We’ve got a small card on Thursday with just nine games on the calendar. The MLB schedule makers have proven time and time again that they have no clue and that’s evident here again today as we are just a week removed from the All-Star Break and there are 12 teams sitting on the sidelines. In any event, we’ve got work to do on this card and we can narrow our focus with this number of games. Is there any betting value? Let’s find out!
Before we do that, let’s take a glance back at yesterday’s results. Those that tuned in to BangTheBook Radio were treated to a sweat-free winner on the Washington Nationals in resounding fashion. That was a good one to get and it was nice to see one come in easy. The Astros bounced back big with an easy getaway day winner in the Bay. Drew Pomeranz did struggle as expected, but hopefully you took the over instead of the Giants, who gave up 11 runs. This was a pretty unfortunate beat for us, since we capped Pomeranz right, but Matt Cain didn’t hold up his end. The over hit in the nightcap in Anaheim, so we cashed another ticket. It was a good day yesterday.
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 Wednesdays, Thursdays, or Sundays when there are a lot of day games.
Baltimore at New York (-115); Total: 8.5
The Yankees clearly don’t want to be sellers. The biggest wild card in the trade market is now just six out in the division and five back in the wild card hunt. Every game is big for New York over the next 10 days, as they determine whether or not to break up their bullpen in a buyer’s market or hold on and try to make the playoffs.
The Orioles will take the field today in second place for the first time since June 4. This isn’t a must-win game or anything like that, but the Orioles certainly want to snap their losing streak before the Indians come to town for a weekend set. They’ll look to Chris Tillman, the de facto ace of the staff, to do just that. I’ve talked about Tillman and his usage changes throughout the season. He’s throwing more of a slider/cutter that has improved his strikeout rate and has kept him off the barrel of opposing bats. Tillman has a 3.29 ERA with a 4.20 FIP and a 4.53 xFIP, as his walk rate has climbed and his home run rate has inched up as well. If he can maintain an 81.1 percent LOB%, he can sustain this type of performance. If that regresses, he’ll be in trouble. I’m going to make the assumption that a .234 BABIP against with men on base isn’t very sustainable and Tillman is a big reason why I think the Orioles are very vulnerable in this race.
On the other side, there’s CC Sabathia, who has hit the wall a little bit recently. After media members across the country wrote “CC Sabathia is back!” pieces, the hefty lefty has given up 27 runs over his last five starts and has allowed five home runs in that span. He had only allowed two HR in his previous 11 starts. CC’s regression doesn’t surprise me at all. I wasn’t buying in to his small sample size run. He’s pitching with no cartilage in his knee and a drop in velocity.
Even though this is a getaway day game, I feel like runs are a possibility. The Yankees do have that power back end of the pen, so maybe a first five over is a good look. I don’t have a lean on the side, as I view Tillman as a regression candidate, but I do think some early runs could be in the forecast.
Miami at Philadelphia (-110); Total: 8.5
Games like this are always difficult for me. I know that Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff has a lot more upside than Marlins starter Tom Koehler, but it’s also very clear which team is better. We know that Koehler is a tough guy to back on the road. This season is no different. Koehler has a .290/.380/.417 slash against with a 5.02 ERA in 57.1 road innings. For his career, Koehler’s home/road splits are very pronounced. His ERA is 0.91 runs higher on the road and the slash differences are .21, .19, and .39, so hitters have had more success in their home ballparks against Koehler.
Eickhoff’s season has been more about acquiring experience and maturity, which is fine in a lost year for his team. His strikeout rate is down, but he’s learned how to pitch to contact and limit damage. He’s done a decent job of both, with a 3.76 ERA, a 3.98 FIP, and a 4.17 xFIP. The 26-year-old has given his team 115 pretty good innings and has a chance at crossing the 190-inning mark for the first time in his career. There’s a significant amount of value in 190 average or better innings.
As far as this particular start goes, Eickhoff draws a lineup that is in the middle of the pack against righties. For some reason, he’s been really excellent at home, in what used to be a pretty decent hitter’s park. He has a 2.45 ERA compared to a 5.51 on the road and hitters are only batting .222/.273/.385 against him at home. I’m not really sure what to make of those splits. There’s some luck and variance in there, because he has a .262 BABIP against and an 86.6 percent LOB% at home, compared to a .333 and 66 percent on the road.
If Citizens Bank Park was an extreme pitcher’s park, it would make some sense. Because it isn’t, it seems like variance to me. When there’s that much positive variance, I often look to go against a guy. With that in mind, a slight lean to the Marlins, who are the better team with the better bullpen.
Detroit at Chicago (AL) (-125); Total: 10.5
Tigers money has hit the market overnight and this morning to drive this number down 10-15 cents at some shops. Mike Pelfrey takes the mound for the Tigers and James Shields goes for the White Sox. The Pelfrey signing has been a disappointment (though I’m not sure why because it was incredulously stupid to begin with) and the Shields trade has been as well.
We’ll look at Pelfrey first, who has a 4.95 ERA with a 5.30 FIP and a 5.16 xFIP in 18 starts and one solid relief appearance. Pelfrey has some really eye-popping home/road splits. He’s given up 12 of his 13 home runs at home, even though he’s worked two more innings on the road. His OBP against is nearly identical and he’s walked seven more than he has struck out on the road, but his SLG against is 210 points lower. I’m at a loss for words with this.
Nobody has really noticed, but James Shields has allowed three runs or less in each of his last five starts after having one of the worst four-start stretches in the history of baseball from May 31 to June 18. I harp on playing against extremes and if you’ve done that with Shields, things have gone okay. Granted, he hasn’t gotten much run support, but he fits right in the White Sox rotation in that regard.
While I want to get excited about Shields’s last five starts, I’m not going to. In those 33.1 innings, Shields has 15 strikeouts. That’s pathetic. It speaks to a ton of batted ball luck. That often runs out, especially with a White Sox team that isn’t blessed defensively. This game is like trying to pick death by paper cuts or death by starvation.
Does Shields’s BABIP luck run out here? It very well could. I do think there’s a slight bit of value on fading Chicago coming off of a long series in Seattle, especially because their playoff hopes are gone. The Tigers still feel like they have a shot. Maybe they’re the side. If I had to play anything, it’d be Detroit and I’d hope that Pelfrey didn’t illuminate a raging tire fire on the mound.
Tampa Bay at Oakland (-125); Total: 8
Matt Moore and Sonny Gray do battle on Thursday night in a game with a pretty interesting line move. The A’s have gone from -140 to -120 and even lower in some places. Neither one these teams has postseason prospects at this point, so this isn’t the easiest of handicaps. The Rays are making the trek to Oakland after a short stay in Colorado. The A’s remain home after playing the Astros. In that respect, there’s a bit of an edge to the Athletics.
Sonny Gray’s name is on the trading block, which I don’t get because you’re selling him at his lowest point. Gray has battled injuries this season and owns a 5.12 ERA with a 4.61 FIP and a 4.29 xFIP. His strikeout rate is down, his walk rate is up, and his sacrifices to the BABIP guys are no longer suffice. His strikeout rate was already a little bit precarious relative to the rest of his stats, so these are all bad things. I’m not sure how much value Gray carries to a team at this stage of the game, though there are always egomaniacal front offices and coaches that think that they can fix everybody. To be fair, Gray probably can be fixed, but in the midst of a pennant race? That’s a hard sell.
Regardless, Gray should have value here against a Rays team that rates very poorly against right-handed pitchers on the season. Tampa Bay is 24th in wOBA, aided solely by the surprising power that they have shown throughout the campaign. They are actually 28th in on-base percentage against RHP. The thing about power is that it’s hard to achieve at O.co Coliseum. If the Rays aren’t hitting homers against righties, they aren’t scoring.
Matt Moore draws an Oakland lineup that is aided mostly by Danny Valencia and Marcus Semien against left-handed pitching. The A’s have four guys above league average by wRC+ against lefties and that’s it. Add Khris Davis and his lofty SLG and Jake Smolinski’s small sample size success and it’s those four guys that have kept the A’s from being in Braves-level territory against LHP.
Moore hasn’t been very good, with a 4.33 ERA, a 4.59 FIP, and a 4.71 xFIP. Once again, here’s a guy whose biggest issue is the long ball pitching in a place where long balls are difficult to hit. I feel like there are a lot of different ways to attack this game. I feel like the A’s do have some value, given how poor the Rays are against RHP and their long road trip. The under also has value because this park should benefit both pitchers and neutralize the strengths of both offenses in this particular split.
Decide which idea you like best and roll with it for some late-night action.