Thursday’s MLB DFS slate features Game 4 of the ALDS between the Houston Astros and Tampa Bay Rays (7:07 p.m. ET on FS1)

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.

Format

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.

Pitchers

Today’s contest sets up as a battle of old-school vs. new-school at pitcher. The Astros will send a throwback ace to the mound, while the Rays will look to employ a committee approach.

Let’s start with the Astros. They’ll hand the ball to Justin Verlander on short rest, and he’s coming off an absolutely dominant appearance in Game 1 of this series. He limited the Rays to just one hit over seven scoreless innings and added in eight strikeouts for good measure. Overall, he’s allowed just one earned run over 19.1 innings vs. the Rays this season.

Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35).

He has the clear edge in Vegas data in this matchup. He’s a -222 favorite and owns a 3.0 opponent implied team total, and stud pitchers have historically averaged 23.44 DraftKings points with comparable Vegas data (per the Trends tool). His strikeout prop is also listed at 8.5, so he has considerable upside in that department as well.

He should command massive ownership on today’s slate, but you could argue that he deserves to be rostered in 100% of lineups. No on can match his combination of floor and upside.

The Rays will send Diego Castillo to the mound to start this must-win contest, but he’s not expected to hang around very long. He’s thrown 3.2 innings over his first two postseason appearances — both of which were out of the bullpen — and he pitched 1.1 inning or fewer in his final seven regular season appearances.

But is that enough to make him a viable fantasy option at $6,400 on DraftKings? If we cap his ceiling at 2.0 innings, the best case scenario for Castillo is 16.5 DraftKings points (two innings pitched + six strikeouts). While that would be enough to make him a nice value, it’s not very realistic.

He posted a K/9 of 10.62 this season, and the Astros owned the lowest strikeout rate in the league vs. right-handers during the regular season. It’s much more likely that Castillo records just a couple strikeouts while also surrendering a few baserunners (and possibly runs).

He still has some appeal, but I think we can do better.

After Castillo exits the game, Ryan Yarbrough and Yonny Chirinos are prime candidates to enter. That said, they’re not priced like relief pitchers — Yarbrough costs $8,200 and Chirinos costs $7,800 — and neither player figures to see a substantial amount of innings.

Part of the reason that the bullpen strategy is effective is because batters don’t take multiple at bats off the same pitcher. Both guys have pitched effectively at times this season, but I don’t think this is a situation where Kevin Cash will ask them to pitch a handful of innings.

The real value with the Rays’ pitching staff comes from their true relievers. Nick Anderson and Emilio Pagan are both priced at the minimum on DraftKings, and both pitchers should be available for multiple innings after getting the day off yesterday.

Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Nick Anderson (70).

Anderson has been virtually unhittable over 21.1 innings with the Rays. He’s pitched to a 2.11 ERA and 1.62 FIP while striking out a ridiculous 17.3 batters per nine innings. Right-handed batters in particular have had no chance against him, struggling to a .183 batting average and .232 wOBA. The Astros employ one of the most righty-heavy lineups in the league, so this seems like a perfect matchup for him. He is worth heavy exposure.

Pagan hasn’t been as effective as Anderson, but he’s still been really freaking good. He’s pitched to a 2.31 ERA and 12.34 K/9 this season, and he’s limited both righties and lefties to a .179 batting average.

If you’re looking to roster Verlander at captain — which is definitely a viable strategy — pairing him with Anderson and Pagan should give your roster plenty of upside.

Batters

Astros Projected Lineup

  • 1. George Springer (R)
  • 2. Jose Altuve (R)
  • 3. Michael Brantley (L)
  • 4. Alex Bregman (R)
  • 5. Yordan Alvarez (L)
  • 6. Yuli Gurriel (R)
  • 7. Carlos Correa (R)
  • 8. Robinson Chirinos (R)
  • 9. Josh Reddick (L)

Altuve has been fantastic to start the postseason. He’s gone 4-13 through the first three games of this series, and all four hits have gone for extra bases (two doubles and two HRs).

He was a well above average hitter in terms of wRC+ vs. both left-handers and right-handers this season, so you don’t have to worry about him being overmatched regardless of who is on the mound for the Rays. He’s also priced at just $8,000 on DraftKings, which doesn’t make a ton of sense. That makes him just the fifth-most expensive option among the Astros projected starters.

Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman (2), Yordan Alvarez (44), Jose Altuve (27).

Brantley also seems ridiculous underpriced at $6,400. He might see one at bat vs. Yarbrough, but the majority of his plate appearances in today’s contest figure to come against right-handed pitchers. Brantley crushed right-handers during the regular season, posting a 146 wRC+, and he’s expected to occupy a premium spot in the Astros’ lineup.

As far as upside goes, Springer checks in with the highest ceiling projection for all position players in our MLB Models. He’s displayed immense power this season, launching 39 HRs in just 122 regular season contests, and he’s posted a wRC+ of at least 144 vs. both right- and left-handers.

Bregman is also someone who obviously deserves some attention. He’s blossomed into one of the best hitters in baseball and is one of the frontrunners for AL MVP. He is otherworldly good vs. left-handers, but he’s still more than capable of producing vs. right-handed pitching.

If you’re looking for a cheaper option on the Astros, consider Reddick. He’ll own the splits-advantage vs. Castillo — assuming he actually faces him — and Castillo has predictably been worse against left-handed batters than right-handed batters this season. If Reddick does get on base, he’ll also have the benefit of Houston’s best hitters trying to bring him around.

Rays Lineup

  • 1. Austin Meadows (L)
  • 2. Tommy Pham (R)
  • 3. Ji-Man Choi (L)
  • 4. Avisial Garcia (R)
  • 5. Brandon Lowe (L)
  • 6. Travis d’Arnaud (R)
  • 7. Joey Wendle (L)
  • 8. Kevin Kiermaier (L)
  • 9. Willy Adames (R)

The Rays’ lineup is much less imposing than the Astros, especially considering their matchup with Verlander. That said, they’re also significantly cheaper.

Meadows is their most expensive option, and he leads the team in median and ceiling projection. He’s dominated against right-handers this season, posting a 152 wRC+, and he’s one of the only batters in the Rays lineup who has found some success vs. Verlander. He only has one hit over five career at bats, but the one hit was a home run.

Wendle is another batter who hasn’t been overpowered by Verlander this season. He’s posted a .375 average and .455 OBP with one extra base hit. There’s a chance he could be lifted for a pinch-hitter if he’s expected to face a left-hander — he owned a mind-boggling wRC+ of -1 vs. southpaws this season — but that doesn’t figure to be a huge issue vs. the Astros.

Choi is someone with the potential to do some damage vs. Verlander. He’s fared very well against right-handers over the past 12 months, posting a .374 wOBA and .220 ISO, and he hit 17 HRs over 329 ABs vs. right-handers this season. He’ll also occupy the No. 3 spot in the lineup and is very affordable at just $6,600.

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: Astros SP Justin Verlander (35)
Photo credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports