The final Friday of the regular season means the kick off of the final series of the season for a lot of teams. It’s a bittersweet time for those players, as the season ends without playoff baseball, but they get to spend much needed time with their families. The grind of a professional sports season takes a toll as much mentally as it does physically. That makes this an extremely difficult weekend to handicap baseball. Somebody has to win. In most cases this weekend, it will probably be the favorite, especially at home. Some teams are playing for nominal benchmarks, like finishing .500, and some players are shooting for individual milestones. Other than that, it’s really hard to handicap motivation during this part of the season. Let’s see what value we can find.
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We’ll start with a real head scratcher of a line between the Miami Marlins and the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies need to avoid a sweep to avoid 100 losses. They are the only team in danger of that mark. The last time we had consecutive seasons without a 100-loss team was the 1999 and 2000 seasons. History is on the line here!
This is a really strange line. The Phillies were 9-17 in September, but they are on a modest four-game winning streak, so they haven’t completely quit like the Reds. Justin Nicolino is a really scary pitcher to back. He has a 4.16 ERA with a 4.86 FIP and a 5.33 xFIP. His strikeout rate of 7.7 percent is by far the lowest of any pitcher with at least 60 innings pitched and it’s almost equal to his 7.3 percent walk rate. He scattered two hits over seven innings against Atlanta last time out and didn’t strike anybody out. He’s completely dependent on batted ball luck. That’s not a guy that you want to back.
Aaron Harang will drop the curtain on a horrible season after this start. Over 28 starts covering 166.2 innings, he posted a 4.86 ERA with a 4.83 FIP and a 4.99 xFIP. The only silver lining about this start for Harang is that the Marlins have the second-worst offense in baseball against righties with a .269 wOBA. The worst offense? The Phillies, but that’s irrelevant because Nicolino is left-handed.
The Phillies are the value side here as a home underdog, but neither pitcher is really worth your hard-earned dollar. Harang has a 6.23 ERA with a .306/.369/.554 slash against in the second half. Somebody will still find it appropriate to give him a minor league deal for Spring Training. The sad part is that you can’t even really play the over with confidence here because you have no idea how much either team will care. This is probably an over or nothing game, if you desperately want action on it.
Don’t expect Noah Syndergaard to be on a pitch count in this start because the Mets right-hander won’t work again until late next week. There’s no reason to restrict him because he’ll need to keep as sharp as possible. The Nationals counter with Gio Gonzalez, who has had another fine season. This series was supposed to mean a lot for both teams, but the Mets already secured the division as the Nationals fell apart.
The Mets do have something to play for here because they are now tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers for home field in the NLDS. They definitely want to be able to use Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey as home as opposed to in a tough road environment. The Nationals have dropped seven of their last 10 as lame duck manager Matt Williams is mostly staying out of the way in his final week.
These two teams have played 16 times so far this season and have scored 108 runs in those meetings. That’s an average of just 6.75 runs per game. This total is listed at 6.5, but the under might be a good look here.
Josh Tomlin is getting a lot of love for an unsustainable set of statistics. I really like Tomlin as a pitcher and think that the stuff has improved since Tommy John and then the shoulder rehab this season, but this version of Josh Tomlin won’t continue. The Red Sox will counter with Henry Owens in his final start of the season.
The Red Sox are the play here. The Indians looked lifeless on Thursday night and I don’t see them getting off the mat to match the intensity of a Boston team that is still playing very hard. The Red Sox just took three of four from a Yankees team trying to clinch a playoff spot. The Indians lost three of four in a similar situation. A case could be made that Boston only showed up because they were playing the Yankees, but I think this is more about the potential that the Boston lineup has for next season. The Red Sox were one of the unluckiest teams (along with the Indians) in terms of offensive sequencing earlier in the season. For a long time, these two teams were the top two in men left on base in the AL.
Boston has a lot of exciting young talent looking to make a name for next season. The Indians are playing out the string with platoon players, AAAA players, and Francisco Lindor, who is elite. The Red Sox are the side here.
The Cardinals are likely to err on the side of caution all weekend in Atlanta. They’ve locked up the division and picked up their 100th win. Michael Wacha struggled and some of his PITCHf/x data is suggesting injury, so Jaime Garcia has grown in importance for this team. Expect him to get his work in and then give way to the bullpen. The Cardinals are also likely to rest guys periodically throughout the weekend, especially with guys like Matt Holliday and Matt Adams working their way back from injury.
Julio Teheran has had a really rough season. The de facto Braves ace has seen a significant drop in command this season that has blown his ERA up from 2.89 to 4.16. His FIP is over a full run higher as well. The strikeout rate is about the same, but the walk rate took a turn for the worst. It would be nice to see Teheran enter the offseason on a positive note and he certainly could. Teheran has allowed two runs or less in each of his last five starts. He’s walked four in three of those starts, but don’t expect the Cardinals to be very patient. They’re an aggressive lineup and they’re going to take some swings early in the count in a series that doesn’t really matter.
The issue here is that the Braves can’t hit lefties and Garcia is a pretty good one. I think you look for a low-scoring affair in this one, particularly in the first five innings. Take the Braves bullpen out of the equation whenever you can.
I correctly called last night’s game as the line movement made a lot less sense than the initial line that the oddsmakers posted. The Rangers clinched a playoff spot, but they can lock up the AL West tonight. I’m not sure I like the spot for Martin Perez. Perez, whose ERA signals a lot of bad batted ball and bad sequencing luck, has solid peripherals with a 3.50 FIP and a 3.99 xFIP, but that’s solely because of his ability to prevent home runs and because of a spectacular ground ball rate. He doesn’t miss a whole lot of bats. This is also the biggest start of his career to date and I’m not sure I’m ready to trust him in it. The Angels have been pretty bad against lefties over the last several weeks and didn’t do anything against Derek Holland, but I think they’ve got a fighting chance here.
This line centers around Jered Weaver. Weaver’s declining skill set makes him an incredibly risky starter in Texas. He’s an extreme fly ball guy with very little swing and miss and the Rangers are a pretty good offense against right-handed pitching with their top of the order producing. In 85.1 road innings this season, Weaver has a 6.33 ERA and a .523 SLG against. He’s given up 17 of his 21 home runs and 27 of his 38 doubles on the road. Does he have enough pitchability to overcome those factors in Texas? Also, he left his last start with shoulder tightness, which may be the biggest red flag of all.
Conventional wisdom would say no and this line is going to climb. On some level, I’d almost rather trust Weaver’s veteran knowhow against Perez. If you want to play the Angels, you wait for this line to peak later today as public money pours in to fade Weaver because of those home/road splits. If you don’t, I think you stay away.
I realize that nobody’s talking about the Minnesota Twins, but they’re only one game out as the weekend begins. They scratched out some runs against the Indians bullpen to stay alive in a must-win game on Thursday night and have a chance to make the postseason with a little bit of help from Arizona and Texas. Ervin Santana will be on the mound against Chris Young.
The one advantage for Minnesota in this game should be that Brian Dozier, Joe Mauer, and Trevor Plouffe are all pretty good high fastball hitters. We haven’t seen enough of Miguel Sano to know for sure about him, but he’s just a good hitter across the board. Chris Young works up in the zone a lot, looking to induce weak aerial contact. Surprisingly, none of those guys have had much success, combining for three doubles, one home run, and just eight hits in 42 at bats. That was a very surprising stat to me and, as much as I don’t like small sample sizes, it does affect my thinking because those are the guys that need to produce.
The Royals are still fighting for home field, though they haven’t shown much incentive to go out and take it. Wade Davis was scratched with a stiff back at the end of yesterday’s game and Greg Holland is done with Tommy John surgery, so they have some bullpen problems. I would expect Davis to be unavailable again on Friday. They draw Ervin Santana, who has been terrific of late. Santana hasn’t allowed more than two runs in a start since August 25 and he has a live arm. Hitters are slowing down from a bat speed standpoint. Santana, who was suspended for the first half of the season, has only thrown 101 innings.
Despite the poor numbers for the big three in the Twins lineup against Young, I think they’re the side here. Target Field is a good park for fly ball pitchers in cooler months because there’s not a lot of carry, but I’ll take the home team fighting for its playoff life over the road team already guaranteed a spot no matter what.
Toronto at Tampa Bay