Eighteen teams are in action on Thursday with four day games and five night games, several of which include big favorites. As you know, those lines aren’t discussed very often in this MLB picks and analysis article. Fortunately, two of the three big lines are in the early games. With the timeframe of this article, it’s easier to focus on the night games, so that’s exactly what I’ll do in today’s breakdown of the MLB betting card.
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The betting market doesn’t have a whole lot of faith in Trevor Bauer on Thursday as the Indians look for a sweep of the Yankees. It’s not surprising to see a lack of faith in Bauer. Bauer has averaged almost a strikeout per inning, but his high walk rate coupled with a high fly ball rate put his ERA in the 4.00 range and his FIP higher than that. Bauer is a fly ball pitcher that actively works up in the zone to induce weak aerial contact. Sometimes those pitches get hit out. Bauer has allowed at least one home run in 17 of his last 19 starts and has walked two or more in 16 of his 22 starts. Those are not good numbers against a Yankees lineup that works counts and hits dongs.
On the other side, Nate Eovaldi continues to be perplexing. He has a heavy sinker/slider combo that has led some pitchers to dominance, but mediocre is still the best way to describe Eovaldi’s performance. His strikeout rate is identical to last season, with a bump in walks, though he has been able to withstand a .340 BABIP by stranding almost 75 percent of runners. Eovaldi owns a 4.15 ERA with a 3.63 FIP and a 3.84 xFIP.
Eovaldi enters 11-2, not because he’s pitched great, but because only Drew Hutchison gets better run support per nine innings than Eovaldi. It’s easy to see why this line has moved, given that Bauer’s shortcomings mesh well with the Yankees strengths. I’m not as sold on this one, but the Yankees would my lean.
Francisco Liriano and Lance Lynn win for the best pitching matchup of the day in a landslide. As I said on Monday’s edition of The Bettor’s Box, I don’t put a whole lot of stake into pitcher vs. team stats. You can bet that they’ll pop up for this game. Liriano is 3-2 with a 2.40 ERA over 63.2 innings of work against the Cardinals over the last three seasons. It’s a fairly significant sample size, but a lot of that number is influenced by the 3-0, 0.75 ERA that Liriano had in 2013. Over his last seven starts, he’s been pretty average all things considered.
I love Lance Lynn. I love a guy that shoves with 80 percent fastballs and still succeeds. Lynn is more extreme than he has ever been in that regard. He throws a fastball 85.5 percent of the time per Pitch Info Solutions. The weird thing is, hitters know it’s coming and he’s still almost 16 runs above average with his four-seamer. There’s something to be said about a guy posting an elite strikeout rate and a 2.76/2.99/3.46 pitcher slash with predominantly one pitch.
The Cardinals have a chance at a sweep here in this one. The Pirates have been able to rest some of their key relievers over the last few days with some losses and lopsided wins, so both teams are in pretty good shape for this game. Despite Liriano’s success and the Cardinals’ struggles against LHP, I have to give them the nod. Lynn has been terrific this season and owns a .221/.295/.331 slash against over 1,561 plate appearances at home in his career. Those are special numbers and he’s a special pitcher.
Garrett Richards is starting to get more support in the betting market for Thursday as the Angels look to stop a skid against the Rangers. SaberSim is not high on Richards, who is pitching to more contact this season. What’s amazing is that, as a ground ball pitcher, Richards has kept his BABIPs in the .265 range in each of the last two seasons. That’s a good indication of just how hard the mid-90s bowling ball he throws is to center on. Richards has a 3.51 ERA with a 3.80 FIP and a 3.84 xFIP. He’s taking on the best contact lineup in baseball and one with a lot of lefties. Normally that’s a bad thing for a ground ball guy, but he actually has reverse platoon splits this season, holding lefties to a .276 wOBA.
Jeremy Guthrie sucks. There’s no reason to beat around the bush. His lone attribute is that he’s durable, which is why he still has a job. He’s gotten worse this season, posting a 5.84 ERA with a 5.21 FIP and a 5.05 xFIP. Among qualified starters, only Kyle Kendrick and Ian Kennedy have produced a higher negative fWAR. Small samples can sometimes be deceiving, but Guthrie’s best ERA by month is 4.24 in June. In 23 innings since the All-Star Break, he has allowed a .381/.434/.627 slash.
And yet, the Royals opened essentially a money line pick ‘em. Does that tell you something? It tells me something. I can’t back either side in this game and it’s going to be a small card for Thursday night….
But, I told you on The Bettor’s Box that I felt like the Royals would step up for other elite teams and division rivals. They just lost a tough one to the Tigers on Wednesday night and now the Angels, who are of no consequence to the Royals, are in town. If the Royals are going to have letdowns, it will come in games like this. The line tells me to take the Royals. My heart and intuition tell me to take the Angels. I’ll pass because of that, but the Angels are my lean.
California native Stephen Strasburg makes his second start off the DL against a much tougher lineup on Thursday. Strasburg dominated a watered down Rockies lineup his last time out and it should be a sign of things to come. The power right-hander hasn’t stayed healthy this season and that has limited him to 14 starts. When he has been in there, he’s been good, with the exception of some minor command troubles and some sequencing issues. Strasburg owns a 3.35 FIP and a 3.18 xFIP, but a 4.76 ERA because he has only stranded 65 percent of his runners.
The degree of difficulty steps up big time against the Giants, who own a top-five wRC+ and are desperate for wins. The Giants have really struggled lately, including a four-game sweep against the Cubs last weekend and a lack of offense against the Astros. They may need some runs with Ryan Vogelsong on the mound. Vogey has actually been pretty good since a horrible April in which he allowed more runs than innings pitched. Since then, he’s been pretty good overall and he’s always serviceable at AT&T Park with a .212/.298/.351 slash against on the season.
Of course, it’s worth noting that Vogelsong has been working out of the bullpen for the most part since the All-Star Break and made a spot start last week against the Cubs in place of injured trade deadline acquisition Mike Leake. Since Vogelsong has not been stretched out, this will be a bullpen day for the Giants, which is always a concern. The Nationals are really hitting, though, so he may be able to dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge a rough outing.
In this one, the under is the best play I can come up with. Strasburg’s command troubles should be helped out by the pitching conditions in San Francisco. Vogelsong will be yanked at the first sign of trouble and the Nationals offense isn’t exactly adept at creating signs of trouble this season.