Thursday features a winner-take-all Game 5 between the Tampa Bay Rays and Houston Astros (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

As you would expect in a deciding playoff game, both teams will send ace-caliber pitchers to the mound tonight.

Let’s start with Gerrit Cole, who has been arguably the best pitcher in the league this season. He’s dominated opposing batters this season, resulting in a 2.50 ERA and 2.64 FIP while striking out 13.82 batters per nine innings. All three of those marks rank in the top three for qualified starters, and his K/9 ranked first by a comfortable margin.

As a result, Cole has been a ridiculously good fantasy asset this season. He’s averaged 30.12 DraftKings points per start, which was the best mark in the league. Justin Verlander ranked second with an average of 27.86 DraftKings points per start, and Max Scherzer was the only other pitcher even within five points of Cole’s average (25.36).

Cole has been particularly dominant over the final two months of the season. He’s posted a 0.91 ERA and 89 strikeouts over his last 49.2 innings pitched, including a dominant performance in Game 2 of this series (7.2 innings, zero runs, 15 strikeouts).

All of this basically means you need to jam Cole into your lineups tonight. Yes, the Rays were able to get to Verlander yesterday, but he was pitching on short rest. Cole currently owns a 2.6 opponent implied team total and -274 moneyline odds, and pitchers with comparable marks in both categories have historically averaged a Plus/Minus of +4.26 on DraftKings (per the Trends tool).

He obviously deserves consideration at Captain, but he needs to be in your lineups as a utility at a minimum.

Tyler Glasnow will start this contest for the Rays, and he’s a much riskier option. He’s only $2,000 cheaper than Cole as a utility, but he doesn’t provide nearly the same safety. He returned to the Rays’ rotation on 9/8, and he’s yet to pitch more than 4.1 innings since coming off the IL.

He is definitely capable of doing some damage in five innings or less — he pitched to a 1.78 ERA and 11.27 K/9 this season — but his matchup vs. the Astros is brutal. Their lineup has posted a .375 wOBA and 19.2% strikeout rate vs. right-handers over the past 12 months, which is an awful combination for an opposing pitcher.

If you are going to target both starters, you’re going to need to find some value. That’s where the bullpens come into play.

Houston will likely try to squeeze as much as possible out of Cole, but they do have some relievers who could factor into the equation at the end of the game. Roberto Osuna will likely get the nod if there is a save opportunity, while Will Harris and Ryan Pressly are the primary candidates to pitch in the seventh or eighth innings (if needed). Pressly has the best strikeout numbers of the trio, while Harris has posted a 1.50 ERA this season.

The Rays bullpen is a little tougher to handicap than usual given the magnitude of this contest. Blake Snell and Charlie Morton could both enter this contest after Glasnow, but both guys are priced like starters. They’re not really on the fantasy radar, but they do hurt the value of some of Tampa’s traditional relievers.

That said, Nick Anderson still figures to get into this game at some point. He’s been incredible as a member of the Rays, pitching to a 1.62 FIP and 17.3 K/9. He gave the Rays 2.1 scoreless innings in Game 4 of this series, and the off day on Wednesday means he should be good to go for Game 5.

Batters

Rays Lineup

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

It’s difficult to roster any Rays’ batter with confidence tonight. Cole has been that good this season, and their current implied team total of 2.6 runs is virtually unheard of for a playoff game. Still, it’s impossible to just ignore them on a one-game slate.

d’Arnaud will move up to the cleanup spot in the lineup for tonight’s contest, which makes him an intriguing value. He’s been a bit of a disappointment after entering the league as a top prospect, but he has surprisingly had a lot of success vs. Cole. It’s a small sample size, but d’Arnaud has gone 4-for-4 vs. Cole with a double and a HR. I don’t typically put much stock into batter vs. pitcher numbers — especially when it consists of just four at bats — but it is something to consider given his salary and premium spot in the lineup.

Pham has been arguably the Rays’ best batter during the postseason, posting a .412 batting average and 1.033 OPS. He went deep vs. Verlander on Tuesday, and he’s another batter who has found some success vs. Cole throughout his career. His sample size is a little bit larger — they have some history when Pham was with the Cardinals and Cole was with the Pirates — and Pham has posted a .500 batting over with three extra base hits over 18 at bats.

Meadows and Choi also deserve some consideration given their success vs. right-handers this season. Meadows has been particularly dominant against right-handers on the road, posting a 172 wRC+. He’s also clubbed 16 HRs over just 185 at bats in that situation, good for an ISO of .346. Choi hasn’t been as good as Meadows, but he’s still posted a 142 wRC+ when facing a right-hander on the road this season.

Last but not least, Wendle makes some sense as a pure punt play. He’s priced at just $4,400 on DraftKings, which makes him nearly as cheap as a relief pitcher. If he can get on base a few times or put a ball into the seats, he’s almost a lock to be in the winning showdown lineup. He’s another batter who’s had some success vs. Cole, collecting three hits over seven at bats.

Astros Lineup

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

The Astros’ bats should garner much more ownership than the Rays, but don’t sleep on the difficulty of their matchup. A potential showdown with Glasnow, Snell, and Morton all in the same game is really intimidating.

That said, all the usual characters are definitely in play. Everyone in the top seven of the Astros’ lineup is capable of going deep in this contest.

Brantley stands out as the best pure value at $7,600 on DraftKings, and he’s raked at home this season. He’s posted a 140 wRC+ at Minute Maid Park, including a 143 wRC+ vs. right-handed pitchers.

Springer also seems underpriced on DraftKings. He currently owns the highest median and ceiling projections among all batters in our MLB Models, yet he’s merely the fourth-highest priced player.

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 OF George Springer (4) & 3B Alex Bregman (2)
Photo credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports