It’s a very light day in Major League Baseball, which is a pretty good thing because it gives us a chance to pause and slow down a little bit. The MLB season is a marathon, not a sprint. A lot of people stop the race once football starts in late August, but it takes a lot of discipline and a lot of willpower to get through the MLB calendar. A day like today might be a good day to take a step back and not play anything. Or, it could be a good day to limit to one of two plays. Whatever the case, we’re still hard at work, whether there are 15 games of eight games.

Peeking back to yesterday, it was a pretty decent day. The Diamondbacks squandered a lead in the middle innings and a ton of runs were scored between the Cubs and Cardinals, but the Phillies scored a nice underdog win for us in the early part of the day. The Brewers and the Blue Jays were both triumphant. We were on the right side of even and that’s always a good day on the bases.

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.

 

Toronto (-110) at New York (AL); Total: 8.5

This is a little bit of an odd start time for a quasi-getaway day game. The Jays head home to host Boston and the Yankees head south to battle the Rays. Before they can head to the tarmac, they have to play each other in a battle of southpaws. It’ll be JA Happ for the Blue Jays and CC Sabathia for the Yankees. Happ is still showing some signs of regression with a 3.43 ERA, 4.20 FIP, 4.48 xFIP and a 4.60 SIERA. That SIERA mark really stands out in a big way. It has a lot to do with his extremely low strikeout rate and his above average line drive rate.

Happ was actually due for a large amount of regression, but the Rays blasted him for eight runs two starts ago, so some of it hit in a resounding fashion. He gave up three earned over 7.1 against the lowly Twins last time out. This isn’t a bad matchup for Happ, despite the ballpark. The Yankees are 25th in wOBA against LHP on the season at just .290. They’re not hitting for any power.

On the other side, you’ve got CC Sabathia, making his second start since a DL stint for a groin injury. The hefty lefty looked really good against the Oakland A’s with eight punchouts over six innings. We can assume that Sabathia’s 2.9 percent HR/FB% is not sustainable, but his command has improved over his six starts this season. His walk rate is up a little bit, though, and I feel like this is a bad spot for him.

The Blue Jays haven’t been able to replicate last year’s historic first-half pace against lefties, but they are above league average in that split. With Sabathia showing some signs of regression, including a 4.40 SIERA, the highest of his career since 2004, I’d be inclined to look at Toronto in this one. The Yankees are nearly unbeatable when they take a lead into the late innings, but I’m not sure that will happen here.

 

St. Louis at Washington (-125); Total: 8

Some Nationals money is hitting the market for this one between St. Louis and Washington. It’s not really a big surprise, as the Cardinals are coming off of a series loss against the Cubs, which never sits well. The Cardinals bullpen had a lot of work to do in that series as well. There’s also not a whole lot of market confidence in Mike Leake. The Cardinals overpaid him because they needed innings. He’s posted a 4.07/4.41/4.16 pitcher slash with a .256 BABIP against and a high ground ball rate. These are a concerning set of numbers.

He is what he is and what he always has been, but the ERA and peripherals north of 4.00 is more of what he is than the 3.70 ERAs he posted the last two seasons. His swinging strike rate is down to 5.5 percent, so things are trending in the wrong direction for him. He has been really good over his last three starts with two earned on 15 hits over 21 innings. Over his last five starts, Leake has a BABIP against of .188 with 16 K over 33 IP. There’s regression coming here. These are not favorable numbers.

Joe Ross’s numbers don’t look as good over his last few starts as they did earlier in the season, but he’s starting to get more swings and misses. Ross is a regression candidate himself, with a 2.70/3.43/4.04 pitcher slash, but keep in mind that Ross isn’t going to post a league average HR/FB% of 12 percent. His 4.21 SIERA is rather interesting, a sign that he’s hit the barrel a few too many times, which is going to happen when you predominantly throw two pitches.

Like Tanner Roark and Stephen Strasburg, the changeup has become more of a focal point for Ross. Unlike Roark and Strasburg, it hasn’t been a great pitch. Hitters are batting .325 against his fastball and .316 against his changeup. They’re batting .139 with 29 strikeouts against his slider. It’s all about fastball command for Ross and it hasn’t been there yet this season.

Some initial money came in on the Nationals, which I definitely understand. I like both of these lineups here and would expect to see some runs in this game. Leake is not a guy that I like very much and Ross doesn’t have a deep arsenal. Remember that the Cardinals are a top offense against right-handed pitching and they just did a number on a really good righty in Jake Arrieta. I’d expect them to swing the bats well here.

 

Milwaukee at Atlanta (-125); Total: 7.5

Listeners of BangTheBook Radio or our old podcast format know that I like to say “Every line tells a story.” Well, this line most certainly does. The Braves actually opened -130 at some shops and you won’t find them priced that high against this season, I don’t think. There is absolutely no confidence in Wily Peralta and Matt Wisler has thrown the ball quite well.

Peralta is one of the worst pitchers in baseball since the start of last season. There’s no command. There’s no control. There’s not much of anything. This season, he has a 6.99 ERA with a 5.49 FIP and a 4.80 xFIP. I don’t think he’s that bad, but a 5.00 ERA seems like a very real possibility for however long he’s in this rotation. Contact is up across the board and the quality of it is up as well. It’s very hard to make the Braves a -130 favorite, but this is probably the guy to do it with.

As for Wisler, he’s a regression candidate with a 2.93/3.72/4.73 slash, but, again, he’s not going to post a 12 percent HR/FB% with the large amount of fly balls he induces. His 4.44 SIERA is probably a little bit misleading as well. Wisler has a .230 BABIP against, but it seems plausible because of that high fly ball rate. Remember that more ground balls go for hits than fly balls, but fly balls can also create a lot more damage.

There are some reasons to be concerned, though. He was never this low of a BABIP guy in the minor leagues and it’s not like Atlanta’s outfield defense is elite. It’s good, but it’s not extraordinary. Over his last four starts, he’s been superb, with six earned over 30 innings of work and a 20/6 K/BB ratio. Is he a guy coming into his own or are these going to be outliers?

Initially, I wanted to fire on Wisler. There’s no way that oddsmakers make the Braves that big of a favorite without a damn good reason. They’re hoping to entice Milwaukee money because the Braves should never be -130 over anybody. It’s gotten a few people to bite. Maybe they get burned. If you believe in the Braves and believe in the context of this line, wait and hit the Braves when they get bet down to -115.

 

Baltimore at Houston (-115); Total: 8

Kevin Gausman has looked really good so far this season. He has a 2.70 ERA with a 3.34 FIP and a 3.85 SIERA. Gausman’s strikeout rate is at 20 percent with a 15.4 percent IFFB%, so that’s a lot of easy outs and those are beneficial for every pitcher. He posted a high pop up rate last season, albeit not this high, so it may be a sustainable thing. If so, that’s a godsend for a pitcher. Pop ups are great. He’s also shown extremely good control with just eight walks in 150 plate appearances.

Guys like this aren’t a great matchup for the Houston Astros. They generate offense with walks and bombs. Gausman, so far, has cut his home run rate almost in half and he hasn’t walked many guys. Theoretically, based on his swinging strike rate, he could have an even higher K%. I’m a bit skeptical of the home run rate and its sustainability, since he did have some command problems earlier in his career and in the minors, but this will be a good test.

Lance McCullers struggled in his first start, as you would expect, but he looked more like himself last time out against Texas with seven strikeouts and three walks over six innings of work. He’s still working on his arm strength and fastball velocity, but one really interesting thing is that 48 percent of his pitches through two starts have been knuckle curves.

The Astros are a very analytical organization. It’s unlikely that they would ask a pitcher to put his arm at risk with such heavy KC usage, but, that pitch was vastly more effective than his fastball last season. McCullers had problems with fastball control, as hitters posted a 35/32 K/BB rate on fastballs. He had a 60/3 K/BB rate with the knuckle curve and hitters hit 124 points lower with an OPS that was 411 points lower.

The Orioles have destroyed fastballs this season, but they’ve had some issues with breaking balls and offspeed stuff. McCullers’s usage could be very important to watch in this outing. My lean in this one would be to Houston, under the rationale that McCullers will have a lot of success with the knuckle curve and that the Orioles could have to endure some Gausman HR/FB% regression.