Saturday’s MLB Over/Under: Is Jakob Junis For Real?

Saturday’s MLB Over/Under: Is Jakob Junis For Real? article feature image

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Jakob Junis

My second loss of the season had to come at some point, and unfortunately, it was in last night’s Diamondbacks-Dodgers Under 6.5 bet, which featured a pair of messy showings from Kenta Maeda and Zack Greinke. It also snapped my nine-game unbeaten run (8-0-1), but that’s OK because I typically do my best work on the weekends. Let’s get to it.

Zylbert’s 2018 MLB Over/Under Betting Record: 11-2-1, +8.8 units
Yesterday’s Result: Diamondbacks-Dodgers Under 6.5 (loss)

*Each bet graded as if it were to win 1 unit

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim @ Kansas City Royals

7:15 p.m ET (Fox Sports 1)
Probable Pitchers: Garrett Richards (1-0, 4.20 ERA) vs. Jakob Junis (2-0, 0.00 ERA)

If you’re a follower of my work, you know that second-year hurler Jakob Junis (pictured above) was my No. 1 sleeper coming into the 2018 Major League Baseball season (with Jameson Taillon and Andrew Heaney being the other main two), and thus, it has been a real pleasure to see the former 29th-round draft pick catapult out of the gate on fire through his first two starts.

This is someone who caught my attention right away, shortly after he made his first big-league start a year ago.  Plus, people forget that once he was able to settle into a cushy rotation spot, Junis was mostly splendid, yielding two earned runs or fewer in eight of his final 11 starts. His dominant spring, in which he posted a 1.88 ERA, 0.70 WHIP and a 20/1 K/BB ratio in just 14.1 innings, reaffirmed my affection for this Royals righthander entering the new campaign. I even bought a customized baby blue Kansas City shirt with his name on the back, too.

Junis has clearly carried over his successful spring-training showing into the regular season, registering consecutive triumphant seven-shutout-inning outings opposite the Tigers and Mariners. He’s allowed only seven total baserunners (four hits, three walks) in the process, as opponents have hit a putrid .089 with Junis on the mound.

Although he’ll be in for his stiffest test against an Angels lineup that leads all clubs in runs per game, homers and team batting average, I believe Junis is on the path toward establishing himself as a legitimate upper-rotation starter and can at least notch another quality start here. And while he’s not an above-average strikeout pitcher, Junis is a guy who just knows how to draw the right type of contact. He’s doing a stellar job in that regard thus far, with a relatively microscopic line-drive rate of 13.9%. In addition, hitters are pulling the ball only 30.6% of the time.

His counterpart, Garrett Richards, was once on a path toward becoming a front-line starter before injuries dented his promising career. It’s easy not to remember, but in 2014, Richards was actually pitching like a staff ace, going 13-4 with a 2.61 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 8.75 K/9 rate, before sustaining a fluky serious knee injury in a start at Fenway Park that ended his campaign. He would return the following season and contribute solid results, but a torn UCL later on would limit him to 12 starts over the last two seasons.

Enter 2018 and Richards has been on the comeback trail toward relevancy. After a rocky season debut in Oakland during which he surrendered two long balls, the eight-year veteran has gotten back on track, yielding only three runs over his last two starts despite issuing nine walks.

Richards’ control has been an issue, but he’ll be in a spot tonight to atone for that and potentially be wildly effective, as the Royals have drawn the fewest walks in all of baseball. That’s one reason why they have the fourth-lowest on-base percentage (.298) in the American League. They’re not slugging well, either, hitting just four home runs, which has them ranked dead-last in MLB. That actually puts them behind eight individual players who have gone yard more on their own.

The most intriguing thing about this bet may be the line itself. Why exactly did it already drop a full run down to 7.5? By comparison, there was a James Paxton vs. Danny Duffy pitching matchup from Kauffman Stadium just a few days ago that drew a total of 9, and there’s no way Richards and Junis should be getting that much more respect over those two lefties (not to mention with the superior Angels offense). Furthermore, the previous two games of this series each had over/unders settle in at 9.5, so the odds makers definitely expect some quality pitching on display Saturday night at The K.

Either way, I’m still backing this under wager even if it remains at 7.5. But I’ll also be waiting all day up until first pitch to see if the line returns to 8, which you might as well do since there’s no shot it drops even further to 7. Just make sure you attempt to get this at 8, as I am deftly afraid of a 5-3 outcome. At 7.5, though, this play still has promise.

Play: UNDER 7.5/8

You can follow me on Twitter @MattZylbert.