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Free MLB Pick Tuesday

#951 Chicago Cubs (Hendricks) -115 over Cincinnati Reds (Roark) 5:40 PM CT

With a pessimistic Pecota projection and some off-season uncertainty the Cubs started slowly in 2019 but now halfway through May, Chicago has the NL’s best record at 24-14, going 21-6 since April 11. The Cubs have won seven of the past eight road games and the lineup is crushing right-handed pitching with an .807 season OPS. Tanner Roark has posted good numbers for the Reds with a 3.27 ERA but a 4.80 xFIP hovers over his season line. While he has an 8.1 K/9 he also had a 4.1 BB/9 and Roark has benefitted from facing some of the NL’s lesser offensive teams this season.

Kyle Hendricks might be on pace to have a season that resembles his great 2016 campaign. While he has just two wins so far, his ERA is 3.19 and he has walked just eight batters in over 42 innings of work. He has an elevated BABIP and only a 65 percent strand rate as he is poised to improve his numbers in the coming weeks. His road splits present a great contrast to his 0.62 Wrigley Field ERA but his road starts have been exclusively against NL contenders and two of those outings were his first two starts of the season. Cincinnati has hit left-handed pitching quite well this season but with a .667 team OPS, this is one of the worst hitting teams in MLB vs. right-handed pitching. The Reds have outscored foes by 20 runs so far in May but are just 6-6, underscoring the recent issues of the bullpen with Cincinnati 1-4 in extra-innings games and 6-13 in one-run games this season.

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20-runs in season scoring differential came exclusively in  sweeping a three-game set with the lowly Marlins however and against two other elite NL squads the Reds have gone 0-6 facing the Dodgers and Brewers. On the road this season the Cubs have scored 7.0 runs per game while batting .283 vs. right-handers while the Reds have hit just .218 vs. right-handers at home this season. Even if Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist remain out this is a reasonable price to support the NL’s top team and a pitcher that is capable of being one of the best in the league.

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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 Monday

#901 Pittsburgh Pirates (Taillon) +105 over Washington Nationals (Roark) 6:05 PM CT

Jameson Taillon has some of the best numbers in baseball through three starts as the Pirates had a hot start out of the gate. After allowing just nine hits and two runs in more than 20 innings to start the season a correction has come swiftly with Taillon allowing 12 runs in his past two starts. Taillon will fall somewhere in the middle of those stretches by season’s end and his FIP is still substantially lower than his ERA. His BABIP has been low but his strand rate has also been extraordinarily low with 32 percent of his base runners scoring. His strikeout-to-walk ratio remains impressive and Taillon is still a candidate to put together an All Star caliber season, now catching underdog pricing.

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Washington knocked off Arizona Sunday but they caught a huge break with tough left-hander Robbie Ray leaving in the second inning due to injury. The Nationals have still been a disappointing team at 12-16 and Washington is incredibly just 4-9 in home games. Pittsburgh is 17-11 on the season and +21 in scoring differential as they continue to look like a team that plans to hang around in the playoff race while going 14-9 vs. right-handed starters.

After a tough-luck 2017 campaign Tanner Roark is a bounce-back candidate in the Washington rotation this season but so far he has overachieved despite picking up only one win. He has been far from dominant with at least two runs allowed in each of his last four starts and his FIP is nearly a full run higher than his respectable 3.77 ERA. Roark has benefitted from a .192 BABIP in 31 innings which is .114 lower than his career mark. Pittsburgh scored nine runs in six innings against Roark last season as this could be again a favorable matchup for the Pirates.

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2018 NL Win Totals

Here are three National League win total projections for the 2018 MLB season. Check out Nelly’s 2018 MLB Preview Issue and consider joining Nelly’s for the 2018 season. We’ve won each of the past three years on the diamond and won in five of six regular season months in the 2017 MLB season. Coming off huge returns in football and basketball this year we are ready to keep the profits coming in this summer!

NL EAST

BEST BET: OVER 74½ – Atlanta Braves: The Phillies made a big splash bringing in Jake Arrieta but the Braves quietly could piece together a very respectable rotation. Mike Foltynewicz had a breakout season and a pair of young left-handed starters offer upside with Luiz Gohara and Sean Newcomb and veteran Scott Kazmir could join the rotation at some point as well. Atlanta won 72 games last season to stay respectable, finishing above the Mets and Phillies who are projected for bigger gains this season but the lineup has promise as well with Ozzie Albies and Preston Tucker looking ready for everyday roles and super prospect Ronald Acuna in waiting. The Marlins have cleaned house and opposing lineups look light in three of the four division matchups as the Braves won’t need elite pitching to improve on a 33-43 record within the division last season. The AL East interleague pull also doesn’t look as daunting as it would have a few years ago.

NL CENTRAL

BEST BET: UNDER 73½ Wins – Cincinnati Reds: The Reds haven’t topped 68 games in the past three seasons and the while there is some young talent in the rotation led by Luis Castillo keeping this unit healthy has been a big problem in recent years and none of the projected starters in the five-man rotation reached 100 innings last season. The Brewers, Cubs, and Cardinals all look stronger in 2018 than in 2017 and while the Pirates could again struggle at the plate the pitching in Pittsburgh offers many more proven options in the rotation. Despite improved defensive numbers and a MVP-caliber season from Joey Votto last season Cincinnati was still one of the worst teams in baseball. An AL Central pull in interleague action is an opportunity but ultimately this is a team that should expect to be dealing any valuable parts in July as the rebuilding process continues.

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NL WEST

BEST BET: UNDER 82 Wins – Colorado Rockies: A lot went right for Colorado with several overachieving pitching performances to propel Colorado into the playoffs. Colorado only won 87 games however and certainly it helped to have an extreme down year for the Giants in the division with Colorado going 12-7 in those games. Somehow Colorado had a winning record against the Dodgers last season and Colorado’s potential certainly still looks several notches below the Dodgers and Diamondbacks in the division. Kyle Freeland and German Marquez won 22 games combined last season despite suspicious numbers. Colorado spent a lot of money on the bullpen bringing in Wade Davis and Bryan Shaw but getting to the late innings with a lead will be a challenge for the starting staff while pitching in Coor’s Field has ruined several impressive pitchers in the past. At 32 Charlie Blackmon will have a hard time replicating his success last season while there appears to be a few clear holes in the lineup.

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National League Lefty/Righty Splits

National League Lefty/Righty Splits

Comparing team batting splits against right-handed pitching and left-handed pitching can offer some handicapping opportunities. A team’s win loss record vs. each hand can carry some meaning but a squad’s OPS offers a little more meaningful insight into performance potential. Here is a look at some of the lefty/righty splits in the National League just over two months into the 2017 MLB season.

Biggest preference for right-handed pitching: Arizona Diamondbacks

In a disappointing 93-loss 2016 season Arizona still featured a robust .820 OPS vs. left-handers that was the best mark in the NL while featuring a more modest clip with a .730 OPS vs. right-handers. That script has completely turned around for the Diamondbacks in 2017 as they are the National League’s second best hitting team vs. right-handers with an excellent .818 OPS, just behind Washington for the league lead. Arizona has just a .692 OPS vs. left-handers this season however with the team’s two most productive hitters Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb showing a severe preference for facing right-handed hurlers. Arizona is still 10-8 vs. left-handed starters this season but they are a serious NL contender because they are 30-18 vs. right-handed starters. The Cardinals and Mets are also teams with a clear dramatic improvement vs. right-handed pitching.

Biggest preference for left-handed pitching: Chicago Cubs

A lot of people are trying to figure out what has happened to the Cubs in 2017 as after a dominant World Series championship season in 2016 Chicago has spent most of this season near the .500 mark. The splits for Chicago vs. left-handers are nearly identical from 2016 to 2017 with a .807 OPS for the season which is where the 2017 mark currently is sitting in mid-June for the best mark in the NL. Chicago has won 60 percent of its games vs. left-handed starters this season but they have only faced 15 of those games so far after going 28-17 vs. left-handed starters last season. Against right-handed pitching Chicago has fallen dramatically from a .759 season OPS in 2016 to a .715 mark this season for one of the worst marks in the NL. Losing switch hitter Dexter Fowler plus the struggles of left-hander Kyle Schwarber are factors but ultimately the lineup as a whole hasn’t matched last season’s success. Two other NL teams with big gains in production vs. left-handers are Atlanta and Miami.

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Biggest improvement vs. left-handed pitching: Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers won 91 games last season and ultimately made it to the NLCS but in the regular season Los Angeles went just 22-24 vs. left-handed starters in 2016 while featuring by far the worst OPS vs. left-handers in the NL at just .623. The Dodgers are winning at an even better percentage this season despite more competition in the NL West and while Los Angeles is only 11-9 vs. left-handed starters this season the team OPS has improved to .747 vs. southpaw pitchers. The Dodgers have actually shown a slight decline vs. right-handed pitching so far this season but more balance may make Los Angeles an even more serious contender this season. Atlanta also deserves mention with a .103-point improvement vs. left-handers compared with 2016, featuring a .783 OPS that is the fourth best mark in the NL vs. left-handers. Colorado has also shown improvement vs. left-handers while actually suffering a decline in production vs. right-handers compared with the 2016 numbers despite the Rockies being one of the surprise success stories of the season so far.

Biggest improvement vs. right-handed pitching: Washington Nationals

Technically Arizona has improved by a greater OPS margin but Washington’s domination of the NL East so far can be credited to a NL best .821 OPS vs. right-handed pitching so far in 2017. Washington remains an excellent hitting team vs. left-handers as well with a .783 OPS that matches the 2016 season figure. Against right-handers the Nationals have gone from an average .742 OPS in 2016 to the league-leading .821 mark so far in 2017 while sitting 12 games above .500 vs. right-handed starters. The Brewers can also attribute some of the surprisingly successful first half results to a big jump in production vs. right-handed pitching as well.

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Improvement vs. both right-handers and left-handers: Cincinnati Reds

The Reds have fallen off an early season pace that included Cincinnati as a NL sleeper but the Reds have shown solid improvement at the plate this season. A .781 OPS vs. right-handed pitching is the third best mark in the NL and a 50 point improvement over the 2016 numbers. Cincinnati has made an even bigger leap vs. left-handers going from a .699 OPS in 2016 to a .773 OPS so far in 2017. It is puzzling however that Cincinnati has gone just 3-12 vs. left-handed starters this season despite the above average offensive production in those matchups. Despite a recent slide the Reds are only a handful of games out of the NL Central race and Cincinnati has 10 losses against the NL West this season as the Reds could have an opportunity to climb back into the playoff picture if they can continue to hit at the very solid current season pace.

Decline vs. both right-handers and left-handers: San Francisco Giants

In making the playoffs last season the Giants were still a team with just modest offensive production. There have been struggles across the board in 2017 but even for the modest offensive standards of the Giants the lack of production at the plate is the biggest reason San Francisco has one of the worst records in the NL. San Francisco holds a .663 OPS vs. right-handed pitching which is the very worst among 30 MLB teams. The Giants are actually even less productive vs. left-handers with a .643 OPS though San Diego has an even lower mark vs. southpaws. With declines of .074 points vs. right-handers and .065 points vs. left-handers the Giants are struggling in every matchup as one of baseball’s worst hitting teams. Pittsburgh and San Diego are both teams that have displayed a huge decline vs. left-handed pitching this season to account for struggling in the standings so far in 2017.

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National League Value Starters

National League Value Starters

06/18/2016

There are several months to go but it is easy to be excited about the National League playoffs given how stacked the league is with power arms and elite starting pitching. The American League All Star team will have an unenviable task next month as Terry Collins will be able to trot out a truly elite starter in every inning if he wants to.

As the separation grows between the contenders and the rest of the league the cost to support the elite starters on quality teams will continue to grow. Ultimately identifying quality starters at lower price points will be the key to having success in the National League given how steep the prices will be on the starters for the Cubs, Nationals, Giants, and Mets, as well obviously Clayton Kershaw.

There are several National League starters that project a few tiers down that still can offer some promising potential on many nights while falling in line at costs that are much easier to stomach in most matchups. Here are a handful of possible value starters in the NL for the coming weeks.

Jerad Eickhoff (Philadelphia Phillies): Aaron Nola was the dominant starter for the Phillies in the first two months of the season and remains the highest priced starter in that rotation. It was Eickhoff that wowed in eight starts last season however and after some ups-and-downs in April he is starting to put it together again in 2016. Eickhoff is almost 26 and he won’t be on a sharp innings watch like Nola or Vincent Velasquez in the Phillies rotation and he has allowed three or fewer runs in seven of his last eight starts. Eickhoff owns a better than 3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and despite his 4-8 record he has picked up a win in three of his last five starts after starting the season 1-6. His ERA is just 3.40 with a FIP that is only slightly higher and his walks and home runs allowed have been kept in check of late. With a limited offense the Phillies are sometimes tough to support but the team has still won 30 games with similar home and road results and Eickhoff might be the best pitcher to support for the Phillies with the ‘under’ also looking playable in many of his upcoming starts.

Michael Wacha (St. Louis Cardinals): Wacha looked like he was on the superstar fast track starring for the Cardinals late in the 2013 season and in the playoffs. Injuries derailed him in 2014 but he had a fine 2015 season for the 100-win Cardinals. Wacha has already taken as many losses as he did last season at 2-7 but his FIP is 3.51, significantly lower than his season FIP was in 2015 when he wound up 17-7 with a 3.38 ERA. The Cardinals had a slow start to the season but the team is rounding back into form and while catching the Cubs might be a challenge in the NL Central this certainly looks like a team poised to claim a wild card spot. Wacha’s marginal numbers will lead to reasonable pricing to support him even though he is still capable of a dominant outing. The schedule has worked against Wacha as since mid-May his starts have come against the Rockies, Cubs, Nationals, Giants, Pirates, and Rangers, taking on some of baseball’s best offensive teams. Even so he has a quality start in three of his last four outings and he offers great promise the rest of the season at discounted pricing compared to the lines he drew last season.

Bartolo Colon (New York Mets): Backing Noah Syndergaard or Steven Matz is certainly more comforting but Colon’s prices are sharply discounted on the following nights for the Mets. The 43-year old is occasionally the butt of jokes but there is nothing funny about the success he is having against NL hitters. Colon has delivered five consecutive starts with two or fewer runs allowed and his ERA is down to just 3.01. He owns a better than 4:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and while he gives up a lot of hits, he usually escapes with limited damage and he has only allowed two home runs over his last six starts. The Mets are 8-4 in his last 12 starts and with New York possessing an unreliable offense Colon can be supported at a much more reasonable price than the rest of the rotation, avoiding the risk of laying -200 or greater behind an offense that is often sweating out one-run games.

Jake Peavy (San Francisco Giants): While it seems like Jake Peavy has been around forever he is only freshly 35 and could have a few solid years remaining in his career. Peavy is 3-6 with a 5.83 ERA but after a rocky start to the season he has been pretty reliable in recent weeks. His season FIP is a much more respectable 4.16 and his ERA is only 1.82 over his last four starts. Peavy is still getting nearly seven strikeouts per nine innings and after allowing six home runs in his first six starts of the season he has allowed just two in his last seven starts. Everyone would prefer to support Madison Bumgarner or Johnny Cueto but Peavy might be the value option to support a Giants squad that scores nearly 4.5 runs per game despite playing in a pitching-friendly ballpark, while also playing strong defense and generally looking like one of the best teams in baseball.

Zach Davies (Milwaukee Brewers): Davies hasn’t been considered a high ceiling prospect and with his small frame he was only a 26th round draft pick by the Orioles in 2011. Davies is only 23 however and after a shaky April he has emerged as a reliable option in the Milwaukee rotation. Davies has a K/9 of 8.3 over the last month while turning in four straight quality starts. Davies has actually allowed six or fewer hits in 10 consecutive starts and while he has been a little fortunate with a low .262 BABIP on the season his command has been strong with a low walk rate. Davies seems to have solved Miller Park which typically is a tough venue for pitchers as he owns a 2.88 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP in eight home starts with the Brewers winning five of those games. While Milwaukee isn’t likely to be a playoff contender the Brewers have a winning home record and Milwaukee has played above .500 ball since the calendar turned to May as this has been a competitive team that is still frequently getting solid underdog pricing.

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