A dozen teams are enjoying one of the rare days off in the month of August, so there are nine games to consider here on August 22. One of them is a getaway day matchup between the Dodgers and Reds, so our focus will be on the eight games that begin at 7:05 p.m. or later. It should be an interesting day on the diamond, with some really good pitching matchups to set the tone and then some wild cards in the late games. Let’s break ‘em down and see what we can find.
It was not a good day for us yesterday. Sundays have been tougher handicaps of late and that was definitely the case. The Cardinals rolled and Mike Leake did experience some LOB% regression, but the rest of the day was a disaster. The Orioles and Yankees lost and there were only two runs in the Sunday nighter, as Noah Syndergaard quelled some fears, while new ones arose about Steven Matz.
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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.
Houston at Pittsburgh (-150); Total: 8
These are two teams that I expected a lot from in the second half. Both of them have shown flashes, but sustained success has evaded both teams this season. This is a big series that opens up on Monday night with Doug Fister against Jameson Taillon. Fister is what he is and everybody knows about it. He’s got ugly advanced metrics and subpar peripherals, but he gets outs and strands runners. It’s hard to see the .278 BABIP and the 77.7 percent LOB% staying sustainable, but he’s induced a lot of weak contact throughout his career and has had above average LOB% on several occasions.
Fister has allowed 16 runs over his last five starts, and that includes six excellent innings against Toronto on August 1. He does face one less hitter here with a National League ballpark, so that could be really beneficial to a guy like him. Righties are only batting .207/.275/.296 against Fister, so keep that in mind from a spot play perspective, because lefties are hitting .292/.355/.513 with 14 of the 18 home runs that he has allowed. Over 73 percent of Pittsburgh’s plate appearances have been by right-handed hitters. That’s not a great ratio, so maybe this is a lineup that Fister can succeed against.
Jameson Taillon hasn’t had the strikeout success that he had in the minors, but he’s not walking people and he’s never been a guy to allow a lot of home runs. With a low walk rate and a good HR rate, Taillon has been worth 1.3 fWAR in just 11 starts and the advanced stats like him a lot. He’s also an extreme ground ball guy, with a ground ball rate of nearly 54 percent. I understand the line value move on Houston, but I do really like Taillon against this lineup. Houston’s at its best when it can draw walks and hit dingers. Taillon neutralizes those strengths.
I’m looking at a low-scoring game here. If you want to take the bullpens out of it and roll with a first five innings play, I certainly understand that. There’s a lot to like with these two starters against these respective lineups.
Washington (-120) at Baltimore; Total: 9
This is a very interesting line move. Was the opening number influenced by Stephen Strasburg’s horrendous last start at Coors Field? Are the markets overvaluing Dylan Bundy? It’s been a steady stream of Strasburg money to drive this number from -105 to -120 at several shops.
Let’s dig deeper. Strasburg now owns a 3.59 ERA with a 2.98 FIP and a 3.25 xFIP after giving up nine runs in 1.1 innings of work in Colorado. That’s the type of start that wipes out any possible regression. It drags down a pitcher’s BABIP, LOB%, and ERA, so now we look at Strasburg as a guy that could string together some really good outings. I am a little bit concerned that Strasburg’s average fastball velocities have been down a little bit since the All-Star Break, though he may just be pacing himself for the stretch run and the postseason. I’ll still be watching it. Over his last three starts, Strasburg has allowed 19 runs in 11.2 innings of work, including a start against Atlanta.
Mechanical issues pop up throughout the season all the time and pitchers lose their arm angle, arm slot, timing, or something else goes wrong. For Strasburg, I simply see this as a bump in the road. The question that needs to be answered is how long this bump will last. It could also be simple variance. In that span, he has 18 K against six BB. Is this simply BABIP regression? It very well could be. But, I have a hard time backing Strasburg right now, given his injury history and earlier dominance.
That being said, are we ready to buy Dylan Bundy stock? Bundy has been pretty dynamic as a starter, with a 25.5 percent K%. He has given up some homers, hence the 4.80 FIP, but he has a 3.89 xFIP. His HR/FB% should regress, but his .228 BABIP should see some regression as well. It’s tough to tell what to expect from Bundy on a regular basis because he’s still learning how to pitch and how to navigate lineups for the second and third time. The Nationals get a chance to add a hitter in this series, which is big because they’ve been shuffling the lineup to get Trea Turner and everybody else in there.
This is an interesting series. Even though these two teams are in separate leagues, there’s a rivalry here, with a battle over some of the same territory and some bad blood between the two ownership groups regarding TV rights. I’m avoiding this particular game, but I’m invested in the outcome anyway.
Boston (-150) at Tampa Bay; Total: 7.5
There’s not a whole lot of support out there today for Blake Snell. Money is pouring in on the Red Sox, due in large part to David Price’s ERA to xFIP discrepancy. As far as I’m concerned, the market is just adding value to the side that I like more. The Rays are a play-on team for me going forward. I discussed this on BangTheBook Radio last week and I firmly believe that Tampa Bay is in a great spot.
There are going to be a lot of pressure-packed games in the AL East moving forward. All three teams atop the division are jockeying for position and the right to avoid that one-and-done Wild Card Game. Tampa Bay is playing without pressure. This isn’t the situation that they want to be in, but the Rays can still impact things in a big way and that gives the players some incentive to keep coming back to the ballpark.
The Red Sox are in the midst of a brutal stretch. In the span of a week, the Red Sox have played in Cleveland, Baltimore, and Detroit, a series bookended by day games. Boston last had a day off on August 8 and won’t have another one until September 1. There are some young guys in pennant races for the first time and some older guys that need their playing time closely monitored. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Boston a little bit hungover tonight with a trip to the Trop.
The Rays have been dropping like a rock in wOBA against left-handed pitching, so that’s worrisome here against a very good one in David Price. Price hasn’t had the same great command that we’re used to seeing. Of course, he’s very familiar with this venue, so maybe that helps him a bit, but every time it seems like Price is putting it together, he goes out and struggles.
Blake Snell is a fun wild card for me. The walk rate is not good, but the strikeout rate is and the command has been really impressive from the youngster. I think he gets excited about a challenge like this and the rest of the team feeds off of that enthusiasm. He struggled a bit with Boston the first time he faced them, but he’s got great raw stuff and the opportunity to be something really special.
I’m taking a flyer on the Rays tonight. Let the market keep pushing the price up. I don’t like this spot for Boston, playing in yet another new city on this road trip, and I’m not ready to buy Price as a heavy favorite on the road yet.
Colorado (-115) at Milwaukee; Total: 9
If you’ve been fading Jimmy Nelson, as I suggested several weeks ago, you’re doing quite well right about now. The market seems content to keep betting against the Brewers right-hander, as Chad Bettis and the Rockies have become road chalk at Miller Park. The Rockies are a pretty interesting team right now and one that I’m willing to play on as we move forward here. Is tonight one of those spots?
I actually like Chad Bettis. I think the Rockies are right to look for ground ball guys that can have some measure of success at Coors Field. I’d like Bettis more if he had sustained last year’s strikeout gains, but he’s cut back on his walks, so that’s a reasonable trade-off when it comes to Coors Field. Free baserunners are a very bad thing in those conditions. Bettis has worked 141.1 innings at the MLB level this season, which is easily a career high. He spent most of 2013 and 2014 hurt, so there are some workload concerns as we go forward here, although he worked over 150 innings last season over three levels.
Jimmy Nelson has been brutal over his last six starts. The Brewers defense hasn’t been much help, but he’s given up 34 runs on 39 hits in 28 innings of work with a 29/17 K/BB ratio. He has a .372 BABIP against, nine unearned runs allowed, and an 8.04/6.90/4.97 pitcher slash. These are all numbers that don’t surprise me at all. I’ve told you that regression was coming and it most definitely has.
I talk a lot about playing against extremes. Playing on Nelson here would be playing against an extreme. That being said, this is so extremely bad, that you need to see some adjustments before you take that plunge. The Rockies are playing well since the All-Star Break and I think there’s some excitement and optimism there with Jeff Hoffman’s call-up, Jon Gray’s breakout year, and David Dahl raking at the big league level. It’s been a while since there have been good feelings with the Rockies. I like that long-term and it makes them a decent play tonight as well.
Tune in to today’s BangTheBook Radio for thoughts on Atlanta vs. Arizona, Cleveland vs. Oakland, New York Yankees vs. Seattle, and Chicago Cubs vs. San Diego.