College football is grabbing all of the Saturday headlines, but we’ve got a full dance card on the Major League Baseball diamond. There are four afternoon contests and a bunch of late games, so it should be an exciting day as the Wild Card races remain tight. Is it possible that we’ve got some softer lines here since the sportsbooks are far more worried about college football? It’s possible. There will be CFB games that have a bigger handle than all of the MLB games combined, so they may have punted a little bit on the MLB card. As we look early in the morning, there’s very little line movement, except for Max Scherzer and the Nationals, who are likely part of cross-sport money line parlays. Let’s see what September 10 brings.
September 9 was a decent day. It started out well, as Boston clubbed Toronto and we handicapped that game quite perfectly. The Tigers won after the Orioles were bet into a favorite, so we definitely missed some line value, but we didn’t lose money, so that’s good. Unfortunately, we couldn’t ride the momentum, as Kansas City lost to keep falling further out of the playoff race and the Dodgers/Marlins game failed to go over because Jose Fernandez was dominant. Our underdog play on Oakland came up a run short, but it was a decent write-up and we got some line value. Of course, line value only matters when you win.
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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.
Seattle (-115) at Oakland; Total: 8
We’ll flip ahead to the 4 p.m. time slot in the interest of lead time to look at Felix Hernandez and the Mariners against Kendall Graveman and the Athletics. I’ve discussed this throughout the season, but King Felix isn’t the same pitcher he once was. His K and BB rates have taken a serious tumble this season. He still has a 3.75 ERA because he’s a master at inducing weak contact. He mixes his pitches so well that he can survive, even with the big drops in velo and control.
Oddsmakers have caught up with Felix’s declining skill set, as evidenced by this line. My guess is that public players that are looking for parlay pieces and other action will drive this number up a little bit on the Mariners today. This is also a good park for a guy with declining skills. There are reasons to have faith in Felix today.
On the other side, you’ve got Kendall Graveman, a guy doing pretty unsustainable things over a long period of time. Since May 19, Graveman has a 3.21 ERA in 20 starts covering 126 innings. He has a 4.00 FIP and a 4.38 xFIP, which I’m not all that worried about because he’s not going to give up a lot of home runs. His extreme ground ball rate is going to keep that number down. The thing about Graveman is that he only has 67 K in 126 innings. All that contact shouldn’t lead to a .279 BABIP or a 77.8 percent LOB%.
Extreme ground ball guys can have success. I understand that. There have been some that have had a ton of success. Most of them generally strike out a few more guys than that. Graveman doesn’t walk guys, so that helps. He’s only walked 11 in 68.1 innings since the All-Star Break. Like most sinkerball pitchers, platoon splits hurt. He has a 4/1 K/BB rate against righties, but it’s well under 2/1 against lefties. Lefties have 19 doubles and 10 home runs out of their 88 hits with a .264/.335/.426 slash. Righties are only batting .257/.288/.399.
I want to go with Felix and the Mariners here because I don’t trust Graveman and what he’s doing. But, I also have to respect what he’s doing because 20 starts of it is a pretty long sample size. Seattle is the better team with the stronger bullpen, so I will lean with them and would advise that those that like the Mariners take them before the public realizes there’s baseball today.
Cleveland (-115) at Minnesota; Total: 9.5
This is a tricky handicap for a variety of reasons. Mike Clevinger gets the start for the Indians against Hector Santiago for the Twins. Clevinger will likely go about 60 pitches for the Tribe in this one, so we could see Josh Tomlin piggyback the right-hander if he exits early. The Indians needed five innings from the bullpen last night, so Terry Francona will have some tough calls to make. If Tomlin comes in, given how he’s pitched recently, that will hurt the Indians. If Clevinger can get through four, it opens Francona up to going in different directions.
Bullpen games are tough handicaps no matter what. Opposing offenses see a variety of different arms, which can be challenging. The Twins do see the Indians often, so it’s not like they haven’t seen these guys. On the other hand, sometimes relievers just don’t have it and it’s hard to piecemeal a game together with six different pitchers all being effective.
It may not even matter if the Indians do what they’re supposed to do against Hector Santiago. Since joining the Twins, he’s been awful. In six starts, he’s posted a 7.47 ERA, a 6.66 FIP, and a 5.88 xFIP with a low strikeout rate and a ton of home runs allowed. The Indians should feast on a guy like that. We’ll see if they do, but their platoons are constructed really nicely now with Brandon Guyer in the mix and a collection of switch hitters. Righties have 22 HR and a .464 SLG in 505 PA against Santiago this year and the Indians should have eight in the lineup. Maybe nine if Jason Kipnis gets the day off.
I’d take the Indians here. They’ve had issues with the Twins this season, but this is a matchup that should favor the Tribe in a lot of ways and this price is only because of the uncertainty of how the Indians will put the pitching gameplan together.
Baltimore at Detroit (-120); Total: 9
I don’t get the move and I don’t get the opening line for this game. Jordan Zimmermann is making his return from the disabled list, but Ubaldo Jimenez is one of the 10 worst pitchers in baseball in my mind and the Orioles haven’t been playing all that well lately. Since their August 15 off day, the Orioles are only 10-13. Detroit is playing pretty well and they’re making that wild card push for the postseason.
Jimenez has a 6.19 ERA with a 4.67 FIP and a 4.93 xFIP. Honestly, I don’t know how a playoff contender doesn’t have a better pitcher to put in this rotation, but whatever. He’s awful. He walks too many guys and his command has taken a few steps back this season. The Tigers should score some runs here.
The question is Zimmermann. He wasn’t good in his Triple-A rehab start and he hasn’t been great overall this season. He misses very few bats and puts a lot of strain on a lackluster Tigers defense. He has a 4.44 ERA with a 3.93 FIP on the season. His xFIP is irrelevant because he’s never given up a lot of home runs. That’s the key point here. The Orioles can manufacture runs by putting innings together, but they’re more of a three-run homer type of team. Zimmermann simply doesn’t give up many long balls, even with all those balls in play.
I get the worries. I understand he has made one start since June 30 and got blasted. He’s still a much better pitcher than the opponent. With Detroit’s HFA, this line could be Baltimore -108 on a neutral. That’s what this line says to me. I totally disagree. I’ll take the home team.
Underdog Play of the Night: Milwaukee +190
Adam Wainwright has not been sharp of late. He had a great stretch in June and July that really helped out a lot of his numbers, but he has allowed a .285/.337/.484 slash since the All-Star Break and he’s not pounding the strike zone at all. He has dominated Milwaukee twice in two starts this season, but I feel like the Brewers have enough pieces to make this game competitive.
I’d like it a lot more if the Brewers hadn’t sold off so many good relievers at the Trade Deadline, but David Stearns has to do what he can to strengthen the farm system and he’s done that by being very aggressive. The Brewers are one of those young, bad teams that hasn’t given up on the season yet. It’s not a strong play, but there’s value in this price and it wouldn’t surprise me if this number actually gets a little bit bigger.
One that just missed the cut is the Marlins against the Dodgers. With the volatility of Rich Hill’s blister, anything can happen in that one and that +165 price could be more like a +135 or lower if he has a setback while warming up or leaves the game early.