +EV to do so.
Nationals Projected Lineup
- 1. Trea Turner (R)
- 2. Adam Eaton (L)
- 3. Anthony Rendon (R)
- 4. Juan Soto (L)
- 5. Howie Kendrick (R)
- 6. Ryan Zimmerman (R)
- 7. Kurt Suzuki (R) — questionable
- 8. Victor Robles (R) — questionable
The Nationals are pretty top-heavy on offense. Most of their value is going to come from their top five batters.
Turner ranks first on the team in both median and ceiling projection, which makes sense considering his prime lineup spot and skill set. He has the ability to do some damage with his bat — he posted a 120 wRC+ vs. right-handers this season — and he can also do some damage on the bases. He’s averaged .187 steals per game over the past 12 months, which is the top mark on the slate.
Rendon has somewhat quietly blossomed into one of the best hitters in baseball. He has no real weakness at the plate, posting a 153 wRC+ vs. right-handers and a 158 wRC+ vs. left-handers, and he can hit for both average and power. He figures to be a popular choice at the Captain position on DraftKings and is an excellent option for one of the premium spots on FanDuel.
Soto is so good that it’s easy to forget he’s just 20 years old. His plate discipline is almost unheard of for a 20-year old: He ranked sixth in the league with a 16.4% walk rate this season. He can do some damage when he swings too, evidenced by his 34 HRs, and he led the team with a 155 wRC+ vs. right-handers.
Eaton can be a bit overlooked given his teammates, but he put together a quality year in 2019. He was above averaged in terms of wRC+ vs. both right-handers and left-handers, and he also chipped in 15 steals. Batting directly in from of Rendon and Soto gives him plenty of opportunities to score when he gets on base, which he did 103 times this season.
Kendrick was the postseason hero for the Nats in the NLDS, hitting a three-run HR in the 10th inning to ultimately lead them to victory. That was the highlight in what’s been a really awesome year for him. He’s always hit for a high average, but he was able to hit for way more power this season than at any other point in his career. He was at his best when facing a southpaw, but his 136 wRC+ vs. right-handers suggests he was still way above average when on the wrong side of his splits.
- 1. Dexter Fowler (R)
- 2. Kolten Wong (L)
- 3. Paul Goldschmidt (R)
- 4. Marcell Ozuna (R)
- 5. Yadier Molina (R)
- 6. Matt Carpenter (L)
- 7. Tommy Edman (L)
- 8. Paul DeJong (R)
This Cardinals lineup is extremely unique from a DFS perspective. Their most expensive hitter (Edman) is batting seventh in the lineup, and their fourth-most expensive option bats eighth (DeJong). Meanwhile, their three cheapest batters hit first, second, and fifth. Weird.
Fowler struggled during the first round of the playoffs, totaling just two hits and two walks over 24 plate appearances. Still, it’s impossible to ignore a leadoff batter at just $5,800 on DraftKings. Despite his struggles, he still averaged nearly five plate appearances per game. Thats a lot of opportunities for a minimal salary. Fowler is a switch hitter, but he was much more successful when facing right-handers in 2019. That bodes well for his matchup vs. Sanchez.
Wong is another strong value option. He doesn’t provide much in terms of power — he hit just 11 HRs over 549 at bats this season — but he was still an above average hitter vs. right-handed pitchers. He’s also a threat to do some damage on the bases, evidenced by his 24 steals during the regular season.
Goldschmidt had a down year in his first season with the Cardinals, but all will be forgiven if he hits in the playoffs. He got off to a good start vs. the Braves, going 9-21 with six extra-base hits. That said, he’s always been someone who hits left-handed pitching much better than right-handed pitching. He will likely be on the wrong side of his splits exclusively in this contest unless he gets a crack a Doolittle in the later innings.
I will always be a sucker for Carpenter. He was one of the first players to truly embrace the launch-angle revolution, and his Statcast data is always among the best in baseball. He’s not the same player that he was in his prime, but he always has upside vs. right-handed pitching.
Good luck, and be sure to check out The Action Network if you’re looking for more in-depth MLB analysis.
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Pictured above: Nationals RP Sean Doolittle (63)
Photo credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports