We’ve mentioned it before, but Tuesdays are our favorite MLB handicapping days. It’s nice to know that there’s no day baseball to worry about, even if it does make the work day go by faster. Instead, we don’t have to rush our handicapping and can take our time by studying the matchups and looking for those edges that give us a good chance against the sportsbooks. August 23 should provide a lot of different options, with all 30 teams in action and a lot of manageable lines.
Looking back at yesterday’s results, it was a low-scoring affair between Houston and Pittsburgh, as we expected, so the under cashed there. Stephen Strasburg was placed on the DL to scratch out our Washington vs. Baltimore thoughts. Blake Snell struggled and the Rays lost as we took a shot on the dog. The Rockies were a tough-luck loser as Jimmy Nelson figured it out. From BangTheBook Radio, the under hit nicely on the Indians and the Cubs rolled as an enormous favorite, moving from -230 at show time to -270 or -280 by first pitch.
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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 (-120) at Pittsburgh; Total: 8.5
The oddsmakers are really telling us something here in this matchup. Joe Musgrove is making his fourth career start and he just gave up eight runs on 11 hits to Baltimore, but he’s road chalk with the Astros against Ivan Nova and the Pirates. Not only did the oddsmakers tell us something with the opening number, but overnight and early morning money is on the road team. These are the types of context clues that you want to look for when handicapping the full card. It’ll help you sort things out.
We almost don’t even have to break down the matchup to see which side is the “right side”. The Astros may not win, but it’s clear that the sharp players still hitting the MLB market like the AL team, down a hitter, in Pittsburgh, against a team that I do have some high hopes for going forward. When you get these types of situations, it feels cut and dry.
Ivan Nova hasn’t walked anybody yet in his 16.1 innings with the Pirates, but he’s lost his ability to induce ground balls. The Pirates have a good outfield defense, but their defensive philosophy is to get the opposition to hit balls into the shift. Nova was brought over because of his ground ball rate. He has a 4.41 ERA with a 3.27 FIP and a 3.53 xFIP in his three starts. It seems counterintuitive to me, knowing what I know about Houston, to take them against a guy that won’t issue free passes, but, again that’s the direction the market is trending.
Joe Musgrove’s return to reality would scare off some, but it hasn’t scared off the sharp players. This is the best matchup he’s had in his four starts, as his first three came against Texas, at Toronto, and at Baltimore. Maybe that’s part of the allure today. I’m not as convinced as those coming in on the game, so I won’t be playing it, but I certainly understand the thought process. If you want to follow along, go right ahead.
Kansas City (-110) at Miami; Total: 7.5
The narratives! The narratives have returned! Kansas City, a deeply-flawed team playing as well as anybody can, is now a playoff contender because they’ve won eight in a row. They’re 3.5 games out in the wild card with a collection of much better teams ahead of them. This is what two years of devil magic and pixie dust will do. What people aren’t realizing about this game is that the Marlins are not a slouch. This is a really good team. They’ve been one of the league’s bigger surprises in my mind this season.
Dating back to July 8, Yordano Ventura has not allowed more than three runs in a start. He owns a 3.12 ERA, but a 4.36 FIP and a 3.84 xFIP. His K rate has come back a little bit and his ground ball rate has been very impressive. I’m still skeptical. The K rate only recently came back with 16 K in his last 13.1 innings. Before that, he had 28 K in 38.1 innings. He’s thriving on a .241 BABIP and an 84 percent LOB%. The Royals are a good defensive team, but I don’t see Ventura carrying marks like that. His seven home runs allowed also keep his BABIP low. Miami is an okay pitcher’s park, so maybe he can sustain this for another start, but I don’t see long-term success for Ventura.
I didn’t expect miracles from Andrew Cashner, but I did believe that he would get better with Miami. San Diego was a tough environment with all the personnel changes and the uncertainty. Also, the Marlins are a vastly superior defensive ballclub. Yet, Cashner continues to pitch poorly. In his five appearances with Miami, he has a 13/10 K/BB ratio over 21.1 innings with a 5.48/4.69/5.29 pitcher slash. To be fair, he made one start in Colorado and it was so bad that it really skewed his numbers. He hasn’t been efficient and he hasn’t been all that good, but he has been a little bit better than the numbers indicate, although his control has been awful.
Tentatively, I’m looking at Miami here. Again, we like to play against extremes. The Royals winning eight straight is an extreme. Ventura’s recent pitching performance, given some of his signs of regression, is an extreme. Losing a hitter hurts a Royals offense that has been near the bottom of the AL in runs scored all season long. Give me the Marlins tonight.
Boston at Tampa Bay (-125); Total: 8
I’ve talked about the Rays as being a play-on team for me here during the rest of the season. It could be a sad, lonely hill to die on, but I feel like they’re plenty capable of playing spoiler. It didn’t happen on Monday, but they get another crack on Tuesday with ace Chris Archer on the hill against overpaid batting practice machine Clay Buchholz.
On the year, Buchholz owns a 5.42 ERA with a 5.41 FIP and a 5.47 xFIP in his 101.1 innings of work. His K/BB rates are embarrassing and his home run rate is equally ugly. He did work six good innings against Detroit last time out. Buchholz had some time in the bullpen to make adjustments and had several scoreless outings in that capacity. Maybe there’s some hope for him yet, but I need to see it over a sustained period of time before I buy in.
I’m not sure if Chris Archer is figuring things out or if his stats are naturally regressing. Archer has a 4.18 ERA with a 3.79 FIP and a 3.40 xFIP on the year. Five of his last six outings have met the definition of a “quality start”, so we’ll see if he can maintain that pace and that level for the duration of the season. This is obviously a tough matchup for him, but it’s tough for any pitcher. One thing I really like for Archer is that he has a 56/8 K/BB ratio since the All-Star Break. If he’s not walking people, he can be really effective.
This is a good spot for Archer I think. The Red Sox, as I talked about yesterday, have to be battling some fatigue and Archer is a tough at bat when that’s the case.
Texas (-115) at Cincinnati; Total: 9
Derek Holland returns to the Texas rotation for his first start since June 20 when the Rangers take on the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds will send Dan Straily to the hill. This is an interesting spot for both teams. The Rangers are in search of home field and an early clinch in the AL West. The Reds are in search of the end of the season and just gave up 18 runs yesterday afternoon to the Dodgers. Tyler Holt pitched a scoreless inning.
How invested are the Reds in these games? That’s the question we have to ask any time they aren’t playing a division rival. For the Rangers, there are a lot of questions here as well. How does Holland fare in his first start in over two months at the MLB level? Does the loss of the DH hurt a lineup that has been ravaged by injuries?
Holland only worked 10 innings over three rehab starts with some poor control. We know that extreme fly ball pitchers do not get favorable marks from the advanced stats calculations, so Straily has a 3.72 ERA with a 4.51 FIP and a 4.90 xFIP. Does some regression hit those numbers?
Really, the only way to look at this game would be the over. This is also the type of game that could affect Texas for the whole series. If they have to blow up the bullpen in an NL park with a starter on a pitch count, there could be some residual effects. Keep an eye on how this one plays out.
Cleveland (-150) at Oakland; Total: 7.5
The underdog is very live here in this one. The Indians are playing that dreaded second day after a long trip out west. Danny Salazar only lasted one inning in his return to the rotation and it seems pretty evident that the elbow is still an issue. He’ll have a bigger safety net at Oakland against this A’s lineup, but there are still a ton of worries about him. I’m not ready to back Salazar as chalk like this.
Sean Manaea is an uncomfortable at bat for teams that haven’t seen much of him. In Cleveland’s case, they haven’t seen him at all. Manaea has been pretty strong since his return from the DL on June 29. He’s also been significantly better at O.co Coliseum than he has been on the road.
Oakland is very much a live dog tonight. Manaea has allowed a .289/.340/.500 slash to righties on the season and the Indians can load up with eight righties, so maybe he does struggle, but I would expect Salazar to do the same. The Indians may have some tired bats, so I don’t want to dive in headfirst on the over, but it’s a decent look as well.
San Francisco at Los Angeles (NL) (-110); Total: 6.5
Depending on which sportsbook you prefer, either the Giants or the Dodgers are favored for this NL West showdown. The Dodgers emphatically ended their road trip with a huge win, which was surprising given the spot on Monday. Now, they head home and host the Giants in a battle for first place. It’s a great time for the Dodgers to catch the Giants. They just scored 51 runs in eight games on that road trip and the Giants haven’t scored runs since the Bush Administration. That’s a bit of hyperbole, but, seriously, San Francisco’s offense has been terrible.
The Giants will turn to ace Madison Bumgarner in this one. Bumgarner has been outstanding with a 2.25 ERA, a 3.20 FIP, and a 3.54 xFIP. He’s improved his strikeout rate once again this season and he just keeps getting better. He’s a really special pitcher and a guy that the Giants can really rely on. That being said, there should be some concerns about his .260 BABIP and 82.6 percent strand rate. He posted a .251 BABIP against in 2013, but his career mark is .286. His career strand rate is above average at 76.7 percent, but it’s not 82.6 percent. There could be a little bit of regression in there.
For Kenta Maeda, his rookie season has been quite solid. He has a 3.29 ERA with a 3.67 FIP and a 3.79 xFIP. He’s struck out over a batter per inning on the year in his 136.2 innings of work. But, Maeda has allowed seven dingers in just 33 innings here in the second half. He had a bunch of injury concerns when the Dodgers signed him, so that always has to be in the back of your mind. I don’t see any red flags, aside from the command problem. It’s also worth pointing out that Maeda gave up two home runs in each of his last two starts against the Phillies, so maybe it was just one of those anomalies.
As far as I’m concerned, the Dodgers have to be the way you look here. We’re getting some value on the team currently playing better because of Madison Bumgarner’s presence.