Eight teams will enjoy a Thursday off day, as we have 11 games to pick from on the betting board. After a bunch of interleague series to start the week, we don’t have any AL vs. NL games on Thursday. We’ve got six in the NL and five in the AL to break down, so let’s dive right in.
Nationals/Braves: The Jekyll-and-Hyde act continued for the Braves, who scored just one run against Josiah Gray and the Nats bullpen one day after scoring 16 runs. Atlanta only had one hit off Gray, two hits off the bullpen and one at bat with RISP. The Braves have scored three or fewer runs in five of their seven games and now face the Padres and Dodgers on the road after a “Championship Week” celebration to start the season. I like early-season road trips to help galvanize the team and get into the rhythms of the season, so we’ll see how they fare in the next seven games.
Cubs/Pirates: “Fixed” Kyle Hendricks was a one-game outlier, as he was rocked by the Pirates for six runs on seven hits in 3.2 innings yesterday. Most concerning to me were the four walks from Hendricks, whose control is typically on point. I can’t believe this game stayed under the full-game total of 9 when the teams scored eight runs by the fifth inning. The 1st 5 under never had a prayer. Wish I had taken the full game. In any event, Hendricks still doesn’t appear to be right. He’s untouchable until further notice.
Mets/Phillies: The Scherzer/Nola matchup became a slugfest with 15 runs yesterday in a Mets 9-6 win. Max Scherzer needed 96 pitches to get through five innings and I have to say that with Jacob deGrom and Taijuan Walker already ailing, I’m not sure I understand nearly pushing Mad Max to the century mark. In two starts for Aaron Nola, he only has 18 whiffs in 75 swings. I’m concerned about the quality of the stuff thus far.
Padres/Giants: I mentioned this prior to the season and after his last start, but Logan Webb’s leap was not a fluke. He did give up nine hard-hit balls yesterday, but pitched eight strong innings. The Giants optimized his pitch usage and also changed his delivery to give him more extension, so he’s releasing the ball closer to the plate, thus increasing his perceived velocity. Going from a four-seam fastball to a sinker was the right move and he’s actually had a big bump in CH% to this point. He has three legit pitches with the SI/SL/CH and projection systems can’t account for usage changes. Ironically, Farhan Zaidi said as much to Tim Kawakami at The Athletic. Back him with confidence this season.
Red Sox/Tigers: The margins can be very thin in baseball. In the fourth inning, Jeimer Candelario made a throwing error that would have been the third out in a 2-1 game. Three doubles later, the Red Sox led 6-1 and tacked on another run after Eduardo Rodriguez left the game. To Detroit’s credit, they battled back against a worrisome Red Sox bullpen that has been worked a lot early in the season, but came up on the short end of a 9-7 decision. E-Rod has to get out of that inning and minimize the damage. Only two runs show up as earned because the inning should have been over, but still. Opposing batters are slashing .333/.353/.667 in 18 PA the second time through the order off Rodriguez now.
A’s/Rays: Frankie Montas threw the ball well again, but this time had the results with one earned run over 6.1 innings. Shane McClanahan made one three-run mistake to Sean Murphy, but the A’s made very little solid contact otherwise. They’re a much peskier team than expected. My big takeaway here is that Montas will fetch a nice trade return soon. Also that McClanahan deserved a better fate based on the quality of his stuff. He’s made two good starts so far.
Jays/Yankees: These two lineups are amazing when it comes to hard contact. Gerrit Cole allowed nine batted balls of 95 or more mph and Jose Berrios allowed eight. Cole did have 17 whiffs in 40 swings, which is very solid. His velo and spin rates looked fine. The Jays (namely Vlad Jr.) just took full advantage of the contact they made. Berrios was much more effective than his first start. Three earned over six will be good most nights with this offense.
Mariners/White Sox: Chicago really battered Robbie Ray in this game. They had 13 (!!) batted balls of 95 %plussign% mph and scored six runs on 10 hits. Honestly, this score should have been much worse. The White Sox hit two homers in the seventh off of Ray and were 9-for-13 on those batted balls with three homers total.
Dodgers/Twins: All of the talk is about Clayton Kershaw’s perfect game bid this morning. If it was a legit dialogue between pitcher and manager, I’m okay with the decision. Kershaw knows his body and knows the injury problems that he has had. More importantly, he had 20 whiffs on 40 swings, despite decreased velo and spin rates, so his command must have been exceptional, especially with zero hard-hit balls. A veteran like Kershaw gets to make his own call. If that was his call, so be it.
Astros/Diamondbacks: Not much swing and miss for Merrill Kelly, but 5.1 effective innings of shutout ball were enough to keep the Diamondbacks in the game. Framber Valdez walked five in his three innings and the Astros bullpen had to wear one with 6.1 innings of work. That’s 3-of-4 for Hector Neris and Ryan Pressly. They are very fortunate to have an off day today.
Brewers/Orioles: I cringed when I saw Victor Caratini behind the dish for Milwaukee, but Corbin Burnes was excellent. The bullpen was not, as Devin Williams did struggle pitching for a third time in four days. Josh Hader did not, so the under held. I would not bet Milwaukee full-game today, as Williams and Hader should both be unavailable.
Weather: There will be wind gusts of up to 50 (!!) mph in Chicago today for Mariners/White Sox. They’re blowing across the field, so pop ups and fly balls could be real adventures. Modest winds will be blowing out to RF in the Bronx towards the short porch, at Dodger Stadium and in Kansas City.
Cubs at Rockies (-115, 11): The Cubs have taken some money here for the matchup between Justin Steele and Kyle Freeland. To me, it’s reminiscent of when the Cubs took money against Jose Quintana on Tuesday. I’m guessing that the modeling crowd really likes how they profile against left-handed starters and they’ll get one today.
Mariners at White Sox (-110, 9): This total was 9.5 on the overnights, but has moved down to 9. I agree with the move. I like Logan Gilbert quite a bit and the Mariners have not really gotten the twigs going yet, batting .191/.284/.312 to this point. The wind is going to be a major unknown, though.
Angels (-140, 8.5) at Rangers: This line has moved up on the visiting Angels, who are sending Shohei Ohtani to the hill. Keep in mind the level of competition teams have faced as they play more games. The Angels have faced the Astros and Marlins, so they’ve seen some good pitching. The Rangers have very little good pitching.
What I’ll Be Watching
JT Brubaker: Even with a 5.36 ERA and a 4.93 FIP over 174.2 innings, there is something really intriguing about Brubaker. He has 179 K in his 174.2 innings and pretty solid contact management metrics. He gave up four runs on four hits with three walks in his three-inning debut to start the season, but only allowed four hard-hit balls out of 12 balls in play. Four of Brubaker’s five pitches last season had an average exit velocity under 89 mph. I think there are a lot of things to like about him. I think he’d benefit from getting away from the Pirates at some point, but he induces a lot of ground balls and has good strikeout numbers.
I contemplated the Pirates today, but laying a price with them is really hard to do. Brubaker did have a 3.79 ERA with a .306 wOBA against at home last season compared to a 6.78 ERA and a .370 wOBA on the road. Brubaker as a home dog might be worth looking at down the line.
Kevin Gausman: For all of the success that Gausman had last season, he did allow a good amount of hard contact. Gausman was in the 41st percentile in exit velocity and 31st percentile in Hard Hit%. He got lots of swings and misses and chases outside the zone to overcome the hard contact, but he faces a lineup that makes as much violent contact as any today against the Yankees. He allowed a lot of hard-hit balls against the Rangers in his Toronto debut. I’ll be curious to see if he can avoid the barrel today.
Casey Mize: Mize’s first start was weird. He threw 51% fastballs and the pitch was smashed around the yard for four hits and an average exit velocity of 96.9 mph. Three of four sliders put in play also went for hits and had an average exit velocity of 97.8 mph. He allowed a ton of hard contact and only had one swing and miss against the White Sox. He faces a weaker lineup today in the Royals, so I’m hoping to see some positive signs and more usage of his other pitches.
Thursday Best Bets
Shop around for the best lines! I’m using a market consensus number that should be widely available to most, but every cent matters, so do the best you can to get the best line possible.
Cardinals (%plussign% 125) over Brewers: Even if Milwaukee has a lead in this game, the services of Devin Williams and Josh Hader are likely to be unavailable, as both guys have pitched three of the last four days. Williams struggled yesterday while throwing 28 pitches, so I’d be stunned if he was used. Brad Boxberger is another high-leverage weapon for them, but he, too, has been used three of the last four days. The Cardinals bullpen had an impromptu day off with yesterday’s rainout.
Along with St. Louis’s bullpen advantage, Brandon Woodruff struggled a bit in spring training and again in his Opening Day start, as he walked in a run in the first inning and allowed seven runs on six hits overall. That was with Caratini behind the plate and Omar Narvaez should be there today, but still.
The Brewers offense is off to a slow start with a .212/.303/.337 slash in 221 plate appearances. Adam Wainwright may be 40, but he started 2022 on a high note after putting up great numbers in 2020 and 2021. Wainwright does have some big home/road splits, but American Family Field is a good pitcher’s park.
The total here is 8 and I’m expecting a pretty low-scoring run environment, which will bring the bullpens into play in a big way. Given Milwaukee’s limitations, I think the plus-money price is worth it on St. Louis today.
Marlins (-115) over Phillies: I don’t like the Kyle Gibson fit with the Phillies because of their putrid infield defense, but his first start was rather interesting. He had 10 strikeouts and 16 whiffs on 42 swings against the A’s. He had a 50% whiff rate on his sinker and a 60% whiff rate on his changeup. He also threw a much higher rate of cutters. I think it was an anomaly more than anything. I’m not really buying stock in Gibson suddenly having a lot of swing and miss. It may be more about a problem with hitting down in the zone for A’s hitters.
Gibson had a 5.09 ERA with a 4.04 FIP in his 69 innings after joining the team last season. He’s a pitch-to-contact guy, so he is reliant on a good defense behind him. He doesn’t have that with the Phillies, as evidenced by what happened last season.
In 238.1 innings of work, Sandy Alcantara has a 3.29 ERA at home. Opposing batters only posted a .243 wOBA and Alcantara had a 2.41 ERA and a stellar 2.84 FIP with a 26.6% K% and a 5.1% BB%, so his K/BB ratio was better than 5/1. The Marlins pen had yesterday off for a travel day. The Phillies bullpen threw over 100 pitches yesterday and Connor Brogdon has worked three of the last four days. It would be a third appearance in four days for Seranthony Dominguez.
The Marlins focus on being a ground ball-heavy pitching staff. That should neutralize some of Philadelphia’s power, especially with Alcantara’s GB% of 53.3% last season. Miami’s low offensive output does play much better at home where they can combat it by holding down the other team’s offense. I’m on them today.
I’m tracking the picks in my Google Sheet HERE, but we are working on a tracker at VSiN.com that should be ready to go later this week.