Thursdays in Major League Baseball are nice for handicappers because there are fewer games to break down and it almost feels like a little bit of a break. Today, there are 10 games on the docket, with three of them starting this afternoon as getaway day matchups. There are only a couple of really big lines out there, though one of the big underdogs is a juicy situational play. Let’s see what the June 16 slate holds.
Peeking back to yesterday, it was a decent day overall. Stronger plays on the Padres and Nationals were winners, with a strong lean to the Royals with the situational angles at play. The Cardinals and Mariners were losers, so we were on the right side of the break-even mark and that’s all you can ask for on a daily basis.
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.
Seattle at Tampa Bay (-110); Total: 7.5
I like to try and bring readers up to speed on new pitchers. Blake Snell is an interesting one. Snell made his MLB debut back on April 23 and then went back to Triple-A Durham. It looks like he could be here to stay now. Snell is one of the top pitching prospects in the minors. He flashed some of that potential with six strikeouts over five innings against the Yankees in his debut with just one run allowed on two hits. In Durham, Snell had 90 strikeouts in 63 innings.
He has a strong four-pitch mix with a fastball that sits 94-95 and some plus secondaries. His changeup is a pitch that should baffle hitters and his fastball moves around the zone with good life. He’s definitely a guy to watch closely. I don’t have a pick on this game, as James Paxton’s insane velocity bump has turned him into a bona fide starter after some years toiling in the minors as a highly-touted prospect with injury concerns. If you get a chance to catch a couple early innings in this one, you should be impressed.
Off the late game last night in extra innings, with two unfamiliar lefties on the mound, the under makes all the sense in the world.
Texas (-115) at Oakland; Total: 8.5
I missed Daniel Mengden’s debut in this article last week, so I’ll chat about him now. Mengden was the piece that the A’s acquired in the Luke Gregerson deal with Houston last season. He’s shot his way up the Oakland system, going from Double-A to Triple-A this season before getting the call. Both Kiley McDaniel and Dan Farnsworth of Fangraphs slapped a 40-45 grade on his future value, so he was basically viewed as a back-end of the rotation/swingman type.
Mengden shouldn’t hurt himself with walks, so that’s why his stuff can play as a starter. He had some decent strikeout rates in the minors, but it doesn’t seem like many evaluators expect him to be anything more than average in that category at the big league level. At 23, there’s room to grow, and he’s an athletic guy, so the hope is that he can be an innings eater, maybe like a poor man’s Jordan Zimmermann.
No thoughts on this game, but I like to introduce these young arms.
Toronto (-130) at Philadelphia; Total: 8
Remember when I told you that Philadelphia was due for some regression? The Phillies are 6-19 with a -47 run differential over their last 25 games. The market was all over this, as the Phillies almost became an auto-fade on a regular basis. The one constant has been Aaron Nola. Nola has a 2.98 ERA with a 2.76 FIP and a 2.75 xFIP. He ran into a little bit of regression last time out, but that’s good, because it’s out of the way. Nola has given up three runs or less in nine of his 13 starts. He’s struck out over a batter per inning with great control and improving command.
I’m a big Nola fan. I’m a big fan of what the Phillies are building in general. They’re a hard bet to make right now, though. The Blue Jays are sending JA Happ to the bump tonight as he looks to avoid another visit from the Regression Monster. Happ has given up 10 runs on 14 hits over his last 12 innings with five home runs allowed. His 3.70 ERA is still below his 4.72 FIP and 4.52 xFIP. His 79.6 percent strand rate is too high for his 5.77 K/9 and his .257 BABIP is too low for a guy with a 45 percent ground ball rate.
I’m not sure which way to go with this game. The Phillies have a huge starting pitching edge in my mind, but they may not be the ideal offense to deal a blow to Happ. The Phillies are 29th in wOBA at .265 and a distant 29th in wRC+ at 62. Outside of the Braves, nobody else is below 82.
So, unfortunately, as much as I love Nola and dislike Happ, I can’t pull the trigger here.
Pittsburgh at New York (NL) (-130); Total: 7.5
Juan Nicasio goes up against Bartolo Colon in this matchup. Nicasio was called upon in relief last time out and it didn’t go well. It was his only relief appearance of the season and he gave up six runs on four hits in one inning. That was an ERA killer, as it took his ERA from 4.50 to 5.34. Nicasio has been really interesting this season. He’s struck out over a batter per inning, but his poor command and a lot of sequencing mishaps have pushed his ERA up and his peripherals dislike his home run rate.
The reason why is because lefties are straight up mauling Nicasio. In 126 PA against LHB, opposing hitters are batting .316/.384/.593 with a .411 wOBA. That’s not a great sign against the Mets. New York is about league average against righties, which is an upgrade to their performance against southpaws, but guys like Michael Conforto, Lucas Duda, and Curtis Granderson are all well above league average against righties. Nicasio may have a hard time getting through those guys.
Bartolo Colon is doing his usual Bartolo Colon thing. With a below average strikeout rate but plus control, he’s missing barrels and preventing runs. The switch will probably flip in the second half, as the 43-year-old starts wearing down, but he’s been useful yet again this season. He has a 3.08 ERA with a 3.64 FIP and a 4.12 xFIP. The last two years, he’s finished with ERAs higher than his FIP and xFIP, which is probably what will happen in the second half. For now, however, Colon remains effective.
The Pirates have been one of the best teams in baseball at hitting fastballs. If you combine the four fastball classifications from PITCHf/x, which are FA (four-seam fastball), FT (two-seam fastball), FC (cutter), FS (splitter), the Pirates are 40.8 weighted runs above average. If you include sinkers, the Pirates are the best offensive team in baseball against hard pitches. Colon, as we know, throws his fastball extensively.
I’m looking for some runs here in this one. I think the over could definitely be in play.
Detroit (-115) at Kansas City; Total: 7.5
Let me get this out of the way because I know you’re going to see it and somebody is going to justify it as the reason to take the Tigers. Justin Verlander is 20-8 with a 3.21 ERA in 38 starts covering 258 innings against the Kansas City Royals in his career. What touts aren’t going to tell you is that Verlander was 9-2 with a 2.32 ERA from 2006-09 against the Royals. That means he’s 11-6 with a 3.68 ERA since. And, he’s 5-6 with a 3.91 ERA in the last three seasons. Don’t let the numbers fool you. Current Royals are batting .286/.311/.439 in 296 plate appearances.
The Tigers may win, but it will have absolutely nothing to do with Verlander’s career numbers against the Royals that date back 10 seasons. I’m actually a big fan of Justin Verlander, even as an Indians fan. The guy has always gone about his business in a professional way and anybody that can pull Kate Upton deserves respect. As far as this season goes, I like what I’m seeing. His strikeout rate is back up near his 2011 rate and pitch mixing has been really strong. He can’t overpower hitters and induce as much weak contact as he used to, but there’s a lot to like.
Danny Duffy has been really good lately. In 31 innings are a starter, Duffy now has 38 K and has held opposing batters to a .219/.275/.393 slash. Duffy is a guy that has had some issues from the stretch with a .284/.329/.465 slash with men on base. He has a .193/.254/.330 with a 6/1 K/BB ratio with the bases empty. Will that have an impact on tonight’s game? It certainly could. The Tigers have been inexplicably mediocre against lefties with their right-handed-heavy lineup. They are 10th in wOBA, but they haven’t hit for as much power as you would expect. We’ll see if that changes tonight.
I do like what I’m seeing from Verlander and think that it’s more sustainable than what Duffy has done, so I’d lean Tigers, but it’s not a very strong look.
Washington (-165) at San Diego; Total: 8
Sometimes you have to bet on ugly dogs. The San Diego Padres are an ugly dog, but they’re deserving of your money tonight. I don’t like playing really big underdogs because it’s hard for them to win, but baseball is probably the sport to do it in. In this situation, you have the Nationals coming off of a big win against the Chicago Cubs with a 4:05 p.m. ET start time that went 12 innings, so the Nationals didn’t get to leave much earlier than they would have with a traditional night game. They flew all the way out to the west coast for the first time this season.
It’s also a bit of a letdown to have to go play the Padres. This is the start of a four-game series at Petco and a 10-game road trip. I’d be very surprised to see the Nationals carry over their momentum from yesterday’s big win. Tanner Roark is a bit of a regression candidate as well, with a 2.93 ERA, a 3.39 FIP, and a 3.66 xFIP. The Padres probably aren’t the team to deal that regression, since they have been at the bottom of the league against righties most of the year, but those signs are there.
Erik Johnson’s first NL start came at Coors Field, so you can throw that one out. He’s been an up-and-down guy in the White Sox minor league system and never really had the chance to stick in the rotation. There’s nothing that jumps off the page about him in any way, but he should be elevated a little bit by pitching in the National League.
This is strictly a situational play on a big number. The Nationals may be a good fade on Friday, since the second day can be the toughest with this long trip, but I’m content with taking a stab on a big home dog here.