There are three days left in the first half, but for your purposes, there should only be two days left in the first half. Handicapping Sunday is not going to be easy because you have no idea which teams will show up and which ones won’t. It’s probably a good rule of thumb to fade teams at the end of a long road trip, but that’s about it. Otherwise, just stay away. Also, there will be no picks and analysis piece for Sunday because of those reasons.
In the meantime, we’ve got two more days to bolster the bankroll before heading into the much needed All-Star Break. We’ll dig deep into tonight’s card for some good betting opportunities and there are definitely some out there.
Before we look ahead, we’ll take a quick look back at yesterday’s outcomes. Those that listened to BangTheBook Radio yesterday were treated to a couple of winners on Kansas City and San Diego. As for the article, a slight lean on the Cardinals hit, but the Tigers failed to come through.
Our focus, as it always is, will be on the games that provide a lot of line value and those that give us the opportunity to dig deep and find the wagering angles and betting tips that will produce winners.
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Per usual, the games with big lines will be overlooked, unless there is something particularly noteworthy about them or a play on the underdog is a possibility. Also, day games are usually skipped due to the lead time of the article. That will not be the case on Thursdays or Sundays when there are a lot of day games.
Tampa Bay at Boston (-120); Total: 10
One of the important points I’ve been trying to drive home this season is that it’s important to pay close attention to perception and play against it. We’ve done it recently with James Shields and we’ve done it with various teams. We’re in a situation here today where Chris Archer is an underdog to a team starting Sean O’Sullivan. Boston is an elite offensive team, but I never thought I’d see the day when Archer was a dog to such a terrible pitcher. Furthermore, this line is growing.
It has every reason to grow. The Rays have won three games started by a right-handed pitcher since June 11 and the starter was not the pitcher of record in any of those games. Tampa Bay is down to 26th in wOBA against RHP, with the highest K% in the league. The question you have to ask is how likely a trend like that is to continue. The Rays have a .274 BABIP against RHP, which is the lowest in the league. You would have to think that some level of regression is coming in that split. If you believe that, then isn’t Sean O’Sullivan the perfect candidate? O’Sullivan has a 6.61 ERA, a 4.77 FIP, and a 5.33 xFIP in 16.1 innings this season and has a 5.99/5.67/5.22 in 318.2 innings of work over his MLB career. He’s been worth -1.8 fWAR. He’s awful. If the Rays can’t hit him, there’s no hope.
You do have to contend with Chris Archer against a Red Sox lineup that has punished mistakes and has punished right-handed pitching this season. The Red Sox have the best wOBA in baseball at .359 and the top wRC+ at 120 against righties. They are 88.5 weighted runs above average, which is 31.5 runs higher than the next best offense against righties (Baltimore). They have a .337 BABIP against righties. Doesn’t it seem like regression is coming in that number?
Projecting single-game regression is not easy. My regression analysis style is simply playing the numbers and the expectations. It doesn’t always work. But, I don’t expect either of these teams to keep the same pace. I’m looking Tampa Bay here. I’ll probably regret it, but I can’t overlook how awful Sean O’Sullivan is and Archer always has the chance to throw a spectacular game because his stuff is that good.
Washington at New York (NL) (-110); Total: 6.5
This will be fun. Stephen Strasburg vs. Noah Syndergaard. Turn the lights down low, put on some Marvin Gaye or Al Green, and sink into a state of baseball bliss. Strasburg has a 2.71 ERA with a 2.91 FIP and a 3.02 xFIP on the season in 99.2 innings. He’s struck out over 31 percent of opposing batters and has induced a ton of weak contact. It’s extremely rare to see such a hard-thrower with a 25.3 percent hard-contact rate.
He’s traded his curveball for a slider and he’s working the changeup in more. These are both positive changes to his arsenal. Hitters are batting .099/.135/.183 against his changeup and have a .648 OPS against his slider. His changeup is inducing a 21.6 percent whiff rate. He’s got as good of an arsenal as anybody this season, maybe even his counterpart on Friday.
Noah Syndergaard’s stuff is exquisite. He’s posted a 2.41 ERA with a 1.89 FIP and a 2.34 xFIP in his 101 innings this season. Thor has a remarkable K/BB rate and has really limited the long ball this season. His GB% has jumped over six percent. Everything is trending in a positive direction for Syndergaard…except his health. Reportedly pitching through a bone spur, I really have to wonder about the sustainability of him in the second half. With Matt Harvey out and Steven Matz dealing with the same ailment, a lot of pressure falls on the arm of Syndergaard.
We haven’t seen any problems yet. The velocity looks good. The command is still great. I’m watching and waiting for signs of pain and injury. Since there aren’t any right now, I’m comfortable with following Syndergaard into the field of handicapping battle on most nights. This isn’t one of them. I love both of these starters and what they are doing. I’ll stay away tonight, as this is a game to watch simply as an observer.
New York (AL) at Cleveland (-175); Total: 8
I can’t help but think this line is way too high. The Indians have had three days off since May 12. In that span, they’ve played two different 10-game road trips and an eight-game road trip. They also played a doubleheader in that span. I feel like this team is hitting a wall. They’ve played a lot of baseball and had very little position player depth in that span.
Over the last 30 days, no starting rotation has thrown as many innings as the Indians. It may be starting to catch up with them. Trevor Bauer ran into issues his third time through the lineup on Thursday and Corey Kluber was rocked last time out when the pitching staff needed him to throw a quality game.
Chad Green seems competent enough to keep the Yankees in the game. Green has decent velo and has posted good K/BB rates in the minor leagues. Add in that Yankees bullpen, which the Indians got to last night, and this price is simply too high. I don’t advocate many big underdogs because the success rate isn’t great, but this is a spot where the dog is extremely live.
St. Louis (-130) at Milwaukee; Total: 8.5
The St. Louis Cardinals have been a tough team to figure out. They are third in wOBA against RHP and have been among the league leaders in runs scored all season long, but they are just 44-41. A 7-14 record in one-run games doesn’t help, nor does a 17-30 record against teams that are .500 or better. As far as underachievers go, the Cardinals are one of the biggest in baseball, six wins below their Pythagorean Win-Loss record and nine wins below their BaseRuns record.
What stands out to me about this game is that it doesn’t seem like Jimmy Nelson is getting the respect that he was earlier in the season. Oddsmakers seemed to highly value the right-hander on a bad team. It probably has something to do with the 5.87 ERA he hung in June and the 20 runs he’s allowed on 38 hits over his last 29 innings. In that span, he’s walked 16 and struck out 15. It was only a matter of time with Nelson and I wasn’t high on him to begin with.
Even with that awful month of June, Nelson still has a 3.65 ERA with a 4.83 FIP and xFIP. A case can be made that even more regression is coming for him. His 76.8 percent strand rate is unsustainably high for his low strikeout rate. One thing that does work in Nelson’s favor is that his .279 BABIP might be sustainable. He’s given up some hard contact, but his batted ball direction distribution shows that he makes hitters use the big parts of the ballpark. It’s harder to get hurt up the middle or to the opposite field.
While Nelson tries to fight off regression, Michael Wacha would welcome it. Wacha has a .223/.282/.345 slash against with the bases empty and a .328/.392/.503 with men on base. That slash with men on base also carries a .391 BABIP against. He’s having some obvious command issues from the stretch that need to resolve themselves before he can inch closer to that 3.44 FIP.
That being said, Wacha’s 4.30 SIERA is close to his 4.38 ERA, so maybe there’s not as much regression there as we hope. For the fourth straight season, Wacha’s swinging strike rate has dropped. There are a lot of conflicting statistics in his profile and I don’t like when that’s the case. I don’t like so many uncertainties. He’s a better pitcher than Jimmy Nelson and the Cardinals are a better team, so this price is kind of attractive if you want a little bit of a chalky road dog.
Seattle at Kansas City (-108); Total: 8.5
The wrong team is favored here, which is why the opening line of KC -115 has come down. Yordano Ventura has been awful this season and he’s pitching with a mild ankle sprain. Ventura has a 5.26 ERA with a 5.12 FIP and a 5.05 xFIP. For a while, he had more walks than strikeouts. He’s nearly matched last season’s home run total in a little more than half of the innings. He’s lucky his numbers aren’t worse against lefties with a .259/.358/.419 slash. He’s got a 27/25 K/BB ratio against lefties.
In two starts since his suspension, Ventura has allowed 11 runs on 11 hits with three HR in eight innings of work. There’s nothing to like about Ventura here and the Royals are still trying to get things figured out in the lineup with some key guys still out and some key guys continuing to struggle.
Hisashi Iwakuma hasn’t been the Iwakuma of old. In fact, in my eyes, every stat is going in the wrong direction. His K rate is down, his BB rate is up, his HR/9 is way up, even though his HR/FB% is down because he’s not inducing ground balls anymore. Iwakuma’s ground ball rates through his first four seasons in the bigs were 52.2, 48.7, 50.2, and 50.4. This season, it’s 38.7 percent.
He’s not throwing as many pitches with downward movement. His splitter usage is down from last season and his sinker usage is as well. He’s actually relied heavily on a slider/cutter pattern. The end result has been fewer swings and misses, fewer swings on balls, and more pitches in the zone. None of those are good things for Iwakuma.
And yet, I think he and the Mariners should be favored here. The Mariners are a much better team than they’ve played over the last couple of weeks. They may close a favorite and they deserve to. I like them tonight.