For one last time in 2016, Major League Baseball has the spotlight on Sunday. Next week, it’ll be a full slate of NFL action and MLB will get pushed to the backburner for a lot of people. Playoff races will certainly keep it interesting for some, but handicappers will flock to the NFL to get their action and leave baseball a relatively untouched market. Maybe there will be some value, maybe there won’t. We’ve seen a drop in value here lately as oddsmakers are pricing people out of the good teams and forcing a lot of ugly underdog looks. Will that be the case on Sunday? Let’s find out.
As it tends to work out, the Giants and the Reds were both winners as suggested plays, but the two strongest looks failed with the Nationals and the Mariners. The Mariners actually got trounced, so that was a bad read all around, as Taijuan Walker dug a massive hole early on. I don’t know how many more times I will let myself get burned by his inconsistent upside, but, you live and learn. When there are tough days, file these nuggets away and keep them in mind for the future.
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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.
Chicago (AL) at Minnesota (-115); Total: 10.5
What a barnburner we’ve got here. Anthony Ranaudo takes on Andrew Albers in a battle that features a guy that shouldn’t be pitching in the big leagues and a guy that just made his first big league start since 2013. I have to say this: this total is too high. Now, I totally understand why and it’s entirely possible that both guys get lit up, as their stats would suggest. But, 10.5 totals are reserved for matchups like this in Texas, Colorado, or with the wind blowing out at Wrigley. When do you see 10.5 totals at Target Field? Basically never.
That’s not to say that the under is worthy of a play, it’s just to point out that some of the recency bias from the runs scored earlier in this season has altered the market a little bit. Of course, as mentioned, these two guys suck, so that’s part of the equation.
From a side standpoint, at least Andrew Albers has the unfamiliar lefty angle working in his favor. Perhaps that’s enough to get him through the lineup once. I really don’t expect Anthony Ranaudo to have any success because his 6.58 ERA, 6.89 FIP, and 6.09 xFIP are signs that he hasn’t had any in his 79.1 career MLB innings.
This is an ugly game and an ugly series, but the Twins are at home and have a slight edge in the pitching matchup, so I feel like this is a line that is about a dime short on the price.
Detroit at Kansas City (-110); Total: 8.5
Daniel Norris and Edinson Volquez wrap up this big AL Central series and a series victory hangs in the balance between these two squads. Both teams are fighting for positioning in the AL Central and in the Wild Card hunt. Norris has shown some flashes in his 39.2 innings of work and has a 3.86 ERA with a reasonable 4.19 FIP. He’ll probably never be a low FIP guy because of his walk rate, but it’s okay if he can minimize the damage of those free passes.
We know Edinson Volquez isn’t a low FIP guy with poor K rates and a poor walk rate. Volquez has an ERA up over 5 this season because he hasn’t gotten the batted ball luck or the sequencing luck that he has enjoyed over the last couple of seasons. One of the biggest changes is his HR/FB%, which has spiked this season. So, command has played a role as well. Against the Tigers, who have some guys with pop, that feels like a bit of an issue. Righties actually have a higher SLG off of Volquez than lefties, so that’s not a good sign here.
Unfortunately, even though I like Norris more than Volquez, I can’t make a move in this spot. This series has been rather unpredictable. It’s pretty clear to me, from how this series was lined, that the oddsmakers don’t have a whole lot of respect for Kansas City. I don’t, as you can tell from my daily ranting, but I just don’t like either side enough here.
San Francisco at Chicago (NL) (-140); Total: 8
John Lackey’s DL stint seemed to come out of nowhere. I don’t know if there was actually something wrong or if the Cubs were sitting him for the playoff push, but he was throwing the ball very well and suddenly showed up on the DL in the middle of August. He’s back now after basically the minimum amount of time and draws an interesting assignment against Johnny Cueto and the Giants.
Lackey did not make a rehab start and that always concerns me. It’s like a car that has sat cold for a few weeks suddenly going from 0 to 60. It’s not an ideal situation, even if the Giants have had some offensive struggles. I feel like the margin for error will be low for Lackey in the matchup against Cueto, so we’ll have to see how that plays out.
The thing I love about Cueto’s stat line this season is that we can’t point to an extraordinarily high BABIP to explain his success. That’s good because it makes it look even more sustainable. Cueto has a 2.98 ERA with a 3.10 FIP and a 3.54 xFIP on the season and he’s been a big reason why the Giants have been at or near the front in this NL West chase. Aside from a SLG spike, Cueto doesn’t have any dramatic differences between home and road and we know that’s possible with AT&T Park being so good for arms.
If I’m looking at this one, I’m looking at the Giants. Lackey’s lack of a rehab start really does keep scratching at the back of my mind and the Giants have gotten things going a little bit here of late.
Boston (-125) at Oakland; Total: 8.5
I like Kendall Graveman, but the sharp move on Oakland here surprises me a little bit. Keep in mind that bettors are flocking back to the sportsbooks and any time there’s a line move on a bad team against a good team, it’s pretty significant at this time of the year. The public will bump this number back up later on today, but, for now, I’m actually seeing value in going against the sharp side.
I think the thought process here is that the Red Sox likely sit David Ortiz, which cuts probably five cents or maybe 10 cents for some off the line. That’s probably the driving force behind the move. Maybe Dustin Pedroia sits as well. But, I look at Kendall Graveman and see unsustainable trends over his last couple of months of work. Since June 12, Graveman has a 3.08 ERA and his ERA is down below 4.00 for the season. His 53.6 percent ground ball rate is terrific, but the A’s have been converting far too many of those into outs. In that span, Graveman hasn’t issued walks, which is good, but he has one of the lowest K% among qualified starters, which is not good. His .250 BABIP against is extremely unsustainable with that low of a K rate and that high of a ground ball rate. He’s also stranded 77.3 percent of baserunners, which isn’t a going rate for a low K guy.
On the other hand, I think what Eduardo Rodriguez has done since returning to the Red Sox is much more sustainable. Rodriguez came back on July 16 and has a 3.22 ERA with a 3.89 FIP. He has 40 strikeouts in 44.2 innings of work and has looked more like the guy that Boston expected this season. With his high fly ball rate in that sample, O.co Coliseum should be an excellent fit for him.
Like I said, I think this move is solely predicated on who will sit from the Boston lineup. I’m actually not that worried about it. With Graveman’s ground ball split, Ortiz isn’t a major factor anyway, since he has the speed of a truck with no wheels. Give me the better team against the unsustainable pitcher at a lower price and I’m a happy guy.
Washington at New York (NL) (-125); Total: 8
Seth Lugo got some love after his last start and the narrative machine has created a little bit of buzz about the Mets here this evening. It’s not a bad stance to take, as the Mets take on Reynaldo Lopez and the Nationals. Control has been the Achilles’ heel for Lopez here this season and he hasn’t been efficient enough to work deep into ballgames. Command has been a problem at times as well. Lopez has the big arm and the wildness, while Lugo has the smaller arm, but better control and a better feel for pitching.
It’s all a matter of preference. Do you take the younger guy with the higher upside against the worse lineup or do you take the safer guy against the better lineup? That’s the question here in this one. I’ll leave that call up to you because I don’t know. Both bullpens are in pretty decent shape, so I don’t see any wagering angles coming out of that. It’s your call, or maybe it’s best just to avoid this one.
We do have a pretty big situational angle coming out of this game, though. With the Labor Day holiday, the Mets travel out to Cincinnati for a 1:05 p.m. first pitch. They’ll likely get into Cincinnati around 2 a.m. or so, so that will be a pretty quick turnaround. The Nationals head home to face the Braves, so nothing there, but Cincinnati could be an intriguing home dog with prospect Robert Stephenson on the hill.