MLB Best Bets Today: Odds, predictions and picks for Monday October 16th

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MLB schedule today has 2 games

One series continues and another series begins as we’ve got two MLB games on the slate for Monday. The Rangers look to take a 2-0 ALCS series lead on the Astros, while the Phillies and Diamondbacks battle to see who draws first blood in the NLCS.

 

I’m not sure more build-up is required here, as it is a huge day and one of potentially four (Oct. 19th, 20th, 23rd) with both series in action. For that to be the case on the 20th, the ALCS cannot end in a sweep and for that to be the case on the 23rd, the ALCS would need to go seven games and the NLCS at least six.

By the way, we do have a Sports Equinox coming up on October 30 and I wrote up some fun facts about that big event.

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Here are some thoughts on the October 16 card (odds from DraftKings):

(odds as of 8:45 a.m. PT)

Texas Rangers at Houston Astros (-120, 8.5)

Despite feasting on left-handed pitching throughout the season, the Astros went hungry on Sunday night. Jordan Montgomery twirled 6.1 strong innings and two runs were all that the Rangers needed to pull off a Game 1 upset. Montgomery had six strikeouts against one walk and worked out of a couple of jams, including a bases-loaded one in the fourth, but he got Martin Maldonado to go down swinging to end the threat.

The Rangers didn’t threaten much against Justin Verlander either, as they scored on a solo HR and a double-single combo in the second. They left the bases loaded in that inning and got a runner to second just one other time aside from the homer. One of the big stories of the night was how Verlander only had seven whiffs in 52 swings. He also only allowed an average exit velocity of 85.3 mph.

Are we in line for another pitcher’s duel in Game 2? It will be Nathan Eovaldi for the visitors and Framber Valdez for the hosts. Eovaldi, who was terrible in September as he worked his way back from injury, has allowed just two runs on 11 hits with 15 strikeouts and zero walks in the postseason. For a guy who had a 9.30 ERA over 20.1 innings with 21 runs allowed on 26 hits and a .313/.418/.602 slash against, those two starts have certainly been surprises.

Interestingly, righties actually fared better than lefties, so Eovaldi had some reverse platoon splits this season. Lefties only posted a .201/.255/.324 slash with a .254 wOBA, while righties had a .245/.329/.433 slash with a .331 wOBA. The lefties in Houston’s lineup are arguably the two most dangerous bats, but the right-handed-heavy lineup does feature a lot more guys from that side of the dish.

Still, Eovaldi at least had an excuse coming back from injury with no time to rehab in the minors. Valdez battled various ailments throughout the season, but his prolonged stretch of pitching poorly in the second half was a concern for me in the ALDS when we backed the Twins in Game 2 to their lone win of the series. Valdez allowed five runs on seven hits with five strikeouts and three walks in that start.

Over the course of the second half, Valdez threw a no-hitter against Cleveland and had seven no-hit innings against Detroit, yet he posted a 4.66 ERA with a 4.39 FIP. He allowed 12 homers over those 14 starts and a 46.7% Hard Hit%. He was not sharp over his last two starts against Kansas City and Seattle with 10 runs allowed on nine hits over 9.1 innings and that carried over into the postseason. The 12 runs over 8.1 innings that Eovaldi allowed to the Mariners did not carry over.

Both bullpens really locked it down yesterday, as the Rangers, who left southpaw Brock Burke off the playoff roster, used Josh Sborz, Aroldis Chapman, and Jose Leclerc for the final eight outs. Chapman had a “heart in your throat” moment when Alex Bregman flew out to the quirky left center field corner at Minute Maid Park, but it wound up erasing a leadoff walk to Jose Altuve.

The Astros pen went seven up and seven down with three strikeouts. Where I’m torn here is taking Rangers 1st 5 or the 1st 5 Over. Eovaldi has pitched so well in the postseason, but he can and will allow a lot of hard contact. I just don’t think Valdez is right and the Rangers have been swinging it very well this postseason. He got to cruise against the Orioles because he took the mound in the third with a 6-0 lead. I wonder if he has to work harder in this start today.

Just because the playoff run environment tends to be a lot tighter, I’ll side with the Rangers here as my fade of Valdez. Jonah Heim calls a really good game and is an elite defensive catcher. Maldonado does the same, but I do think that Eovaldi has a higher ceiling in terms of execution at this point. Plus, Valdez has only pitched once since September 27 and hasn’t been sharp in a while.

I’m not sure what will happen with the bullpens, so I’ll trade a few cents and roll with the 1st 5 over the full game.

Pick: Rangers 1st 5 (-105)

Arizona Diamondbacks at Philadelphia Phillies (-166, 7)

Game 1 in Philly will feature cool temps in the 50s, but there is no rain and minimal wind in the forecast at Citizens Bank Park. Zack Wheeler will throw the first pitch of this game and Zac Gallen will throw the first pitch in the bottom of the first. What really helped the Diamondbacks advance in the NLDS was scoring early, as they scored six runs off of Clayton Kershaw in the first inning of Game 1 and then three off of Bobby Miller in the first inning of Game 2. They waited until the third inning to hit four homers off of Lance Lynn.

I don’t think they’ll have that luxury today against Wheeler, who has been masterful in the postseason this year and in his career. He’s allowed three earned runs on just eight hits with 18 strikeouts against one walk in 13 innings this postseason. Overall, he has a 2.59 ERA with a 2.60 FIP in eight career playoff starts.

The strikeout might not be as much of a weapon against the Diamondbacks, who were one of the league’s top teams when it comes to strikeout avoidance, but what also makes Wheeler special is that he’s allowed a career Hard Hit% of just 32.1% and a Barrel% of 5.2%. Even when he’s not missing bats, he’s missing barrels and inducing a ton of weak contact. The Phillies have also had outstanding pitching plans on how to attack hitters in each of the last two postseasons and I’m sure they’ve figured out Arizona.

The Diamondbacks were 28th in Barrel% in the regular season at 6.2%, but are tied for the playoff lead with the Phillies at 14.4% this postseason. Dodgers pitchers on a layoff and somewhat compromised due to injury were unable to stay out of the nitro zones. I firmly believe that Wheeler can and will.

Gallen has allowed four runs on 10 hits in 11.1 innings this postseason, but only has eight strikeouts out of 47 batters and has allowed five walks. The right-hander has limited the damage allowed and has done better with his contact management numbers, but I still have a lot of concerns. His 3.47 ERA came with a 4.18 xERA during the regular season, as he got away with a ton of hard contact. Overall, Gallen allowed a 46% Hard Hit% with a 9.2% Barrel%. Going up against a Phillies lineup that makes a lot of authoritative contact seems like a concern. His HH% was north of 49% in the second half.

The other thing for Gallen here is that he had some very well-defined home/road splits.

Home: 102 IP, 2.47 ERA, 2.32 FIP, .230/.263/.339, .262 wOBA, 7 HR, 30.1% K%, 4.5% BB%
Away: 108 IP, 4.42 ERA, 4.15 FIP, .245/.302/.422, .313 wOBA, 15 HR, 22.4% K%, 6.5% BB%

Those are decreases across the board on the road for Gallen and the huge K% is the one that really stands out to me. As a guy whose command metrics are less impressive than his run metrics, the gaudy strikeout numbers really helped offset the high-velocity contact. I’m not sure that’s a luxury afforded to him in this game.

This is a little bit risky, but I’m going to go for the big plus-money price here and lay a home run line in the playoffs with a low total. The safer play is probably Phillies -0.5 (-120), but there are some very well-defined home/road splits for the Arizona bullpen as well.

In taking a sample of just the second half (when the D-Backs pen really solidified and also encompasses most of the post-Paul Sewald trade), the Diamondbacks pen allowed the fourth-highest wOBA against at .352. Only Colorado, Kansas City, and the Angels were worse. The Diamondbacks allowed a .267/.342/.480 slash with a 5.27 ERA in that split.

If Gallen struggles as I suspect, it might be a five-and-fly type of night for him. That would put some pressure on the pen and the road numbers are not impressive as a group. I like Wheeler over Gallen. I like the overpowering Phillies pen over the Diamondbacks pen. I like the insane playoff environment in Philadelphia. This is a risk, knowing that the Phillies may only bat eight times, but I think the +130 is worth it.

Pick: Phillies Run Line -1.5 (+130)