MLB Best Bets Today: Odds, predictions and picks for Thursday, September 21st

By Adam Burke  ( Managing Editor) 

September 21, 2023 11:14 AM

MLB schedule today has 9 games

Nine games are on the MLB slate for Thursday, as early starts in St. Louis and Tampa get us started, followed by a slate of night games going head-to-head with Giants vs. 49ers for eyeballs. I don’t really have a ton to add that I haven’t already said about September baseball. Some teams are still really into it and other teams are not. It’s cooling off, so offense may cool off a bit as well. Keep an eye on all of the pitchers for any signs of fatigue, whether those come in the form of velo decreases or spin rate drops. 

Today’s card appears to have slim pickings, as we only have one line under -130 and it comes early with the finale of the Brewers and Cardinals, but I’ll see what I find among today’s 18 teams.

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Here are some thoughts on the September 21 card (odds from DraftKings):

Milwaukee Brewers at St. Louis Cardinals (-110, 8.5)

Wade Miley and Miles Mikolas finish out this series, as the Brewers are in a position to take three of four. The Cardinals won the very emotional 200th game for Adam Wainwright, but have dropped both games since, including last night’s lifeless 8-2 loss. The Brewers got a three-run homer from Josh Donaldson in the first inning and it felt like it was over from that point.

That’s an angle to think about in some of these games moving forward. If a team without much to play for digs a hole early, they may not claw as much to get out of it as they would have earlier in the season. I’m not saying you have to lay some exorbitant moneyline price, but maybe an in-game run line pops up that makes sense.

One of the many reasons why the Cardinals have had a bad season is because Mikolas has not been himself. He’s got a 4.84 ERA with a 5.42 xERA and a 4.33 FIP. The 34-year-old has been durable again and will set a career-high in starts if he makes his next scheduled one, but his K% is down to 15.1% and his contact management metrics are the worst of his career with a 42.6% Hard Hit% and a 9.4% Barrel%.

Mikolas has a 7.02 ERA with a 6.31 FIP in his last 41 innings with just 19 strikeouts and 10 homers allowed. I’m not sure I’d expect much from him today. He’s allowed a 52% Hard Hit% and a 14% Barrel% in that span and it’s only getting worse with 15 Barrels(!!!!) and a 58% HH% in three September starts.

Miley comes in with some regression signs in the profile, as he has a 3.38 ERA with a 4.92 FIP. He’s got a 3.89 ERA with a 5.83 FIP in his last eight starts over 41.2 innings. He’s only got 24 strikeouts himself in that span, so there will be a ton of balls in play in this game. The difference is he has allowed a 26% HH% and a 6.1% Barrel%.

If I had more lead time, I’d give out the Brewers as an official play, but it would be unfair to put that out there with limited eyes on it. If you do see this before game time, I think Milwaukee is a good bet.

Atlanta Braves (-265, 9) at Washington Nationals

I only mention this huge favorite role for Atlanta because they continue to struggle. They’ve lost five of six, which wouldn’t be that noteworthy of a development for most teams, but this team felt like an invincible juggernaut and they’ve gotten their backsides kicked a lot lately. Five of those six losses are by three or more runs and three of them are by six or more runs.

Maybe this is a get-right series with a four-gamer against a Nationals team that is 6-12 in September. I’m sure there will be a lot of moneyline parlay exposure on the Braves today, as there are a lot of big favorites they could be paired with. I guess we’ll see if they can do what they’re supposed to do with Max Fried on the hill against Jake Irvin.

New York Mets at Philadelphia Phillies (-162, 8.5)

The other NL East vs. NL East matchup is the Mets and Phillies after Philadelphia secured a really nice series win in 11 innings yesterday over Atlanta. New York has been battling more than I expected them to, especially since they had great incentive to lose for the sake of their first-round pick placement, but the players care way less about that stuff than the front office does.

David Peterson and Ranger Suarez are the listed hurlers here, as we get five left-handed starters in the NL and one in the AL for today. There are no interleague games. Peterson rejoined the Mets rotation on August 4 and has a 4.06 ERA with a 4.69 FIP in 37.2 innings over eight starts since slotting back in. He has 45 strikeouts in that span, but has also allowed a .351 BABIP with a 47% Hard Hit% and a 10% Barrel%. The Phillies are seventh in wOBA against LHP since August 15, so they’ve fared well in that split.

The Mets are 14th over that span as they draw Suarez, who comes in with a 3.80 ERA, 4.53 xERA, and a 3.90 FIP in 113.2 innings of work. He’s thrown the ball really well in three starts since coming off the IL with six runs allowed on 11 hits in 16.1 innings with 20 strikeouts against nine walks. He’s allowed a 40% HH%, but only an average exit velo of 85.3 mph, so he’s allowed some hard contact and a lot of really weak contact.

The Phillies are probably worth the price today. I would be a little fearful of a letdown after yesterday’s win, but it was a day game and they got settled in at home before heading to the friendly confines today. Nothing from me here.

Pittsburgh Pirates at Chicago Cubs (-166, 8.5)

Justin Steele was sailing along yesterday and then he wasn’t, as Pittsburgh had a seven-run fourth inning off of him and Jose Cuas. Mitch Keller gave up a fifth-inning grand slam, so both pitchers flat out slammed into a wall. But, the Pirates scored 13 and the Cubs scored 7 and +150 hit.

Johan Oviedo and Kyle Hendricks are the listed starters today. Oviedo has thrown 166.2 innings this season and made 30 starts. The Cardinals actually did a pretty good job of building him up in his early years, but this is still 20 more innings than he’s ever thrown. That’s still not an increase of 60+ like we see with some pitchers. Oviedo has a 4.27 ERA with a 4.50 xERA and a 4.39 FIP for the season.

After a couple of bad back-to-back outings in mid-August, he’s allowed a total of eight earned runs in his last five starts and 10 runs total. That being said, in three September starts, he’s allowed a 57.5% Hard Hit% against the Cardinals, Braves, and Yankees. He also has a 13/12 K/BB in 12.1 innings, so he’s had a lot of traffic and a lot of hard contact to deal with of late.

Hendricks has been leaking a little oil lately. After allowing eight earned runs over five starts to finish August, he’s allowed nine earned runs on 21 hits in his three September starts. Some negative batted ball luck has also been in play, as he only has a 31.6% HH% against and has only allowed four barrels. He’s faced the Giants and the Diamondbacks twice.

The crafty vet owns a 3.77 ERA with a 3.85 FIP in his 22 starts over 126.2 innings and has allowed just a 31.2% HH% for the season with a 6.5% Barrel%.

With so much more hard contact in play for the Cubs, plus the high walk rate for Oviedo, I expect them to have more chances to score runs. I’d rather look at the 1st 5 for the run line here for two reasons - 1. I know that the Cubs will hit as many times as the Pirates; 2. The Cubs needed six relievers yesterday and three of them have worked back-to-back days. The Pirates pen is in better shape.

But, I do think Hendricks has a much higher ceiling than Oviedo, especially from a contact management standpoint. Shop around because you can find this price better than what DraftKings has listed.

Pick: Cubs 1st 5 Run Line (-0.5) (-120)

San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Dodgers (-180, 9)

Emmet Sheehan will open and Ryan Yarbrough will bulk as the Dodgers draw Kyle Harrison and the Giants. It wasn’t a very “engaged” series for the Dodgers against the Tigers, as they needed a walk-off win on Tuesday and lost on Wednesday to wrap up the series. We’ll see what they can do with their first look at Harrison.

The Giants left-hander has a very bright future, but he’s finding out that pitching at the MLB level is tough. After allowing two runs over his first 9.2 innings with 16 strikeouts, Harrison has allowed 12 earned runs (15 total) over his last three starts with 13 strikeouts in 14.2 innings of work. He’s allowed a 43.5% Hard Hit% and an 11.6% Barrel%.

Sheehan threw 36 pitches five days ago over three shutout innings with five strikeouts. It was his first appearance since September 8 when he struggled against the Nationals with five runs on six hits in just 4.1 innings. I would presume he’s somewhere around 50-60 pitches here, which could get him through 3-4 innings if he’s efficient. He has a 5.44 ERA with a 5.13 FIP in his rookie season over 49.2 innings.

Yarbrough came back from facial fractures on July 9 and has a spectacular 2.59 ERA with a 3.38 FIP. He’s back to inducing a ton of soft contact and has only walked five batters in his 55.2 innings since returning. Nothing from me in this game, as the Dodgers feel fairly priced, even with the sticker shock of Sheehan’s numbers.

Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees (-135, 7)

Skipping over Angels (Canning) at Rays (Eflin)...

Jose Berrios and Gerrit Cole are the listed hurlers for this one, as Cole seems to have the AL Cy Young Award locked up with a price of -1800 at DraftKings. It’s been a really weak year for the Cy Young in the AL, as Cole has pitched well, but has a 2.81 ERA with a 3.57 xERA and a 3.31 FIP in 192 innings. His K% is way down from previous seasons, but there hasn’t been any real competition.

At least Cole is pitching well down the stretch to earn it, as he’s allowed six earned runs over his last six starts. He gave up six to the Red Sox on August 19 and hasn’t allowed much of anything lately, though he’s faced the Rays, Tigers twice, Brewers, and Pirates, so a pretty weak slate of offenses. The Blue Jays should be better offensively than they are, but they’ve had major issues hitting righties this season.

They’ve been better of late and rank 15th in wOBA at .320 with a 104 wRC+ since the middle of August, but a lot of that has to do with a 10.9% BB% and Cole is usually pretty stingy with the walks. Also, the Jays may be without Vladimir Guerrero Jr. again, who was scratched due to knee soreness yesterday.

Berrios has had a lot of regression signs in the profile this season, but they haven’t really come to the forefront. He has a 3.49 ERA with a 4.47 xERA and a 4.03 FIP in his 178 innings of work. He had a couple of starts with five runs allowed to close out August and I thought that maybe his numbers were going to slide, but he’s allowed four runs on 14 hits in his last 20 innings against the A’s, Royals, and Red Sox. Berrios also has 22 strikeouts in that span and the Yankees, who have hit lefties well in the second half, are far and away the worst offense in baseball against righties in the second half.

Looking since August 15, specifically, their wOBA of .273 is 23 points lower than any other team and their 72 wRC+ is 11 points lower than any other team. In that sense, Berrios should be in good shape here, but with a low-scoring expectation for the Jays against Cole, I can’t fire on the dog.

Baltimore Orioles (-180, 8.5) at Cleveland Guardians

Cleveland has not yet named a starter for tonight, but my guess is that Hunter Gaddis either starts or serves as the bulk reliever. Shane Bieber returns tomorrow for Cleveland, so I guess that’s cause for some optimism, but after getting swept by the Royals, “optimism” isn’t even in the vocabulary.

As if we needed more examples of how baseball makes no sense, the Guardians have gone 2-9 against the Angels, Giants, and Royals over the last two weeks, but also have a sweep of the Rangers by a combined score of 23-6. The next loss for Cleveland guarantees their second losing season under Terry Francona.

So, it’ll be a Johnny Wholestaff Day for Cleveland, with Gaddis, who has a 4.85 ERA with a 4.23 xERA and a 5.31 FIP at the MLB level and a 6.14 ERA with a 6.58 FIP in Triple-A, likely eating a few innings.

The Orioles will send out Grayson Rodriguez, who threw eight shutout innings five days ago. It was the longest outing of the season for G-Rod, who scattered five hits and struck out seven. He only needed 95 pitches, so it wasn’t all that strenuous of a start, despite all of the up/downs. Since coming back on July 17, he has a 2.59 ERA with a 2.91 FIP. He’s been nothing short of awesome and he’ll be electrifying in the playoffs for the O’s.

This is one of those games with the double minus, with Baltimore -1.5 and -115 or so. With no starter named for Cleveland, I can’t recommend much of anything since I’ve preached about selecting “Listed Pitchers” for every game. Baltimore probably wins and does so handily, but I try to shy away from the double minus, especially since I guess Cleveland may still have a little life against playoff teams. Maybe. They might also lose 12-3 and every Orioles run line number covers. Orioles -2.5 at +133 is not a good enough price for me to entertain.

Detroit Tigers (-180, 7.5) at Oakland Athletics

I realize Tarik Skubal is good. Detroit is playing pretty well. Oakland is awful. But, man, I did a double take when I saw a -180 road price for the Tigers. DraftKings does have the high price here, so let’s call the consensus line -175. The last time the Tigers were that big of a road favorite was October 1, 2016 when Jordan Zimmermann started against Aaron Blair and the Braves. The Tigers lost that game 5-3.

They were a road favorite of this magnitude twice in 2014 with Max Scherzer on the mound, first against Hector Noesi and then against Anthony Swarzak. So there’s your bar bet trivia nugget for today.

Skubal comes in with a 3.25 ERA and a 2.28 FIP over 69.1 innings of work. He’s allowed five earned runs over his last four starts and his ERA has been moving closer to his advanced run estimators, as it probably should have been much earlier. He’s got 34 strikeouts in that span against just five walks and has 84 K and 13 BB in his 13 starts this season.

I’ve actually been quite interested (probably way more than I should have been) in the season of Funky Cold Luis Medina. While the full-season numbers aren’t great with a 5.56 ERA and a 4.96 FIP, he has only allowed four homers in his last 71 innings pitched since the start of June. He still has a 5.07 ERA, but he’s got a 4.05 FIP in that span with over a strikeout per inning. I think the A’s have quietly improved their pitchers this season and the position player group has gotten a little stronger as the year has gone along. I think there’s a chance that they spend a little money to get some veterans heading into next season that they can spin at the Trade Deadline for some more prospects.

Medina has only allowed a 38.5% Hard Hit% and a 3.9% Barrel% in that span I referenced, so he has no business with a .338 BABIP or a 66.2% LOB%. He’s had some walk issues, but those sometimes come with the strikeouts when your raw stuff is pretty good.

Anyway, long story to say I’m not betting this game, but I’ve already talked myself into an A’s season win total over bet next season with what I’ve noticed as the year has gone along.

TL;DR Recap

Cubs 1st 5 -0.5 (-120)

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