The MLB slate rolls on as some pitchers make their second starts of the second half and others return from a prolonged layoff. It’s still important to tread lightly with a lot of these hurlers as guys work to get back into rhythm. We’re also seeing the rumor mill spin a little bit faster, so those clouds are hanging over clubhouses right now.
All but two teams are in action today, so we’ve got a lot to discuss.
Pirates/Cubs: The Cubs went wire-to-wire for a 4-2 win on Tuesday to continue their recent upswing. Three in the first off of Bryse Wilson was good enough, as Keegan Thompson allowed two unearned runs over seven innings. This hasn’t been a great season for Chicago, but Thompson and Justin Steele look like viable MLB pieces and Seiya Suzuki continues to swing a good bat. The Cubs had a 56.7% Hard Hit% yesterday, but somehow only managed four runs. They’re not as far away from contention as their record suggests.
However, there was an emotional moment with Willson Contreras and Ian Happ after the game, in what will likely be the final home game at Wrigley for Contreras. Happ may be an attractive name for buyers as well.
Marlins/Reds: The line for this game was pretty fascinating yesterday, as Pablo Lopez and Hunter Greene battled to a 2-1 pitcher’s duel. The Marlins offense has been pathetic lately and the Reds, who are playing better, faced a really tough customer in Lopez, who had been scuffling a bit. He struck out 11 over seven dominant innings, while the Marlins left a village on the basepaths with nine hits and 11 hard-hit balls off of Greene in 6.1 innings.
Braves/Phillies: I was very close to firing on Atlanta yesterday, as Spencer Strider seems like the kind of pitcher to really benefit from the All-Star Break. He threw six strong innings and allowed just three hits and one walk over 90 efficient pitches. The Braves got to Aaron Nola for five runs on seven hits, including two homers. Nola had 19 whiffs in 50 swings, but Atlanta’s contact quality was the difference in the game. A breather during the first big-league season for Strider did pay dividends and I’d try to back him over his next few starts if the prices are right.
Giants/Diamondbacks: Carlos Rodon kicked a bat into teammate Thairo Estrada while expressing his frustrations as the Giants dropped their sixth game in a row. Rodon had 17 swings and misses and 10 strikeouts over six innings, but allowed five runs on three hits, including two backbreaking long balls. The Giants offense once again failed to muster much of anything. We’ve reached the point where the Giants could be sellers and move Rodon over the next six days. What a fall from grace.
Nationals/Dodgers: Josiah Gray kept his Nationals bunch in the game and the offense did the rest, scoring six runs against reliever Garrett Cleavinger as the Dodgers tried to steal one without some of their better relief arms. Washington scored two in the eighth to take a 4-3 lead and four in the ninth to put the game away. Josh Bell had two hits and two RBI to further his case as the best rental hitter on the market. The Nats have actually won three in a row with a lot of trade talks swirling around the team.
Rays/Orioles: The Rays have now beaten Gerrit Cole and Shane McClanahan this week, as Baltimore leapfrogged Boston for fourth place in the crowded AL East standings. McClanahan had 22 swings and misses in his seven innings and only allowed two solo home runs. Colin Poche and Shawn Armstrong blew the lead. Tampa Bay’s lead should have been more after racking up 10 hits in 5.1 innings against Spenser Watkins, but the Rays only managed three runs and went 2-for-9 with RISP. The Orioles only had one AB with RISP.
Tampa has scored nine runs over the last four games, as their litany of injuries has become a real concern.
Guardians/Red Sox: Speaking of concerns, there are a ton of them with the Red Sox. They were held scoreless in four relief innings by Kirk McCarty, who earned his first MLB win after Bryan Shaw threw 50 pitches in an opener role. Josh Winckowski only lasted three innings and the bullpen has its share of mishaps again. J.D. Martinez struck out three times in his return. Given how badly the Sox have played against the AL East, you wonder if they’re considering being sellers at the Deadline now.
Angels/Royals: The over was 11-4 last night, but this was not one of those games, much to my chagrin. The Angels did their part, but did so late, scoring four runs over the final three innings. The Royals made next to no hard contact and only managed five hits on the night. Royals pitchers only had two strikeouts against six walks. Angels pitchers struck out seven total, so there were 61 balls in play, but not a lot of hard contact from Kansas City. A disappointing outcome, especially with offense taking place everywhere else.
Astros/Athletics: Oakland has won five of the last six and seven of the last 10 following last night’s 5-3 victory over the Astros. The A’s got five mediocre innings from Frankie Montas in what may have been his final start with three runs allowed on seven hits. Only two of the runs were earned, but he walked three and only struck out four. The bullpen bailed him out and the offense managed one big hit with Chad Pinder’s grand slam off of Luis Garcia. Otherwise, the A’s did very little with the bats, but they’re experiencing some positive regression at home.
Rangers/Mariners: Another day, another one-run loss for the Rangers, who fell to 5-23 in one-run games, which is simply astonishing. They blew a 4-3 lead in the ninth yesterday after scoring all four runs in the final three innings. The M’s went single-double-sac bunt-sac fly to walk it off on batted balls with xBAs of .200, .400, .190 and .220. Maybe Texas is just cursed in close games.
Cardinals/Blue Jays: The Cardinals lost 10-3 in their first game without Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado north of the border. Fortunately for them, this abbreviated two-game set ends today. Even without their two best hitters, the Cardinals still managed three runs on seven hits against Jose Berrios with some decent contact quality. Toronto was 5-for-11 with RISP, including a George Springer grand slam, while the Cardinals were 2-for-8. That was the difference in the game.
Yankees/Mets: After being staked to a 2-0 lead, Jordan Montgomery gave up a four spot in the first and the Mets never relinquished the lead in a 6-3 win. Montgomery only lasted 2.1 innings, putting the Yankees bullpen out there for another long day at the office. New York’s bullpen has already thrown 24.1 innings in six games in the second half.
The Yankees also placed Giancarlo Stanton on the IL early yesterday afternoon. They are 49-26 when Stanton starts and 17-6 when he doesn’t.
Padres/Tigers: It took extra innings, but the Padres got back in the win column with a 6-4 triumph over the Tigers. The offense is still very suspect, but Mike Clevinger threw seven strong innings a day after the team suffered a pretty sizable loss with MacKenzie Gore going out. Gregory Soto gave up three unearned runs in the 10th in what may have been his last outing with the Tigers.
Twins/Brewers: Another short start for the Twins, as Dylan Bundy gave up five runs in just four innings and the Twins used five relievers to ultimately lose in walk-off fashion. As a team that doesn’t utilize openers, it is really concerning that Minnesota ranks fifth in reliever innings. They need Montas or Luis Castillo badly.
White Sox/Rockies: What a strange start for German Marquez. He had 18 whiffs in 56 swings against the uber-aggressive White Sox, but also managed to allow 12 hard-hit balls in six innings. He only gave up one run on seven hits. The Rockies also squandered chances against Michael Kopech, who allowed six hits and walked three in his 5.1 innings. The teams went 4-for-17 with RISP in Chicago’s 2-1 win. Kopech’s velo looked fine and that was my biggest takeaway from this one.
Weather: Not a ton to worry about today. Detroit, New York and Baltimore feature thunderstorm chances, but it should be mostly smooth sailing around MLB.
Rangers (-110, 8) at Mariners: Remember what I always say – sometimes it’s the line move you don’t see that says the most. That may be the case here. Jon Gray’s been really good this season and the Rangers are one of the best offenses in baseball against lefties since June 1. They take on big regression candidate Marco Gonzales and are rightfully a small favorite, but we’ve seen very little line action here. That’s a pretty telling indicator to me of how the modeling crowd has this game shaping out.
Guardians at Red Sox (-130, 8.5): Here’s another one. We’ve seen a lot of money bet against Cal Quantrill throughout the season with his low strikeout rate and the market’s unwillingness to saddle up with a pitch-to-contact guy. He has a 3.75 ERA with a 4.60 xERA and a 4.41 FIP. However, he’s not being bet against today with Nate Eovaldi and a slumping Red Sox bunch on the other side. Again, another non-move that speaks volumes.
Cardinals at Blue Jays (-250, 8): I know it looks crazy to see Adam Wainwright this big of an underdog, but no Arenado, no Goldschmidt and huge home/road splits for Waino. This line has moved upwards of 20 cents in some shops and I think it has a chance to keep going.
Yankees at Mets (-180, 7): We’ve got a lot happening here. An ace bump for Max Scherzer, a fade of Domingo German and a price adjustment with Stanton officially on the IL are all contributing factors to the movement up on this number. The Mets have been bet up 15-20 cents at most shops.
What I’ll Be Watching
Marco Gonzales: The Regression Monster seems to have found Gonzales. He still sports a 3.74 ERA with a 5.27 FIP for the season, but has allowed 10 runs on 20 hits in his last two starts covering 11.2 innings of work. His low strikeout rate should have been more of a problem to this point, but he’s really been able to work magic to find ways around his clear regression signs. He had allowed no more than three runs in 12 of his previous 13 starts. The Rangers scored five runs on 11 hits against him on July 14 and have hit lefties extremely well this season, so we’ll see if they can have a similar showing today.
Tyler Wells: After allowing just 26 runs in his first 16 starts, Wells has allowed 11 runs in his last three starts against the Angels, Rays and Yankees. He draws the Rays for the second time in 12 days and the fourth time this season. These are the types of starts where I worry about Wells because one of his best assets is standing 6-foot-8 and throwing from an arm slot teams don’t often see. The Rays still only have 53 plate appearances against him in the previous three starts, but there is some more familiarity there. On the flip side, this Tampa offense is missing a lot of key pieces and doesn’t really impress me, so Wells doesn’t have a bad matchup.
Lucas Giolito: I’ll add a third here in Giolito, who just allowed six runs on nine hits in just three innings to the Guardians. That said, Giolito allowed a ton of soft contact in that game that happened to find holes and it was his second straight start against Cleveland. What’s interesting about this start is that the Rockies are a right-handed-heavy bunch, hence their platoon splits against lefties, but Giolito has the biggest reverse platoon splits in baseball. As a righty, right-handed batters own a .328/.391/.603 slash and a .421 wOBA. Righties are collectively somewhere between Aaron Judge and Rafael Devers against him, while lefties are basically Myles Straw with a .265 wOBA. That’s a really interesting game in Denver, especially considering righties have a .421 wOBA against Rockies starter Antonio Senzatela this season.
Wednesday 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.
Marlins/Reds 1st 5 Under 4 (%plussign% 100): Shop around because you can even find %plussign% 105 on this one as the full-game total rises. I think there are some concerns about Luis Castillo being on a long layoff, as the top trade target in the market has not pitched in 13 days, but he’s been outstanding since working out some early kinks with a slow start to the season due to injury.
Castillo has a 2.77 ERA with a 3.04 FIP and has only allowed three earned runs over his last 27 innings of work, including 33 strikeouts against nine walks. He draws a Marlins bunch that couldn’t hit sand if it fell off of a camel right now. Miami has scored just 66 runs in 23 July games, as the loss of Jazz Chisholm Jr. and Jon Berti has been huge. Garrett Cooper is also on the IL as well, as the Marlins have three guys in the regular lineup that were in Triple-A less than a week ago.
Braxton Garrett gets the call for the Marlins here and he’s been really good this season as well. In nine starts, he’s held opponents to three or fewer runs in seven and two or fewer runs in five. His Chase Rate ranks in the 98th percentile according to Statcast and the Reds are 19th in O-Swing%. I like to back unfamiliar lefties with swing and miss and dynamic stuff that gets chases outside the zone because those guys tend to fare well against lineups that haven’t really seen them.
Garrett tilts more towards the ground ball side, which is never a bad thing at Great American Ball Park. He’s only allowed five homers in 47.1 innings and two of those were against a Mets team seeing him for the second time in less than a month. In four July starts, all five of Garrett’s pitches have yielded an average exit velocity under 90 mph, so he’s induced a lot of weak contact, particularly with the fastball and slider, his two primary pitches.
I’m not sure what these bullpens will do or if a guy like Castillo may tire a little late in his start, but I’m confident that we get off to a slow start in this one and like the under 4 at even money. It’s even better if you can get %plussign% 105 or if a rogue 4.5 pops in the marketplace.
Blue Jays Run Line (-1.5, -120) vs. Cardinals: I usually don’t like to take run lines with home teams because they are unlikely to bat for a ninth time, but this is the spot to do so. Adam Wainwright is on the road against a right-handed-heavy lineup and those two things are not good for him. It also doesn’t help that the Cardinals are missing Arenado and Goldschmidt to go up against Kevin Gausman.
Let’s start with Wainwright, who has allowed a .293/.323/.504 slash and a .354 wOBA to right-handed batters in road starts this season. Wainwright doesn’t walk many righties, but the Blue Jays don’t walk anyway, as they are an ultra-aggressive lineup. Waino has a 4.81 ERA in 58 innings on the road this season and a 2.01 ERA in 58.1 innings at home, so his home/road splits are clear and present again. He’s allowed a .276/.332/.476 slash and a .348 wOBA on the road and a .224/.284/.327 slash and a .274 wOBA at home.
He’s also missing a very important player in the field with Arenado sidelined, so that increases the likelihood that batted balls find holes. Dating back to 2016, Wainwright has a 5.41 ERA on the road and opposing batters are slashing .280/346/.467 with a .346 wOBA, so this is not a single-season trend by any means.
Gausman struck out 10 in five innings against the Red Sox in his first start after the Break. He gave up a couple of homers, but looked sharp otherwise. The Cardinals aren’t as right-handed-heavy without Goldy and Arenado, which may actually work to Gausman’s benefit, as he has some reverse platoon splits this season. Righties own a .301/.340/.415 slash with a .330 wOBA, while lefties are batting .247/.262/.355 with a .266 wOBA. He’s also running a .440 BABIP against versus righties, which is highly unlikely to continue.
The Jays bullpen is certainly the question here, but Gausman has a good chance to work deep into the game. Not to mention, the 1st 5 run line is -155 at -0.5 and the full game is -1.5 at -120. Of course, the Jays are guaranteed to bat the maximum number of times with the 1st 5 bet, but I don’t think it matters. This is a quick two-game set for the Cardinals and they’ll get their big guns back for the series in D.C. that starts tomorrow. I’ll lay the -1.5 and the -120 with Toronto here.
I’m tracking my picks in this spreadsheet HERE.