A full day of baseball action on this Labor Day Weekend Saturday is completely overshadowed by college football season getting underway. It’s not a bad thing for handicappers when games sort of fly under the radar, although, we’re seeing oddsmakers slapping those big numbers on favorites and they’re daring us to take the dogs. It takes some time and effort to find MLB plays this time of year, so that’s what we’ll attempt to do as we give baseball at least a smidgen of that Saturday spotlight.
San Francisco at Chicago (NL) (-145); Total: 7
Today’s top pitching matchup on the board is a day game at Wrigley Field between the Giants and the Cubs. It’ll be Madison Bumgarner for San Francisco against Jake Arrieta for the Cubs. Bumgarner just keeps on rolling like the elite starter that he is. He’s working with the best ERA of his career this season and it’s a perfect storm of riches for him. His stuff just keeps developing and the Giants have a really strong defensive team. The only downside for him here has been that the offense has gone in spurts. For the fifth straight season, Bumgarner’s K% has gone up and the one thing about the Cubs is that they do strike out a lot. It’s a byproduct of walking a lot, but they do have some swing and miss.
Jake Arrieta is having another solid season with a 2.84 ERA, a 3.47 FIP, and a 3.71 xFIP. He hasn’t been the Jake Arrieta we’ve come to know over the last month, however. He still has a 3.47 ERA because the Cubs are baseball’s best defensive team, but his 4.86 FIP and 4.63 xFIP are two really concerning numbers. His strikeout rate is down in a big way and his walk rate is also elevated. He’s very fortunate to be carrying a .149 BABIP over those seven starts. We’ll have to see how this one plays out. Odds are good that Arrieta will keep navigating these K/BB waters on the strength of his defense and the Giants offense has been kind of punchless.
There’s a slight amount of value in the Giants with more certainties on the Bumgarner side, but I don’t know if I have the stones to play it.
St. Louis (-140) at Cincinnati; Total: 9
Is believe in Dan Straily waning or is there something else driving this line move? The Reds walked off on the Cardinals last night to steal a game that the Cardinals really could have used. It would seem that the oddsmakers hung a bad number here, since it has moved about 20 cents since open. Jaime Garcia goes for the Redbirds in this one. He has a 4.46 ERA with better peripherals, but he hasn’t really been the same over his last three starts with 16 runs allowed. Small sample size variance happens, but, with a guy like Garcia, you always have to wonder if there’s something more there. An injury, for example.
Dan Straily has a 3.92 ERA with much higher peripherals because the advanced metrics really don’t like guys that are extreme fly ball hurlers. He’s carrying a low BABIP, which you can do when you don’t allow many ground balls, and that scares people into thinking that regression is coming. In my mind, it hit in his last start when he gave up four dingers at Angel Stadium to a poor Anaheim offense. My thought here is that he can get back to his regular form and give the Reds a real shot to win this one.
There are some relief issues with the Cardinals. Seung Hwan Oh has worked a ton and the middle relievers have also racked up some mileage. I’m a bit concerned with them in close games here down the stretch, which this projects to be. I actually think the value side has become the Reds, if you’re willing to take that shot.
Washington (-125) at New York (NL); Total: 7.5
My strongest play of the day comes from this one here between the Nationals and the Mets. Tanner Roark goes for the Nationals against Robert Gsellman for the Mets. Most people aren’t going to know a whole lot about Gsellman, but prospect reports are hardly glowing. He’s sort of a rotation filler and you need to be more than that against the Nationals and against Roark because he’s developed a changeup under Mike Maddux and it has been a dominant pitch this season.
With a changeup/two-seamer arsenal, Roark is having a career year and those two pitches are combined to be over 17 runs above average this season. The Mets offense has shown some flashes here recently, but they’re still a below average group, particularly with the injury issues that they have had.
I’m not willing to overthink this one. Laying a division price on the road in a game that matters for both sides is a difficult thing to do, but my guess is that this number is -155 in Washington, so I’m not considering Citi Field to be worth 30 cents.
Miami at Cleveland (-115); Total: 7.5
Indians fans will be happy to see a flipped favorite spot here in this one between the Marlins and the Indians. Jose Fernandez goes for Miami here today against Trevor Bauer, but it’s likely the two offenses that are driving this line movement. The Marlins are one of the worst offenses by wOBA since the All-Star Break. The Indians haven’t had a ton of offensive success recently, but they’ve picked it back up.
Fernandez had a rough month of July, but responded with a solid month of August and the Indians don’t get to see much of him. He’s one of those guys that wows you in the batter’s box and it can be tricky to pick up his stuff the first or second time through the lineup. His effectiveness should lead to a low-scoring game and the Indians got a blowout win yesterday to give some of the key cogs in the bullpen a second straight night off. That means that we’ll see a full army of relievers on deck for Francona and we just need Bauer to hold up his end. With his unique arsenal and his competitiveness about going up against Fernandez, I think we get that.
This looks like an old-fashioned pitcher’s duel that will stay well under the total.
Detroit at Kansas City (-110); Total: 8
Here we go again. Michael Fulmer is getting disrespected by the oddsmakers. When you really look at this situation for Fulmer, it’s complex. He’s been showing signs of regression all season, but he’s pitched through it. In terms of limiting innings for starters, he’s been one of the higher-profile cases, since everybody has been talking about it since the All-Star Break. To me, that leads to perception bias. I know that new career highs in innings can be worrisome in a lot of different ways, but I’m not that concerned yet.
Fulmer hasn’t really shown any signs of tiring, even though the signs of regression in his statistical profile would certainly give fuel to the narratives if they came through. Kansas City, except for this recent offensive shot in the arm, has been one of the worst offenses in run scoring in all of baseball, and that includes the league where the pitchers hit. I do understand the buyer beware approach to Fulmer, whose ERA has been over a run below his xFIP for quite a while now. At some point, and this is a point that I never reach during a season, you just have to write it off and say that what you know and what you believe isn’t always foolproof. That’s one of the skills I need to acquire.
On the other hand, there’s Yordano Ventura. Ventura just had a nine-start streak of three runs or less allowed snapped when he visited Fenway Park. He has a 3.03 ERA with a 3.83 xFIP, so there’s some regression present in this sample size. He’s back to the Royals’ plan of success, which is pitch just enough to get by and let the defense do the work. He has a .263 BABIP against and a high strand rate over those 10 starts. Is it sustainable? It has been for three years, so why not?
I’m not sure which way to go here. The Royals are playing as good or better than anybody else in the league right now, but I still trust Fulmer over Ventura. Maybe Fulmer is getting more respect than I initially thought by being a money line pick ‘em at Kauffman Stadium. I still feel like he should be a short favorite and maybe he closes there, but betting against the Royals hasn’t been +EV in recent years.
Los Angeles (AL) at Seattle (-120); Total: 8
I try not to be too authoritative in these write-ups. I don’t really like the idea of telling you what to do with your money. I like to lead you down the path that I think is correct, but ultimately leave the decision up to you. Perspective is everything, so you rarely see me talking about really liking a play. It’s more about my thought process and the stats that back it up.
When I see a game like this, though, it’s hard for me to help myself.
Tyler Skaggs takes the mound for the Angels against the Mariners. Skaggs bounced back nicely in his last outing after allowing 19 runs over his previous four starts. One of those starts came against Seattle. I think Skaggs has some future upside, but it’s all about health and wellness coming back from Tommy John. The Angels are very much a team that needs starting pitching help, so they’re going to monitor Skaggs very closely. Some mechanical adjustments helped against Detroit last time out. You would think he’d get stronger with each start, but I’m expecting him to struggle the rest of the way. It’s clear that he’s fighting with those mechanical things and it’s not easy to repeat one’s delivery after such a long recovery process. He’s had both walk and command issues that create some tough spots with men on base.
More than anything, though, I feel like there’s a perception bias with the Mariners against left-handed starters. They have been miscast as this team that only hits righties, even though they’ve been comfortably above to 100 wRC+ mark against southpaws. They’re not setting the world on fire by any means, but they are on the right side of even. That, to me, has given them value against lefty starters here in recent weeks.
Taijuan Walker is maddening. The raw stuff is a joy to watch and the execution will make you want to bang your head against a wall. His last four starts have not gone well, which is another reason for this price. A lot of times, oddsmakers are pricing these games solely based on confidence. If the market’s been fading a guy or he’s been really struggling, there’s no confidence in his abilities. For Walker, 19 runs allowed over his last four starts is not going to inspire much confidence. He also has a 13/7 K/BB in those outings.
Let’s keep in mind that the fourth start in that stretch came in early July and he’s just now back in the fray after a stint in the minors. He’s probably putting too much pressure on himself to perform. I feel that this is a bounce back start for him against an offense that he can handle and one that will need to put up some runs to stay in this game.