After a really difficult Thursday card in Major League Baseball, we look ahead to Friday’s set of games in our quest to find value. Because of the lead time of this article, we’ll focus on the evening and night games and see what stands out from a betting perspective. There are a lot of really tough things to handicap for Friday night. Some starters are getting the ball for the second time this season. Others are taking it for the first time after not having pitched for close to two weeks because of the end of Spring Training and the start of the season. That can lead to some high-scoring games as pitchers try to find their release points and sharpen their mechanics.
We’ll try to sort through everything and find some winners for April 8 to help build up that baseball bankroll. I also want to point out that a lot of the analysis is very basic at this stage of the game. As a statistics-based MLB handicapper, sample sizes are simply not significant enough to mean anything right now. Once we get some good numbers to dig into, you’ll see a difference in the handicapping process.
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Tampa Bay (-125) at Baltimore; Total: 7.5
Chris Archer only lasted five innings in his season debut, but he did some work in those five innings. He struck out 12 Toronto Blue Jays in that start and showed why he is such a dangerous pitcher. His control and command were not great and yet he still punched out a dozen. Chris Tillman doesn’t have that type of upside.
Against a free-swinging Orioles team that relies on the long ball to get by, Archer is a solid pick. One of the best weapons that Baltimore has is right-handed power and that’s something that Archer should be able to neutralize. Baltimore may have a better bullpen, although the Rays pen is very compelling with Erasmo Ramirez and Alex Colome back there.
Also, fading Tillman is pretty easy to do. His strikeout, walk, and home run rates are all uninspiring and he’s actually regressing as he gets closer to free agency. Take the better pitcher at a very reasonable price and hopefully we’ll get rewarded.
Boston at Toronto (-170); Total: 8.5
Joe Kelly had his start pushed back a day and now has to face Toronto at Rogers Centre as opposed to the Indians on a cold, rainy night in Cleveland. Oh, and he draws Marcus Stroman instead of Danny Salazar. It’s rare that you will see a suggestion to pay higher than -140 and that holds true here as well.
Pittsburgh (-160) at Cincinnati; Total: 7.5
It’s definitely easy to see why Francisco Liriano would be priced like this against a Cincinnati Reds lineup that is in rebuilding mode. It doesn’t hurt that Liriano is going up against Alfredo Simon, who hasn’t gotten respect from bettors in quite a while. This is another game to avoid.
St. Louis (-145) at Atlanta; Total: 7
When Jaime Garcia is healthy, he has pitched extremely well. The thought right now at the start of the season is that Garcia is healthy and that’s enough reason to look at the road chalk here. Matt Wisler had poor K, BB, and HR rates last season during his rookie year and the stuff and the upside just aren’t there yet. The Cardinals need to get on the board after getting swept by the Pittsburgh Pirates and this is an ideal spot to do just that.
Look for the Cardinals to pick up that first win of the season by topping the Braves with a favorable pitching matchup.
Houston (-135) at Milwaukee; Total: 9
This seems like a pretty good indication of how the oddsmakers view both the Milwaukee Brewers and also Chase Anderson. The Astros are definitely a popular team and they will get a lot of respect over the course of the season. But, Scott Feldman is on the mound here and he’s not exactly a top starter in MLB. Feldman posted a 4.32 FIP with a 4.44 SIERA last season. National League lineup or not, those are worrisome numbers.
But, my concern here is with Chase Anderson. Anderson goes from a terrific Arizona defense to a marginal Milwaukee defense. I’ve talked recently about pitchers with new catchers and that’s the case here for the Chase Anderson/Jonathan Lucroy battery. Anderson, like Feldman, also doesn’t miss a whole lot of bats and has mediocre home run rate stats.
Anderson’s massive strikeout drop really stands out at a place like Miller Park and against a lineup like Houston’s. As awful as it is to consider laying 135 on the Astros on the road with a replacement-level guy like Feldman starting, it is a stronger consideration than we’d probably like to admit. So much so that I’d probably be willing to fire.
Minnesota at Kansas City (-155); Total: 7.5
Ervin Santana got two innings under his belt before rain shortened his season debut against the Orioles earlier this week. He’ll get another crack at it here against the Kansas City Royals. The Royals will counter with Yordano Ventura for his first start of the season.
The side doesn’t interest me, but the total does. This is a game that has a decent chance to go over the total. The Twins can get to Yordano, who will be making his first start in a while and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he had some fastball command issues. We know that Santana’s command can come and go at times and he has given up his share of long balls throughout his career.
The element that people often overlook about betting totals is defense. The Twins certainly have some defensive questions, particularly at the corners, both in the infield and the outfield. Kansas City is an elite defensive team, which may actually be the reason that this total is not sitting at 8. Whatever the case, this game could go over the total with some decent offensive matchups against these two starters.
Chicago (NL) (-135) at Arizona; Total: 9.5
I’m not sure what to believe about Jason Hammel. A hamstring injury in late June derailed what could have been a career year for the right-hander. Hammel has gotten off to some really good starts over the last two seasons and has fizzled out later in the year. One worry about Hammel in hitter’s parks is that he has gone from a guy with an average or better ground ball split to more of a fly ball split.
Robbie Ray made 23 pretty solid starts for Arizona last season with a good strikeout rate of 21.8 percent and some pretty good command. If not for the extensive bullpen use created by both starters getting knocked around on Thursday night, the under would have been a consideration at this number.
The Cubs struggled against left-handers last season. They struck out in over 26 percent of their plate appearances and finished in the bottom 10 in wOBA. That’s hard to imagine with so many great hitters in this lineup, but it’s true.
One could make a case for the Diamondbacks as a value play here. If a side is necessary, that would be the lean.
Texas at Los Angeles (AL) (N/A); Total: N/A
No thoughts on this game, obviously, but note that AJ Griffin is making his first start since September 24, 2013.
Oakland at Seattle (-180); Total: 8
Even though Eric Surkamp is not a household name and hasn’t been able to stay in the big leagues with any level of consistency, this number is too high on Seattle. I’m expecting Seattle to have a little bit of difficulty with lefties again this year. This isn’t to advocate a play on Oakland, but it’s hard to call Taijuan Walker a -180 favorite against any warm body.
Los Angeles (NL) at San Francisco (-120); Total: 8
How far has Matt Cain fallen? One of the best teams in the NL is just a -120 favorite against some guy named Ross Stripling. Dan Farnsworth at Fangraphs slapped an average or better grade on three of Stripling’s pitches, so maybe there’s more to work with here than we initially thought. Tommy John surgery in 2014 slowed down his development path and he had another decent year at Double-A. The thing about Stripling is that he has pretty good control, so the command profile will be the big thing to watch.
Matt Cain is a shell of his former self and is another devastating reminder of what injuries can do to a career. In 2013, Cain set a career-high by allowing 23 home runs in 184.1 innings of work. Over his last 151 innings, spanning two seasons, Cain has allowed 25 home runs. Recurring arm problems, including bone spurs in his elbow, have really derailed his career.
We’ll see what Ross Stripling has to offer in his Major League debut, but there’s a decent chance that it’s better than what Matt Cain will offer up in his 292nd MLB start. The Dodgers are worth a flyer on Friday night.