Thursday’s MLB slate is loaded with action throughout the day, starting with Brewers vs. Pirates and including a host of games this afternoon and into the evening.
Our analysts have picks on four of those games, including that aforementioned first game of the day, as well as Game 1 of the Cubs vs. Cardinals doubleheader, Nationals vs. Phillies and two picks on Astros vs. Guardians.
Here are our five best bets from Thursday’s Major League Baseball slate.
MLB Odds & Picks
Brewers vs. Pirates
Tony Sartori: After dropping each of the first two games of this series, the Brewers will look to right-hander Brandon Woodruff to break the spell. Through 15 starts this season, Woodruff is 9-3 with a 3.55 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP.
On top of these excellent season totals, Woodruff has been in terrific form recently. Over his past nine starts, Woodruff is 6-1 with a 2.16 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP.
There have been seven or fewer runs scored in five of those nine games (56%). This great form should continue against Pittsburgh.
In his two starts against the Pirates this season, Woodruff is 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP. Woodruff’s excellent metrics suggest regression is not an issue. This season, the Brewers’ right-hander boasts a .274 xwOBA, .208 xBA and a .330 xSLG.
Zach Thompson is slated to take the mound for Pittsburgh in this game. Through 18 pitching appearances this season, Thompson is 3-8 with a 5.09 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP.
While those numbers are definitely not anything to brag home about, they are greatly inflated by his past two poor performances. Prior to Thompson’s last two starts, he had allowed two or fewer earned runs in seven of his past nine starts.
Two of these three starts came against Milwaukee, both of which went under the total. However, Thompson may not get much run support in this game as the Pirates are slated to go against right-hander Brandon Woodruff.
We are rolling with the under in this game. Woodruff is on top of his game, which puts him as one of the best pitchers in the league.
Meanwhile, Thompson has excelled against Milwaukee. Both of these lineups are below average, which makes me believe the under is worth a play.
Cubs vs. Cardinals Game 1
Brad Cunningham: Marcus Stroman has only been average this season with an xERA sitting at 4.19. The problem is his hard hit rate allowed is at 44.3% and his average exit velocity allowed is 90.3 mph. Both of those are in the 11th percentile among MLB pitchers.
He faced St. Louis once earlier this season and, well, it didn’t go well. He gave up 10 hits and nine earned runs in only four innings. St. Louis is also a top-10 offense in baseball in terms of wOBA and wRC+ against right-handed pitching.
Miles Mikolas only has a slightly better xERA at 3.68. Mikolas has a four-pitch arsenal of fastball, sinker, slider and curveball. That really isn’t going to work against the Cubs, who have a combined +50.9 run value against those four pitches. He’s also faced Chicago twice this season, giving up a combined 12 hits and five earned runs in 11 innings.
Also, the Cubs traded away their three best relievers at the deadline, so now I have them projected as one of the worst in the National League without David Robertson, Scott Effross or Mychal Givens.
I have 8.7 runs projected for this game so I like the value on over 7.5 runs at -110 and would play it up to -123.
Nationals vs. Phillies
Anthony Dabbundo: Paolo Espino hasn’t been stellar as a starter, but he’s been exactly the kind of mid-rotation guy that the pitching-deprived Nationals have needed. He doesn’t have dominant or even average stuff, but the right-hander has displayed elite command and just a 4.7% walk rate in the rotation.
Espino faces Philadelphia on Thursday and Noah Syndergaard, who is definitely not the pitcher he was prior to his Tommy John surgery. His fastball velocity may be down and his Stuff+ metrics below average, but he’s displayed elite command this season. Syndergaard has a deep arsenal to keep the inexperienced and quite frankly barely major league Nationals off-balanced.
The Phillies are likely to be pitching with the lead and their high-leverage bullpen has seen dramatic improvements in the last two months to be one of the five best bullpens in the league in that span. When you throw in defensive upgrades in the middle of the infield with Jean Segura’s return and center field with Brandon Marsh, I like the under at the key number of nine.
Espino and Syndergaard aren’t going to overpower these lineups, but both teams will swing their way into plenty of outs with higher than average chase rates. I’d play under 9 at -115 or better.
Astros vs. Guardians
Jules Posner: After pulling off back-to-back sweeps of the New York Yankees and the Seattle Mariners out of the All-Star break, the Astros proceeded to get swept by the Oakland Athletics, took three of four from the Mariners, then lost a series at home to the Boston Red Sox. The Astros are having a weird second half to say the least.
However, they take a 34-21 road record to Cleveland where they take on a Guardians team that continues to fight for playoff contention. The Astros seem to be making a habit of finding another gear when playing teams in the playoff hunt and the Guardians should be on notice.
Justin Verlander gets the start for the Astros. While his 1.72 road ERA outshines his 3.63 road FIP, he has posted a 2.28 ERA against teams that are .500 or better. Additionally he posted a 1.64 ERA against teams that are .500 or better in six road starts.
His opponent, Zach Plesac, has also been stingy against teams .500 or better at home this season, posting a 2.55 ERA. However, he’s only had three such starts. Additionally, a contact-oriented pitcher facing an Astros lineup that is prone to making hard contact does not seem ideal.
The Astros’ moneyline sits in the -200 range, so the only real value will be on their run line. At the time of this writing their run line is -1.5 at -115.
Astros vs. Guardians
Will Boor: Justin Verlander just keeps winning. The 39-year-old has reestablished himself as one of baseball’s best pitchers and has won six straight decisions.
As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, so I’m going to continue to back Verlander as the Astros are 15-4 in his starts this season. Conversely, the Guardians are 7-12 in Zach Plesac’s starts.
Verlander has pitched to a 1.81 ERA this season and although he’s been a bit lucky (2.94 xERA), there’s no denying the fact that he’s been very, very good. He’s gone at least six innings in six straight starts and hasn’t given up more than one earned run since June 18.
The Guardians just took two of three from the Diamondbacks and scored seven runs on Wednesday, so the bats may have a bit of momentum, but Verlander has turned in a quality start in 15 of his 19 outings this season and shut down nearly every offense he’s faced. There’s no reason to expect that trend to stop in Cleveland.
Meanwhile, the Astros just lost two of three to the Red Sox, but acquired Trey Mancini at the trade deadline to give a little extra boost to the offense. Mancini homered and drove in two in his Houston debut as the Astros scored six on Wednesday and will be looking to build on that against Plesac and the Guardians.
Plesac hasn’t turned in a quality start since July 4 and has given up 10 earned runs over his past 10 2/3 innings (three starts). He’s pitched to a 4.33 ERA, but his 5.52 xERA suggests things could be even worse.
The right-hander went 0-4 with a 5.84 ERA in July and is really struggling of late. There’s not much to suggest Plesac will have success against the Astros, so until he proves otherwise, he’s a worthy fade candidate.
If you want to take the Astros on the moneyline, go right ahead. However, if you want less juice, there’s value to be had taking the Astros on the run line. The run line opened at -115, I’d play it to -125.