For most of us, our long national nightmare is over. After three interesting games yesterday, many of the league’s teams are in action for the first time on April 4. There are a few things to keep in mind about this week. While I don’t shy away from playing the MLB in April, this is definitely a dangerous week to be backing any team. Pitchers are making their first starts of the season, weather conditions are terrible in some locations, and there are no statistics or sample sizes to go off of and that makes it really hard. We know that perception biases exist in the lines and there are some today. Isolating these particular games is probably the best way to approach this first week.
We’ve got a handful of games on the docket today, so let’s see where we can make some money. As mentioned yesterday, the games with the strongest opinions and most compelling matchups will usually be written up. As we wait for a sample size of stats to get our previews together, we will try to touch on most of the games throughout the first week of the season. Also, be aware that day games are sometimes bypassed because of the lead time for the write-up.
This season, we will try to track the picks a little bit better, particularly those that are considered strong plays. Usually, many of these selections will be leans, but that will be specified and alluded to throughout the write-up of each game. Adam uses a good amount of sabermetric analysis in his MLB handicapping, so there may be some terms that readers are not familiar with. Fangraphs provides a terrific glossary for these statistics.
The closest thing to a play yesterday was the Kansas City Royals over the New York Mets, which was a nightcap winner. The Jays/Rays under was lost due to some late runs, so we’ll consider the record to be 1-1, with a modest profit of about .06 units because Kansas City was a home dog.
If you don’t already have an account at BetDSI, head on over there and take advantage of the exclusive 300 percent deposit bonus by using the promo code ‘BANG300’. Consider making an account for our forums and chat with like-minded sports betting enthusiasts. Compare picks, compare notes, lament losses, and celebrate wins with other handicappers all in one fun and friendly environment. Finally, let us track your picks in our Sports Monitor. Upload your picks, track your results, and, once football season returns, enter our free contests.
Good luck this season!
Houston (-130) at New York (AL); Total: 7
The reigning AL Wild Card winners battle the team that they knocked out of the postseason to kick things off for 2016. Dallas Keuchel takes the ball for the Astros against Masahiro Tanaka for the Yankees. It was a Cy Young-winning season for Keuchel last year and that big leap from 2013 to 2014 to 2015 is sustainable. It may not be sustainable to the same degree as last season, but Keuchel’s arsenal changes to go from a marginal curveball to a plus slider led to more ground balls and more whiffs.
The beauty of a guy like Keuchel is that it’s really hard to do damage against him. Ground balls rarely go for extra-base hits and his heavy ground ball split keeps the ball in the park. His strikeout bump is what really transformed him into an elite-level starter. We’ll see if those strikeout gains stick around because most of his plate discipline metrics were about the same from 2014 to 2015. He actually threw fewer first-pitch strikes last season. I’m skeptical of the strikeout numbers.
Masahiro Tanaka didn’t have a great spring, as skipper Joe Girardi called out his effort and focus. His elbow is a ticking time bomb, so those looking for Tanaka to do something would be wise to focus on April and May before that thing starts giving him trouble again. He’s got extremely good stuff and this is an Astros lineup prone to swinging and missing. You don’t see large sample sizes of guys like Masahiro Tanaka during Spring Training. I’d be worried about that here for the Astros, particularly because Tanaka doesn’t issue many free passes.
As a plus-money home dog on Opening Day, the Yankees would be the lean in this one. They have some bullpen issues, but Andrew Miller intends to pitch through a fracture to his non-throwing arm and Dellin Betances is elite. New York has improved its defense in some ways for this season, a strength that Houston held over many teams last season. The Yankees might be a play-on team early in the season before their old roster runs out of gas.
Author’s note: Game postponed for today. Saved for posterity to add to tomorrow’s write-up.
San Francisco (-180) at Milwaukee; Total: 7
No thoughts on the side here because you’ll rarely see anything over -140 get suggested this season. In this matchup, you have Madison Bumgarner against Wily Peralta. I don’t like the side, but I am intrigued by the over 7. The Giants have a very good lineup and Wily Peralta is easily the worst Opening Day starter on the bump, even with Jeremy Hellickson pitching. Peralta has the stuff, but the inconsistency overshadows it.
Bumgarner is elite and has gotten better in every single season during his big league career. But, there are some bats like Ryan Braun and Domingo Santana that can run into a mistake and put up two or three runs in a hurry. Milwaukee will be awful this season, but the offense has a couple of guys to work with.
Minnesota at Baltimore (-125); Total: 8.5
The biggest total of the day is at Oriole Park at Camden Yards for the Opener between two teams that I am down on this season. A big reason why is what you see today. Ervin Santana and Chris Tillman are Opening Day starters. Santana was very pedestrian in his 17 starts with the Twins last season, hanging a 4.00 ERA with a 4.17 FIP and a 4.42 xFIP. He has also had command issues in just about every season of his big league career. If there’s one thing the Birds can do, it’s hit.
Offense is also the best asset of the Twins this season. As free agency approaches, Chris Tillman is going in the wrong direction. He posted his lowest K% since 2011 last season and accompanied that with his worst BB% since that same season. His 4.69 SIERA was the worst mark of his since 2010. The Twins have some compelling bats like Miguel Sano and Brian Dozier, one of the most underrated second-sackers in the league. Byron Buxton has a lot of upside in center field.
This game depends on how the ball is traveling at OPACY. Windy conditions could wreak havoc this afternoon and rain is also in the forecast. That likely makes this game a stay away, however, the Orioles are the lean because of their deep lineup 1 through 9.
Seattle at Texas (-109); Total: 7.5
We’ve seen some line movement come in on Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners for this one. Cole Hamels and the Texas Rangers opened in the -125 range, but that number is long gone. The line move makes sense. I’m higher on Seattle than most and I believe that they will finish ahead of Texas this season in the AL West.
Oddsmakers try to play a philosophy game with the betting masses and try to play on what they remember. What bettors and MLB fans remember is a Felix Hernandez that was seen as a declining pitcher last season. The velo was down, the curveball and slider usages were down because he was working behind in the count more, and a 3.53/3.72/3.33 pitcher slash was viewed as a disappointing season. I’d definitely expect a bounce back from Felix this season. He worked 236 innings in 2014 and 201.2 in 2015. He should be a little bit fresher at the outset. More importantly, Seattle’s defense is vastly improved from last season.
Cole Hamels is elite in his own right and the Mariners have a tough task ahead of them today. Hamels was 7-1 over 12 starts covering 83.2 innings with a 3.66/3.79/3.58 slash during his time with the Rangers last season. I think Cole Hamels is great and his string of four-win seasons backs that up, although I don’t think of him as a dominant pitcher. The strikeout rate did come down by about three percent without the pitcher to go after.
Unfortunately, the line value on Felix is gone and this is a no-play.
Washington (-190) at Atlanta; Total: 6.5
I’m not interested in playing this game, but here’s the perception bias thing in play. Max Scherzer is special and he’s my pick to win the NL Cy Young this season. Atlanta is going to be terrible. Washington has been gaining steam as a trendy pick to win the NL East. However, with a total of 6.5, it’s hard to justify any team as a two-dollar road favorite. Julio Teheran is better than most people think and last season could have been a blip on the radar. On the other hand, Andrelton Simmons’s defensive wizardry is gone and that was one of two things Atlanta had going for them. The other was Freddie Freeman.
No play, but this line is inflated.
Philadelphia at Cincinnati (-160); Total: 7.5
Bettors pounced on a bad total from the oddsmakers for this one. The total opened 8.5 and the market pounded this number down in a big way. Jeremy Hellickson Opening Day starter is a weird thing to say, but it’s what you get with a rebuilding roster. Raisel Iglesias Opening Day starter isn’t as weird, but the Cuban import really blossomed last season and should take another big step forward here. He’s gotten about 20 cents worth of respect with this line move.
The value side is likely Philadelphia at this point, since the Reds and their paltry offense shouldn’t be a -160 favorite over any team with a pulse, but I’m really high on Iglesias, so I’m staying away.
Boston (-108) at Cleveland; Total: 6.5
With the coldest Opening Day since 2003 forecasted for Cleveland, it’s going to be a bad day to be a hitter. David Price and Corey Kluber both possess elite stuff and getting jammed in the mid-90s is going to be awful. Windy conditions are in the forecast here and the forecasted north wind would be blowing in from left field, likely knocking balls down. Now, these teams do have a lot of speed to create first-to-third and first-to-home run opportunities and the Indians have a brutal outfield defense.
The slight lean in this game is Boston. Corey Kluber’s sinker can be hittable at times and the high exit velocities make it hard to play defense when hitters square it up. On the other hand, the Indians loaded up on right-handed bats this offseason, so Price will face his fair share of guys with a platoon split. The Indians bullpen is in better shape because of injuries, but that will all depend on who gets to use the pen to protect a lead and who is playing catch up.
Los Angeles (NL) (-200) at San Diego; Total: 5.5
Welp. A 5.5 on Opening Day between Clayton Kershaw and Tyson Ross. Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet, so a -200 line isn’t ridiculous, but this is a very big line against a guy in Tyson Ross who is pretty damn good himself. The Dodgers do have a couple of injury concerns, namely Andre Ethier, who would have been a good platoon bat against Ross. Ross does have issues with left-handed hitters at times.
Nothing on this game, but I will be interested to see what lesser pitchers are lined against San Diego throughout this series.
Toronto at Tampa Bay (-110); Total: 7.5
Toronto drew first blood with a season-opening win over Tampa Bay by a 5-3 score on Sunday. These are the only teams that played on Sunday in action today. RA Dickey gets the pill for the first time against Drew Smyly. It’s very interesting to see market-moving money coming in on Tampa Bay with a lefty on the mound, since the Blue Jays decimated left-handed pitching last season. This appears to be a fade of Dickey, which does make some sense.
However, it’s hard to face a knuckleballer in the second game of the season. The Rays hitters have been gearing up for velocity and working on timing over the past several weeks and now they have to face a guy throwing wiffle balls. It isn’t an ideal situation for any team.
Smyly has dynamic stuff, but staying healthy has been a bit of a problem. He only made 12 big league starts last season, though he did strike out 28 percent of opposing batters. The issue here is that righties slugged .448 against him in 219 plate appearances. They have a .436 SLG over 1135 plate appearances covering the last four seasons.
I would look at Toronto here. Chris Archer has elite stuff and can handle righties. Drew Smyly has good stuff and has issues with righties, particularly from a power and extra-base hit standpoint. I understand the line move, as Smyly is the decidedly better pitcher, but situationally, it’s bad to face a knuckleballer right now. Even if Dickey has to get a feel for the pitch, Rays hitters aren’t locked in enough to deal with that.
Colorado at Arizona (-230); Total: 7.5
A big bowl of nope on this game. The Diamondbacks are priced too high for Zack Greinke’s first start with the Snakes, but I couldn’t think less of Colorado heading into the season. Per usual, Colorado will be decent at home and a trainwreck on the road. AJ Pollock’s injury is enormous for Arizona, but they should be able to get by in this series.
Chicago (AL) (-120) at Oakland; Total: 6.5
Aside from the Price-Kluber get-together in Cleveland, this is the best pitching matchup of the day. We’ve seen a steady stream of Chris Sale money, which is no surprise because Oakland has had plenty of problems with southpaws over the last couple of seasons. The A’s will counter with 50 Shades of Sonny Gray.
No opinion on the side, especially with the line movement, but the under definitely looks like a sound investment. These are two poor offenses, even with some of Chicago’s moves this winter. O.co Coliseum is a graveyard for anything hit in the air and these two pitchers induce a ton of weak contact. The primary pieces in the bullpen that will get work today should be able to hold down the fort after the starters exit. Expect this one to be low-scoring.
Chicago (NL) (-145) at Los Angeles (AL); Total: 6.5
I’ll be looking to fade the Cubs at the outset of the season. It’s just unfortunate that they play the Angels right out of the chute. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are going to hit the wall and collapse this season as far as I’m concerned. I do not like the makeup of this team. I do, however, like Garrett Richards, one of the few redeeming qualities of this pitching staff.
Richards throws a 97 mph bowling ball with heavy sinker that really explodes near the plate. The walk rate is a concern, as it always seems to be with guys that have excellent raw stuff, but this is a hard matchup for the Cubs right out of the gate. Another thing about the Cubs that I don’t like here is that this is a team with enormous expectations and there are a lot of young guys on this roster. They may get off to a slow start as a whole with this massive pressure. Talent often overcomes pressure, but starting on the west coast is a bit unique. They can field the best defensive lineup possible with the DH, which is a nice wrinkle, but I’m not sold here.
Another guy I’m not sold on in this spot is Jake Arrieta. The Angels lineup isn’t very good, but Arrieta worked 229 innings last season. His previous Major League high was 156.2. He also worked playoff innings for the first time ever. I’m not sure that he’s going to be in good shape right away. He will improve as the season goes on, but I’m expecting a little bit of a hangover at the outset. I’d look to fade him in a start or two and then re-evaluate based on the numbers.
So, gamble on the Angels tonight. Wait for the public to hopefully drive the number up a few more cents, but I believe there’s value in going against the Cubs tonight.