Thursdays can be difficult days to bet on baseball because getaway day games are usually a little bit of a guessing game. The natural inclination for most is to blindly bet the under in these days games, which can sometimes be a profitable strategy. The afternoon slate has some pretty good pitchers like Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Jake Odorizzi, David Price, and Johnny Cueto, so day game unders will probably be popular picks today.
There are a few games on the early slate with some reasonable lines, so we’ll take a look at those and then focus on the night games on the slate. It’s a day with a lot of big favorites, so keep that in mind as you dive in to the April 21 MLB card.
It was a decent day for us yesterday, as the Brewers, Padres, and Rangers all came through, but the Royals and Marlins failed to score enough runs. The ups and downs of the long MLB season can be tough for some bettors to take. It’s important to keep a lot of perspective throughout the baseball season because it truly is a grind.
Our focus, as it always is, will be on the games that provide a lot of line value and those that give us the opportunity to dig deep and find the wagering angles and betting tips that will produce winners.
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Per usual, the games with big lines will be overlooked, unless there is something particularly noteworthy about them or a play on the underdog is a possibility. Also, day games are usually skipped due to the lead time of the article. That will not be the case on Thursdays or Sundays when there are a lot of day games.
Seattle at Cleveland (-110); Total: 8.5
Oddsmakers are basically looking at a money line pick ‘em for this early tilt between the Mariners and the Indians. Nate Karns will get the ball for the road team against Cody Anderson for the home team. One wagering angle people like to consider is to look to fade teams in their road trip finale after they have secured a .500 or better trip. For Seattle, that should not be in play here, because they don’t head home after this. They do go back to the west coast, but they open up a weekend set in Anaheim. That being said, Seattle is 3-2 so far on this New York/Cleveland road swing.
Nate Karns is a guy that I like long-term with Seattle. He misses enough bats and his home starts will come in a ballpark that will help suppress his walk rate. Command has been an issue here at the outset with two HR and 12 hits allowed over 10 innings. The swings and misses have been there, however. Karns only has a three-pitch arsenal, but his usage on his knuckle curve is at 38.3 percent on the year and his changeup usage has increased as well. The Indians haven’t seen much of Karns and a steady diet of breaking stuff could be problematic.
On the other side is Cody Anderson, a guy who I’m not a big fan of and a guy that probably won’t last in the Indians rotation. Anderson’s stuff is far too pedestrian for me and he lacks an out pitch. The Indians haven’t been very crisp over their last few games and Anderson is a pitch-to-contact right-hander pretty reliant on the defense behind him. Increased velocity has helped him generate more swings and misses this season, but long at bats and a shallow arsenal make him very hittable.
The lean in this game is on Seattle. You never quite know how west coast teams will react to these early start times, but it’s not like this is Seattle’s first game in the Eastern Time Zone. They’ve been in it for about a week now. Karns is a better pitcher than Anderson and the Indians have not played good baseball here recently.
Minnesota at Milwaukee (-115); Total: 8.5
This is one of the more interesting lines of the day. Yesterday, Jimmy Nelson was a -125 or higher favorite against Tommy Milone. It’s reasonable to say that Milone is a better pitcher than Thursday’s starter Ricky Nolasco. A case could also be made for Taylor Jungmann over Nelson. This line opened smaller than yesterday’s and, in fact, several shops have it below -115.
Things have not gone well for Jungmann through three starts. He’s given up 14 runs on 17 hits in 13 innings, which is probably why this line has opened where it has. Jungmann has a .357 BABIP against and a 41.7 percent strand rate, so some positive regression will be coming down the pike, but it’s hard to predict when that will happen. He’s also faced three pretty good lineups so far with the Pirates, Cardinals, and Giants. The Cardinals torched him for eight runs on eight hits in two-plus innings on April 11 and we all know that numbers are easily skewed early in the season.
Jungmann’s velocity is down a bit this season and he has allowed a lot of hard, pull-side contact so far. Even though his ground ball rate is really good so far, hitters are really barreling up the ball.
Nolasco has had more success in his two starts and he seems to be healthy if an uptick in velocity is any indication. He’s back to his normal velocity levels after an injury-plagued 2015 season. He’s also back to throwing strikes and he’s pitching ahead in the count. Working ahead forces hitters to swing at what you want them to swing at, which is why he’s induced softer contact and has a .256 BABIP against.
Even though the Twins are still without the DH here today, a small lean to them until we see Taylor Jungmann turn things around.
Los Angeles (AL) at Chicago (AL) (-115); Total: 9
This game will be the butt of a lot of jokes today, but I find it pretty interesting. Jered Weaver takes on John Danks in a battle of pitchers that the betting market cannot wait to bet against. Weaver’s velocity declines are well-documented and Danks’s three consecutive years of bad pitching are also well-documented.
Weaver is basically done at this stage of his career. He’s throwing anything he can to try and get hitters to hit pop ups and it has worked, to an extent, but he’s also giving up a lot of hard contact. Danks is also losing fastball velocity and that’s creating less separation between his fastball and his changeup. The arm action on the changeup is still really good, but the lack of separation is allowing hitters the time to wait back and see if the changeup break is coming.
We already know that Weaver is a disaster away from home. He always has been. Last season, he hung a 6.01 ERA away from home and gave up 18 HR in 91.1 innings. I almost want to back Weaver here because there are more surprises in his arsenal than there are with Danks. But, I can’t. I can’t back either guy. Both guys have blow-up potential. I do think Weaver has the higher one-game upside, because he can be a tough matchup for teams that don’t see him often. Gun to my head, Anaheim is the lean.
Oakland at New York (AL) (-140); Total: 8.5
Rich Hill and Luis Severino are the listed starters for Thursday night’s series finale as Oakland looks for a road sweep of the Yankees. Hill’s still missing tons of bats in his new role as a starter, but there are some worries about that. He’s starting off hitters with a first-pitch strike just half of the time. It’s hard to pitch from behind, especially when Hill is so adamant about throwing his curveball. Hitters seem to be making adjustments already, as they are swinging a lot less, both inside and outside the zone. This will be a situation to watch moving forward.
Severino has had some unfortunate batted ball luck so far. He’s getting balls on the ground, but they’re finding holes to the tune of a .436 BABIP against. The strikeouts aren’t quite there yet, but his first-pitch strike percentage is almost 69 percent and all of his plate discipline metrics are about the same as last season. Strikeouts will come. If he posts last year’s strikeout rate with another plus ground ball rate, this is a guy that you will want to invest in. Hopefully the Yankees defense holds up its end of the bargain.
Today, I’d look to lay the price on the Yankees. I’m not a big believer in Rich Hill just yet and Luis Severino has all the makings of a guy that can be very reliable for bettors this season.
Toronto at Baltimore (-110); Total: 9
Marco Estrada vs. Chris Tillman. Ugh. Readers and listeners of BangTheBook Radio, and the podcast formerly known as The Bettor’s Box, know my feelings on Chris Tillman. Estrada is a spot play type of guy. He’s got a decent four-pitch mix, but he needs that changeup in order to be effective. He’s a guy I look to back against more aggressive lineups. Baltimore’s certainly fits the mold. His fly ball style isn’t very conducive to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, but it wasn’t conducive to Miller Park and it isn’t conducive to Rogers Centre either, so that’s not a big worry.
Chris Tillman has made a positive arsenal change by throwing his changeup more and that has led to some early-season strikeout gains. Remember that the highest pitch by whiff percentage is a changeup. Whiffs are another way of saying swings and misses. The big difference so far has been that Tillman has gotten a lot less contact on pitches in the zone, which is good, because he’s quite hittable in the zone. I’m not sure yet if this is sustainable, but my gut instinct is telling me no. His plate discipline stats have been very consistent throughout his career and hitters will adjust.
I’d have to say that I lean Toronto tonight. The Orioles are a decent matchup for Estrada because they like to be aggressive in the zone and his changeup should play up. The worry, amazingly enough, is the Toronto offense because they haven’t been able to put it all together this season. A small lean to the under as well, just in case Tillman’s newfound changeup success is legit.
Pittsburgh (-140) at San Diego; Total: 6.5
Yesterday, the oddsmakers gave us a great clue in this series. I talked about how Drew Pomeranz was a pick ‘em against a much better team and that was an indictment of Jeff Locke. Here, Gerrit Cole is -140 against James Shields, who is a pretty decent pitcher. Shields has already given up four HR in 20 IP this season. That’s now 37 HR allowed in the last 222.1 innings. Shields gave up 23 HR in 227 innings in 2014. He gave up 20 HR in 228.2 innings in 2013. You get the idea.
So far this season, Shields isn’t compensating with a great strikeout rate like he did last season. For whatever reason, he’s gotten away from throwing the changeup as much and it has gone from elite pitch to below average pitch in a hurry. Add in a career of below average fastball command and he’s suddenly a run-of-the-mill starting pitcher. This is not an exaggeration. James Shields is simply not that good anymore.
Gerrit Cole, on the other hand, is still very good. His first two starts haven’t been that great, but this is a guy that has improved every season since he came up to the big leagues. Against a light-hitting Padres lineup that will struggle with average or better righties, Cole has serious potential to throw a dominant game.
The Pirates are probably the best pick of the bunch today.