A scheduled double dip in San Diego gives us 16 games for the Saturday card. The MLB season is nearly two months old, but we’ve already had two different seasons within a season. I’ve talked about it a lot, but something changed in the middle of May, as offense perked up in a big way. Of the 30 MLB teams, 19 have a wRC + of 100 or higher over the last 30 days and 16 of them have a wRC + of 107 or higher. Boston and Toronto lead the way at 134 and 131, respectively.
What that means is that more than half of the league’s teams have performed at higher than a league average level in the last 30 days relative to the full-season numbers. Business has clearly picked up in the run-scoring department. The Hard Hit%, Barrel% and average exit velocity are all around what we saw earlier in the season, yet offense has spiked and it’s more than just the weather.
Whether or not this is the new normal for the rest of the season remains to be seen, but there was clearly some kind of adjustment to either the baseball or the storage of them in the humidors.
A quick reminder that there is no article on Sundays, but you can hear me with Ben Wilson on The Run Line from 8-10 p.m. ET. LISTEN HERE
Diamondbacks/Phillies: The Phightin’ Phils won again, reaching .500 for the first time since May 14. That’s now eight in a row and they’ve scored 7.5 runs per game in that span. With two more against Arizona, three with Miami, four at Washington and two at Texas, this team could absolutely stay hot for the next week and a half.
Very quietly, the Phillies pen has a 2.72 ERA and 3.66 FIP over the last 14 days. Overcoming perception bias takes a ton of time, but this group has actually been quite good for a sustained period of time.
Brewers/Nationals: Somebody needs to step up and get the Brewers out of this funk. The offense is in the tank and the pitching staff is faltering. Brandon Woodruff is experiencing Raynaud’s syndrome (numbness in his pitching fingers) and there is no timetable for his return. With Corbin Burnes looking human, Aaron Ashby all over the place and middle relief issues, Milwaukee is in a tough stretch. Yesterday’s loss to Erick Fedde and the Nationals took the Brewers out of first place, as Ashby allowed six runs on 13 hits in 4.2 innings.
Pirates/Braves: Spencer Strider and Roansy Contreras had a filth fest in Hotlanta yesterday, as the duo combined for 36 swinging strikes in Atlanta’s 4-2 win. Contreras did give up four runs in just 4.2 innings, but flashed a ton of promise. Both games in this series have comfortably gone under. The Pirates have some dudes that can pitch. They just don’t have much of a lineup at all. They should be a pretty good under bet moving forward.
Reds/Cardinals: Luis Castillo gave up two first-inning runs, but that’s all the Cardinals needed for a 2-0 win. Castillo saw a velo uptick and had 15 whiffs on 50 swings, as he pitched extremely well, but got absolutely no run support. The Reds have scored 5.97 runs per game at home and 2.72 runs per game on the road. They’re now 8-21 on the road and have been outscored 144-79.
Rockies/Padres: Nobody won the tic-tac-toe game yesterday between Chad Kuhl and Joe Musgrove, but the Padres clearly won the baseball game. Kuhl gave up five runs on eight hits, but it should have been a lot more, as he allowed 13 hard-hit balls in just 4.1 innings. He also walked five. Musgrove, on the other hand, threw six shutout innings and leads the league in ERA at 1.50. Now I’m just hoping he stays healthy because my 25/1 NL Cy Young ticket has a ton of life.
Dodgers/Giants: Walker Buehler’s fastball has lacked explosiveness and his stuff has looked pedestrian for a few weeks now. He left last night’s game after 70 pitches and is heading for an MRI on his elbow. His velocity and spin rates looked mostly okay and he had 11 whiffs in 31 swings, but his fastball velo did tail off a bit late in the game. Since May 13, Buehler has a 6.67 ERA with a 4.90 FIP. He’s allowed five homers and a ton of hard contact in his last three starts. Fingers crossed that it’s nothing serious.
Athletics/Guardians: Bad teams find ways to lose and Oakland found a way to lose last night, giving up three runs to the Guardians in the bottom of the ninth. Paul Blackburn threw eight excellent innings and Triston McKenzie matched up well again with Oakland, a lineup that fits his numbers and pitching style well.
Jose Ramirez’s ninth-inning solo homer kickstarted the rally. It was his 16th home run of the season. He’s also struck out 16 times this season. What a stud. The Guardians have now won nine of 11, largely against teams on their level or worse. This is what they do and what they’ve done for years. I just wish their prices weren’t so high on a daily basis.
Orioles/Royals: The struggles of Bruce Zimmermann continued on Friday. The Baltimore southpaw allowed three first-inning runs and seven total on 10 hits. His offspeed stuff is all out of whack, as hitters are just teeing off on virtually everything he throws. Zimmermann’s changeup had a 27% Whiff% last season, but it sits at just 17.4% this season with increased usage of the pitch. The problem here is that his changeup is supposed to be the pitch to neutralize righties and they are batting .304/.338/.546. Of course, lefties are also crushing him, too.
Since May 14, which seems to be around the time MLB changed something, Zimmermann has an 8.24 ERA with an 8.28 FIP in six starts.
Rays/Twins: Man, it felt good to get lucky for once. No, I’m not talking about that (I’m married), but it looked like the 1st 5 over was dead and buried in this game, but then six straight Twins reached with one out in the fifth in what ultimately became a six-run inning. Minnesota won 9-4 in a game that featured six home runs. I can’t help but wonder if the humidor was outright turned off at Target Field. Even with a slow start to the season, we’re up to 8.3 runs per game in the Twin Cities. The four games on this homestand have had 53 runs scored.
By the way, the Twins haven’t won consecutive games since their six-game winning streak ended on May 24.
Cubs/Yankees: It took 13 innings and a lot of zeroes for the Yankees to come away with a 2-1 win last night. Luis Severino looked great with 10 punchies over six innings. This is a game that merits thinking about down the line. The Cubs only got three innings from Wade Miley, so it took 9.2 innings from the bullpen to finish the game. The Yankees used six relievers to cover seven innings. The Cubs had only played once (Tuesday) this week thanks to off days and rainouts, so we start the focus on their bullpen now.
With New York, Miguel Castro, Clay Holmes, Michael King and Wandy Peralta have all worked back-to-back days now, so watch those guys closely.
The teams combined to go 1-for-37 with RISP in this game. The one hit? Jose Trevino’s pinch-hit walk-off single.
Marlins/Astros: Miami brought the bats to Houston with seven runs off of Luis Garcia and Phil Maton, but the story here was Pablo Lopez. He left after 4.1 innings following a line drive rocket of 100.5 mph off of his right wrist. He had a good knot on it leaving the field, but x-rays were negative. Something to monitor.
Weather: Mild shower chances threaten a few games, but it would be a shock to see any games postponed or faced with a lengthy delay. A decent breeze will be blowing in from RF in Blue Jays/Tigers and winds will be blowing out in San Francisco. Otherwise, a quiet day.
Injuries: We’re seeing a lot more injuries these days. A lot of position players and pitchers are dealing with soft tissue things. Check out our Injury Report right here at VSiN. This is also a good resource at FanGraphs (sort by date) HERE.
Rangers at White Sox (-150, 8.5): It took a little bit, but we’re seeing White Sox investment here. Bettors are waiting for the other shoe to drop with Martin Perez and he faces the best lineup in baseball against lefties in today’s start. It doesn’t hurt that Lucas Giolito is on the hill for the White Sox either.
Red Sox at Mariners (-125, 8): Influential bettors are looking to fade Michael Wacha today and with good reason. Wacha has a 1.99 ERA with a 3.79 xERA and a 3.76 FIP while running a .188 BABIP and an 83.8% LOB%. He’s also coming off of a complete game shutout against the Angels. He hadn’t worked more than six innings in a start otherwise this season and hadn’t even pitched into the seventh since August 31, 2019. This line has jumped about 10 cents.
Cubs at Yankees (-230, 9): We’ve seen a bit of Cubs investment here with Matt Swarmer going up against Jordan Montgomery. The Yankees bullpen is really taxed, which could be part of the thought process for underdog bettors here. This line has dropped 20-30 cents, but keep in mind that adjustments are generally a lot bigger with the higher lines, especially because they aren’t dime lines or 15-cent lines.
What I’ll Be Watching
Martin Perez: We’ve all been waiting for Perez to look like the guy we’ve painfully watched the last several seasons. Is today the day? Perez draws a White Sox lineup that leads baseball in wOBA and wRC + against lefties by a large margin. Chicago’s .484 SLG is also the best in baseball. The revamped Perez has a 1.56 ERA with a 2.57 xERA and a 2.53 FIP. The 3.61 xFIP is the part to watch here, given that he’s only allowed one home run this season on 61 fly balls and 26 line drives. I think a lot of people will bet on his regression today.
George Kirby: This is a really interesting start for the young fireballer. This will be Kirby’s first start against a team for the second time. He allowed five runs on eight hits in five innings against the Red Sox at Fenway Park back on May 19. He gave up a ton of contact in that game and four barreled balls. Kirby does not have a particularly deep arsenal, as almost 80% of his pitches have been heaters and sliders. His highest slider usage start this season was against Boston and it didn’t go well. Red Sox righties hit both homers and had five hits in 15 plate appearances plus a walk. Righties are batting .321/.367/.643 against him in 60 plate appearances, so this looks like a good matchup for the Sox.
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
Pirates (+ 205) over Braves: I looked at this one for a while this morning and decided that it was worth the gamble. Big underdogs are not supposed to win, but with the Pirates anywhere from + 200 to + 215 with a very rested bullpen, this one is worth a shot. The + 200 line implies a 33.3% win probability for the Pirates, but I think it’s a little more than that.
Charlie Morton has been able to limit the damage to the best of his ability, but he still has a 5.63 ERA in his 54.1 innings of work. Both lineups swing and miss a lot, but would you believe me if I told you that Zach Thompson has a higher SwStr% than Morton this season? That’s a pretty good indicator of where Morton’s stuff is this season. He’s allowed 12 runs in his last 14.1 innings and 15 runs in his last 19.1, so he’s been struggling. And, we’re not talking about great lineups either, as he’s faced the Marlins, Diamondbacks and Rockies (albeit at Coors) recently.
Over that four-start span, Morton has allowed 30 hard-hit balls on 59 balls in play for a Hard Hit% over 50%. The command profile just doesn’t justify being this big of a favorite against virtually anybody.
Thompson’s full-season numbers aren’t great with a 4.60 ERA, a 4.23 xERA and a 4.80 FIP, but he allowed 21 runs in his first four starts. In six starts and a relief appearance since, he’s only allowed seven runs. He’s got a 2.05 ERA with a 3.79 FIP over his last 30.2 innings of work. I like a lot of the things that the Pirates are doing on the pitching side and Thompson, who ranks in the top 20% in average exit velocity and grades above average in Hard Hit% and Barrel%, has added spin to his pitches and has four pitches with a Whiff% of at least 24.6%.
The Pirates bullpen is a solid unit, specifically with the top guys in David Bednar, Chris Stratton and Wil Crowe. All of them are rested and ready to go tonight. Any $2 underdog is going to be a risk, but I think this is a good time and a good matchup for taking a shot.
Red Sox/Mariners Over 8 (-120): You can find better juice on this one in some places, but this is my favorite total of the day. As mentioned above with regards to the line move, Michael Wacha worked deeper into a game than he had since the end of August 2019 last time out. For an oft-injured pitcher, that’s a pretty extreme appearance. Wacha also has the clear and obvious signs of negative regression with a low strikeout rate that doesn’t support his 83.8% LOB% and it is virtually impossible to run a .188 BABIP against.
The Red Sox have the best offense in baseball since the middle of May and swung it very well against Kirby not that long ago. He’s a young kid with a limited arsenal and learning how to match up with teams in repeat performances can definitely be tricky. In 96 batted balls, Kirby has a 46.9% Hard Hit% and a 10.4% Barrel%, both of which grade very poorly. Kirby’s average exit velocity ranks in the bottom 8%, while his Hard Hit% is in the bottom 7% and his Barrel% is in the bottom 19%. He’s not getting many swings and misses, despite above average velocity and the slider has a low spin rate that doesn’t generate a lot of whiffs either.
I thought long and hard about the 1st 5 Over 4.5, which you can find at even money, but the Mariners used six relievers yesterday and the Red Sox pen is up against it a bit, as Hansel Robles has worked back-to-back days and lefties Jake Diekman and Matt Strahm have each worked three of the last four. I think either one is a good bet, but I settled on the full-game over 8 at -120.
I’m tracking my picks in this spreadsheet HERE.