It’s Dress Rehearsal Week for the NFL preseason and the college football season starts tonight with Cal and Hawaii. There’s a lot going on and it can be easy to forget about baseball and all of the opportunities that are available to you over the next six weeks. For those that are just getting back into the betting scene with football, you’re probably going to play baseball during the week for something to do. Be mindful of your bankroll because you’re way behind the curve with these teams. Hopefully, this picks and analysis piece will get you in the loop and help you make informed wagers.
Let’s see how things went on Thursday. I told you about how bad the line was for Detroit and Minnesota. Well, it closed as high as -150 at some shops and the Tigers won easily. Hopefully you got in on that one. Of course Kansas City won. The Rangers hammered the Indians, so chalk players, -1, and -1.5 players were all rewarded, as well as the Texas team total over bettors. The Dodgers were nearly no-hit by Matt Moore, so they were a loser.
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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.
Baltimore at New York (AL) (-110); Total: 9.5
Luis Cessa is making his second career Major League start. He has a 4.01 ERA with a 5.58 FIP and a 4.85 xFIP. He’s favored over Baltimore because Yovani Gallardo is pitching. This is a watershed series for the Yankees. They need to play well here at home in order to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. Giving up games to division rivals is never a good thing, but especially not at this time of the year.
Prior to the season, Dan Farnsworth at Fangraphs labeled Cessa as the team’s 28th-ranked prospect. It’s not a big surprise that his minor league strikeout rates haven’t translated to the big leagues because his pitch-to-contact arsenal is going to be tougher to have success with against better hitters. Cessa threw six shutout at Anaheim last time out, but I’d be really careful here. Yankee Stadium is a different animal and he has allowed five home runs in 19.2 relief innings.
I want to fire on the Orioles at this price, but Yovani Gallardo is awful. With Chris Tillman out, the Orioles have one of the three worst rotations in the American League in my opinion. Gallardo is a big reason why. All of his run metrics are above five and his K/BB ratio is abhorrent. The Yankees have gotten a big bump from Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge, the influx of some young power, and that’s a good thing for them psychologically after a tough Trade Deadline. Gallardo is a good matchup for just about anybody at this point.
The only way I see to play this is to look for one of those traditional Yankee Stadium slugfests. Maybe take two solid bullpens out of the equation and look for runs in the first five innings.
Cleveland (-135) at Texas; Total: 9
It’s hard to find many guys pitching better than Corey Kluber right now. The Indians are laying a sizable price in Texas, something we haven’t seen from road teams in Arlington throughout the season. As far as I’m concerned, the line is pretty accurate. Since June 21, a span of 11 starts covering 76 innings, Kluber has a 2.13 ERA with a 3.23 FIP, and a 3.53 xFIP. He’s given up three runs or less in 10 of those 11 starts and has a strikeout per inning. The Indians need Kluber to give them a start like what Cole Hamels gave the Rangers last night. The hard contact from Kluber’s sinker worries me a little bit on this fast infield, but he’s in a great groove right now and he is a past Cy Young winner capable of runs like this.
He should get some run support tonight. The Rangers are sending Martin Perez out for his 27th start here in this one. Perez has worked 158 innings this year, which is a career high at the big league level. He has a 4.27 ERA with a 4.61 FIP and a 4.80 xFIP. Because he misses virtually no bats, the margin for error is very small for Perez. He’s BABIP-reliant in that he needs grounders hit at his fielders or it will be a bad night.
The Indians need to rally. Perez is the perfect guy to do it against. I wouldn’t be shocked if they return the favor tonight with a lopsided win.
That being said, tune in to today’s BangTheBook Radio for some thoughts on the Indians that may surprise you.
Seattle at Chicago (AL) (-120); Total: 7.5
Two years ago, this would be a premier pitching matchup and must-see TV. In the present, it’s just another game for me. Felix Hernandez and the Mariners take on Chris Sale and the White Sox. King Felix has a solid 3.26 ERA, but the underlying stats are not nearly as pretty with a 4.32 FIP and a 4.24 xFIP.
I’ll say this about Felix. The strikeouts are down and the walks are up, but his ability to induce weak contact is really impressive. His margin for error isn’t what it once was with the declining velocity, but his assortment of breaking stuff makes him tough to center on and that’s why he’s been able to ignore the walks and the home run rate. Felix missed nearly two months with a calf injury. I usually give pitchers three starts to get it together after a long DL stint. He’s made six starts since coming back and has allowed five runs in 21.2 innings with 24 K in his last three outings. Perhaps he’s found something again. Then again, he’s faced Detroit, a right-handed-heavy lineup, the Angels, and the Brewers.
Chris Sale just keeps on keepin’ on. He’s got a 3.15/3.43/3.75 pitcher slash, even though he’s adopted more of a pitch-to-contact approach. I think it’s admirable the amount of respect that Don Cooper gets when manager Robin Ventura doesn’t get much, especially from Sale. Cooper and Sale discussed a plan to pitch to more contact and it’s worked out well so far this year, even if Sale’s K rate and advanced metrics took a hit.
The Mariners are a pretty lefty-heavy lineup, particularly from a production standpoint, though Nelson Cruz is a good right-handed stick. Or, is that just a perception bias? It very well could be. The Mariners are 18th in wOBA against lefties, but they do have a park-adjusted 103 wRC+, meaning they are three percent better than league average against southpaws. That ranks 10th.
I’m actually looking at the road team here. I know how good Chris Sale is and I know that Felix isn’t the same pitcher, but the Mariners as an underdog are worth a few shekels today.
Pittsburgh (-120) at Milwaukee; Total: 9.5
The combined age of Friday’s starters in this NL Central showdown is 71 years of age, though it really feels like it should be higher. Matt Garza is only 32, but his arm is 42. Ryan Vogelsong is 39 with a strange career path in his past. Vogelsong and the Pirates are road chalk here and I can’t imagine people are running to back Vogey as a road fave.
But, when you put it in context, it makes a lot of sense. At this stage of his career, Matt Garza is awful. He has a 5.27 ERA with a 4.57 FIP and a 4.90 xFIP. His K/BB rates are appalling and he’s only throwing first-pitch strikes to 57.1 percent of batters after being north of 61 percent each of the last five seasons. National League hitters are batting just .220/.265/.346 after a first-pitch strike. They are batting .272/.386/.456 after a first-pitch ball. The Pirates have splits of .280/.392/.443 and .217/.268/.331 on the season, so getting ahead in the count is very important and they’ll have that opportunity against Garza.
Vogelsong has a 2.98 ERA on the season, but he’s living dangerously per the advanced metrics. He has a 4.60 FIP and a 4.58 xFIP on the season. He’s living off of a .254 BABIP against and a 76.6 percent strand rate. This is his sixth straight start after working mostly in relief earlier in the season. Vogelsong has drawn some really good assignments in his starts. He’s faced Atlanta, San Diego, San Francisco, and Miami.
It feels like Vogelsong can handle this start. The Brewers draw some walks, but they haven’t done much with them after that. Garza is well below replacement-level. The chalk seems a little bit intriguing here.
Cincinnati at Arizona (-115); Total: 10
These are the types of games I love. The market piled in against Arizona a few times last week, so we’ve seen oddsmakers adjust in a pretty big way. Brandon Finnegan goes for Cincinnati against Braden Shipley for the Diamondbacks. Finnegan has actually thrown the ball well of late, as his low BABIP against continues to give him a chance. Unfortunately, Finnegan draws a Diamondbacks squad that has been among the league leaders throughout the season against left-handed pitching. They actually lead MLB in wOBA against lefties at .350. He doesn’t give up a lot of hits, but he gives up the worst kinds of hits – home runs. He’s allowed 26 in his 141.2 innings of work and he’s done so with 70 walks on the season.
This is pretty much the worst type of spot for Finnegan. Chase Field is not a place where you want to allow free baserunners because the ball carries extremely well. Also, Cincinnati is opening up a road trip that they don’t want to be on. Six games a long way from home with nothing to play for. It’s a bad spot for them all around. They can’t even play spoiler on this trip.
Braden Shipley, a converted shortstop, is having some issues transitioning to the big league game. He started pitching in college at Nevada because they needed arms in the rotation and he just stuck there. He’s got good raw stuff, but it never really showed up in the minor leagues and hasn’t in the big leagues. He’s almost got a Jarred Cosart type of feel to him in that the raw stuff is good, but the total package isn’t there. He’s not missing bats right now and he’s giving up a lot of home runs.
If the Reds are motivated, both teams should score here. I’m not sure how motivated they will be. When Shipley’s been bad, he’s been really bad. He’s given up six or more in three starts and two runs in his other three starts combined. Shipley is the type of guy that you really don’t want to lay it with, but I do feel like Finnegan doesn’t match up well here either. I want to roll with Arizona, but I’m scared, as you would expect, to back a really bad team that I’ve thrown a fade label on.
Chicago (NL) (-115) at Los Angeles (NL); Total: 8
A battle of the bullpens is on the menu at Chavez Ravine when the Cubs and Dodgers get together. This should be a fun one and could very well be an NLCS preview. The Cubs send Mike Montgomery to the hill against Bud Norris. Right off the top, it’s important to realize that Montgomery will be on a pitch count and likely be held to around 75 tosses. Norris’s last start came on August 19 and he pitched to five batters on August 22, so I don’t think he’ll be on too many restrictions, though the Dodgers can’t avoid to lose another warm body in the rotation.
Montgomery has been extremely effective and was a terrific acquisition for the Cubs. He’s made eight relief appearances and one start and he’s filled his role nicely. In that start, Montgomery threw 60 pitches and made it through 4.1 innings of work. At best, you can hope for five innings today from Montgomery, so it’s critical to remember that fact. The Cubs were off yesterday, so all healthy hands will be on deck.
Bud Norris threw six shutout innings to start his Dodgers career and then allowed 22 runs over his next 27 innings. He does have over a strikeout per inning with Los Angeles, but we’ll see how that plays out here in this start. The Cubs strike out a ton, but they also walk a lot and do a lot of damage.
There’s an underlying dynamic to consider here. The Dodgers swapped AJ Ellis, a beloved member of the clubhouse, for Carlos Ruiz. I’m not going to say that there was any effect of that in yesterday’s near no-hitter, but it couldn’t have been a happy clubhouse. The business side of baseball can really suck sometimes. A day later, the Dodgers should be able to move on, but it’s a minor consideration nonetheless.
I’m also pondering the psychological side of this series. I feel like the Dodgers see the Giants as their only threat right now and they’re not worried about a league-wide statement. I feel like the Cubs, who are blowing away the NL Central, see this as a litmus test and a measuring stick. The Dodgers aren’t at 100 percent, so they can make excuses. I think the Cubs want to announce their presence with authority.
With that in mind, I’m looking at the Cubs here and the Cubs over the weekend. I may be off-base and it’s not the quantifiable type of handicapping I like to do, but sometimes you have to consider alternative angles.