The first Thursday of the 2016 MLB season has a sense of familiarity in a lot of ways. Like most Thursdays with getaway day games and off days, we have a smaller MLB schedule to work with. That means that there are fewer games to analyze, which is nice at this time of the year, but it also means that there are fewer chances to make money. With one very early game that we will overlook because of the lead time of this article, that gives us eight games to consider for Thursday April 7.
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Chicago (AL) at Oakland (-120); Total: 8.5
The total is the first thing that stands out for this matchup between Mat Latos and Kendall Graveman. This is a getaway day game on the west coast at O.co Coliseum and the total is still 8.5. That’s almost an auto-under pick given the situation, though Latos’s poor 2015 season is undoubtedly causing some people to question what he has left in the tank. With Graveman as a pitch-to-contact guy, hard-hit balls in play are definitely a major possibility.
I want to believe in Mat Latos, since a knee injury last season caused a change in his mechanics that really hurt him in a lot of ways. If anybody can fix that, it’s Don Cooper, who has done some excellent things with White Sox pitchers in the past. I also want to believe in Kendall Graveman, with a decent sinker and some pretty good command. The stuff, overall, is pretty pedestrian and he won’t be a guy that can reach back and get that big strikeout.
Regardless of my worries about the pitchers or the bullpen usage or anything like that, I can’t let an 8.5 go by the wayside given this situational spot.
Miami at Washington (-140); Total: 8
Adam Conley and Tanner Roark are hardly household names, so this should be a decent matchup. Conley showed some good things in his first 67 Major League innings last year. Roark was sent to the bullpen due to all of the starting pitching depth that the Nationals had last season. Conley’s numbers were pretty decent, with a league average strikeout rate and maybe a slightly above average walk rate. His command was good enough, particularly for a National League pitcher that has some decent pitcher’s parks in his division. Conley did have a 4.21 xFIP with his 3.76 ERA, but that’s not a very significant gap overall.
Roark doesn’t really have the upside of somebody like Joe Ross, so I am a little bit worried about his performance this season. The Nationals have a decent infield defense, but it won’t elevate Roark’s potential in any way. His massive strikeout rate decrease from last season definitely raises alarm bells for me.
This is not a game that I will be playing, but I will want to see how these two guys fare in this outing.
Houston at New York (AL) (-130); Total: 8
Mike Fiers is not a guy that will thrive in the American League in my humble opinion. Working up in the zone with a fastball that features below average velocity and experiencing some control issues last season, I will look to fade Fiers whenever the price is right. Unfortunately, the price is not right here in this spot against Nate Eovaldi.
Eovaldi has the potential to have overpowering stuff with a big, heavy sinker, but the secondaries have never developed and there are some issues with his command. He doesn’t allow a lot of home runs, but he allows hard contact, which is why opposing batters have BABIPs of .337 and .320 against Eovaldi in the last two seasons. There are some positive signs of regression from a sabermetric standpoint, but I’m not buying into them yet. It is hard to believe Eovaldi is only 26, but it still feels like he absolutely has to take a step up this season.
Keep the Fiers fade in mind for this season, but this isn’t the right spot for it.
Los Angeles (NL) at San Francisco (-110); Total: 7.5
The Dodgers send Alex Wood to the mound against Jake Peavy here in this one. The Giants will celebrate the start of the home portion of their season after a series win on the road in Milwaukee. The Giants will see their first left-handed starter here in Wood, whose strikeout rate dropped a little bit as a starter last season before getting moved into a relief role for a time.
Jake Peavy is a good guy to spot play at home because he seems to thrive in the marine air conditions at AT&T Park. The Dodgers present a whole set of lineup challenges, though, with guys that are proven big league hitters or really high-upside bats. The Dodgers opened in San Diego and gave up one run in three games, so that will give you some kind of indication about the arms that they are able to throw at opponents.
I won’t look to go against the Giants a whole lot this season, as I expect them to be one of the best teams in the National League, but, I am way off of the Jake Peavy train. I just don’t see anything to like in his profile. His xFIPs and SIERAs keep climbing and eventually the shine will come off.
Boston at Cleveland (-140); Total: 7.5
Joe Kelly is in that Nate Eovaldi camp as a good with good raw stuff, but very little refinement and not a whole lot of consistency. The Indians could be a decent lineup for Kelly to go up against with a lot of right-handed bats, but his control problems can also be exposed by a patient middle of the order for the Tribe.
On the other side, Danny Salazar makes his 2016 debut. A dark horse for the Cy Young, Salazar’s three high-quality pitches give him a lot of options in attacking Boston hitters. It’s easy to see why Salazar and the Indians are such a big favorite. The Red Sox have had some offensive success in this series, however, so that makes the line and the total pretty interesting.
For now, I’ll hold off on this one.
Minnesota at Baltimore (-140); Total: 8.5
I don’t think you would be surprised to find out that I want nothing to do with a Phil Hughes vs. Ubaldo Jimenez matchup.
Chicago (NL) (-145) at Arizona; Total: 9
John Lackey makes his Chicago Cubs debut against Rubby de la Rosa. This is an interesting start to the season for the Cubs, with road interleague in Anaheim and then a road set in Arizona. Regression is definitely coming for John Lackey. Lackey stranded 82.6 percent of his baserunners last season. His 2.77 ERA was accompanied by a 3.77 xFIP. Even if regression hits, he’ll be valuable because he works every five days and will throw 180+ innings. However, he’s not posting a sub-3.00 ERA this season.
If the Diamondbacks had a full complement of players, I’d be happy to go against Lackey here. Unfortunately, the loss of AJ Pollock has made it really hard to back the Diamondbacks at the outset of the season. Rubby de la Rosa has good swing and miss stuff, but, again, like others on the bump today, he doesn’t have enough consistency for me to get on board. The Cubs did have the highest K% against right-handed starters last season, so that would be my justification for Arizona.
This is, sadly, another stay away game for Thursday, though Arizona is the value side in my mind.
Texas at Los Angeles (AL) (-115); Total: 8
I hate this game. I want to buy stock in Derek Holland, but I can’t find a way to do it. His injury history coupled with some short bursts of good work surrounded by long stretches of bad work make it hard to properly evaluate Holland. Then there’s Hector Santiago, who had one of the biggest ERA/xFIP discrepancies last season.
In fact, if you look at Santiago, his last four seasons have all featured high xFIPs. He’s a high fly ball guy with marginal K/BB rates, so it should come as no surprise that sabermetric stats are not buying in. Sadly, these are two guys with a wide range of outcomes, so we’ll have to pass yet again for Thursday’s game.
There is no shame in passing at this time of the year. You want to see what to expect from certain guys and a lot of those guys are towards the back of the rotation. With back-end starters going now, there are fewer certainties in the early-season MLB betting market.