MLB Best Bets Today April 19

All 30 teams take the field on Friday, with 14 of those 15 games under the lights with late starts. The Marlins and Cubs will play early with some breezes blowing out to right center at Wrigley Field to get the day going. A cold rain threatens the Mariners and Rockies game, but we should have smooth sailing across the rest of the slate.

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Here are the MLB best bets today for April 19:

Boston Red Sox at Pittsburgh Pirates (-115, 8.5)

6:40 p.m. ET

If ground balls are your thing, the game of the night is in the Steel City, as Boston and Pittsburgh get together for some interleague action. It will be Brayan Bello for the Sox and Quinn Priester for the Pirates, as the sophomore right-hander gets called up for his 2024 debut outing.

Priester had a real rough go of it last season at the MLB level with a 7.74 ERA and a 6.74 FIP in 50 innings of work. In three starts at Triple-A this season, Priester has been hurt by his defense with a 3.95 ERA, but a 1.91 FIP. He’s got a 51.5% GB% and a .364 BABIP against. Hopefully a MLB defense behind him will convert more batted balls into outs.

Priester was a universal top-100 prospect last season when he came up and I think the early returns may have soured some people, but he’s generating a ton of swing and miss this season. He has 20 K out of 58 batters in those AAA starts and he struck out 13 of 62 batters in Spring Training.

Priester did generate a good number of whiffs with his slider last season, but sinker command really hurt, especially against the platoon side. This season, his velo is up and his execution of that pitch has improved. Given how some of the other Pirates arms have leveled up this season, I’m confident that the Buccos have worked with Priester and he should be able to keep the Sox at bay. Pittsburgh also has a dynamite defensive infield, especially if Ke’Bryan Hayes can return tonight.

On Bello, he’s a big-time ground ball guy as well, and he’s actually done better early in the season here with his Hard Hit%, lowering it from 44.3% to 39.7%. He’s cut out the four-seamer, a pitch that opposing hitters batted .310 against last season with a .646 SLG. So, here we see another example of Andrew Bailey trying to optimize a pitcher’s arsenal. In place of the four-seam, we see a higher rate of changeups and sliders from Bello. Both of those things are positive developments, especially with the slider coming in harder and with a higher spin rate.

Bello is getting a lot more horizontal movement on his slider this season and the sinker has had a bit more bite with more vertical movement. These are welcomed changes to his arsenal that should cut down on hard-hit contact and still keep the ground ball rate high.

Both bullpens are in pretty good shape here in this one and it will be cooling off throughout the night with the breeze to CF slowing down as darkness sets in. I’d rather take the full game Under 8.5 at a little extra juice than lay -130 on the 1st 5 Under.

Pick: Red Sox/Pirates Under 8.5 (-118)

Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees (-175, 8.5)

7:05 p.m. ET

Tyler Alexander gets the start for the Rays in this one against the Yankees, as Tampa has decided not to go with an opener for the southpaw in his first season with the ballclub. The Rays pen has been used a bit over the last four days, and while nobody is unavailable today, spending an arm for an opener was decided not to be the best course of action.

But, I look at Alexander and I see what the Rays saw in him and it wouldn’t be very surprising to see them have Zack Littell-esque results as the year goes along. Bear with me here because I know that Alexander has a 6.46 ERA with a 6.85 FIP, but I see a lot of positive regression signs in the profile for him because of how the Rays are leveraging his pitches and the changes that they’ve made.

Alexander has only allowed a 32.1% Hard Hit% on the season. He has allowed five barrels, but four came in his first start against the Jays and he’s only allowed one in his last 36 batted balls. The Rays are pushing all of their starters to work up in the zone with fastballs and that will lead to some home runs allowed, but it should also limit the number of hits given up. Based on the batted ball distribution and the contact quality against, Alexander’s .313 BABIP and .308 BA against are not going to stay that high. He’s a guy with a .270 career average against and a .299 BABIP, so positive regression will come there.

According to Statcast, his xBA is .246. His wOBA against is currently .420, but his xwOBA is .327. He’s gotten a bit unlucky in a few areas thus far. I would also expect an increase in K% down the line, as a 77.1% F-Strike% usually generates better results. Another outlier is that he’s allowed a .308/.372/.667 slash after a first-pitch strike. The league slash After 0-1 is .208/.259/.324, so that’s another area where I’d expect improvement.

The weather should be beneficial for Alexander here as well, with temps in the low 50s and a damp evening in the Bronx with the wind blowing in from RF. So, I think there are a lot of positive factors in his favor.

Also, I think this line is just too high for Clarke Schmidt. I will cop to liking a lot of what Schmidt has done this season. He’s limited hard contact, pounded the strike zone, and made some arsenal changes that should lead to success. I’m just not sure this high of a price is warranted. He’s got a 78.6% Z-Contact% per Pitch Info Solutions and 78.8% per Statcast. Spencer Strider led the league among qualified pitchers last season at 76.7% and he was the only one with a lower Z-Contact% than what Schmidt has right now.

Schmidt’s Chase Rate is really low per both Pitch Info Solutions and Statcast at 21.8%. League average is 27.6%. While swings and misses inside the zone are a barometer of stuff quality, I think these are some outlier numbers early in the year.

Ultimately, this is a price play, where I feel that the Yankees are a bit overvalued and I like the chances that this game is a toss-up and a bullpen battle late, at which point holding +145 (or better if you shop around) will be a good position to have.

Pick: Rays +145

Milwaukee Brewers (-118, 7.5) at St. Louis Cardinals

8:15 p.m. ET

NL Central rivals square off here, as we’ll get Freddy Peralta against Kyle Gibson to start this one. Peralta is off to an outstanding start this season, as he’s allowed five runs on 10 hits with a 26/2 K/BB ratio. The contact management metrics do signal a bit of mild regression with his .235 BABIP, but his 14.4% SwStr% and overall quality of his stuff to begin the year do suggest that he’s going to continue to be a very solid contributor for the Brewers.

The Cardinals are off to a very slow .236/.296/.344 slash against righties with an 88 wRC+. They have a K% north of 24% and a BB% of just 7.1% in that split, which should play well for Peralta. The Brewers have done a really good job of getting him to be more efficient with his pitches over the years and he may very well be in line for his third straight season of improvement in the BB% department, while also keeping pace with a 30+% K%.

On the flip side, Gibson looks like a guy who is definitely in the throes of the aging curve. He’s been a guy with terrible second halves each of the last two seasons and first halves that were somewhat acceptable. Over the last five seasons, Gibson has run ERAs of 5.92, 5.35, 5.51, 6.01, and 4.92 in the second half with wOBAs of .365, .356, .332, .360, and .339. His 4.60 ERA in the first half last year only came with a .316 wOBA, so he got a little bit unlucky, but I think the stuff profile is in decline and the margin for error is just non-existent.

Right now, it’s really ugly. Gibson has allowed 13 runs on 17 hits in 19 innings with five homers allowed already. He’s got an 11/6 K/BB ratio and has allowed a 49.2% Hard Hit% with a 15.3% Barrel%. He’s had a single-digit SwStr% in each of his three starts and he’s not throwing a whole lot of competitive pitches with a Zone% of just 33.2%. I think he knows the stuff is in decline and he’s nibbling a lot, which has put him behind in counts and led to punishment.

His sinker velo is the lowest of his career and it seems like he’s having some difficulties getting on the same page with Willson Contreras. Maybe it was a PitchCom issue and maybe it was just an excuse because that didn’t come up when he gave up seven runs two starts ago to the Marlins.

Milwaukee is off to a stellar offensive start, particularly against righties, as they are slashing .283/.357/.458 with a 127 wRC+. They’re aggressive on the bases and they have been aggressive in punishing mistakes with 22 homers to lead the National League.

Both bullpens are rested with yesterday’s off day. Both have comparable numbers to this point, but I think the Brewers have a lead to protect and the -115 for the full game is more palatable than the -130 for the 1st 5.

Pick: Brewers -118