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Playoff implications loom in weekend MLB matchups

Jeff Fogle
VSiN.com

The Cubs visit the Brewers…the Royals visit the Red Sox…and the two most likely NL Wildcard teams have tough road tests as the pennant races heat up.

MLB: Contenders collide over busy baseball weekend
Some very important baseball on tap through the weekend as playoff contenders need to bring playoff intensity each and every day.

We’re going to focus on four key matchups for you:

  • Chicago Cubs at Milwaukee, with first place in the NL Central on the line
  • Arizona at St. Louis, as the Cards must make a move in the Wildcard race
  • Colorado at Washington, with the reeling Rockies in need of some statement wins
  • Kansas City at Boston, as the Royals ride an eight-game winning streak into Fenway

Obviously, Tampa Bay at the NY Yankees is a huge series as well. We already ran the pitching matchups for you Thursday in that four-game free-for-all. 

We wanted to add in some extra rankings today. Generally, handicapping “shorthand,” whether it’s here in VSiN City or on our broadcasts, involves the starting pitchers. That can lead to not enough emphasis being placed on offenses and relief pitching. So each of our four preview blurbs will include those today:

Offense: we’ll use weighted-runs-created-plus, because that’s a great “summary” stat that attempts to adjust for home ballpark influences. 

Relief Pitching: we’ll use the xFIP of “relievers” only for each team as tabulated by fangraphs. You regulars know that’s a fielding-independent measure that runs along the same scale as ERA.

And so you’re not drowned in alphanumerical soup, we’ll just use the LEAGUE RANKINGS rather than the raw numbers. You don’t really need to know that Colorado has a wRC-plus OF “83.” You need to know that Colorado’s offense is the second-worst in the National League once you adjust for the influences of its home ballpark. 

We’ll also include the xFIP for the probable starting pitchers Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Let’s take the matchups in Nevada Rotation order for Friday’s games. 

Colorado at Washington

  • Offense (wRC-plus): Colorado #14 in NL, Washington #2 in NL
  • Bullpen (xFIP): Colorado #6 in NL, Washington #13 in NL
  • Friday: Marquez (4.29 xFIP) vs. Roark (4.32 xFIP)
  • Saturday: Freeland (4.78 xFIP) vs. Fedde (n/a)
  • Sunday: Gray (3.83 xFIP) vs. Jackson (6.03 xFIP)

It’s not well understood by the mainstream media that Colorado has a poor offense this season. You can see that Washington is second best in the NL, Colorado second worst when you focus on the most important hitting stats and adjust for home ballpark. You may have heard praise for the great year Nolan Arenado is having. A .313 batting average with 89 RBI’s sounds huge just past the 100-game mark. Playing home games at altitude, he’s hitting .339 with 54 RBI’s. On the road in a more realistic sampling of ballparks, he’s hitting .290 with 35 RBI’s. Nothing wrong with those road numbers. But…if ALL hitters got to play their home games in parks that increase offense 32%, Arenado would seem more mortal. 

Anyway, GREAT luck for the Rockies that they miss the injured Stephen Strasburg and Cy Young candidate Max Scherzer this weekend. If they can’t take two of three here, you really have to wonder if they can hold on in the WC race. Colorado just got swept in St. Louis, and is 12-19 its last 31 games. (Note that Washington’s bullpen will probably rank better than #13 in the NL moving forward after recent trades.)

Chicago Cubs at Milwaukee

  • Offense (wRC-plus): Cubs #4 in NL, Milwaukee #7 in NL
  • Bullpen (xFIP): Cubs #3 in NL, Milwaukee #7 in NL
  • Friday: Quintana (3.91 xFIP) vs. Suter (3.98 xFIP)
  • Saturday: Hendricks (3.91 xFIP) vs. Guerra (5.92 xFIP)
  • Sunday: Lackey (4.71 xFIP) vs. Davies (4.64 xFIP)

The red-hot Cubs have surged past Milwaukee into first place. It goes without saying that their starting rotation is more impressive. We can now see that they have the superior park-adjusted offense and bullpen as well. This is why so many analytics models have the Cubs running away from the Brewers down the stretch. That spring started right after the All-Star Break. If the Brewers can’t win at least two of three at home, they might choke on Chicago’s dust as they wave good bye to first place for good. Longer term stats suggest that Quintana has a bigger edge over Suter than the numbers above suggest. 

Arizona at St. Louis

  • Offense (wRC-plus): Arizona #8 in NL, St. Louis #5 in NL
  • Bullpen (xFIP): Arizona #2 in NL, St. Louis #9 in NL
  • Friday: Ray (3.90 xFIP) vs. Wacha (3.76 xFIP)
  • Saturday: Greinke (3.25 xFIP) vs. Leake (3.91 xFIP)
  • Sunday: Walker (4.41 xFIP) vs. Lynn (4.45 xFIP)

Just when you give up on St. Louis, they do something like sweep Colorado. Can they keep the surge going this weekend? Arizona’s another team that plays home games in a hitting paradise, which means that their offense is overrated compared to their pitching. Would you have guessed the D-backs had the second-best bullpen in the NL? The D-backs only rank as an average NL offense once you adjust for the park. Paul Goldschmidt has been a god at home (.341 batting average, .478 on-base percentage, .632 slugging percentage), but more realistic in a sampling of road parks (.286, .387, .503).

Great test for the D-backs in St. Louis against pitchers like Wacha, Leake, and Lynn. Might be a series that plays Under unless weather is significantly helping hitters. 

Kansas City at Boston

  • Offense (wRC-plus): Kansas City #15 in AL, Boston #12 in AL
  • Bullpen (xFIP): Kansas City #8 in AL, Boston #3 in AL
  • Friday: Vargas (4.90 xFIP) vs. Price (4.45 xFIP)
  • Saturday: Cahill (n/a xFIP) vs. Porcello (4.34 xFIP)
  • Sunday: Hammel (5.19 xFIP) vs. Rodriguez (4.22 xFIP)

Kansas City has caught fire lately…and there’s just no way for their full-season stats to capture how well they’re playing now. The Royals have had a knack in recent seasons for confounding analytics by peaking higher than they projected. We’ve seen that again in recent weeks. Both teams are struggling in park-adjusted offense in 2017. Boston’s elite pitching staff (starters and bullpen) should keep the Sox in the thick of the pennant race all season. If the bats improve, they become a more serious threat to the Astros and Indians. Kansas City catches a break that Chris Sale misses the series. 

Let’s sneak a peek at the offensive and bullpen rankings for the other top contenders who aren’t involved in marquee series this weekend. That will help complete your picture of the true dynamics of the pennant race. We start in the senior circuit.

National League Rankings (wRC on offense, bullpen xFIP)

  • LA Dodgers: #1 on offense, #1 bullpen
  • Pittsburgh: #10 on offense, #8 bullpen

The Dodgers are great at everything this season. Stick elite starters in front of that offense/bullpen combo, and they’re going to be positioned to win almost every time out. Even average starters can post gaudy won-lost records with that much support. Pittsburgh isn’t currently playoff caliber in those two important areas of play. 

American League Rankings

  • Houston: #1 on offense, #1 bullpen
  • Cleveland: #3 on offense, #2 bullpen
  • NYY: #2 on offense, #4 bullpen
  • Tampa Bay: #4 on offense, #14 bullpen
  • LA Angels: #13 on offense, #5 bullpen
  • Baltimore: #8 on offense, #12 bullpen
  • Texas: #10 on offense, #10 bullpen
  • Minnesota: #9 on offense, #13 bullpen

A lot more teams to look at in the crowded AL. Houston is just like the LA Dodgers in terms of dominance. Though, Houston’s bullpen ERA isn’t as good as their xFIP suggests. That likely reflects a combination of shoddy fielding and bad luck. Take from this today that Houston’s bullpen is probably better than you were thinking. Cleveland is clearly playoff (and World Series) caliber. The Yankees continued to be a force after snapping out of that temporary funk that clouded their skies in the days before the All-Star Break. 

Moving further down, you viewers of “A Numbers Game” with Gill Alexander have heard this season about Tampa Bay’s great performance in 5-inning props. That horrible bullpen has kept them from being a 9-inning juggernaut. Generic offenses below the Rays, with bullpen issues dragging down everyone but the Angels. 

A fun weekend to watch, handicap, bet, and study for future betting. Enjoy!

Saratoga and Del Mar: The road to more racing…Jim Dandy and Bing Crosby highlight the weekend
With apologies to Bob Hope, we’re off on the road to more racing as the Jim Dandy and Bing Crosby team up to highlight this weekend’s special events schedule.

  • The $600,000 Jim Dandy is the Saturday showcase at Saratoga, and will be one of the most anticipated races of the entire calendar year. Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and Preakness champ Cloud Computing highlight the field. The race will garner live national coverage on FoxSports2 from 5 p.m. ET to 6:30 p.m. ET.
  • The $300,000 Bing Crosby Stakes runs Sunday at Del Mar. It’s a Grade 1 race for horses three-years-old and up. World renowned recording and movie star Crosby was a founding partner of the racetrack when it opened in 1937.

Don’t forget that VSiN horse racing expert Ron Flatter is posting a “Saratoga Play of the Day,” sponsored by NYRA Bets, here at the website. Click this to read Flatter’s Friday forecast. Check out our home page daily for Ron’s selections throughout the summer meet that runs until Labor Day. 

College Basketball: ESPN posts “Summer Update” of BPI ratings
Thursday afternoon, ESPN Analytics posted its summer update of its BPI college basketball ratings (Basketball Percentage Index). It’s never too early to start thinking about college hoops. You just saw how fast the summer flew by in advance of Thursday’s NFL Hall of Fame game!

ESPN has Wichita State as #1 in the nation based on the high quality of returning talent from a roster that was so well-regarded last season. You may recall that Wichita State graded out as a Sweet 16 caliber team in most respected analytics evaluations, even though the selection committee inexplicably only made them a #10 seed. 

Wichita State’s 2017 Big Dance

  • (10) Wichita State (-6.5) beat (7) Dayton 64-58
  • (10) Wichita State (plus 3) lost to (2) Kentucky 65-62

So the Shockers were favored by almost seven points over the #7 seed, then lost a nailbiter to national power Kentucky…who would go on to beat UCLA by 11 points and lose by two points to eventual champion North Carolina.

Can’t disagree with Wichita State being a team to watch very closely in the 2017-18 season. But #1 in the country? You may recall that last Wednesday’s Q A with “Coast2Coast” mentioned that college basketball was his top sport. We asked him for his thoughts on BPI having Wichita State at #1.

“I doubt I will rank them #1. The real challenge in rating teams before the season is how much to weight returning players, and then how much weight should be given to incoming freshmen. Wichita State is #1 in BPI because of their returning players. I’m not sold on that to begin with. But they also have a very weak recruiting class. 247Sports ranked that class #126. Most of the best teams will have freshmen playing key roles. It seems that this preseason BPI doesn’t adequately punish Wichita State for their lack of 5-star and 4-5star recruits coming in.”

Here’s a link to the recruiting class rankings Coast2Coast mentioned.

Wichita State will get a few chances to prove their national bona fides in November and December. The Shockers will play in the Maui Invitational November 20-22 (among others invited: Michigan, Notre Dame, Marquette, California, and VCU.). They will also face Big 12 entries Baylor, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma in non-conference December action before their first season in the American Athletic Conference.  

Sports Betting: Legendary bettor Billy Walters sentenced to 5 years in prison, $10 million fine
A federal judge in New York formally handed down the sentence Thursday morning. Arguably the most well-known and successful sports bettor in history will spend five years in prison and pay a $10 million fine for “conspiring to commit insider trading.”

Click here to read the official press release from the Department of Justice. 

Click here to read and lengthy and informative article from the Las Vegas Review Journal discussing the sentence and Walters’ legacy in Las Vegas as a bettor, businessman, and philanthropist. 

Click here for additional context from a wire service story that ran in the Boston Herald. 

The Associated Press article in the Herald noted that the 65-year-old Walters was asked to report to prison October 10.

That wraps up another week in VSiN City. We’ll see you again Monday. If you haven’t taken care of business yet regarding your free subscription…which comes with an automatic drawing to win a free entry to the Westgate SuperContest (a $1,500 value)…please click here. Follow us on twitter by clicking here. If you have any questions or comments about the VSiN City newsletter, or VSiN’s daily programming, drop us a note, or use the Facebook option at the bottom of this page.

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