It’s a college football Saturday in September, which means that there’s still a lot of important baseball going on. If the St. Louis Cardinals can top the Chicago Cubs this afternoon, they will be the first team to punch a ticket to October. Some other great day games are on the docket and there are some night games of intrigue. While we’re all immersed in football today, we can also fuel the bankroll with some MLB winners. Let’s take a look at the Saturday card.
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New York (AL) at New York (NL) (-115); Total: 7
Just like yesterday, the Mets are in the -115 range against the Yankees. Yesterday, it was Masahiro Tanaka against Steven Matz. Today, it’s Michael Pineda against Noah Syndergaard. To be honest, I’m surprised the number is in the same range because I think this is a better pitching matchup for the Mets. Both Tanaka and Pineda have a lot of upside, but I feel like Tanaka is the more consistent option. Pineda’s having a fine season because you know that we mostly ignore ERAs in this article. He has a 4.25 ERA, but a 3.35 FIP and a 2.95 xFIP. His .330 BABIP seems too high, especially for a ground ball guy with swing-and-miss stuff, and especially with his home run rate. He hasn’t been the same guy since he returned from the DL and has allowed four or more runs in three of his four starts. He has averaged about a strikeout per inning, though, so there’s reason to hope that the numbers normalize.
I really like Noah Syndergaard. The stuff is excellent and the numbers support it. He’s been a strikeout per inning guy with a 3.20/3.28/3.11 pitcher slash. What I like the most about Syndergaard is that the stuff has remained consistent, so he’s making adjustments and he’s even been adding to his arsenal with the famed “Warthen slider”. That gives him another weapon along with an excellent fastball and plus secondaries. At home, Syndergaard has a 2.15 ERA with a .196/.230/.296 slash. Citi Field is a good park to pitch in for a lot of guys, but it’s hardly a surprise that Syndergaard has been so good.
You have to like the Mets again today. The line scares me, because I think it should be in the -125 range, so maybe oddsmakers are looking to entice a little Yankees money, but I’ll trust my breakdown of the matchup.
Baltimore at Tampa Bay (-110); Total: 7.5
Neither the Orioles nor the Rays are going to find a way to sneak into the postseason unless something really dramatic happens. As free agency approaches for Wei-Yin Chen, his starts have a little bit more emphasis. He’s a pretty interesting pitcher for a lot of teams, though a really good pitcher’s park would elevate his potential. On the year, Chen is 9-7 with a 3.44/4.37/4.07. That’s a very high FIP for a pitcher with a walk rate of just five percent. That means that home runs have been the problem and he has allowed 28 of them in 172.2 innings of work. Not surprisingly, 19 of the 28 have come at home. OPACY is a pretty good hitter’s park and Chen has an odd distribution of home and road starts. He’s thrown 43.1 more innings at home this season. Tampa Bay is a pretty decent pitcher’s park, but the Rays have owned lefties on the season. Like most saber-minded teams, the Rays utilize platoon advantages and they are sixth in wOBA vs. southpaws as a result. Righties have a .514 SLG against Chen this season.
Erasmo Ramirez keeps flashing just enough to stay in the Rays rotation. He has a 3.75/3.93/4.01 on the season with a pretty good walk rate and a good feel for pitching. His .260 BABIP as a ground ball guy with an average infield defense suggests that he does a good job of keeping hitters guessing. He certainly did that in his last start against the Yankees with one hit allowed over 7.2 innings. Once again, we’re talking about a guy with big home/road splits. Ramirez has a 2.42 .196/.265/.315 at home and a 5.03 .252/.312/.401 on the road. He also has big reverse splits as righties have a .340 wOBA off of him and lefties have just a .245 wOBA.
I like the Rays here with a slight lean to the under. They’re one of the best in the business as a team against lefties and Chen has some severe platoon splits. I do like Chen as a free agent in the offseason, though, and it will be interesting to see where he ends up.
Kansas City (-130) at Detroit: Total: 8.5
Edinson Volquez is a clear road favorite over Matt Boyd. Volquez has seen a bit of a reversal of fortune in the second half. His .267 BABIP in the first half is now a .316 BABIP. He’s stranding a similar number of runners, but he’s also been allowing more of them, which explains the ERA bump. Volquez is a defense-dependent guy with his below average strikeout rate and elevated walk rate. The Royals are quietly falling apart. The Blue Jays are a game back for the best record in the AL and the Royals are just 6-11 in September. They have growing bullpen problems and haven’t been as stout defensively. Maybe that’s a fatigue issue. They’ve played a whole lot of baseball over the last two years.
We had to dig a little bit deeper about Edinson Volquez. Everything about Matt Boyd is on the surface. He’s been blasted in the majority of his nine starts for an 8.02 ERA, a 6.40 FIP, and a 5.23 xFIP. Command is the biggest issue, given his 2.53 HR/9 and .356 BABIP. As a fly ball pitcher, the margin of error is rather thin when it comes to giving up dongs and long fly balls and Boyd hasn’t mastered that yet. In fairness, he’s had solid K/BB rates in the minor leagues, so it’s not like he’s a lost cause. Boyd had his last start skipped to work on some things in side sessions, but the Tigers haven’t seen a lot of improvement from pitchers on Brad Ausmus’s watch this season. The Royals just peppered him on September 3 for six runs out of 11 batters faced.
Volquez is clearly the guy to trust more in this start, but I’m not on board with either guy in this start. This one is a pass. The over may have some value, but the Royals haven’t done much hitting lately. Maybe Boyd is the cure they need.
Oakland at Houston (-145); Total: 7.5
It’s Sonny Gray Day for the Oakland A’s, who played the role of spoiler on Friday night with a late-inning win over the Houston Astros. The Astros are in freefall mode. They are just 4-12 this month and are finding all kinds of ways to lose. They’ll counter with Scott Kazmir, who is pitching the biggest game of his season in this one.
The A’s have been bad against lefties most of the year, so it’s no surprise that this line comes out here, even with the way that Oakland is playing. Gray has also had a couple of rough starts recently. Sandwiched between two bad outings against Chicago and Anaheim is seven shutout innings against Houston. Gray does seem like a tough matchup for the aggressive Astros because he changes speeds so well and will throw any pitch in any count. He’s very unpredictable.
Scotty Kazmir has a 3.06/4.30/4.45 with Houston in 10 starts. It’s not a surprise to see his home run rate rise being away from the friendly confines of O.co Coliseum. The concerning development is that he’s been working up in the zone more. Perhaps that’s a suggestion from the stat-savvy Astros front office. Kazmir’s ground ball rate has dropped by more than six percent and the home runs have been a byproduct. His usage has changed as well, with more fastballs and fewer changeups. His changeup was his best secondary offering in Oakland, but it has been his worst in Houston.
I understand the line and the motivation behind setting it this high. To me, however, this game is Oakland or nobody. All of the pressure is on Houston and they’re not responding well to it. The bullpen is struggling mightily and the offense just hasn’t been there. The last thing you want to see as a scuffling offense is a guy like Sonny Gray.
Philadelphia at Atlanta (-115); Total: 8.5
I nailed yesterday’s Atlanta game, so let’s try again on Saturday. This one will feature Jerad Eickhoff against Ryan Weber. For tonight’s game I don’t get this line at all. Eickhoff was one of the pitchers from the Cole Hamels deal and Turner Field looks like a terrific park for him. He has league average K/BB rates through five starts and a big fly ball split. One bad interleague start against Boston has skewed his numbers, as four of his five starts have been quality outings. Eickhoff showed some strikeout upside with eight over seven innings against the Cubs last time out. His future is a bit questionable since Philadelphia is a pretty good park for power and he’s a fly ball guy, but if he can sequence well and generate a good amount of pop ups, he can be valuable.
Ryan Weber doesn’t miss bats. He’s been used as a starter and a reliever in the minor leagues and that’s because there’s very little depth to his arsenal. Guys that lack a third pitch, or even a plus secondary pitch, work out of the bullpen. Weber wasn’t even on the radar for a call-up this season after starting the year in Double-A. He has pitched well in the minors this season, but his K rate dropped in a big way in Triple-A. That’s a stuff problem. Only 3.7 percent of his strikes have resulted in swings and misses. Hitters are making contact with almost 95 percent of pitches in the zone. As a three-pitch guy with little deception and not much velocity, Major League hitters should feast on him. He’s a small-stature guy, so it’s not like anything “surprises” a hitter by coming from a shorter distance, which is a trait of tall pitchers.
The wrong team is favored here. Take the Phillies. The line doesn’t even scare me. Oddsmakers aren’t worried about this line, so they just threw up something generic. There’s college football and nobody wants to bet Phillies/Braves in September.