MLB Best Bets Today June 22

All 30 teams take the field on Saturday and many of them take the field to sweltering conditions. A heat wave has encompassed a lot of the country and many of today’s games are 4 p.m. starts, so we have seven matchups with temps in the 90s and just about every other game will start in the 80s. It’ll be a hot one and that should mean good things for the bats.

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Here are the MLB best bets today for June 22:

Kansas City Royals at Texas Rangers (-142, 8.5)

4:05 p.m. ET

Michael Wacha will make his return from the IL for the Royals in this one, as Kansas City welcomes back a very solid pitcher with open arms. Jon Gray gets the call for the Rangers in one of those aforementioned matinee games, but this is a dome contest in Arlington.

Wacha hit the IL after his May 31 start with a 4.24 ERA, 3.59 xERA, and a 3.61 FIP over 68 innings of work. The crafty veteran has done an excellent job of limiting hard contact with a 33.2% Hard Hit% and has done a masterful job of staying off the barrel with a 5.9% Barrel%. He’s in the 83rd percentile in average exit velo, 85th in Hard Hit%, and 77th in Barrel%. He’s a very solid pitcher whose numbers definitely show signs of positive regression, especially because his 68.7% LOB% should improve moving forward.

It wasn’t an arm injury that sent Wacha to the IL, rather a foot fracture, so I’m not really that worried about his return. He made one start in the Arizona Complex League and went four shutout innings with six punchies. The Complex League is full of teenagers and early 20s hitters, so it was less about the numbers and more about looking healthy.

Gray has been solid for the Rangers this season with a 3.31 ERA and a 3.02 FIP, but the contact quality he has allowed this season gives him a 4.60 xERA. He told reporters he was tipping his pitches against the Mets when he allowed nine runs on 11 hits last time out. Mets hitters disagreed and said that it was just their offense. Either way, he wasn’t sharp in that one and it did feel like a blow-up like that was en route with the big ERA-xERA discrepancy.

Since coming off the IL for a June 8 relief appearance, Gray has allowed a 53.1% Hard Hit% and an 18.8% Barrel% in three appearances. The Mets jumped all over him in just 56 pitches after Gray threw 65 against the Dodgers in his previous outing. He’s not working deep into games and it appears that Jose Urena is the long man for the Rangers. I think that would be a huge win for the Royals to get him into the game.

So, when I look at KC +124 for the 1st 5 and Texas -160, I just don’t get that line. The Rangers are playing better, but Wacha is a legitimately solid pitcher and the Royals have a good enough lineup to be plucky. I think this is a lot closer to a 50/50 1st 5 situation than what the market has it priced.

Pick: Royals 1st 5 +124

Tampa Bay Rays at Pittsburgh Pirates (-110, 8.5)

4:05 p.m. ET

In the immortal words of Rob Thomas, “Man, it’s a hot one” in Pittsburgh today. The fans and players may feel like seven inches from the midday sun.

Alright, now that that’s over, let’s get to the handicap. The handicap here is simple – I don’t think the markets are really reacting to the fact that Jared Jones has struggled of late. The Pirates righty seems tired, if we’re being honest. His vertical release point has been pretty consistently dropping since the early part of May and, coincidentally, Jones has a 4.97 ERA with a 4.54 FIP in his last seven starts from May 10 through his last outing on June 15.

Jones only has 33 strikeouts in 38 innings in that span and has also issued 17 walks. He’s not generating nearly the same swing-and-miss rates and has allowed at least three runs in six of those seven starts, including six last time out in Colorado. In that span, Jones has a 42.4% Hard Hit% and an 11% Barrel%. Over 118 batted ball events. 

It is a small snippet, but the Rays are fifth in wOBA over the last week with a .378 mark, including a .524 SLG, so they’ve found some power production. For an offense that has been dormant most of the year, it is a good sign, especially with Josh Lowe off of a big game yesterday. He’s an important part of the offense that missed a lot of time.

Another guy who recently missed time is Zach Eflin, who will make his fourth start since coming off the IL. Eflin has a 4.12 ERA with a 3.44 xERA and a 3.78 FIP over his 74.1 innings of work. He’s thrown the ball better than his ERA would suggest, as he’s run on the wrong side of batted ball luck and variance with a .301 BABIP and a 71.6% LOB%.

This is a Buccos bunch that has a .295 wOBA over the last 30 days against righties with a 24.9% K%, so Eflin could generate more whiffs in this matchup than usual. He got 15 swings and misses last time out against the Braves and has only allowed a 30% Hard Hit% in three starts since coming off the IL, so I’m hoping the stuff quality is returning.

Tampa Bay is on a bit of a heater finally and they’re playing a bit better all the way around. I still don’t trust the bullpen, so this is a 1st 5 position for me, but I don’t think the markets have caught up to how Jones has been pitching of late.

Pick: Rays 1st 5 -110

Toronto Blue Jays at Cleveland Guardians (-142, 9)

4:10 p.m. ET

One of those aforementioned 90-degree games is this one in Cleveland between the Blue Jays and Guardians. It will be Jose Berrios for the visitors and Ben Lively for the hosts with temps in the mid-90s. Progressive Field has been playing a lot better for offense this season and the really hot conditions are going to help the flight of the baseball in a big way.

I also think the Ben Lively Regression Tour is making a stop in a city near you soon and Cleveland is the next date on the tour. Lively came very close to totally unraveling last weekend against the Jays with four runs allowed on six hits and three walks. He struck out four, including one after he loaded the bases with nobody out in the first.

Lively has a 3.05 ERA with a 3.61 xERA, 4.05 FIP, and a 4.20 xFIP. He’s posted Hard Hit% in the 40s in each of his last three starts and a 43% Hard Hit% over his last five starts. He’s running an 85.3% LOB%, which is not going to be sustainable, even with a really good Guardians defense behind him. He’s had a single-digit SwStr% in each of his last eight starts. And now he’s facing a team for the second straight time.

Over the last 30 days, the Blue Jays are a league average group against righties with a .307 wOBA and a 100 wRC+, but they’re putting lots of balls in play and Lively is really teetering on the brink of getting knocked around in my opinion. Mix in the heat of the afternoon in Cleveland and I think everything is set up well.

Berrios comes in as a pretty significant regression candidate himself. He has a 3.13 ERA with a 4.44 xERA and a 4.62 FIP over 92 innings of work. He has a low K%, but is still running an 86.1% LOB%. League average for starters is around 73%, so he’s been exceptionally fortunate with stranding runners this season. The best skill for Berrios is his low BB%, but the Guardians don’t walk much anyway. They’re a really aggressive offensive team with one of the highest Swing% in baseball.

Berrios ranks in the 16th percentile in xBA at .272 and has a .309 wOBA against with a .333 xwOBA. His 42.4% Hard Hit% ranks in the 24th percentile. Once again, mix in a hot day with limited swings and misses and a low K% and I think the Guardians can get to him.

I also don’t think the bullpens will be immune to the conditions. If the starters do struggle, some lesser arms could be called upon in the middle innings. Rather than lay -135 on the 1st 5 Over 4.5, I’ll look full-game Over 9 here after what would have been a devastating beat on the full-game over last night when Cleveland scored seven runs in the second and the game stayed Under.

Pick: Blue Jays/Guardians Over 9 (-112)