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Free MLB Pick Saturday

#969 Houston Astros (Keuchel) +100 over Oakland Athletics (Cahill) 3:05 PM CT

Oakland won in impressive fashion last night in a huge AL West series with the Athletics incredibly just one game behind the Astros in the current standings. Houston is 135 runs superior to Oakland in scoring differential however and much of the success Oakland has had picking up ground in this race has come with Houston battling injuries in recent weeks. The Astros are getting closer to being back at full strength and are still 41-19 on the road this season.

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While Houston’s top starters have faded a bit from hot early season paces, Dallas Keuchel may be hitting his stride going 6-1 with a 2.19 ERA in his last 11 starts. Keuchel is a better pitcher on the road and Oakland and he allowed one run over eight innings in a win in his last start at the Coliseum. Oakland is only 25-19 vs. left-handed starters this season and Keuchel owns a 2.86 career ERA in this ballpark for the best numbers of any of the AL West venues he pitches in regularly.

Five Oakland relievers all pitched an inning last night to wear on the bullpen with Trevor Cahill a less proven option on the mound than Keuchel. Cahill has been a great surprise story this season with a 3.39 ERA as the top option in the Oakland rotation but he has been fortunate with a .279 BABIP. His home numbers are outstanding but he has not faced a single current playoff team at home this season. Houston has scored seven runs against him in just over nine innings this season as well.

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Houston has won nine of 14 meetings this season with 33 more runs scored in the series this season as a bounce-back for the Astros with rare near-even pricing is attractive Saturday afternoon.

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Bobby Dalton has a 10* Best Bet Total on the diamond tonight with a 31-19 run in Best Bets! He also has a rare 10* in preseason NFL action lined up pay after you win! Nelly’s Baseball is on an 8-3 run in MLB action – get on board through the World Series.

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Free MLB Pick Tuesday

#971/972 ‘OVER 7.5’ Oakland Athletics (Manaea) at Houston Astros (Verlander) 7:10 PM CT

Justin Verlander’s Cy Young pace has certainly eroded in recent starts. While his 2.15 ERA is still an impressive mark with over 125 innings under his belt his xFIP is 3.51 as more regression could be coming. Verlander has allowed three or more runs in four of his last six starts and while his strikeout and walk rates remain among the AL’s best he has been victim to seven home runs allowed in those last six starts. Oakland hit two home runs against Verlander less than a month ago and the Houston right-hander has slightly worse numbers at Minute Maid Park this season.

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Sean Manaea had a dominant April with a no-hitter and while it has been a steady season for the left-hander leading the surprisingly competitive Athletics he has mostly had average results. His 3.33 ERA is overshadowed by a 4.35 FIP and his 6.2 K/9 isn’t threatening. Take out six excellent starts in April and his ERA is 4.76 with a 5.08 FIP and just a 5.3 K/9. The Astros beat Manaea in May and Oakland’s bullpen has displayed some recent wear with a 4.50 ERA the past 10 games.

There are red hot offensive teams with Oak;land 22-12 since June started while averaging more than 5.1 runs per game. On the season Oakland has shown a great preference for facing right-handed pitching and over the past 24 games the Athletics have a solid .789 team OPS with 1.7 home runs per game and 5.3 runs per game. Houston has scored 5.7 runs per nine vs. left-handers the past 10 games while posting a .812 team OPS the past 25 games, averaging 5.3 runs per game.

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Minute Maid Park has been surprisingly low scoring this season but with two quality starters on the mound this is a low number particularly with last night’s 2-0 result. Top relievers were burned yesterday in a game that featured just one hit with runners in scoring position. In 10 games between these teams there has been 100 combined runs as a bounce back for both offenses looks likely Tuesday.

Nelly’s hit an underdog last night now 28-17 since May 28 – get Tuesday’s side play for $15. Bobby Dalton has a 10* side and a 5* total tonight for just $19.99 – Dalton is on a 17-10 Best Bet run while on a 54-36 interleague run!

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MLB Top Contender Concerns

With double-digit game leads in their respective divisions and record setting paces it is easy to project a World Series matchup between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros. Both teams deserve to be the clear favorites in their leagues but here are a few concerns for baseball’s top contenders with the second half of the season underway.

The best regular season team doesn’t usually win the World Series: With 103 wins the 2016 Chicago Cubs had the top record and baseball and they went on to win the World Series as well in dramatic fashion to snap a long run of futility for the franchise. The Cubs were the first National League team to post the best record in baseball and also win the World Series since the 1986 New York Mets however and only the 1995 Atlanta Braves in a strike-shortened season joins those two NL teams having the top NL record while also capturing the World Series. A handful of American League teams have accomplished the feat but it is not the norm with the Cubs being only the sixth team overall to pace baseball and win the World Series since the Mets in ’86.

Wild Card Winners are dangerous: The change to a one-game wild card matchup in the 2012 season put more emphasis on winning the division and less value on being the wild card with a one-game do-or-die situation for those squads. While being in a wild card spot is less desirable in the current format, being the team that wins a wild card game can be a springboard to a great postseason run. In 2014 the Royals won a wild card game and kept playing until Game 7 of the World Series. In 2016 the Blue Jays were wild card winners and then also advanced to the ALCS. The 2014 Giants were World Series champions starting from a wild card spot while the 2012 Cardinals and the 2015 Cubs also won division series matchups from the wild card spot, upsetting the NL’s top seeds. Based solely on records, right now the #2 seeds in each league would be at an advantage over the #1 seeds as the current Central division leaders that would be the #3 seeds are weaker teams than the top wild card teams. Subjectively the Indians and Cubs could emerge in the Central title spots to change that equation but should the Brewers, Twins, or Royals win a Central division title, undoubtedly that will be a preferable draw for the East division winners than the wild card winner that the Dodgers or Astros would likely end up facing in the division round.

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The Dodgers reliance on left-handed pitching: Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood, and Rich Hill have amazing numbers with a combined 32-6 record with great strikeout rates and ERAs. Having three excellent left-handed starters in the rotation is a luxury any team would love to have but in the potential NL playoff landscape it may create less than ideal matchups for the Dodgers. The Dodgers had the NL’s best team OPS vs. left-handed pitching in the first half of the season at .819 but the next five teams on that list are five of the six teams in contention for NL playoff spots with the Cubs (.802), Nationals (.793), Braves (.790), Brewers (.779), and Rockies (.779). Only Arizona struggles against left-handed pitching among the potential postseason opponents for the Dodgers and the Dodgers could wind up needing to beat two of those teams to reach the World Series. The Dodgers are good enough to out-slug any of those teams in a short series but the pitching advantage that Los Angeles might appear to have could be overstated in a short series. Against those five teams that excel against left-handed pitching Los Angeles is only a modest 14-10 as the amazing record this season has been built on going a combined 32-3 vs. a marginal grouping of squads (Reds, Royals, Marlins, Mets, Phillies, Pirates, and Padres). Despite the Diamondbacks struggling vs. left-handed pitching they have actually out-scored the Dodgers despite losing six of the 10 meetings this season.

Houston has struggled against the AL’s top teams: Houston has put up incredible scoring results to pull away with a huge lead in the AL West, creating little urgency for the team to make aggressive moves at the trade deadline. Houston is 25-9 vs. the Mariners, Rangers, and Athletics, outscoring those division rivals by 68 runs in 34 games. Against teams the Astros might actually see in the postseason the numbers are troubling however, going 1-2 vs. Boston and 1-5 vs. Cleveland this season. Houston is 5-2 vs. the Yankees but they only outscored New York by two runs combined in those seven games. Houston has a +169 net scoring differential on the season but they are +118 runs in games decided by five or more runs as they have poured on meaningless runs on several occasions in contests that were already in hand yet rarely have suffered a lopsided defeat. Houston has also gone 7-0 in interleague action drawing marginal Atlanta and Miami squads from the NL East as the path to the great record has been favorable so far and the team hasn’t been in a lot of tense close games in the late innings similar to what may be ahead in the postseason.

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Recent playoff demons for the Dodgers: Since winning the 1988 World Series the Dodgers have lost 10 of 14 playoff series that they have been involved in, going 22-37 in the individual playoff games including losing in the NLCS four times in the last nine years. Kershaw will unfairly shoulder some of the blame for the recent playoff failures and it is true that his postseason ERA is 4.55 in 89 innings and he was shelled in both of his critical NLCS Game 6 starts, allowing 12 runs in nine innings in 2013 and 2016. Wood owns a 4.91 ERA in his four playoff outings, Hill owns a 4.50 ERA in four playoff outings, Kenta Maeda had a 6.75 ERA in last season’s playoffs, and Brandon McCarthy has never pitched in the postseason as there will be questions for the starting staff in October. That concern is also making a big assumption that this quintet of starters with a lengthy injury history will be active on the playoff roster.

Playoff Inexperience for the Astros: Houston was deemed ahead of schedule with a run to the wild card game in the 2015 season, going 86-76 in the regular season. The Astros bested the Yankees in that game and then took a 2-1 ALDS lead on the Royals. Inexperience showed as Houston crumbled and lost the series, blowing early leads in all three games they lost in the series including notably losing Game 4 with the series on the line despite a 6-2 lead in the eighth inning. Given the huge division lead and a current 10.5-game edge over the AL’s #2 team Houston isn’t likely to have an overly meaningful game the rest of the regular season and will have to jump into October playoff intensity against a team that will have some momentum off a wild card game win. Add that star shortstop Carlos Correa is likely to be out until late in the regular season and this is a team that might get a wake-up call in the playoffs against a team that plays its way into the postseason despite the gaudy regular season numbers for Houston that will have been built mostly in early season action.

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American League Lefty/Righty Splits

Comparing team batting splits against right-handed pitching and left-handed pitching can offer some handicapping opportunities. For example the Blue Jays being just 3-10 vs. left-handed starters this season while White Sox being 11-7 vs. left-handed starters can explain the somewhat unexpected results of those squads to some degree. Here is a deeper look at some of the team batting splits in the American League through early June in the 2017 season.

Best hitting team vs. right-handers: Houston Astros

With an amazing 42-16 record the Astros are pacing baseball, holding a 14-game lead in the AL West barely two months into the season. Improvement has basically been across the board for Houston and the Astros have the AL’s top OPS vs. right-handed pitching at .824, while sitting second in the AL vs. left-handed pitching at .793. Both numbers are a huge improvement on the 2016 numbers with a .087 boost vs. righties and a .062 boost vs. lefties, two of the biggest jumps in the league.

Best hitting team vs. left-handed pitching: Chicago White Sox

The White Sox have been a surprise this season as Chicago was almost universally projected to be the very worst team in the AL. Chicago has slipped a bit in the last few weeks to sit at 24-31 to make any playoff hopes faint but this remains a team that is likely to outperform a projected win total in the upper 60s with only San Diego facing a more dire spring training outlook. Chicago has been the league’s worst hitting team vs. right-handed pitching with a .681 OPS but vs. left-handers Chicago owns a .815 OPS for by far the best mark in the AL. Looking at the lineup it isn’t a major surprise the splits are so lopsided as Chicago routinely uses only right-handers and switch-hitters in its lineup, even against right-handed pitching.

Most improved vs. right-handed pitching: New York Yankees

New York’s offense has flourished this season and while the numbers vs. left-handed pitching are only slightly improved compared with the 2016 season the numbers vs. right-handers have made a dramatic jump. Against right-handers New York has gone from posting a .724 OPS in 2016 to a .814 OPS so far in 2017, the biggest positive leap of any team vs. either side compared with last season. Aaron Judge alone is providing much of the boost with 14 of his 18 home runs vs. right-handers posting an outrageous 1.111 OPS in 170 plate appearances vs. right-handers. Switch hitter Aaron Hicks has also been very productive batting left-handed, while catcher Gary Sanchez is a far better hitter vs. right-handers despite batting right-handed.

 

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Biggest decline vs. right-handed pitching: Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox are certainly still in striking distance in the AL East and at worst a clear AL Wild Card contender but the team has been a mild disappointment as one of the consensus favorites in the AL before the season started. Boston just got David Price back which will likely boost the pitching staff but the offense simply hasn’t been as successful as last season with David Ortiz out of the lineup. Boston had the league’s best OPS vs. left-handers last season at .795 and in 2017 Boston still remains a quality hitting team vs. left-handers with a .771 OPS for only a modest decline. That is .025 points higher than the .746 OPS the Red Sox have against right-handers for the biggest gap in the league for a team that is stronger vs. southpaws and nowhere near the league-leading .814 OPS the Red Sox posted last season vs. right-handed pitching.

Most balanced hitting team: Baltimore Orioles
Baltimore owns a .734 OPS vs. right-handers and a .728 OPS vs. left-handers this season for the smallest difference between sides among the 15 AL teams. Last season Baltimore had a massive contrast in those figures with a .090 gap being a far better hitting team vs. right-handers but the numbers have declined this season vs. righties while they have climbed vs. lefties. The Orioles have not had the production they expected from Manny Machado and Mark Trumbo so far this season with Machado incredibly batting only .208 vs. right-handed pitching this season (.283 last season) while Trumbo is batting .253 but with only five home runs in 150 at-bats vs. right-handers after hitting 37 in those matchups last season.

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Worst hitting team: Kansas City Royals

Kansas City has featured the biggest OPS decline in the AL vs. left-handed pitching and the second biggest decline in the AL in OPS vs. right-handed pitching. Kansa City has the second worst OPS in the league vs. right-handers at .682, just barely ahead of Chicago while sitting as by far the worst hitting team in the AL vs. left-handers with a .634 OPS. The big off-season concern for the Royals was their starting rotation but Jason Vargas is having a career year and Nate Karns and Danny Duffy are offering some promise. Jason Hammel and Ian Kennedy have disappointed and the bullpen isn’t as strong as in the past few years but most of the blame of the great struggles for the Royals fall on the offense.

Disappointment Due to Decline vs. left-handed pitching: Cleveland, Texas, Toronto, Seattle

The Indians and Rangers and Blue Jays were playoff teams last season while the Mariners were a wild card contender late into the season. There is still time for these talented teams to make a run but they all have a common thread of a big production decline vs. left-handed pitching this season. Cleveland’s drop has been the most modest of the group falling .043 but last season’s surge vs. left-handers to a .748 clip may have been the difference in the pennant winning season. This year’s lineup is more left-handed heavy with Michael Brantley’s return and Cleveland’s rotation has not yet matched last season’s success as well.

Toronto has been known as a fierce hitting team vs. left-handers in recent years but this season the Blue Jays have a .678 OPS vs. left-handers for a huge drop compared with last season. Losing Edwin Encarnacion certainly has to be considered a major factor. It is worth noting that Josh Donaldson missed much of the first two months of the season as the numbers vs. left-handers should climb with his return as he owns a career .959 OPS vs. southpaws.

Seattle’s OPS vs. left-handers has fallen from a very respectable .749 in 2016 to just .652, or the second worst in the AL. Seattle has managed to go 7-8 vs. left-handed starters but a team many expected to be a serious AL contender has had very unbalanced results at the plate with an OPS .119 points higher vs. right-handers. The Mariners often have at least four left-handed batters in the lineup vs. right-handers and lefties Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager will stay in the middle of the lineup vs. southpaws even though particularly in Cano’s case there is a huge drop in his production in those matchups.

Texas won 95 games last season despite a marginal scoring differential as many expected a decline for the Rangers in 2017. Last season Texas had successful balanced hitting vs. lefties and righties and in 2017 the numbers vs. right-handers have only fallen slightly. Against left-handers Texas has fallen from a .759 OPS clip to a .657 OPS clip, so far posting just six wins vs. southpaw starters. The recent return of Adrian Beltre in the middle of the lineup could help that cause in the coming weeks however.

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Success via Improvement vs. right-handed pitching: New York, Houston, Minnesota, Tampa Bay

The improvement for New York and Houston vs. right-handed pitching has been dramatic and a big reason those teams are on top of the AL. The Yankees are 24-16 vs. right-handed starters while Houston is absurdly 33-10 vs. right-handed starters at this point in the season.

Minnesota’s ascension to the AL Central lead isn’t expected to last but going from one of the league’s lesser hitting teams vs. right-handers to a .773 OPS that is in the AL’s upper tier is a big reason for the team’s success this season. Minnesota is actually hitting far worse in 2017 vs. left-handed pitching than the team did in 2016 but they have only faced 12 left-handed starters this season. Minnesota’s improved pitching and defense are big factors as well but the lineup is having more success in the most common matchups, often using a lineup that includes six left-handed hitters with the addition of Jason Castro and the everyday play of switch-hitter Jorge Polanco.

Tampa Bay has been one of the league’s better hitting teams vs. left-handers in recent years including going 30-23 vs. left-handed starters in 2015 but something has changed this season as the Rays are .120 OPS points better vs. right-handers this season, the third best hitting team vs. righties behind Houston and New York. As a result the Rays have gone from being 18 games below .500 vs. right-handers in 2016 to being 22-18 vs. right-handed starters so far this season. The most obvious changes are left-handed hitter Corey Dickerson being the team’s leadoff hitter plus the addition of another lefty power bat in Colby Rasmus as the Rays generally have at least four left-handers in the lineup. Oddly Dickerson is batting .353 vs. left-handers this season as he hasn’t hurt the numbers while Rasmus is usually in a platoon role. Logan Morrison is a clean-up hitter with much worse numbers vs. southpaws and Kevin Keirmaier is batting just .178 vs. lefties this season to help explain the decline.

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Free MLB Pick Friday

#966 Toronto Blue Jays (Liriano) -120 over Houston Astros (Musgrove) 6:05 PM CT

Francisco Liriano had a fine 2015 season which helped the Pirates to one of the best records in baseball but his decline this season was a big part of keeping Pittsburgh deep in the wild card chase. The Pirates wound up dealing Liriano to Toronto and the Blue Jays got a solid first outing from the veteran who has plenty of experience in the American League. Liriano is still getting 9.1 K/9 this season and while walks are an issue at times he has allowed four or fewer runs in 10 of his last 11 starts. Four runs allowed isn’t a great outing but now with a formidable offense supporting him that might allow Liriano to find the win column with much more frequency. Joe Musgrove has dazzled in two outings for the Astros but this will be his first road outing and it comes against a lineup that is capable of crushing right-handed pitching. Musgrove was a 1st round pick in 2011 ironically drafted by the Blue Jays as the scouting report should be strong in the Toronto clubhouse. A Houston lineup that has been struggling mightily had a huge Thursday with 25 runs scored in a double-header catching a huge break as Wednesday’s near-certain loss was washed away. The Astros are just 17-20 vs. left-handed starters this season and this could be a worn-out squad that has lost six of the last seven meetings with the Blue Jays. This is also a short favorite price on a Toronto team that is 34-25 at home including 15-6 in the last 21 home games.

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Free MLB Pick – Friday, July 15

#978 Seattle Mariners (Paxton) -120 over Houston Astros (Fister) 9:10 PM CT

Houston has charged back to playoff contention but the Astros are just 12-16 vs. left-handed starters on the season. On the year an Astros squad with a great reputation on offense is batting just .241 and that includes a .222 mark vs. left-handed pitching. In contrast the Mariners have hit .260 as a team with even better hitting and scoring numbers vs. right-handed pitching. Houston swept Seattle in three tight early July games the last time these squads met and this is a big series for the Mariners to stay within striking distance. The ceiling for James Paxton is very high and his strikeout rate is very impressive even with a small decline in strikeouts over his past two starts. Paxton owns a 2.99 FIP and his numbers are very respectable despite a .390 BABIP that is certain to fall in the coming weeks. Doug Fister has solid conventional numbers but with a 4.87 FIP he looks like a bit of an overachiever, benefitting from a .254 BABIP in the first half. He has allowed 20 hits and 11 runs in his last three starts with eight walks allowed and four home runs surrendered and that could be the direction the season heads for the veteran right-hander after he put together a great run in May and early June. Houston has much more star power in the lineup but Seattle has been the more consistent offensive team and the Astros are a losing road team with a shaky starter on the mound tonight in a nearly even-priced game.

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Free MLB Pick – Monday, June 27

‘UNDER 7.5’ Houston Astros (McHugh) at Los Angeles Angels (Shoemaker) 9:05 PM CT

After scoring 26 runs Friday and Saturday the Astros were shut down with just one run Sunday in Kansas City, ending a seven-game winning streak for a Houston squad that has climbed back into playoff contention. Houston’s scoring has been erratic as they have been held to four or fewer runs in five of the last 10 games and on the year the road production features a big decline from the numbers in Houston. Matt Shoemaker has a lousy record for the Angels but he has been on a dominant run since mid-May posting 62 strikeouts in his last seven starts with a quality start in six of those games. Two of those quality starts came against this Houston lineup, posting big strikeouts counts in a 7-2 win and a 3-2 loss. While the Angels scored seven runs Sunday to break a six-game slide this is a team that has topped four runs just three times in the last 10 games. The Angels are one of the worst scoring teams in baseball this year and Collin McHugh presents a tough matchup for the team. After a slow start McHugh has been heading in the right direction in recent weeks and his FIP is nearly a full run below his ERA. McHugh is generating strikeouts at a strong rate while rarely walking batters and he pitched well against the Angels last week in a 3-2 win at home. Both bullpens have capable recent numbers and the ‘under’ is riding a 9-2 run in Houston road games. Over nine runs per game have been scored in Anaheim this season but in 17 of 39 games there has been seven or fewer runs scored and this is a pitching matchup that is much stronger than the season numbers suggest with both starters on strong recent runs.

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