I miscounted for this morning’s newsletter, as we actually have 17 games on a jam-packed Saturday around MLB. Doubleheaders in Boston and D.C. add two games to the mix and we’ll be seeing a lot of those moving forward thanks to the lockout and the postponements that we’ve had early in the season. It is going to make for a lot of tired teams and also a lot of spot starts from relievers or minor league call-ups. Teams are really digging into their depth already and will continue to do so.
With a lot of ground to cover, I’ll spare you the long intro. I do have a lot of great information compiled for The Run Line tomorrow from 8-10 p.m. ET with my man Ben Wilson, so be sure to check that out. The article will be back on Monday, but you can still get my baseball betting insights on that fine block of radio.
Giants/Reds: Big favorites led by Carlos Rodon and Justin Verlander lost to inferior teams yesterday in surprising results. It happens, as those aces obviously don’t win every game, but this one was probably the more surprising of the two. Rodon worked 5.1 innings and allowed three runs on seven hits, but what really stands out to me is that he only had six whiffs on 42 swings. With Alex Wood struggling, Alex Cobb dealing with a ton of bad luck and a bad defensive ballclub, this team is pretty tough to nail down.
Phillies/Mets: The Phillies scored all six runs in the sixth in the 8-6 loss, but Statcast had these teams down for xBAs of .188 and .249, but the game featured 14 runs and 18 hits. The teams only combined for 15 hard-hit balls. The shift in offense over the last week and a half is something that I have documented, but games like this are still weird to me because there wasn’t much contact quality, but we still had a slugfest.
The 15 hard-hit balls featured 10 hits, with two home runs and four doubles, so hits were just timed properly it would appear. It just speaks to the high variance level of baseball yet again.
Brewers/Cardinals: Brandon Woodruff left after four innings and 61 pitches with some discomfort in his ankle. Woodruff’s velocity was up and his spin rates were stronger across the board. I watched this postgame interview where Woodruff talked about how he felt like he was finding his stuff and how this was the best he felt. The velo, spin rates and nine whiffs in 30 pitches suggest that he probably did feel pretty good. For a guy that has been fighting it this season, but is a positive regression candidate, maybe we should file this away for his upcoming starts.
Dodgers/Diamondbacks: A day after going 10-for-15 on hard-hit balls, the Dodgers were 5-for-14 against Madison Bumgarner, but three of the batted balls were home runs, including Edwin Rios’s dinger with an xBA of just .160 that was a big three-run blow. What stands out the most to me is that this total actually got bet all the up to 11 after opening 9 at some shops. We’re seeing so much over money in the markets right now. If you like an over, bet it early. If you like an under, wait it out, unless it’s a weather-related bet.
Pirates/Padres: The Pirates staked Jose Quintana to a 3-0 lead, but the defense failed him in the sixth and reliever Wil Crowe did the rest. Quintana gave up two unearned runs over 5.1 innings and lowered his ERA to 2.10. I don’t really see anything in his numbers that suggest this is a full-on mirage. His K% is lower than past seasons, but his Hard Hit% and Barrel% are both just fine. He’s allowed 16 runs total, but only 11 are earned, so the defense hasn’t done him any favors, much like what we saw yesterday. The 33-year-old may simply have a new lease on life throwing a changeup more than ever before.
Orioles/Red Sox: The Boston bullpen had a complete meltdown yesterday, blowing an 8-2 lead after six innings. The Orioles scored 10 runs in three innings off of a collection of relievers, who all gave up runs. Fenway Park seems to be back to generating offense as the weather has warmed up. It also helps that Boston’s bats have heated up as well, but the Orioles just scored 12 runs, so it isn’t just about the Red Sox. This total hit 10 and I believe yesterday was the first day with two double-digit totals not including a Coors Field game this season. If nothing else, it was the first in quite a while.
Royals/Twins: The Royals and Twins doubled up their total of 8.5 and the game went over by the fourth inning in Minnesota’s 10-7 victory. The real Brad Keller has arrived after a nice early start to the season, as his ERA is up to 3.95 and has been rapidly climbing. He allowed six runs on 11 hits in four innings. Bailey Ober only threw 61 pitches, as Rocco Baldelli pulled the plug early on him. I do like Baldelli’s aggressive managing of starters. He’s been a solid manager.
Rangers/Athletics: The Rangers pulled an Orioles and got after the A’s bullpen, scoring six runs over the final three innings to score an 8-5 win. This Rangers team is garnering a lot of my betting interest lately, as they haven’t really hit all season long, but moved to 21-23 with the win. If this offense ever gets going... But, Marcus Semien did have three hits in five trips and Nathaniel Lowe had a three-hit game as well. Small signs of improvement.
For the A’s, Sean Murphy had four of the eight hard-hit balls in his four trips to the plate. When Frankie Montas and Murphy get traded, this team will fall down a few more pegs. That’ll likely happen about two months from now.
Astros/Mariners: Justin Verlander gave up two first-inning homers and six runs total in his first really ugly start of the season. It was just one of those days and it came at a bad time for us. The home run risk is always there with Verlander, but that wasn’t the venue or the lineup that you’d expect to see such a pitching line. Chris Flexen also scattered seven hits and only allowed one run, as Houston didn’t take advantage of what should have been a good matchup. On to the next one.
Weather: Today looks a lot better than yesterday. Orioles/Red Sox and Phillies/Mets are under the spotlight for wet weather, but should be fine. We don’t have much in the way of wind either, except for a 15 mph cross breeze for Royals/Twins.
As you look up and down the board, though, we see humidity percentages in the 60s and 70s in some places. Between the temperatures, humidity and decreased strikeout rates, offense has picked up and I don’t think it’s by accident.
Injuries: Check out our Injury Report (https://www.vsin.com/injuries/mlb/) right here at VSiN. Also, my friend @MLBDream on Twitter put together a great MLB beat writer list to follow.
Giants (-180, 10) at Reds: Alex Wood has not pitched well of late, but this side hasn’t moved all that much because Vladimir Gutierrez is on the bump for the Reds. As I’ve mentioned before, the modeling crowd rates him as one of the worst starters in baseball. Instead, bettors are flocking to the over, as we’ve seen this total go up from 9 to 10. That’s probably not a bad strategy given that Great American Ball Park is the one that has played pretty true all season long.
We really don’t have many significant line moves otherwise. We’ve seen mild movement here and there of 10 cents or so. Some totals have flopped around a half run or with some juice. It is a really quiet day on the betting board for now. Perhaps that changes, but there isn’t a whole lot to report.
What I’ll Be Watching
Sandy Alcantara: Alcantara heads into this start with a 2.11 ERA and a 3.68 FIP. His 4.10 xFIP and 4.16 SIERA suggest that regression is likely imminent. His .242 BABIP is the best of his career, but his K% is down from the last two seasons and his BB% is up from the last three seasons. He’s still inducing a lot of weak contact, which is why he’s been able to pitch around those two concerns.
Last season, Alcantara held opposing batters to a .243 wOBA at home, but allowed a .314 wOBA on the road, with jumps of 49 points in BA, 55 points in OBP and 118 points in SLG. He’s only allowed more than three runs once and just threw a complete game against Atlanta. Given that Alcantara has always been a guy with a lower ERA than his other run estimators, maybe he can sustain this, but I’m skeptical. I think a bad start is coming soon.
Yusei Kikuchi: The Blue Jays are trying to turn Kikuchi into the next Robbie Ray. The goal is to throw more fastballs in the upper half of the zone and Toronto has also changed Kikuchi’s cutter into more of a slider and increased the usage. The problem is that Kikuchi’s whiff rate is nowhere near Ray’s on the slider. One thing that Kikuchi has done effectively is use his changeup against righties. He’s only thrown it 11.5% of the time, but righties have a 45.5% Whiff% on the pitch with 12 strikeouts and only eight balls in play. That will have to be a pitch he utilizes today against the Angels.
With help from that pitch, righties are only batting .172/.317/.323 with a .297 wOBA, which is only that high because he’s walked 17.5% of right-handed batters. In fact, almost 47% of Kikuchi’s plate appearances against righties have ended in a strikeout or walk, so we’ll see how that goes for him today.
Keegan Thompson: With only a few line moves, let’s add another pitcher to watch. Thompson has a 1.54 ERA with a 3.31 FIP heading into this start against the White Sox. He’s mostly pitched in relief over his 35 innings, but has made two starts and has pitched at least 2.2 innings in all 10 appearances. Thompson has a 30.3% Hard Hit% and some pretty good peripherals overall. In 73 PA against righties, Thompson has a .212/.288/.333 slash against and a .283 wOBA. The White Sox haven’t hit righties at all this season, so this would seem to be a decent matchup for Thompson, who has a fully-rested bullpen with a lot of right-handers in support.
Saturday Best Bets
Shop around for the best lines! I’m using a market consensus number that should be widely available to most, but every cent matters, so do the best you can to get the best line possible.
VEGAS LINES | ODDS BY STATE | MLB MATCHUPS
Game 2 Rockies/Nationals Over 9.5 (-105): I generally don’t love playing Game 2 of a doubleheader before Game 1 is done, but the article took me a little bit longer this morning and it was already a 7-4 game in the second inning for Game 1. That means a long Game 1 in store for the bullpens with one below average starter and one really bad starter in Game 2.
Nationals Park also plays a lot differently when it warms up and it will be around 80 at first pitch. Chad Kuhl’s Hard Hit% is up to 42.5% and he’s in the midst of some overdue regression. He was very fortunate to only allow one run over 4.1 innings against the Pirates last time out with four walks and five hits allowed. Prior to that, he allowed 11 runs on 15 hits in two starts against the Giants.
Joan Adon has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball this season with a 6.97 ERA and a 5.34 FIP. He’s carrying one of the league’s highest walk rates and his minor league strikeout numbers have not translated at all to the big leagues. He’s given up 16 barrels already this season and a lot of pull-side contact. His SwStr% is just 6.4%, so that means a lot of balls in play and many of his pitches have not been competitive enough to induce chases outside the zone.
The two managers may be forced to leave these guys out there a little bit longer based on how Game 1 started out and I’ve been looking to fade Kuhl anyway. Even with the Rockies road offense, this game has potential for a lot of runs, so I’ll take the Over 9.5.
Royals (+ 145) over Twins: Sorry it’s an early start, but I’m still very much off of the Chris Archer train and wanted to include this game. He has a 3.86 ERA with a 5.55 FIP, as his .241 BABIP against and 83.8% LOB% have been driving his overachieving season. Archer’s Hard Hit% of 40.4% is definitely on the high side and he’s also walked almost 12% of the batters that he has faced. The Royals offense had a nice performance yesterday and has been a top-10 offense over the last couple of weeks, as they’ve had some of their top-of-the-order guys swinging it well.
Archer has been able to limit damage in a lot of his starts, but I don’t think he’ll be able to dodge regression forever. He’s also made some road starts in good pitcher’s parks that have saved him from seeing numbers closer to his true talent level.
Brady Singer is making his second straight start against the Twins, but he’s throwing the ball quite well right now. Increased slider and changeup usage should give Singer more swing and miss and his SwStr% is up, along with his chase rate outside the zone. He’s always had a low one, so any uptick is sure to help. This just feels like a good spot to take a shot on a plus-money dog. I think Singer has more upside than Archer. The two bullpens have both been pretty bad, so they would appear to mostly cancel out. Minnesota’s offense is better, which is why the Twins are a big favorite, but the Royals are swinging the sticks well right now and Archer is a pretty clear-cut regression candidate as far as I’m concerned.
The Twins are an overperforming team in general for me, so I’ll take this chance to get the Royals at a plus-money price.
Rangers (-105) over Athletics: You can find this line at + 100 at some shops, but -105 is closer to the consensus, so I’ll go with that. I don’t think much of either one of these starting pitchers, but Taylor Hearn has more strikeout upside against an A’s lineup that has the sixth-highest K% in baseball against lefties. Both Hearn and A’s starter Zach Logue have allowed a ton of hard contact this season, but Hearn has faced Houston twice, the Angels twice and the Braves out of eight starts, while Logue has faced the Twins twice, followed by the Mariners, Tigers and Orioles.
Both guys have high barrel rates and Hard Hit% marks, but I’m a bigger believer in the Texas offense, which seems to be coming around little by little. The Rangers bullpen has actually morphed into a pretty good unit, which is a big reason why they’ve been able to remain competitive with that 21-23 record in the face of a lot of bad offense.
Logue is an extreme fly ball guy that can have home run issues. The Rangers haven’t hit enough fly balls against lefties, but still rank seventh in HR/FB%. They’ve got some right-handed power for this split, whereas the A’s really don’t and have hit even more ground balls. This just feels like a case of two teams that should be going in opposite directions and I’ll take the Rangers in the coin flip with juice game.
We’ll be rolling out some more baseball tools soon, including a tracker of my picks that will update in real-time, but for now, I’m tracking my picks in this spreadsheet HERE.