MLB Best Bets for Thursday, May 23rd

Welcome to my semi-weekly first five inning article! Twice a week throughout baseball season I’ll write up some of the more intriguing first five inning plays of the day. Handicapping pitchers is such a big part of betting baseball, and betting first fives is something I have gravitated to as a bettor.

As always, make sure to keep an eye out for Adam Burke’s columns which will appear daily. Adam is our primary baseball mind, and will be so once again throughout this season.


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Throughout the season I will be keeping track of the results of this article, which you can view here.

MLB Best Bets

Toronto Blue Jays at Detroit Tigers

Kevin Gausman vs Jack Flaherty

Congratulations to the Toronto Blue Jays! 

Bo Bichette launched his third home run of the season in the second inning last night against Chicago, and for the first time this season Toronto got a homer from the cleanup spot in their lineup.

It’s been that kind of season for the Blue Jays’ offense, and there is no reason to believe that the offensive explosion against Nick Nastrini was the sign of things to come. 

Toronto gets to face Jack Flaherty tonight, and similar to the AL Central southpaw they faced in Garrett Crochet on Tuesday, this is going to be a challenge.

Flaherty has been downright dominant recently. In his last four starts he’s allowed 7 earned runs over 25.1 innings. Over that span he owns a 1.79 FIP and for the season he sports a 2.77 FIP, indicating his 3.79 ERA is masking some real dominance.

Similar to Crochet, one look at Flaherty’s Baseball Savant profile reveals some incredible metrics.

He ranks in the 97th percentile of pitchers in whiff rate (35.9%) and the 95th percentile in strikeout rate (33.0%). Flaherty gets hitters to chase pitches out of the zone 31.0% of the time as well. He pairs those dominant swing-and-miss metrics with elite command, as he has walked just 3.7% of opposing hitters this season.

Flaherty also gives up very little hard contact, coming into this start ranking in the 78th percentile in barrel rate (5.2%) and the 65th percentile in hard-hit rate (36.3%). 

The Blue Jays have been an utter disappointment on offense. They are getting little production from their hitters behind Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and they must face another electric starter today, this time in the pitcher-friendly confines of Comerica Park. I trust Flaherty to hold this group down, so I’ll play the underdog price on a miniscule team total for Toronto in the first five innings.

Play: Blue Jays TT F5 UN 1.5 (+105)

Texas Rangers at Philadelphia Phillies

Andrew Heaney vs Zack Wheeler

If you’ve watched VSiN Primetime you know that my co-host – Tim Murray – and I are big Phillies fans. We’ve got a ticket on Philadelphia to have the most wins in May, and they currently hold a game lead on the pack with a 16-3 record.

Perhaps it’s bad juju to double-down with a wager on the team, but this is a matchup I can’t pass up.

Andrew Heaney has been fine for Texas this season, but there are some troubling metrics in his profile which I believe can get him into trouble against this Phillies lineup.

Heaney has been giving up quite a bit of hard contact. He ranks in the 17th percentile in hard-hit rate (44.8%), the 31st percentile in barrel rate (9.0%) and the 8th percentile in average exit velocity (91.2). Many of those batted balls are not hard-hit grounders either, as his groundball rate (34.3%) ranks in the 15th percentile.

A pitcher allowing a bunch of hard-hit flyballs shouldn’t fare well against this lineup in this ballpark.

We also get Zack Wheeler on the mound for Philadelphia. What else can be said? Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Wheeler art more lovely and more temperate.

The Phillies ace has been dominant, and enters this contest as the favorite to win NL Cy Young at DraftKings (+300). The only blemish on his profile is his command – he walks 7.8% of opposing hitters – but he can mow down hitters at such a high rate he makes up for it. 

This is also not your mother’s Texas Rangers lineup. They enter this contest just 16th in wRC+ (100) and 12th in wOBA (.312). Perfectly average. Wheeler should be able to deal with average the way he is rolling.

Play: Phillies F5 RL (-0.5, -140)