Another day to focus on baseball before the NFL and college football return on Thursday night. All 30 teams are in action and only four of them are participating in daytime baseball. One of those games is a big one between the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Houston Astros. The other is the “We don’t give a s—“ series between the White Sox and Tigers with two lame duck managers. There are a lot of heavy favorites on Wednesday night, so the pickings are slim, unless we can find some big underdogs to back. There are only five games with favorites of less than -150 as of this morning.
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Does Max Scherzer really deserve to be a -180 favorite over a pretty good offensive team? Scherzer’s full-season numbers are great, with a 2.90 ERA, a 2.91 FIP, and a 3.07 xFIP. What those numbers don’t tell you is just how bad he has been since the All-Star Break. His ERA is coming down, but he owns a 4.32 ERA with a 4.09 FIP and a 3.07 xFIP in the second half. It’s incredible that his xFIP is the same in the second half as it is for the season, but that’s what an unnatural spike in home runs allowed will do.
Scherzer has only allowed one home run over his last two starts, but those have come against the Miami Marlins. He’s having an excellent season with a 237/29 K/BB ratio and all of his rate stats are phenomenal. But, there’s something going on with his mechanics right now and Baltimore has a solid offense. Buck Showalter and the Orioles deserve a lot of credit for playing hard. They were just 22-32 over July and August, but they are 11-8 in the month of September.
Chris Tillman is not having a good season, but he deserves a better fate in the second half. His ERA is only 0.50 runs lower, even though his wOBA against has dropped by 58 points. He’s only stranding 65.2 percent of runners and a drop in strikeouts hasn’t helped. Tillman is approaching free agency, so he’s leaving a lot of money on the table this season. Can he get it turned around against a National League foe? I don’t know if he can, but I’m not sure I’d be willing to lay the big number with Scherzer.
In terms of underdogs to gamble on, the Yankees have to be a consideration for Wednesday night. Marcus Stroman is a much bigger name than Ivan Nova, but this is just Stroman’s third start back from the torn ACL that was supposed to cost him the entire season. He was good in his last start against Boston over seven innings, but he’s not missing a whole lot of bats. He only has five strikeouts through 12 innings. The Yankees have tailed off a little bit offensively of late, but they’ll be able to put a lot of balls in play against Stroman in this start and that has to be a concern. Stroman was the winner in his first start back against New York, but he didn’t pitch all that well.
Ivan Nova isn’t having a great season in his return from Tommy John surgery. Nova is 6-8 over 14 starts and hasn’t located well in the second half. He’s given up 22 extra base hits in 52 innings and his FIP is up over 5.00 with a 4.75 xFIP. It would be nice if the Yankees had a better matchup to go up against Stroman, because I think he’s vulnerable in this start, but I can’t get myself to pull the trigger.
It’s fair to wonder how the Tampa Bay Rays would have done this season without all of their pitching injuries. Jake Odorizzi missed time, Alex Cobb has missed the entire season, and Drew Smyly has been limited to 10 starts. Smyly has been really good when he has been in there and he could be a very valuable piece from last season’s David Price trade for a long time. Smyly has a 3.64/4.32/3.54 pitcher slash and has struck out 27.6 percent of the batters he has faced. Unfortunately, he has also allowed 11 HR in 54.1 innings pitched.
Rick Porcello has looked a bit better for the Red Sox in the second half, but there’s still a lot to worry about. His command is still really poor. He has allowed 24 home runs this season as a pitcher that is supposed to excel at inducing ground balls. Even in the second half, with his 3.65 ERA, Porcello has a .453 SLG against. The only real difference between the first half and the second half is his BABIP against. It was .331 in the first half and it’s .302 in the second half. The strikeout rate is up as well to help him strand more runners.
Overall, I’m not a big believer in Porcello, even though the Rays really struggle with righties. Drew Smyly as a fly ball pitcher at Fenway does worry me enough to keep me off of this game, but I’m a believer in Smyly for the future, so he’s a guy to keep in mind for next season.
The Indians are done. After Terry Francona mismanaged yet another game and the Indians couldn’t hit Ervin Santana on Tuesday, it’s going to be tough for the team to keep coming to the ballpark and giving a full effort. Houston lost on Tuesday to keep the Tribe 4.5 games out, but time is running out. Corey Kluber has some incentive to finish the season on a high note after missing some time with a hamstring strain, but Francona’s handling of him in his first start back last week concerns me in this game. Kluber was pulled after just 61 pitches. He gave up a three-run homer to Omar Infante, which was all the damage that he allowed. But, pulling him early will bring a suspect Indians bullpen into the game much earlier than anybody would like.
The Indians probably catch a break getting Phil Hughes instead of Tommy Milone since they regularly struggle with fly ball left-handers with subpar stuff. Hughes threw two innings in relief in the Game 1 marathon against the Angels last week. That was the last time he worked in a game and it was just his second appearance since August 9. It seems like Hughes will be limited and on a pitch count this start, just like Kluber.
That means a lot of relievers. It won’t be a pretty game to watch. If Hughes can match Kluber for four innings or so, I’d be happy to have the Twins bullpen in the +115 or +120 range against the Indians bullpen. I think I’d side with the Twins here.
This number is way too high. Lance Lynn has been horrible for a while now. I’ve talked about this on the last two editions of The Bettor’s Box. I really like Brandon Finnegan. I think he has a lot of upside and the Cardinals struggle with lefties. Finnegan threw five solid innings in his first start and a similar performance could be in the cards (no pun intended) in this one.
Lynn’s numbers don’t tell the full story, although a 5.34 ERA over his last seven starts with a .313/.413/.484 is pretty telling. His BABIP against is .343 because of poor command, with only 58 percent strikes and a seven percent swinging strike rate. His line drive rate is up and he’s walked more guys than he has struck out in that span. There’s no reason for him to be favored by this much. Take the Reds.
Chicago (AL) at Detroit
Los Angeles (AL) at Houston