The final Sunday with the NFL until February is today. That means that it is the last Sunday that belongs solely to baseball. A full slate of day games is on tap prior to the Sunday Night Baseball matchup between the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals. As has been the case all weekend, there are some very ugly lines out there with some extremely big favorites. Depending on how high the San Francisco line goes, there could be five games with favorites of -200 or bigger and another game in the -180 range. Nevertheless, there’s money to be made on today’s MLB card.
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Chris Archer isn’t getting a lot of respect on Sunday as the overnight line move has been on Ivan Nova and the Yankees. The stuff continues to be very sharp for Archer, even though he has shown more control problems of late than he did earlier in the season. Regardless, he’s one of the game’s best pitchers this season and he’s going up against a guy coming off of Tommy John surgery with 12 mediocre starts under his belt.
I’m not keen on using pitcher vs. team stats in a single season because the sample sizes simply aren’t significant enough. Since you’re wondering, in two starts against the Yankees, Archer has a 1.32 ERA over 13.2 innings with a 16/4 K/BB ratio. Archer doesn’t show any ugly platoon splits or home/road splits. Overall, I don’t understand this line movement, except to say that the Rays offense probably doesn’t deserve to be -130 over anybody. Archer shouldn’t be a concern.
Ivan Nova has a 4.50/4.67/4.64 pitcher slash on the season, but that’s because he hasn’t been really good in any of his starts. Coming back from Tommy John, Nova has only completed seven innings once and most of his starts border on “quality”, with 3 ER over five or six innings. Those aren’t going to show up well in run prevention categories, but he’s not exactly killing his team either. Nova has allowed three runs or less in eight of 12 starts, which, normally, would be good enough for the potent Yankees offense.
Given where the line is now, I have to lean with Archer, who has dominant stuff and no discernible problems with lefties this season. The Yankees have still be consistent on offense, but the Rays have improved as the season has gone on and they should be able to hold their own against Nova.
Cody Anderson starts the Sunday rubber match between the Indians and Tigers after Corey Kluber was scratched from Friday night’s start. Justin Verlander will be on the bump for the Tigers. This is an interesting spot for both teams. In looking at Anderson’s stat profile, the Tigers should have a lot of success. On the other hand, day games after night games are a quick turnaround for a Tigers team that has no playoff prospects and it’s fair to wonder how engaged they will be in this game.
Anderson is a defense-dependent right-hander that has seen some big swings at the big league level this season. He was excellent over his first four starts, struggled over his next four, and then was placed on the disabled list for an oblique strain. Anderson managed to host the Blue Jays to two runs on three hits in his last outing, which was a Herculean task. Anderson has the upside of being a decent fifth starter, with a big frame and a ground ball split, but any start against a potent lineup is concerning.
Is Justin Verlander back? Mr. Kate Upton nearly no-hit the Angels two starts ago and managed a quality start in his last outing against the Royals. There are still some periodic lapses of command, but Verlander seems to be back on track for the most part. The Indians lineup has been pretty good overall since the infusion of some young talent and this should be a good test for Verlander.
Because there’s still some blow-up potential for Verlander, I don’t think I’d lay the price, but I would look at the under. The Tigers will be very aggressive and swing early in the count against Anderson. If his ball is down, he’ll get some easy ground ball outs. Verlander has been throwing the ball pretty well and the Indians are also looking at a quick turnaround after getting shutout by Alfredo Simon.
Jimmy Nelson and Michael Lorenzen are the pitchers listed for this one. After a long day at the yard yesterday with a doubleheader, it’ll be interesting to see which of these two teams shows up. My money is on the Brewers. Craig Counsell is still getting a lot from his guys and Bryan Price seems like a guy on the way out in Cincinnati. Plus, the Brewers have a pitching matchup edge.
Jimmy Nelson has been pretty respectable this season and has accumulated 2.3 fWAR over his 27 starts. None of his stats are particularly out of whack and his 3.70/3.97/3.99 pitcher slash is inflated slightly by his below average walk rate of 8.7 percent. Nelson is getting lots of swings and misses and lots of chases, which could be a factor if the Reds come into this game looking to get away from the ballpark and back to their families.
I still like Michael Lorenzen in the future, but the control and command simply have not progressed this season. He owns a 5.66/5.75/5.07 pitcher slash and has been one of the least valuable pitchers in all of baseball by fWAR. The one saving grace for Lorenzen may be that lefties hit .319/.434/.590 against him and righties hit .245/.333/.433, but righties have still had a decent amount of success anyway.
The Brewers are the play here. This line looks suspiciously short on the one hand, but on the other hand, the Brewers aren’t road favorites very often.
A rough year for Hisashi Iwakuma has been quite a roller coaster ride. Iwakuma missed time with an injury, threw a no-hitter, and has a 4.22/4.16/3.44 pitcher slash as he enters free agency after the season. His K/BB ratio is good, as usual, and his command is really the only thing that stands out. But, Iwakuma gave up five home runs in three starts prior to the DL stint and gave up four home runs in his first start back on July 6. In 10 starts since, Iwakuma has only allowed five long balls.
Oakland blasted him in his last start against them, but I’m not worried about that and I’ll lay the price with Seattle here. The Mariners are still playing hard and the same cannot be said for Oakland. Furthermore, Oakland is trying to get innings out of Felix Doubront to protect the rest of the team. In three starts and two relief appearances that basically counted as starts, Doubront has only allowed nine runs over 24.2 innings of work, but he has walked 11 batters and has struck out 22. It’s a strange set of stats and one that yields next to no confidence.
I’ll take the Mariners here for the sweep. Iwakuma’s been throwing the ball pretty well since his return and O.co Coliseum should be a good yard for him.
Gerrit Cole and John Lackey are the pitchers in the spotlight for this Sunday Night Baseball tilt. The overpowering Cole takes on the savvy veteran Lackey. What more could you ask for out of the primetime Sunday nighter? Cole is 15-8 with a 2.64/2.71/3.14 on the season and has been worth 4.4 fWAR in what has been an impressive season. Cole’s pitchability development, in limiting home runs and stranding runners, is a scary sign for the rest of the league. The stuff has always been good. Now, he knows how to use it and knows how to sequence.
Then there’s John Lackey, who seemed to be on borrowed time after a series of injuries. He’s a 36-year-old with a 2.87/3.60/3.98 pitcher slash and nearly three wins above replacement player at his $500,000 team option price. What a bargain he’s been. Lackey, like the rest of the Cardinals pitching staff, has stranded a very high number of runners this season. That has a lot to do with why his ERA is so much lower than his peripherals. Can it continue? Well, it’s continued this long and the Cardinals are still an elite defensive team.
You can see the respect that Gerrit Cole commands in where this line has been set. For me, I like the Cardinals in this one. I’m a huge Gerrit Cole fan, but I give the Cardinals offense a better chance against Cole than I would give the Pirates offense against Lackey.
New York (NL) at Miami
Chicago (AL) at Kansas City