Happy Sunday to all of my friends out there. A slate full of day games is tough to handicap in this article because of the timeframe in which it gets posted, but since I have a rare Saturday night opportunity to write this up, I will be able to add some more analysis for those daytime matchups with more lead time on the article. Hopefully we can close out the weekend with some winners.
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How much does the betting market not believe in Trevor Bauer? With the exception of CC Sabathia’s start against the Phillies on June 23, he hasn’t closed a bigger favorite than -139 since May 23. He’s clearly going to close a bigger favorite than that for Sunday’s series finale against the Indians.
Look, Trevor Bauer is a mess. As an Indians fan, I would know. The numbers don’t lie in this case. Bauer didn’t give up a home run in his last start for just the third time since late May. But, he gave up five runs on six hits anyway. The home plate umpire certainly didn’t help matters after ruling a swing and a miss a foul tip and Bauer never made it out of the inning. In terms of backing him against a powerful Yankees lineup in a band box of a stadium, I can’t find a way to do it, even if this line is too high.
It’s a pass for me, but it’s definitely an interesting line to interpret.
Today’s “What the?” line comes from the game between the Phillies and the Marlins. Aaron Nola opposes Adam Conley in this one. The Marlins, as I’ve said several times this week, are the worst team in baseball against right-handed pitching. Aaron Nola’s first six Major League starts haven’t been the stuff of legend, but they really haven’t been that bad with a respectable K/BB ratio and a 3.99 xFIP. The command is a work in progress, as it is for most young pitchers. The nice thing about this start is that it comes at Marlins Park, which is a very forgiving ballpark for pitchers with average command. This start sets up a lot like Friday’s game with Jerad Eickhoff, a bit of an unproven that wasn’t given much respect by the oddsmakers.
It’s weird to see Conley, a pitcher that has three starts on the season and hasn’t made it into the sixth in any of them, favored. His arsenal isn’t very deep and I’m not sure what oddsmakers are looking at. He struck out seven over 3.2 innings in his last start, but that was also against one of the worst offenses in baseball against left-handed pitching. The Brewers still scored four runs on nine hits in that game despite the high strikeout total. Conley lacks command in the sense that he doesn’t give up home runs, but throws a lot of hittable pitches in the strike zone.
The line scares me, because it makes me feel like I’m missing something, but the Phillies are clearly the play here.
Kansas City at Boston (-105); Total: 9
Oddsmakers seem really unsure what to do about the afternoon tilt at Fenway between the Kansas City Royals and Boston Red Sox. Edinson Volquez takes on Eduardo Rodriguez in this one. Volquez is clearly a regression candidate, but the Royals have an elite defense and that can do a lot to stop the regression monster from making an appearance. Volquez has a 3.20 ERA with a 3.80 FIP and a 4.26 xFIP. His strikeout rate is below average, his walk rate is too high, and yet the Royals defense saves him. Guys with marginal control rarely post BABIPs of .273, but that’s why you have to factor defense into your handicapping.
Eduardo Rodriguez bounced back nicely from one of his worst starts as a big leaguer in his last outing. The Indians were held to one run on six hits over eight after the Marlins blasted Rodriguez for eight runs on nine hits over five. That’s the thing with Rodriguez. In 10 of his 15 starts, he has allowed two runs or less. In those other five starts, he has allowed 33 runs in 20 innings of work. Which Rodriguez will we get in this one? Who knows.
There doesn’t seem to be a situational edge in this game, so it’s about the team and pitcher you trust more. For me, I trust the Royals more in this one. Their bullpen is starting to show some cracks as overuse from the last three seasons may be taking its toll, but the Red Sox are really lacking in that area overall. I don’t see a reason to back either team, but my lean would be Kansas City.
Clayton Kershaw battles Lance McCullers in the series finale between the Dodgers and Astros. This should be a fun one. The world’s best pitcher takes on a feisty fireballer with a lot of confidence. Like a fine wine, Clayton Kershaw is getting better with age. His numbers aren’t as dominant as last season’s but he does have the best strikeout rate of his career. His xFIP is on par with last season and he’s posting a 2/1 GB/FB ratio for the first time in his career.
Everyone had a brief heart attack about Kershaw earlier this season when he had an ERA in the 3.50 range, but that’s why ERA is a stupid way to evaluate pitchers. He was getting unlucky, from a HR/FB perspective and a sequencing perspective. All of that evened out when he allowed exactly one run in 33 innings in July. Not one earned run. One run period. Since his 3.97 ERA in May, hitters have scored 17 earned runs off of Kershaw over his last 103.2 innings of work. That’s a 1.48 ERA. Kershaw has 212 strikeouts. It’s August 23. A lineup with the swing-and-miss potential of Houston’s and 20 strikeouts is not as much of a stretch as it may seem.
I’d really love Lance McCullers more if he had been on a normal schedule. McCullers was bombarded on August 3rd for six runs on seven hits in just one-third of an inning against the Texas Rangers. The Astros gave him a start in Double-A on the 18th and now he’s back to take on the best pitcher on the planet. McCullers isn’t hurt. The Astros were just giving him a chance to regroup after jumping straight from Double-A earlier this season. In a different situation, I’d take a stab at the Astros at this price, simply because they have so much offensive talent. Unfortunately, I just can’t do it.
Toronto (-110) at Los Angeles (AL); Total: 8
The Blue Jays and Angels wrap up their weekend set as Toronto sees their first right-hander of the series. Toronto will send RA Dickey and the Angels will counter with staff ace Garrett Richards. Dickey had been in a decent groove, but getting knocked around by the upstart Phillies doesn’t instill a whole lot of confidence for this start. Dickey’s velo drop has made his knuckleball a lot less effective as age and less separation between pitches have taken a toll.
One of the things that is always worth considering about Dickey is the environment. In the controlled conditions at Rogers Centre, Dickey owns a 3.31 ERA with a .197/.285/.355 slash. On the road, in open air, Dickey has a 5.11 ERA with a .298/.355/.483 slash against. Angel Stadium does help pitchers that give up fly balls and the shadows are always a concern in day games, but Dickey may need more than that.
Garrett Richards hasn’t been as dominant as he was in 2014, but the strikeout rate has been climbing a little bit lately and the BABIP and LOB% have started to be closer to the 2014 numbers. Considering Richards missed a significant amount of time with a knee injury, a slow start to 2015 shouldn’t be all that surprising. Richards has a 3.50 ERA with a 3.69 FIP, and a 3.81 xFIP. The Blue Jays are a great offense, but this isn’t the worst matchup for Richards, since he throws a heavy sinker that can really get in on the right-handed hitters. Like most Angels pitchers, Richards has pretty big home/road splits. At home, Richards has a 2.53 ERA with a .191/.261/.300 slash. On the road, 4.81 with a .285/.342/.426 slash. It’s a mental thing as much as a scientific thing when it comes to pitching in a pitcher’s park.
For that reason, I like the Angels in this one. The shadows should help both pitchers, but Richards has the more dominant stuff, even if the Blue Jays have the better offense.
There are a few reasons I want to cover this game. For one thing, I feel like the line is too high on Pittsburgh, since this should be a decent park for Ryan Vogelsong to pitch in. For another thing, this game has Circadian rhythm undertones. Anybody that has listened to The Bettor’s Box knows what I’m talking about.
For Sunday’s game, the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball matchup, the Giants take on Francisco Liriano. The Giants are one of the best road offenses in baseball, though, as I said last week, their offensive numbers could tail off with Hunter Pence out of the lineup. I’m a little bit miffed as to why the Giants kept Ryan Vogelsong over Chris Heston. I think Heston has more upside and has been the better pitcher throughout the season. Vogelsong easily could have slotted into a long relief role, but Heston had an option, so that was that. Vogey owns a 2.57 ERA in 21 innings since the All-Star Break while filling in for Mike Leake, so perhaps that’s why he got to stay. I don’t get the move, but it is what it is.
The acquisition of Marlon Byrd gave the Giants another weapon, specifically against southpaws. Byrd entered play on Saturday with a .306/.366/.565 slash against lefties. That’ll definitely help this team out while Pence recovers from an oblique injury. Also, I think it has some value in this game.
Francisco Liriano hasn’t been the same since he got hurt before the All-Star Break. He was sharp against Washington in his first start out of the Break, but has given up 15 runs over 20.2 innings of work and, more importantly, only has a 18/9 K/BB ratio in that span. For a guy with 154 strikeouts in 142.1 innings this season, that’s a bit of a red flag. I’m not sure he’s fully healthy right now.
I think the Giants have some underdog value in this game at that price tag. My true interest in this game lies in the Pirates’ situation for Monday. The Pirates will wrap up their game around 11 p.m. ET or so and then head down to Miami for a quick turnaround on Monday night. The Marlins, for all of their offensive warts, hit lefties pretty well and JA Happ will be on the bump for Pittsburgh. This will be a topic on Monday’s edition of The Bettor’s Box, but this is an ideal spot to catch the Marlins as a home dog.