We have a slightly smaller card to sort through on Thursday with eight teams enjoying a day off prior to the final series of the first half. We’re at that point in the season when handicapping gets tough because teams are desperately looking ahead to the All-Star Break. Some players will trek out to San Diego with friends and family in tow. Others will take a quick vacation or catch up with the kids. Over the grind of 162 games and a 182-day season, it’s a tough game to play. We see that some nights.

There’s really not much to look back at from Wednesday’s card. It was a terrible card for betting on baseball and, for all intents and purposes, we passed. The Yankees were the closest thing to a play and they were shut out by Miguel Gonzalez, so that’ll give you some kind of idea what to expect from them this weekend.

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.

 

Pittsburgh at St. Louis (-140); Total: 8.5

Some thoughts on Pittsburgh starter Tyler Glasnow. With the Super Two deadline well in the past, the Pirates have emptied their pitching reserves in the minor leagues. Perhaps this is part of a wild card push for the Buccos. Tyler Glasnow is 22 and has spectacular swing-and-miss upside. Control is a pretty big worry right now, with some ugly walk rates in the minors.

Glasnow will have to learn how to harness his stuff and pitch to contact, otherwise he’s going to be very inefficient with his pitch counts and exit games early. He’s a 6’8” righty, which is an arm slot that hitters almost never see. His fastball is already a plus pitch and his curveball is considered one of the best pitches in the minors. The sky is reportedly the limit for this kid, who has front of the rotation stuff and a lot of projection as he keeps filling out and leans how to pitch.

It’s really not a surprise to see this number come down 20 cents, as the market is selling Adam Wainwright. I do think it’s worth pointing out that Wainwright has a 3.09/3.02/3.64 pitcher slash over his last 58.1 innings of work with 51 K. Aside from a rough start two outings ago in Kansas City, Wainwright has been more like the Wainwright of old. He’s the safer play today, since Glasnow is making his debut, but the upside is clear and the Pirates have played very well over the last couple of weeks.

 

Detroit at Toronto (-115); Total: 9.5

Justin Verlander takes the hill for the Tigers against Drew Hutchison for the Blue Jays. Hutch has really had a hard time with command at the big league level. He’s given up 418 hits and 55 HR in 400.1 innings of work. A big reason is because he’s predominantly a two-pitch pitcher with a show changeup that hasn’t been very effective. The third time through the order, opposing hitters are batting .299/.358/.558 in 431 plate appearances. There’s the statistical proof you need to back up my assertion.

Oddly enough, there are a lot of similarities between Verlander and Hutchison. Both guys lean towards the fly ball pitcher side of things and have some strikeout upside. Verlander’s just better at all of it. Verlander has struck out over a batter per inning on the season, but he’s also given up 16 home runs in 111.2 innings. He’s well on his way to a career high in HR allowed and he used to regularly throw 220+ innings.

The Blue Jays have been decent offensively, even without key cog Jose Bautista, because Michael Saunders is having a career year and Troy Tulowitzki woke up from his 12-month slumber. The question we have to ask about Verlander is whether or not his HR/FB% will come down. His career mark is 8.0 percent, but his 2016 mark is 11.5 percent. It’s probably a velocity thing, since Verlander used to sit mid-90s and now sits low-90s. Toronto is a good hitter’s park, so that’s a worry here in this one.

One big worry I have about the Tigers is that they just don’t seem engaged at all. I don’t know if that’s a Brad Ausmus thing or what. They finally scored their first win over the Indians this season to improve to 1-11. Is that a springboard? They have dominated teams aside from the Indians this year. Does that trend continue? It’s hard to say that a team with a record like Detroit’s doesn’t seem engaged, and maybe I’m just biased because I’ve watched them get kicked around by my Indians all year.

If I’m playing this one, it’s Tigers or nothing, because I have no faith in Drew Hutchison. I’m a little bit skeptical, but Detroit got a big getaway day win that could resonate in the clubhouse.

 

Washington at New York (NL) (-120); Total: 8

To wrap up the first half, two familiar foes meet in the Big Apple. Lucas Giolito will get the ball for his second career start against Bartolo Colon, who will be making his 484th career start. Giolito will turn 22 on July 14. Colon was signed by the Indians before Giolito was born.

Rain shortened Giolito’s MLB debut, which may have been a good thing, because he was clearly fighting with his control. In four innings, Giolito stranded all three baserunners, but he wasn’t sharp and only had one strikeout in 14 plate appearances. With those jitters out of the way, Giolito should look better in this outing. The Mets are this “big, bad offense” because they have recognizable names, but they are 19th in wOBA against righties and have struggled against lefties as well. Michael Conforto tanked so bad that he got sent down. Yoenis Cespedes is still raking, but the Mets aren’t getting a whole lot of contributions elsewhere.

Suddenly, the Mets rotation, which was thought to be unbeatable, is looking very human. Jacob deGrom has figured it out, but Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz are both pitching hurt. Zack Wheeler has had some setbacks in his Tommy John return. Bartolo Colon is making his 17th start of the first half. He’s been his usual self, with a 2.87 ERA, a 3.79 FIP, and a 4.10 xFIP. That balloon will pop in the second half, like it has in recent years. There’s a chance that process starts here tonight.

The Nationals are a good offense against fastballs per PITCHf/x pitch value data, so this seems like a good matchup for them. They had success against Colon the first time they saw him and had some unfortunate BABIP luck the second time. On the other hand, Colon has only allowed more than three runs in one start this season. He doesn’t issue walks, so he doesn’t hurt himself. That 82.5 percent LOB% will regress soon, though, and that will drive Colon’s ERA up near his other metrics.

I like the Nationals tonight. Giolito can catch his breath after his debut and just focus on pitching. That always helps.

 

Minnesota at Texas (-115); Total: 10.5

Another day, another Texas fade. This number opened -130 and has come down since it opened. I was wrong on Tyler Duffey. I really liked the Minnesota right-hander after watching him post a 3.10/3.24/3.64 slash in 58 innings last season. This year, the K/BB rates are fine, but the home run rate is awful. Duffey has given up 14 dingers in 73.2 innings of work. He’s also allowed 90 hits, a byproduct of bad command and also a terrible defensive team.

I really don’t expect Duffey, a ground ball guy, to hang a 19.4 percent HR/FB% the rest of the season. He has a 5.62 ERA with a 4.69 FIP and a 3.86 xFIP. Keep in mind that when we look for regression and use these advanced metrics, it’s not that his 5.62 ERA will mirror his 3.86 xFIP. It’s a predictor of future performance, so we’re looking for him to post a 3.86 ERA, or thereabouts, the rest of the season. It would take a lot of sustained success to drive numbers down to those levels once a sample size exists.

I probably oversold Duffey after last season. I neglected to realize that he didn’t induce a whole lot of soft contact. This season, he’s getting pulled more, which has led to a spike in hard contact and line drives. Add in the homers and you can see why he has a 5.62 ERA. His knuckle curve has really failed him. Hitters batted .253/.282/.320 on that pitch last season. They are smashing at a .281/.300/.481 clip this season. Add in a drop across the board in fastball command and this is what you get.

I don’t trust the Twins coaching staff to work out these issues. I haven’t seen any young(ish) Twins pitcher progress in a positive way under the current staff. As a result, I need to back off on my Duffey thoughts until I see something substantive.

Chi Chi Gonzalez is terrible, so I don’t have any play on this game.

 

Oakland at Houston (-125); Total: 8

Rich Hill makes his second start since coming off of the DL for the Athletics and he’ll be opposed by Doug Fister. Hill was good in his return against the Pirates, scattering four hits over six innings with six punchouts. He went through six innings on just 83 pitches, which is good since he was on a pitch count. Hill’s renaissance has been incredible. He’s been an excellent starter over 16 games in his mid-30s after washing out as a LOOGY. He’s a great story and we have to seriously talk about sustainability at this point because it seems plausible.

This isn’t a great matchup for the Astros, who swing and miss a ton. On the other hand, only the Cubs and Brewers (?!?) draw a higher percentage of walks against lefties than the Astros. Hill has been able to work around walks because of a great strikeout rate and a ton of weak contact.

I will say this about the Astros. I don’t know if it applies in this start, but they have gotten very unlucky against left-handed pitching. Houston has a .276 BABIP and just a .397 SLG, so it’s not like they’re hitting a ton of home runs to keep the BABIP low. They’re 14th in home runs. This is something to watch in the second half. I think there’s positive regression coming for Houston against lefties. (Also, there’s some coming for the Dodgers as well)

Doug Fister is what he is. A ground ball guy with bad peripherals that sabermetrics hates, but a very effective starting pitcher. It was a good signing by the Astros, one that ran counterintuitive to their front office philosophy. He’s not a guy loved by sabermetrics anymore, but he provides useful innings. From April 20 to June 20, Fister didn’t allow more than three runs in a start. He’s struggled over his last couple of starts, as some regression has set in.

I do have to wonder if Fister, who has an extensive injury history over the last few years, is hurt. His velocity dropped off around the 50-pitch mark in his last start and his release point graph was all over the place. A similar thing happened in his previous start, where he sat 89-90 for the first 40 pitches and then declined a bit.

There is a natural decline in the middle of a game, but that coupled with the release point data does make me wonder. He gave up three HR in that June 26 start and walked five in that July 2 start. Perhaps it’s simply mechanical. I’m a little bit concerned, though. I’m staying off of this game as a result.

 

Tune in to today’s BangTheBook Radio for thoughts on Seattle vs. Kansas City and San Diego vs. Los Angeles (NL)!