MLB Best Bets Today May 14

All 30 teams are in action on Tuesday with 16 games to consider, as a traditional doubleheader on the South Side of Chicago put an extra game on the slate. We’ve got some new readers today and I’d like to say hello to those of you checking out the article for the first time. My MLB analysis is data-driven and stats-heavy in hopes of finding some actionable edges on the diamond.

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Here are the MLB best bets today for May 14:

Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox (-118, 9)

7:10 p.m. ET

Aaron Civale and Nick Pivetta are the listed starters on a warm night at Fenway Park. Offense has come and gone for these two teams throughout the season, but the Rays are swinging good bats right now. They rank fifth in wRC+ at 119 over the last 14 days, meaning they’ve performed at a level that is 19% above league average. They’re drawing walks again and the return of Josh Lowe has been a big help with a 128 wRC+ in his first 23 PA of the season.

Civale appears to need some run support, as he comes in with a 5.88 ERA and a 4.45 FIP over 41.1 innings of work. His 62.5% LOB% does suggest some positive regression, but you also have to throw quality pitches to have more success and he hasn’t done enough of that lately. He allowed two runs to the lowly White Sox over 4.2 innings last time out, but had allowed 18 runs over his previous three starts, including one against the aforementioned Pale Hose.

Civale has given up eight homers on the year and has allowed a Barrel in six straight starts, including three in that last start against Chicago. He got really fortunate and maybe got a boost from pitcher-friendly Tropicana Field in that one. He won’t have that luxury at Fenway Park, which annually plays as the second-best offensive park in baseball behind Coors Field by Park Factor.

Boston’s offense has scuffled lately, but they will send either five or six lefties at Civale, who has allowed a .306/.377/.532 slash with a .397 wOBA to lefties on the season. He’s also been struggling recently to miss bats consistently and strikeouts have been the biggest issue for the Red Sox.

The surging Rays bats draw a decent assignment here in Pivetta, who is making his second start since returning from the IL six days ago. He allowed five runs on seven hits to a Braves offense that has been uncharacteristically poor for a little while now. Pivetta also allowed four runs in just three innings during his lone rehab start at Triple-A Pawtucket 12 days ago. Pivetta allowed a couple Barrels and a 47.1% Hard Hit% in that outing against Atlanta, so the command was not really there.

Temps will be in the low 70s at first pitch with a little bit of humidity in the air and a breeze blowing out to left center. I like both the full-game Over 9 (-105) and also the 1st 5 Over 4.5 (-105) in this one, but I’ll side with the derivative wager since the main points of the handicap are Civale and Pivetta against these respective lineups.

Pick: Rays/Red Sox 1st 5 Over 4.5 (-105)

Pittsburgh Pirates at Milwaukee Brewers (-166, 8.5)

7:40 p.m. ET

NL Central rivals square off again tonight as the Pirates and Brewers continue their weekday series. It will be Quinn Priester for the Buccos and Joe Ross for the Beermakers, as the teams come off of an 8-6 game last night. Most of the runs were scored off of the bullpens, but I could see a similar outcome tonight, but with some more production against the starters.

David Bednar is unavailable for the Pirates today after throwing 53 pitches over the last three days. I wouldn’t be shocked if Hunter Stratton is unavailable as well, as he’s worked four of the last six days and has thrown 63 pitches since Friday. That likely leaves the Pirates with four available relievers because Josh Fleming threw 40 pitches yesterday for his third appearance in four days.

What that means is that Priester either has to find a way to navigate some innings or take a beating if he’s pitching poorly. I would say that either thing lends itself well to the Milwaukee offense scoring some runs. Priester has a 3.86 ERA in his four starts over 21 innings, but he has a 5.63 xERA and a 6.85 FIP. He’s been extremely fortunate to run a .232 BABIP with a 78.7% LOB% to this point. He’s allowed a 49.3% Hard Hit% and a 9.3% Barrel%. League average for HH% is around 39% and his Barrel% is about a full percent above the league average.

Priester has also allowed four unearned runs, so he’s actually given up 13 runs in 21 innings. The unearned runs have definitely helped his ERA a bit and are obviously not entirely his fault, but he’d have a 5.57 ERA if they were all earned, which more closely mirrors his FIP and xERA metrics.

The Pirates are starting to hit a little bit once again after a prolonged funk from mid-April into the first part of May. Ross has a 4.75 ERA with a 4.12 xERA and a 3.86 FIP in his 36 innings of work across seven starts. He’s not a guy that misses a lot of bats, so the Pirates should be able to put plenty of balls in play. He’s also allowed 10 Barrels over his last four starts, so location has been a bit of a problem. 

While Ross has pitched pretty well, he ranks 151st out of 191 pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched in Pitching+. Priester is actually 166th on that list. Both guys grade well below average in Stuff+ as well.

Add in a shorthanded bullpen for Pittsburgh and a Brewers bullpen that has been playing musical chairs of late and I like the potential for runs tonight.

Pick: Pirates/Brewers Over 8.5 (-110)

Cleveland Guardians at Texas Rangers (-118, 9)

8:05 p.m. ET

Jack Leiter makes his third MLB start and Ben Lively makes his 38th as the Guardians and Rangers play Game 2 of a three-game set. Leiter’s early returns have not been great, as he has allowed 13 runs on 15 hits in just 7.2 innings. Only 11 of the runs are earned and his defense hasn’t really helped him, but he hasn’t helped himself much either. He only has six strikeouts out of 42 batters faced and now draws a Cleveland team that does not strike out much at all. He’s faced the Tigers and Athletics, who are 24th and 26th in K%, respectively.

Cleveland is eighth. They are absolutely missing Steven Kwan, but the revamped coaching staff is optimizing lineups based on starting pitcher matchups, so they should be able to put the right plan together here against Leiter. The rookie has already allowed five Barrels and a Hard Hit% of 45.5%. The A’s and Tigers don’t steal a lot of bases, but Cleveland was very aggressive last night against Michael Lorenzen and Jonah Heim and I think they could put some pressure on Leiter in that regard as well.

Leiter was taken second overall out of Vanderbilt in the 2021 MLB Draft and has shown flashes in the minors, but still has a 5.05 ERA and allowed 33 homers in 203 innings. The high strikeout rates are impressive, but he’s also had walk and command issues. The Rangers are biding their time until guys like Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom come back, not to mention they are missing Dane Dunning and Nathan Eovaldi, so that’s why Leiter is around. He’s not really MLB-ready yet.

Lively seems to have found a new home in Cleveland, where he’s found the success that has evaded him throughout his MLB career. He’s got a 2.63 ERA and does have a 4.41 xERA, so there are some regression signs, but he has a 3.18 FIP and has leveraged his arsenal well. The Guardians have stocked up on arms that have elite Extension, so that allows Lively’s 90 mph fastball to have higher perceived velo and also helps with tunneling his pitches due to the later break.

He hasn’t allowed more than three runs in a start to this point and settled in nicely against Chicago after getting hit hard in the early innings. That was an ugly, rainy outing, and Lively had only allowed five runs over his previous four starts.

If nothing else, the Guardians have arguably the best bullpen in baseball. Fireman Nick Sandlin may be unavailable after throwing 30 pitches over the last two days, but first-year manager Stephen Vogt has a bunch of options available. Texas, meanwhile, is dead last in bullpen ERA.

If Leiter and Lively do cancel out, Cleveland should have the late-inning advantage in this one.

Pick: Guardians -102