Congratulations, everybody. We’ve made it to the final weekend of the MLB regular season. There’s more than a month of baseball left to go, but the grind of 162 games is nearly behind us. There are three more days, Monday if necessary, Tuesday if necessary, and then we get into the postseason. Before we can flip over to the playoffs, we have to finish things up for the regular season. There are 15 games tonight and some are missing lines with pitching changes and other things, so approach with caution.
It was a limited card on Thursday. The Cubs and Pirates tied, so it was a “Hey, I didn’t lose!” moment like Clark Griswold’s blackjack push in Vegas Vacation. The lean on the Phillies was a loser, as Josh Collmenter turned in a nice effort. The under in Tampa Bay/Chicago didn’t work, though I stressed my concerns about the bullpen, so hopefully you simply hit the first five. The White Sox pen pushed it over.
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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.
Miami at Washington (-135); Total: 8
We head to the nation’s capital, where AJ Cole and the Nationals face off against Andrew Cashner and the Marlins. These are two teams in a tough state this weekend. We all know what’s been happening with the Marlins and going out on the road for one last hurrah with the current team has to be an emotional time. The Nationals lineup has been crushed by injuries and that’s a lot to overlook here in this spot, where the home team doesn’t have a whole lot to play for.
Like some of the matchups yesterday, both pitchers have something on the line. AJ Cole is trying to impress the coaching staff and the front office in hopes of making next season’s rotation. Cole has had some issues with that so far, as he has posted a 5.09 ERA with a 4.99 FIP and a 5.06 xFIP in his 35.1 innings. He’s struck out over a batter per inning, so the stuff has been decent, but the command and control have not been. Home runs have been an issue for Cole, but he won’t turn 25 until after the New Year, so there’s untapped potential there.
Andrew Cashner is an impending free agent. He’ll find a job somewhere because his raw stuff still impresses scouts, but his injury history and poor 2016 season are going to hold him back. Cashner has a 5.73 ERA with a 4.28 FIP and a 4.65 xFIP in his 48.2 innings with the Marlins. I really thought he’d be a good addition with the huge defensive upgrade, but he’s allowed a .349 BABIP and he’s made things worse by walking a ton of batters. It’s really hard to see what kind of contract he may get this winter, but I’m sure he wants to end on a high note.
If I had to look one way or another, I’d lay it and play it with the Nationals. I don’t really know if being on the road helps or hurts the Marlins in this spot, but I’m going to lean towards they just want to be home with their families. I also think the Nationals want to lock up home field in the NLDS, which they can do with a win and a Dodgers loss or two wins or two Dodgers losses, since LAD holds the tiebreaker.
Baltimore at New York (AL) (-130); Total: 9
The Yankees were eliminated from playoff contention, so it’s fair to wonder what kind of effort they’ll show up with this weekend. They have the chance to play spoiler, but it’s a slim chance with Detroit 1.5 games out and Toronto and Baltimore tied for the Wild Card. Also, they just played their hated rivals, so maybe there’s a slight letdown factor here?
Michael Pineda goes for the Yankees here today as he puts the finishing touches on one of the oddest seasons in recent memory. Pineda has a 4.68 ERA with a 3.66 FIP and a 3.24 xFIP. He’s struck out 202 batters in just 171.1 innings, but he’s given up more hits than innings pitched for the second straight season and he’s allowed 25 home runs. It’s amazing to think about a guy with so many strikeouts having below average command, but that’s been the scenario for Pineda.
Gallardo has been pretty awful this season. The Orioles needed warm bodies and functioning arms in the lead-up to the season and Gallardo is the one that they settled on. He’s posted a 5.63 ERA with a 5.09 FIP and a 5.20 xFIP on the year. He’s walked way too many and he’s given up way too many home runs. He’s been terrible, really. He hasn’t gotten better either.
The biggest question here is whether or not the Yankees show up to the ballpark and give a good effort. Joe Girardi is a solid manager, so they should, but that is not a guarantee. The Orioles also have the pressure here, which is sometimes a tough situation for teams. The Yankees can just go out and play. The Orioles can’t give away any at bat or plate appearance. That’s why this “must-win” label is overblown and why this line hasn’t been adjusted at all as a result of what has transpired over the last couple of days.
Forced to play something, I’d consider the Orioles in this spot, but I’d expect to see some runs in this game before the bullpens take over. The first five over makes some sense.
Toronto at Boston (-145); Total: 9
If we had pre-injury Marco Estrada going for the Blue Jays here, it would have been a really interesting line and game. It’s still interesting for a lot of reasons, but the pitching matchup is down a couple notches. Estrada has been excellent in his last two starts and you have to give him a lot of credit for pitching through discomfort. All of the sudden, Estrada has 22 strikeouts in his last 19.1 innings, even though there was a lot of talk about his back injury and about a severely-decreased spin rate on his fastball. I don’t know what to believe at this point and I hate backing pitchers like that. I’d prefer to back a guy that I know will give up three or four runs over five or six innings than to take a guy that has a very wide range of possible outcomes.
We have a pretty good idea of what we’ll get from Rick Porcello. Porcello has a 3.11 ERA with a 3.37 FIP and a 3.86 xFIP on the season. He’s limiting walks and he’s keeping the ball inn the ballpark. A 23-4 record and his peripherals give him a very good shot at the Cy Young award. It’s definitely a fair case to make. He’s actually adding some strikeouts in his recent starts as well, with 29 over his last four outings.
Boston has home field advantage to play for, as they hold a half-game lead over the Indians in that category. Toronto obviously has a ton to play for. There’s a lot to like about this game and this matchup. My initial thought is that the line is a couple cents too high, but I still like Boston, given that Porcello is a surer bet than Estrada right now and John Gibbons has not been leveraging his starters or his relievers very well of late.
Cleveland at Kansas City (-125); Total: 9.5
The starting debut of Ryan Merritt will come on Friday night for the Indians as they open up a weekend set against the Kansas City Royals. Merritt was supposed to start Thursday’s afternoon contest against Detroit, but the game was finally called after four hours of waiting. Merritt has worked six MLB innings over three appearances. He is a finesse pitch-to-contact type guy. It’s not a bad thing against the Royals because they don’t strike out anyway and it’s not a bad thing on a team like the Indians.
Merritt won’t work all that long into the game, though. He hasn’t worked deep into a ballgame since his final Triple-A start, which was about a month ago. It’ll be yet another bullpen day for the Indians, so they’ll be trotting out the Perci Garners and Joe Colons of the world to bridge to the late innings, when they can hopefully use the big relievers to get a win.
The offense has gotten some days off here recently and they needed them. Between Tuesday’s Triple-A split squad lineup and yesterday’s rain out, the key contributors have gotten to catch a break. Yordano Ventura will face that rested lineup tonight. It’ll finish what has been a disappointing season for the right-hander, with a 4.40 ERA, a 4.66 FIP, and a 4.61 xFIP on the season. Ventura has given up 36 hits in his last four starts, so he’s constantly working with traffic and from the stretch. The Indians offense needs to start swinging it better before the playoffs begin and I think they can do that here.
Despite the bullpen game, I’d lean with the Tribe in this one.
Los Angeles (NL) at San Francisco (-120); Total: 6
Rich Hill and Madison Bumgarner should be a fun matchup. The Giants want to make the Wild Card game and the Dodgers simply want Rich Hill to stay in tact before the playoffs. It’s a tough balancing act for the Dodgers this weekend because they have the chance to play spoiler, but they also want to focus on their own things. With home field advantage mostly out of reach, it would be a surprise to see them really going after it this weekend.
Situationally speaking, the Giants are the play, but that bullpen is atrocious. Hill hasn’t pitched since he faced these Giants on September 20. This is already his third start against them. He’ll be dominant for five or six innings in all likelihood, but, the Dodgers could be even more careful with him so he can just get some work in.
I’d lay it with San Francisco here, but I’d also look to consider a live betting hedge if the Giants have a lead in the late innings because the bullpen is prone to blowing games.