It will be a very busy day on the diamond with 15 night games and one day game in Colorado as part of a day/night doubleheader at Coors Field. September is here and that brings a brand new set of challenges for baseball handicappers. Rosters expand today, so teams can carry as many as 40 men on their nightly roster. Most teams call up no more than five players and some minor leaguers will start getting spot starts. Other pitchers, specifically good young pitchers on bad teams, will start to see their innings limited. There’s also a playoff race going on, so handicapping motivation becomes a bit more important. It’s been a great season so far and the last five weeks should be plenty of fun.
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A few pitching changes cheapened Monday’s article and, admittedly, it was really tough for me to get back in the swing of things after no sleep on the red eye flight back. But, today, with a renewed sense of energy from sleeping in my own bed, I’m looking to really get after it today. In this one, Drew Smyly takes on Chris Tillman.
Smyly is still struggling to get back into the swing of things with three starts since returning from the DL. It’s pretty clear that Smyly is working up in the zone right now with ground ball rates of 14.3, 27.3, and 31.3 percent over his last three outings. That’s dangerous at Oriole Park. Smyly naturally trends towards being a fly ball pitcher, but those are pretty extreme rates. The Orioles offense is really scuffling right now, as they rank 26th in wOBA over the last 30 days. Smyly, though, is in a tough spot in this one because he’s not locating very well and Baltimore does have power. They’re 26th in wOBA, but fifth in home runs over the last 30 days.
Earlier this month, an Eno Sarris article at Fangraphs was referenced about some changes that Chris Tillman made to have a great July. August was okay. A bad start against Seattle after 12 days of rest skewed the small sample that included two quality starts and another average start last time out against a tough Kansas City lineup. Tillman did give up five home runs in his four starts in August after not allowing one in six straight starts.
As good as the Rays are against lefties, they are that bad against righties. Tampa Bay ranks tied for 28th with the Phillies in wOBA against righties. With a .289 BABIP, you can’t blame batted ball luck. They just, for whatever reason, have not hit righties well. They are tied with the Mariners for the fourth-highest K rate against righties. Tillman doesn’t strike out a lot of batters, but the Rays, as a whole, don’t get a lot of good swings against righties.
Laying the price is hard here because the Rays are playing fairly well and Baltimore has been awful of late, but it’s the right play to make.
Rick Porcello was one of yesterday’s scratches, which was an oversight on my part, and I apologize. Porcello goes tonight against the Yankees instead. The line move from -120 to -135 makes a lot of sense here. The market isn’t going to be supportive of Porcello with his command problems against the Yankees. On the other hand, Michael Pineda is in a similar boat right now. Pineda is making his second start off of the disabled list and really struggled against Houston last time out. The Boston offense has been a lot better since some of their sequencing issues evened out.
First, we’ll examine Porcello, who threw six shutout against a putrid White Sox lineup in his first start back off the DL. Porcello has had a lot of negative trends this season – poor command, a major drop in ground ball rate, and a small spike in walks. He is one of those guys I talk about with a 5.47 ERA and a 4.02 xFIP that would normally see regression, but that assumes a reasonable level of command, which Porcello does not have right now.
Pineda clearly has more upside, but he’s not a sure bet either. He made just two starts after the All-Star Break before getting shut down for more than a month and returned to struggle. The biggest issue is that the stuff has not been explosive. Pineda is averaging around a strikeout per inning for the season, but only has nine in his last 16 innings. He can hide some of his command shortcomings by missing bats. When Pineda has had four or fewer strikeouts in a start this season, he has a 9.00 ERA (36 ER in 36 IP). That should worry you here.
If you’re going to make a play on this game, I’d look at the over. Two pitchers with shaky command and the Red Sox bullpen isn’t very good.
Miami at Atlanta (-115); Total: 8
Manny Banuelos returns from the DL in a battle of southpaws as Justin Nicolino takes the mound for the Marlins. I love the Marlins in this spot. They don’t deserve a whole lot of respect, but not getting any against a Braves team that has quit on the season is bad. Not getting any against a left-handed pitcher when they are a top-10 offense against lefties is worse. Given the fact that Nicolino misses next to no bats, it’s fair to see why oddsmakers have err on the side of caution with Miami. Regardless, this game sets up very well for the Marlins.
We’ll start with the obvious. The Marlins are eighth in wOBA against lefties and a good portion of this season has been played without Giancarlo Stanton. The Braves are 26th against lefties and would be a lot worse without a decent walk rate because they have the 29th-ranked SLG. Nicolino doesn’t miss bats, but he also doesn’t walk many guys. The Braves will have to hit their way on and that seems unlikely. The Marlins are third in defensive runs saved and Turner Field is a pretty good park for pitching.
The Marlins are a good look here. If the Braves snap their losing streak and burn you, it happens. But Miami’s still playing hard and has a better bullpen should this game be close.
Washington at St. Louis (-110); Total: 7.5
There are a lot of big favorites tonight, so the pickings are slim unless you want to lay -160 or take a big dog. This is a pretty interesting matchup as Joe Ross leads the Washington Nationals against Marco Gonzales. Quietly, Ross has become a pretty dominant starter. He’s just 5-5 over 11 starts, but owns a K/9 of 8.78 and a sterling walk rate at 1.49 BB/9. He has a 3.24 ERA with a 3.13 FIP and a 3.13 xFIP, so those are pretty great numbers. He has a fastball/slider combination like his brother, Tyson, but his fastball seems to be a little bit more explosive.
Gonzales picks up the spot start in place of Carlos Martinez as the Cardinals look to pace themselves down the stretch with the division under control. Also, with Lance Lynn’s knee issue, the Cardinals will make sure to keep Martinez in tact. Gonzales is a pretty interesting pitcher in his own right. The southpaw had a 34.2-inning stint with the Redbirds last season and showed some swing-and-miss upside, but he also showed some poor control. He shot up from High-A to the bigs last season and started in High-A this season before making the bulk of his appearances at Triple-A. Gonzales’s control and command both seem to have regressed a bit this season at the Triple-A level. Gonzales is a sinker/changeup lefty without polished offspeed stuff.
Based on the pitching matchup, the Nationals should be the side, but their offense is tough to trust and the Cardinals have a big defensive advantage. I’d hope for a better price on the Nationals before I’d dive in.
Arizona (-120) at Colorado; Total: 11
Runs. Lots of runs. Rubby de la Rosa’s bad command opposes Kyle Kendrick’s bad everything. Take the over. This is the nightcap of what will be a long day in Colorado, but hitting is fun. Also, with roster expansion today, both teams should have plenty of fresh bodies to use. RLDR and Kendrick have allowed 43 HR over 274.2 innings this season.
If there’s any question about the best pitcher’s duel tonight, then you don’t know baseball. Madison Bumgarner takes on Zack Greinke after a very late night for both teams on Monday. The Giants suffered a pretty devastating setback in Monday’s 15-inning loss. They are now 5.5 games back of the Cubs for the wild card and 4.5 games back in the division. They have the right guy on the mound tonight, but Greinke and the Dodgers are the play.
I expected Bumgarner to have a little bit of a hangover effect from last year’s long postseason run. That hasn’t been the case at all. The 26-year-old is having the best season of his career in a lot of ways. He has the best strikeout and walk rates of his career, along with his best xFIP and SIERA. He’s elite and there are no questions about it. There shouldn’t have been any, but if they existed, they don’t anymore.
Greinke has been incredible this season with a 1.61 ERA, 2.62 FIP, and a 3.16 xFIP. His strikeout rate is down a bit, but his sequencing and pitch mixing have been the best in the league. An 86 percent strand rate is unsustainable, and here Greinke is through 26 starts with one anyway.
The plays in this game are the Dodgers and the under. The Giants have to pick themselves up after a brutal loss and a very late night. I’m not so sure I see it happening.