A big weekend begins on the diamond for many teams. The Wild Card races in both divisions are really heating up, even though there isn’t a lot of drama in the division races. There are quite a few teams laying big numbers on the road here today and it may be time to incorporate a couple of different things into the article since we’re seeing some adjusted numbers this time of year. Today, along with breakdowns of the games with reasonable lines, we’ll also look at the top underdog play of the night, in case you want to roll the dice and follow along. Here’s a look at the September 9 card.
It was a small slate of games on Thursday, but we still had some thoughts and picks. There weren’t many confident picks, but the lean on the Yankees came through, as did the very slight lean on the Brewers. The Rockies lost in glorious fashion, so that one was a loser. It wasn’t a strong day of opinions, so hopefully today yields more.
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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.
Tampa Bay at New York (AL) (-145); Total: 8.5
The two biggest series this weekend belong to the AL East. The Yankees need to take advantage here because the Red Sox and Blue Jays play each other and the Orioles are in Detroit. This is a great opportunity for the Yankees, who are having one of the best seasons in baseball. They completely overhauled the farm system and infused a ton of talent, yet they are still in the thick of the playoff race. Whether they make it or not, this is a remarkably successful season for New York.
As far as this game goes, wunderkind Blake Snell takes the ball at Yankee Stadium against Michael Pineda. Snell actually made his debut at Yankee Stadium, so the bright lights won’t faze the 23-year-old. The biggest problem with Snell as an MLBer is his walk rate, which has kept him from working deep into games. The raw stuff is spectacular, but the command and the polish aren’t there. Because of that, he’s a bit of a wild card. In 15 starts, he’s given up two runs or less nine times. He’s never given up more than five, but he’s only finished six innings five times. The Yankees haven’t been a good offense against lefties most of the season, so that’s a consideration here.
The Rays haven’t been a good offense against righties at any point this season, but Michael Pineda has given up 18 runs in three starts against Tampa Bay this season. Pitcher vs. team sample sizes are rarely, if ever, big enough to be significant, but Pineda’s endless command problems this season keep him from being effective, even against teams that struggle in this split. He has a 5.10 ERA with a 3.72 FIP and a 3.55 xFIP.
With two pitchers that could completely blow up or find a way to pitch well, it looks like we’ll have to stay away from this game.
Boston (-115) at Toronto; Total: 8.5
The initial move on this AL East clash was on the road team, with Rick Porcello on the bump against Marco Estrada. Boston got a desperately needed day off yesterday after a pretty tiring road trip out west, so they should be re-energized here for this one. That was Boston’s second day off in a week after not having one since August 8.
Porcello has been brilliant this season. The home run issues are gone and his miniscule walk rate has kept him from getting in trouble in this tough division and Fenway Park. He has a 3.23 ERA with a 3.52 FIP and a 3.93 xFIP. He’s been locating his pitches very well and starting using his slider and changeup once again, so he’s had a lot of success mixing his offerings. There’s not a whole lot of bad things that we can say about Porcello.
That’s not the case with Marco Estrada. Estrada spent the All-Star Break on the disabled list with a back injury and has hasn’t really looked the same since. He returned to the rotation on July 22 and he has a 5.00 ERA with a 4.62 FIP and a 4.84 xFIP. His BABIP against is .307, despite seven home runs allowed in 199 batters faced. This isn’t just BABIP regression. This is a pitcher that may still be injured or has simply lost his mechanics. He’s no longer efficient. He’s worked less than six innings four times over his last eight starts. He’s not the same maddening overachiever that he had been for about a season and a half. Now, he’s just a guy with marginal stuff and K/BB rates that don’t do enough to stop the struggles.
The move was right in this game. Toronto’s offense is very dangerous, but so is Boston’s and there’s a lot more trust there for Porcello than there is for Estrada. Take Boston in this spot.
Baltimore at Detroit (-115); Total: 8.5
I keep waiting for Michael Fulmer’s regression and it keeps not coming. He’s on my fantasy team, so I guess I don’t mind, but I’m just waiting for that start when he gives up four HR and eight ER in 2.2 innings of work. Maybe it won’t come at all. What I do know is that Fulmer does have those telltale signs of regression with a low BABIP, a high LOB%, and a big ERA-xFIP discrepancy.
When there’s a pitcher in the month of September that has set a new career high in innings, you look for signs of tiring. In a general sense, what I look for are drops in velocity, Zone%, and release point data, typically vertical release point. When pitchers are tired, their arms start to lower a little bit. I don’t see any of those things for Fulmer. As far as I’m concerned, he’s still in good shape. Even though I think there’s some regression possible for Fulmer the rest of the season, I think his opponent is in worse shape in this start.
The reason that the Indians were content to load up with five right-handed arms in the rotation and one viable left-handed reliever at the start of the season is because they viewed Detroit as the chief competition in the division. Given Cleveland’s performance against the Tigers this season it has worked. The reason why is because there’s not a team heavier on right-handed plate appearances in the AL this season than the Tigers. On the year, 4,225 of their 5,292 plate appearances have come from righties. Only Toronto and the Angels have a lower percentage of plate appearances with a platoon advantage.
That won’t hurt the Tigers here against Kevin Gausman. Over the last two seasons, right-handed hitters have batted .275/.317/.526 and .285/.345/.495 against Gausman. By comparison, lefties have hit .224/.283/.360 and .226/.273/.367. So, the Tigers actually match up really well here against Gausman. Detroit is fourth in RHB vs. RHP OPS in the AL this season.
Obviously I’d have some worries about the Tigers bullpen vs. the Orioles bullpen, but from an offense and starting pitching standpoint, even with my concerns about Fulmer, the Tigers are the preferred side for me in this game.
Los Angeles (NL) (-140) at Miami; Total: 6.5
Clayton Kershaw and Jose Fernandez sounds like must-see TV, but it may not be on Friday night. This is Clayton Kershaw’s first start since June 26. Obviously he’s an elite starting pitcher and will probably be just fine, but we do have to wonder a little bit about what he’ll bring to the table. Kershaw worked three innings in a High-A start and the stuff looked good, but this is a different animal. I would think that the Dodgers would be excited to get him back, so they could have a little buzz opening up this series a long way from home.
Jose Fernandez has not pitched well in the second half. He’s still missing a ton of bats, but his command is waning. Fernandez allowed seven HR in 107.1 innings in the first half and he’s given up five in just 53 innings in the second half. He walked 31 in the first half and has walked 19 in the second half. He’s given up six fewer earned runs in the second half in nearly half of the innings. He’s struggling. The Dodgers bring a pretty good offense to the table, so I have concerns.
Rather than lay the big price with Kershaw, I’ll take the over on this one. It’s a risky play, but you also have to consider that Kershaw will probably be pulled around 75 or 80 pitches. That means that the Dodgers will have to bridge some innings with the pen. Ideally, Fernandez steps up in the bright lights and we get a real great pitcher’s duel, but he’s having issues. I don’t know if they’re health-related or not, but he’s not all that trustworthy right now.
New York (NL) at Atlanta (-120); Total: 8
Hmmm. The Mets are absolutely rolling right now and they’re a dog in Atlanta?! Say what?! This is a line that really stands out today. Robert Gsellman goes for the Mets against John Gant for the Braves. I don’t know what’s going on with this number. I really don’t. I talked about Gsellman last week and how I wasn’t really a huge fan of the reports on him, but this is still the Braves. John Gant is nothing special.
Maybe I’m square. I don’t know. But this line looks too good to be true, right?
Kansas City at Chicago (AL) (-110); Total: 8.5
I think we can turn the lights off on Kansas City for this season. They’re only four games out in the Wild Card, but they have to jump four teams now and the clock is running out. They’re behind Baltimore, Detroit, Houston, and the Yankees, with Seattle just one game behind. If they’re going to make a push, though, a sweep in this series is a must. It’ll start with Yordano Ventura against Carlos Rodon.
Since the All-Star Break, Ventura has a 2.79 ERA in 10 starts. Of course, he also still has a poor walk rate, a low BABIP against, an unsustainably high strand rate, and ugly peripherals. He is back to inducing ground balls, so that’s a plus, but I’m still concerned that regression is coming. He allowed 12 baserunners last time out against Detroit and managed to slither away with only one run allowed. In this span, he’s only given up more than three runs on one occasion and it’s not like the White Sox offense is any good. Maybe he can keep this pace for another day.
Carlos Rodon has a 3.90 ERA with a 4.11 FIP and a 4.06 xFIP on the season. It’s kind of amazing that he’s cut down his walk total by a significant amount and yet all of his run metrics are higher than last season. The reason is because he’s given up eight more home runs this season. This was a learning year for Rodon, as pitching coach Don Cooper wanted him to pitch to more contact. He’s done that, but he hasn’t mastered pitching to weak contact.
In this particular spot, I do like Kansas City a little bit. The White Sox are just a bad team. The Royals offense isn’t great and it hasn’t been anywhere near last season’s production, but they should be able to do enough against Rodon to get by. Plus, the White Sox bullpen is among the worst in the league and Kansas City’s is stronger now with the return of Wade Davis.
Underdog Play of the Night: Oakland +140
The A’s welcome the Seattle Mariners to town after an emotional series for the Mariners. They just took on Texas and did what they needed to do in order to climb back into the race. It’s easy to have a letdown in Oakland, with a dumpy ballpark and a lack of atmosphere in the crowd.
Seattle sends Hisashi Iwakuma to the mound, who has a 4.01/4.41/4.54 pitcher slash on the season. Righties are slugging .474 against Iwakuma and most of the remaining hitters for Oakland bat right-handed. Daniel Mengden has been struggling in a big way after opening a lot of eyes over his first few starts. This isn’t an ideal matchup against the Mariners, but I’m looking at this game from a situational standpoint, where a letdown wouldn’t be a big surprise for the Mariners.
It’s not a strong underdog play by any means, but it’s worth some consideration, especially if the line goes up.