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Free MLB Pick Friday

#953/954 ‘OVER 8’ Miami Marlins (Alcantara) at Philadelphia Phillies (Nola) 6:05 PM CT

Sandy Alcantara has posted capable results for the Marlins with a 3.73 ERA but a 5.01 xFIP looks more realistic and Alcantara has allowed four or more runs in six of his last 12 starts for erratic results. He allowed 11 hits and six runs vs. the Phillies earlier this season and his 4.2 BB/9 with just a 6.4 K/9 isn’t often a formula for long term success. He also has dramatically worse numbers away from Miami and the Marlins own a 5.22 bullpen ERA on the season that climbs to 5.67 the past 10 games. The recent relief numbers are even worse for Philadelphia with an 8.33 bullpen ERA the last 10 games and several short starting efforts on the current 2-8 run for the team that has suddenly handed the Braves a big division lead. Aaron Nola has shown some signs of promise after a tough start to the season, unable to back up his brilliant 2018 campaign. Nola is 6-1 with a 10.0 K/9 but he has a 4.0 BB/9 and a 4.89 ERA. His FIP isn’t a lot lower than that and he has allowed at least three runs in five of his last seven starts. His home numbers are better than his road numbers but expecting Nola to put up zeroes is a reach as he hasn’t had a scoreless outing in any of his 15 starts despite barely averaging 5.1 innings per start. Philadelphia pitching has allowed nearly 6.0 runs per game in June for a 6-11 run for the Phillies but the offense should find better returns this weekend back at home following a run of facing several elite starters. Philadelphia has still scored four or more runs in nine of the past 14 games while averaging 5.2 runs per game at home this season. The ‘over’ is 12-3 in Nola starts this season yet today’s number is equal to or lower than the total on each of his last five home starts. Wind in Philadelphia can be impactful but the higher afternoon wins are expected to calm by game time and it will remain warm through the early innings.

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Free MLB Pick Tuesday

#971/972 ‘OVER 8.5’ Detroit Tigers (Turnbull) at Philadelphia Phillies (Velasquez) 6:05 PM CT

Vince Velasquez has posted a 1.99 ERA in four starts and a relief inning for the Phillies, helping the rotation greatly with the early season struggles of Nick Pivetta and Aaron Nola. There are some big red flags for Velasquez however with his worst start his only home outing and an xFIP of 4.22. He has left 96 percent of his baserunners on base while posting a .228 BABIP. He has also made starts in Miami and at Citi Field for very favorable opportunities. Some light rain in possible in Philadelphia Tuesday but conditions shouldn’t be detrimental to offense and Philadelphia has scored 5.2 runs per game this season.

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The Phillies have struggled pitching however with 4.7 runs per game allowed and Citizens Bank Park has averaged 10.5 runs per game this season with the Phillies averaging 6.1 runs per game at home. This is the third city on the current road trip for the Tigers who are the AL’s lowest scoring team with only 91 runs. Detroit has averaged 4.9 runs per game over the past 10 contests, posting at least four runs in six of the past nine games and averaging 5.0 runs per game on this road trip.

Tyson Ross was scratched from this start but while Spencer Turnbull might look like a better option with a 2.77 ERA a 4.46 xFIP is a more realistic account. Turnbull hasn’t allowed an earned run in his last two starts but he has also faced a light crop of opposing lineups this season. His 3.8 BB/9 is a concern and little in his career numbers suggests that his current pace is sustainable with Turnbull posting one career win and a 4.04 ERA in now just over 42 innings at the MLB level. Surrendering flyballs at a high rate against the Phillies in this ballpark can be problematic and the Detroit bullpen owns a 4.81 ERA on the season while Philadelphia hasn’t been much better as both bullpens feature a WHIP above 1.40. Over the past 10 games Detroit has a 8.37 bullpen ERA and with a double-header a week ago and several short starting efforts over the weekend the Tigers haven’t had much chance to recover even with an off day Monday.

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Bobby Dalton has gone 3-0 each of the past two days on the diamond – win again with his next TRIPS-2-WIN 2/3 offer for Tuesday night. Nelly’s MLB has had a forgettable April in a small sample but we expect to get an over/under winner in tonight and have turned in a profit in four consecutive MLB seasons.

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NL Contender Concerns

National League Contender Concerns

While the American League playoff field appears to be set, the National League should provide a fascinating September with eight teams vying for five spots and no division lead currently greater than three games. Here is a look at the eight contenders and a possible concern down the stretch or in the playoffs in a wide open NL pennant race.

Chicago Cubs (81-57): Too Many Lefties?

The 2016 World Series champions have the best record in the NL and are near certain to be in the playoffs in some fashion, though the division lead over Milwaukee has slipped to just three games. The Cubs have perhaps the most established starting rotation of all the contenders with five viable options on the mound. Four of those starters are left-handed however and looking at the current playoff field, many of those teams have feasted on left-handers this season.

The Cubs would likely be comfortable throwing Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks, or even Jose Quintana in a big playoff game but only Hendricks is right-handed. Potential foes Colorado, Arizona, St. Louis, and Atlanta all have team OPS marks of at least 40 points higher vs. left-handers than vs. right-handers as the Dodgers and Phillies would be the only NL foes that are at a significant disadvantage vs. the left-handed heavy rotation for the Cubs. Chicago is a deserving NL favorite but they may draw a problematic matchup along the way.

Milwaukee Brewers (79-61): Who will Pitch?

Milwaukee is chasing down the Cubs in the NL Central race despite only two starters having enough innings for the Brewers as qualified starters on the season, Jhuolys Chacin and Chase Anderson. Both have suspicious numbers with Chacin 14-5 despite a 4.45 xFIP and in eight of his 29 starts he has allowed four or more runs including allowing eight or more runs twice. Chacin and to a more significant degree Anderson both have worse numbers at Miller Park. Anderson owns a 2.89 ERA on the road but a 5.01 ERA at home and if Milwaukee ends up in one game wild card draw it will be an interesting decision on who to start.

Junior Guerra looked like the team’s best pitcher in May and June but he owns a 7.62 ERA in his last nine starts. Newcomer Gio Gonzalez hasn’t had a great season and he has zero wins in six career playoff starts and while Wade Miley has been on a roll of late there isn’t much in his career numbers to suggest it is a sustainable pace. Milwaukee’s opponent could also be one of the aforementioned NL teams that rakes against left-handed pitching as well. Milwaukee’s bullpen has seen its numbers deteriorate as the Brewers will likely face a taxing September looking to hold on to a spot.

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St. Louis Cardinals (77-62): Unsustainable Hot Streak?

The Cardinals have put together an epic second half run to climb into the NL playoff picture going 23-9 since August started. With a 1-3 start to September and a decline in recent scoring there are signs that that hot streak is ending as St. Louis clings to the final wild card spot. 16 of the 22 August wins came against teams that wouldn’t make the playoffs right now as the schedule certainly helped the Cardinals climb back into the race.

Four of the final five series will be against playoff contenders although the Cardinals do have 13 of the final 19 games at home. St. Louis has had surprise pitching stars but Miles Mikolas, Jack Flaherty, and John Gant all appear to be great overachievers in viewing their ERA against their FIP and as teams have more film and more at-bats against them, the numbers could erode.

Colorado Rockies (76-62): Law of Averages?

All season long Colorado has outperformed it scoring numbers currently 14 games above .500 despite being -10 in scoring differential. Like Arizona, Colorado has a difficult remaining schedule with 13 games against the two division rivals they are fighting with in the NL West race plus drawing the Phillies and Nationals in the final two home series. A Rockies team that has been fortunate going 24-14 in one-run games while just 11-14 vs. the Diamondbacks and Dodgers could have trouble holding on to the division lead.

Colorado only has a winning record vs. Atlanta among the seven other potential NL playoff teams and the Rockies have been outscored by nine runs despite going 18-14 since August started. Colorado has been outscored at home on the season and still has a negative scoring differential in going 25-17 since the All Star break. The Rockies do have a good defense and a capable bullpen while the unimposing starting staff led by Kyle Freeland has figured out how to pitch at Coor’s Field. Colorado would be a very improbable NL playoff threat historically with the current scoring numbers however.

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Atlanta Braves (76-62): Unproven Ace?

The NL Cy Young race will be very interesting but more incredible is that the three likely leaders in that race might not be in the playoffs. Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer are on losing teams and while Aaron Nola still has a realistic path to the playoffs the Phillies certainly have work to do to get him there. Add that long time NL Cy Young contenders like Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, and Zack Greinke would all also miss the playoffs as of today’s standings and the NL playoff picture won’t have many proven starters that batters will fear in October.

Mike Foltynewicz won’t win the Cy Young but he could be among the top vote getters actually on a playoff team. A 1st round pick of the Astros in 2010 Foltynewicz will turn 27 as the playoffs begin and while he is just 10-9 his 2.80 ERA and 10.4 K/9 showcase his potential. His strikeout rate is significantly higher than in his past MLB seasons as is his walk rate and a more realistic 3.68 xFIP overshadows his ERA. Since mid-July his ERA is 3.54 with a decline in his strikeout numbers as it isn’t clear he is ready for the big stage in October as his best work was done in the season’s first three months.

Los Angeles Dodgers (76-63): Close Game Failures?

The Dodgers have the top scoring differential in the entire NL yet have been outside of the postseason picture much of the season. Los Angeles owns a marginal 39-35 record home and the 4.7 runs per game scoring average has been built on blowouts. The Dodgers have 25 wins and only eight losses by five or more runs and those 33 games have accounted for more than the +133 scoring differential for the team on the season. The Dodgers are .500 in one-runs games and .500 in extra-inning games and thus is only slightly above .500 since August despite big offensive production.

The bullpen is an easy target but with a 3.85 season ERA it has been a respectable unit and the Dodgers actually own the second best team ERA in all of baseball behind Houston. The Dodgers have blown 26 save opportunities this season for the third most in baseball and the Dodgers have gone 31-32 in games decided by the bullpen. That means the strong rotation simply hasn’t factored in enough decisions as only the Rays (who employ the opener frequently) have had more outcomes determined by relievers. The Dodgers are running out of time for their record to catch up to their production.

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Arizona Diamondbacks (75-64): Brutal September Schedule?

Arizona has recently surrendered the NL West lead they have held for much of the season but the Diamondbacks still look like a serious threat. With Zack Greinke, Patrick Corbin, and Zack Godley plus Robbie Ray and Clay Buchholz the starting options for Arizona are formidable while the Diamondbacks have had the NL’s best bullpen numbers this season.

Arizona has likely the toughest remaining path to the playoffs however as only one series remains vs. a team that isn’t in a playoff race. Seven remaining division games with Colorado loom large but the Diamondbacks also have the Braves, Cubs, and Dodgers for a combined 10 games while still having an interleague road series with the Astros as well. The final three games in San Diego provide a favorable finish but that also means if Arizona is on the road for a potential wild card game they could face a long trip on a short turnaround.

Philadelphia Phillies (73-65): No Offense?

Philadelphia is by far the worst scoring team of the playoff contenders actually only outscoring the Mets, Giants, Padres, and Marlins on the season among NL teams. Philadelphia has averaged just 4.2 runs per game while going 20-23 since the All Star break, getting outscored by 24 runs in that span. The numbers are going in the wrong direction as well as Philadelphia has scored fewer than 3.8 runs per game since August started.

Philadelphia has a high-ceiling rotation but in the last four weeks over 24 games Philadelphia has hit .244 as a team with a .711 team OPS. In that span Philadelphia has struck out almost four times as often as it has taken a walk. Philadelphia has really poor recent numbers vs. left-handed pitching while also featuring a 30-39 road record that is by far the worst of the NL playoff threats. That does mean that Philadelphia is an impressive 43-26 at home but the current picture allows for a very slight chance that Philadelphia will get many opportunities at home early in the playoffs.

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Free MLB Pick Tuesday

#904 Philadelphia Phillies (Velasquez) -105 over Arizona Diamondbacks (Ray) 6:05 PM CT

Arizona leads the NL with a 15-6 record but only a modest +31 scoring differential. Arizona has only played two games outside of the division however with most of the NL West rivals off to slow starts. Robbie Ray was a big part of Arizona’s rise last season winning 15 games with great strikeout numbers but he wound up with a FIP nearly a run higher than his ERA and so far this season his struggles have grown with a 4.98 ERA and a 5.30 FIP.

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Ray has faced the weak-hitting Giants in two of his starts as there is valid concern for the left-hander with Arizona’s rotation now being stressed with the season-ending injury to Taijuan Walker. Philadelphia presents a difficult matchup for Ray with the Phillies 5-0 vs. left-handed starters this season and 10-0 in games outside the division. Philadelphia is also 9-1 at home this season while scoring 7.8 runs per nine vs. southpaw pitching this season.

Arizona has actually hit just .217 while scoring only 3.6 runs per nine vs. right-handers despite the big names in the lineup and the successful start to April. At nearly 26 Vince Velasquez is no longer the highly regarded prospect he was when he was acquired ahead of the 2016 season but he is a candidate to show great improvement on last season’s tough campaign. So far his FIP is just 2.24 this season with a 10.1 K/9 despite taking two losses. After a tough opening start he has pitched well in three straight quality starts and this will be just his second home start of the season where his numbers have been stronger in his career.

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Early Season NL Pitching Underachievers

Early Season NL Pitching Underachievers

05/06/2016

Heading into the second month of the season there are several prominent pitchers off to disappointing starts. Here are a few National League starters that could be due for a turnaround in the coming weeks and may provide some value in some of their upcoming starts.

Jose Fernandez – Miami Marlins: The Marlins have quietly been one of the hottest teams in baseball the past two weeks with a 10-1 run through May 5 including getting sweeps over the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. While the attention in the NL East is rightfully on the Mets and Nationals, Miami may have the tools to slide into the wild card picture this season. The solid record comes even with the disappointing news of Dee Gordon being suspended as well as a bit of a struggle through six starts for ace Jose Fernandez. With a 4.28 ERA Fernandez has battled in the early going without a scoreless start and without going further than six innings in any game. 47 strikeouts in fewer than 34 innings will tell you that his stuff is still top shelf and he has been unlucky with a .360 BABIP so far this season. Pitching on an overlooked Marlins team, Fernandez won’t be overvalued like some of the big name pitchers on high profile squads and his conventional numbers figure to only improve the rest of the way.

Zack Greinke – Arizona Diamondbacks: Twice this season Greinke has allowed seven runs in an outing to boost his ERA up to 5.50 on the season. Greinke’s strikeout rate has been down so far this season and he has allowed 47 hits in fewer than 38 innings of work. He still has very impressive command and he should find better results as through six starts his FIP is nearly two runs lower than his ERA and he has been burned by a very high batting average on balls in play as well as a very low rate of stranding runners as a third of his base runners have come around to score. Trading Dodger Stadium for Chase Field means Greinke likely won’t match his dominant 2015 season numbers but any suggestion that Greinke is no longer an elite starter in the NL is foolish.

John Lackey – Chicago Cubs: Supporting Jake Arrieta or Jon Lester for the red hot Cubs costs a severe premium but veteran John Lackey can still be found for reasonable prices in many outings. Lackey owns an average 4.32 ERA but he has done a good job of keeping runners off the bases only to see almost 40 percent of those base runners come around to score. Lackey finished with a 2.77 ERA last season for the Cardinals with only about 17 percent of base runners scoring with him on the mound. Expect his 2016 numbers to fall somewhere in the middle of those two figures and Lackey is a good candidate to have improved numbers in the coming weeks. With baseball’s best record the Cubs are likely to be favored almost every night but Lackey will likely be relatively discounted compared with the rest of the staff until his conventional numbers improve with a six-run 2016 debut still weighing on his season statistics.

Alex Wood – Los Angeles Dodgers: With a great 2014 season and strong numbers in 20 starts for the Braves last season Alex Wood was acquired for the stretch run with the Dodgers last season. He didn’t have the same success despite moving to a more favorable ballpark and playing with a better team behind him, eventually relegated to only mop-up duty in the playoffs. Wood looked like a promising candidate to help the Dodgers get through the early season injuries in the rotation but he hasn’t gotten the job done so far with a 5.18 ERA in six starts and the Dodgers only going 2-4 behind him. Wood had a rough opening start but since that game he has not allowed more than seven hits in any start and over his last three outings he has 21 strikeouts against just four walks. A .324 BABIP has hurt his cause as well as a very low rate of stranding runners so far through six starts. He has had to make a start in Colorado already this season and he has only pitched twice at home, making his best two starts of the season at Dodger Stadium. As a left-hander with an unconventional delivery Wood looks like a good bet to show improvement in the coming months and he may be worth a look in upcoming home starts with much more modest pricing compared with Clayton Kershaw or Kenta Maeda.

Jerad Eickhoff – Philadelphia Phillies: Aaron Nola and Vincent Velasquez are rightfully getting some attention for the surprising Phillies but Eickhoff also deserves to be looked at as a quality prospect with potential even if his ceiling is a bit lower. Eickhoff is having a lot of success with his curveball and while he is just 1-4 this season he has a nearly 5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In five of his six starts he has allowed six or fewer hits and he has a 2.25 ERA in his home starts. Even with the strong start to the season the Phillies seem likely to be dogged almost every game this season and the prices will be much more favorable with Eickhoff on the mound in comparison to Velasquez or Nola, especially with the early season numbers that have been generated. In 14 big league starts Eickhoff has 83 strikeouts while walking just 20 batters and that type of command and swing-and-miss potential is likely to lead to success even if the first month of the season has not gone as well as would be expected.

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