Happy 4th of July weekend to everybody out there. Hopefully y’all stay safe and smart this weekend. There should be a lot of fireworks on the diamond this weekend as well with some interesting series, including some that could see a lot of runs scored. A quick programming note here before I get into my picks and analysis for Friday’s card. This article may temporarily go on hiatus for a few weeks in July because I will be writing some MLB game previews. You can get my thoughts and analysis in those, so this article would be a little bit superfluous. Just a minor heads up. I will continue this throughout the weekend, but it’s possible that starting Monday, my game previews will serve as my picks and analysis.

With that, let’s dive into the Friday card and see what is on tap for July 3.

Tampa Bay at New York (AL) (-110); Total: 7

I actually wrote up this game already, so check out my preview.

Cleveland at Pittsburgh (-135); Total: 7.5

All of the sudden, this has become a huge series for both teams. The Indians, by virtue of their four-game sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays, got back four games in the American League Central race. The Royals are struggling and the Indians are looking to maintain their momentum with a visit to Pittsburgh.

The Pirates are 26-11 since May 22 and have won five of their last six, including a road sweep over the Detroit Tigers to improve to 45-33. The Pirates are 8-4 in interleague play on the season, so they have been able to take advantage against the Junior Circuit. Charlie Morton takes the ball in this one against Trevor Bauer.

Looking at Bauer, he has been the weak link of the Indians rotation lately. He’s still missing bats, but command has been a bit of an issue. He threw seven spectacular shutout innings two starts ago against the Cubs, but has allowed 17 runs in his other three starts. He’s fighting with himself mechanically again and just can’t seem to get it all together. The home run issue he occasionally has should not be a problem in this game at PNC Park and the Pirates haven’t seen much of him.

Charlie Morton is a guy that benefits greatly from Pittsburgh’s shifting ideology on defense. He’s an extreme ground ball guy and the lefty-heavy Indians lineup should be a good match because of all of the pulled ground balls that they will hit. We rarely see the Indians go with an opposite field approach, which they will need to do in this game to have success. Morton’s 4.28 ERA and 3.58 xFIP suggest some positive regression, but that’s all dependent on batted ball luck and not allowing home runs.

The Indians are probably the value side in this game, but I don’t think I’d be willing to go with it. There are too many unknowns about Bauer and Morton is a good matchup against the Indians because he doesn’t walk people and forces lefties to hit into the shift.

Toronto at Detroit (-120); Total: 8.5

Overnight money has come in on the road team in this one as the Blue Jays are getting some love against the struggling Detroit Tigers. The Tigers have fallen to .500 on the season. Toronto was blown out by Boston to lose three out of four in that series, but they could get right back on track against Anibal Sanchez. Drew Hutchison goes for the Blue Jays.

We’ll start with Sanchez, because it’s a bit surprising that the market is coming in against him. Normally the betting market will side with pitching that have an ERA/xFIP discrepancy like Sanchez’s. His 4.63 ERA is a byproduct of the highest home run rate of his career, which is why he has a 3.64 xFIP, which is similar to last season’s number. After allowing just two home runs in a four-start span, Sanchez has allowed five home runs over his last two starts. Command issues are not a good thing against the Blue Jays, which is why the market is taking the road team.

Like Sanchez, Drew Hutchison is due for positive regression, but it’s clearer to see. Hutch has a 4.99 ERA with a 3.77 FIP and a 3.78 xFIP. Bad luck with runners on base has been the key cause, with a 68.1 percent LOB% and a .336 BABIP against. League average for LOB% is usually around 72 percent. Hutchison is a complete unknown from start to start. Last year, lefties crushed him. This season, righties have a .321/.379/.506 slash against him and most of the damage in the Tigers lineup is done by righties. He also has allowed a .350/.414/.588 slash on the road in 37.1 innings, so you know that the overnight move is a sharp one on the Blue Jays. It’s up to you if you want to follow it.

Milwaukee (-115) at Cincinnati; Total: 8.5

There isn’t a whole lot of love for Michael Lorenzen in the betting market, as this game moved from a money line pick ‘em to the Brewers as a clear road favorite. These two pitchers are extremely different. Mike Fiers has a 4.14 ERA with a 3.68 FIP and 3.80 xFIP, while Lorenzen’s first 61.1 innings have been unpredictable. His 3.38 ERA is accompanied by an ugly 5.64 FIP and 4.94 xFIP. His 85.7 percent LOB% is due for regression and his home run rate shows his unpolished command. Lorenzen only made three starts at Triple-A before getting the call.

Fiers is sort of a mystery. He barely throws 90 on a good day and works up in the zone, but he makes it all work. He has run into some command troubles with a .347 BABIP against an increased home run rate. Great American Ball Park can be a good yard for hitters, hence the 8.5 total.

Lefties have crushed Lorenzen with a .307/.413/.557 slash. Righties are hitting a more manageable .206/.302/.371 on the season. The Brewers have a lot of right-handed bats, so perhaps this is a decent matchup for Lorenzen. Both pitchers have some blowup potential, less so for Fiers, but the early line move was on the Brewers, so that’s the sharp side.

Houston at Boston (-125); Total: 9

Dan Straily steam, or, more accurately, anti-Justin Masterson steam, has come in for this game between Houston and Boston. Straily will be making his first start of the season with the Astros, while Masterson gets his second start since getting recalled. Masterson threw five innings with an unearned run allowed against Tampa Bay last time out. Straily had a strong K/BB with Houston’s Triple-A team, but a .350 BABIP against yielded a 4.06 ERA.

Straily is a greater unknown than Masterson in this start. When it comes to Masterson, his sinker will be on and he’ll pitch decently or his sinker and slider will be flat and Houston will put up a big number. There probably isn’t a whole lot of in between. The Astros do swing and miss a lot of use walks quite extensively in their run scoring. Another element to this game for Houston is that Masterson does not hold runners well.

Straily is a guy that I always thought had a lot of upside, but he has never lived up to it. His velocity dropped last season and he became even more hittable. The Astros targeted him for a reason, however, and they are one of the most statistically-inclined teams in baseball. The Red Sox should be a better offense than they are, and they’re showing signs of coming out of it.

I understand the Masterson fade, but I don’t necessarily agree with it. This game is a pass for me.

New York (NL) at Los Angeles (NL); Total: 5.5

I wrote about this game yesterday, so you can read that preview here. This is the 23rd regular season game with a total of 5.5 or less since 2004. The under is 12-10 in those games.

Other Games

Miami at Chicago (NL)

San Francisco at Washington

Philadelphia at Atlanta

Los Angeles (AL) at Texas

Baltimore at Chicago (AL)

Minnesota at Kansas City

San Diego at St. Louis

Seattle at Oakland

Colorado at Arizona