Thursday MLB Betting Picks: Our Favorite Bets for Opening Day, Including Braves vs. Phillies, White Sox vs. Angels (April 1)
John McCoy/Getty Images. Pictured: Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon.
- Need MLB betting picks on Opening Day? We've got you covered with nine of our favorite bets for Thursday.
- We're honing in on Phillies vs. Braves and White Sox vs. Angels, with plays on seven total games.
- Get all our favorite MLB bets for Opening Day below.
It’s finally here: Opening Day. Unlike previous years when MLB gives us an abbreviated game or two in the build-up to the full season starting, we’re blessed with 15 games (weather pending) to satiate even the biggest baseball lover’s needs.
Fifteen games means plenty of action, too, and our staff has come up with nine bets from seven different games to kick off seven months of MLB action.
MLB Odds & Picks
Minnesota Twins at Milwaukee Brewers
Sean Zerillo: I projected this total at 7.03 for Opening Day.
Nelson Cruz has been one of the best hitters in baseball over the past two seasons (min. 500 plate appearances) while posting a .416 wOBA, which only trails Mike Trout (.428) in terms of production. Relegating Cruz to one pinch-hitting opportunity in an NL park shaves roughly a quarter run off of Minnesota’s projected team total, and about two percent off of its projected moneyline.
The pitching matchup features two of my favorite Cy Young sleepers in Brandon Woodruff and Kenta Maeda, both of whom ranked as top-10 starters per xFIP, and top five starters per xERA in 2020.
Furthermore, these are two above-average defensive clubs who added plus defenders like Kolten Wong, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Andrelton Simmons to the mix in free agency. And on a per-inning basis, Byron Buxton is probably the best defensive center fielder in baseball.
There’s a confluence of factors — both projectable and intangible — suggesting that this game should be a low-scoring pitcher’s duel.
Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Phillies
Matt Trebby: I get that Aaron Nola is going to be on the mound for the Phillies, and I’d much rather have him pitching than Max Fried, with all due respect to the lefty. But most teams aren’t going to be pushing their starters heavily to start the season, and that means Philadelphia’s bullpen is going to be under pressure early and often.
Fried proved himself capable last season, although he may not duplicate those lofty numbers again in 2021. In a pick’em, I’ll take the team that has a superior lineup, defense and bullpen, because the difference in starting pitching isn’t enough when Nola is unlikely to go longer than six innings.
Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Phillies
Tanner McGrath: Aaron Nola is an excellent starting pitcher, and the Phillies feature a solid hitting lineup this season.
However, there are a few reasons why the value is on the Braves in this matchup.
First, Braves starter Max Fried pitched well against the Phillies last season. In two starts, he allowed only one run on nine hits over 10 total innings. He also struck out 11 while walking just three. The Braves won both games.
Second, Nola has struggled against the Braves over the past few seasons. Since the start of 2019, Nola has pitched 46 2/3 innings against the Braves, allowing 23 runs, 42 hits and 23 walks for an ERA over 4.00 and a WHIP over 1.40.
Third, Atlanta’s lineup is better than Philadelphia’s. While it’s true that the Phillies were an above-average offensive club in 2020, the Braves paced the majors in OPS and wOBA while finishing third in wRC+..
This Atlanta lineup can flat-out hit.
Finally, the Action PRO Report is tracking sharp money on the Braves. At the time of this writing, Atlanta is getting just 53% of the tickets but 91% of the bets.
The Braves won the NL East last season while Philadelphia finished four games under .500. Both myself and the sharps know that getting the better team at a pick’em is always good value.
Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Phillies
Collin Wilson: Despite the steady double-digit wind blowing in from left field, there may be more runs than expected in Citizens Bank against two NL East aces. Aaron Nola takes the mound against a Braves lineup that touched him up for five earned runs over 10 2/3 innings in 2020. Interestingly enough four potential hitters in Atlanta’s lineup have taken Nola deep twice: Ronald Acuna Jr., Marcell Ozuna, Travis d’Arnaud and Austin Riley.
As for Max Fried, his two outings against the Phillies in 2020 may have contained a bit of luck with xFIPs of 3.53 and 5.09. Both of these pitchers have historically allowed more baserunners and scores in daytime starts than at evening. This is worth an Over through 8.
Los Angeles Dodgers at Colorado Rockies
Collin Whitchurch: An under? At Coors Field? In a game featuring the behemoth Dodgers? I must be out of my damn mind.
It’s true that Coors Field is a hitter’s paradise. And indeed, since 2015 the under at Coors is 596-635-46 and worth -60.33 units with a -4.7% ROI. But a closer inspection using our BetLabs Systems shows that the tide has been turning in recent years. In fact, betting unders at Coors Field has turned a profit in four of the last five seasons. Last year, the under was 14-13-3 and since 2016 it is 197-168-14, worth +23.1 units with a 6.1% ROI.
Not all unders are created equally, of course, and we’re taking some risk by betting an under with this Dodgers’ lineup against the Rockies’ pitching staff. But Clayton Kershaw vs. Germán Márquez is a matchup that screams under. Kershaw is a legend, and Márquez is incredibly underrated with a solid track record against Los Angeles — nine starts, 56 2/3 IP, 58 strikeouts, 14 walks.
The risk — and the reason we’re getting even money — is in the bullpen. It’s entirely possible that Márquez leaves the game after five or six innings with a deficit of something like 2-1, only to see the bullpen push the game over as LA’s hitters feast on Colorado’s weak bullpen. Because of this, there’s some value on taking the first five innings total (you can get under 6 at -110).
St. Louis Cardinals at Cincinnati Reds
Brad Cunningham: The Cardinals’ and Reds’ offenses are fairly even, as both lineups hit for slightly below-average figures by both wOBA and wRC+ a year ago. The Cardinals made a big splash in the offseason by trading for Nolan Arenado. The Reds mostly stood pat and lost reigning Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer in free agency.
Jack Flaherty is one of the best young pitchers in baseball, posting a 3.42 xFIP and 10.93 K/9 in nine starts last year. Flaherty has a nasty slider that opponents were only able to hit .176 against last year. The Reds’ offense was 26th against sliders last season, so I’d imagine Flaherty will use his slider early and often this afternoon.
Luis Castillo is also one of the best young pitchers in the game and is consistently getting better. In 12 starts last season, he put a a 3.21 ERA, 2.82 xFIP, and 11.44 K/9, which were some of the best numbers in the National League. His changeup is one of the most deadly offspeed pitches in the game, as it produced a 40.1% whiff rate in 2020. The Cardinals were the worst team in baseball against changeups last season, so it’s a difficult matchup for St. Louis.
The biggest difference in this game is defensively. The Cardinals are projected to be the best fielding team in MLB, while the Reds are projected to be the worst. Additionally, the Cardinals have a much better bullpen than the Reds, who don’t have a reliever ranked inside the top 50 on FanGraphs.
Tampa Bay Rays at Miami Marlins
DJ James: Miami surprised plenty of baseball fans in 2020 when it not only made the playoffs, but upset the Chicago Cubs in the Wild Card round. It was not a total fluke. The Marlins have plenty of young talent in their rotation and are bolstered by a powerful and underrated lineup.
Sandy Alcantera quietly put up numbers last year that rivaled his counterpart Thursday, Rays starter Tyler Glasnow. Both have lively fastballs. Alcantera does not rack up the strikeout numbers Glasnow does (38.2% strikeout percentage), but he does allow fewer hard-hit balls.
Yes, the Rays have a great bullpen, and they put it to good use, but if Alcantera goes at least six innings, he negates their advantage by handing the ball to Adam Cimber, Yimi Garcia, and Anthony Bass. If he is able to do so, getting positive odds is a fair bonus for the Fish.
Chicago White Sox at Los Angeles Angels
Kevin Davis: Out of all 30 MLB teams, the Chicago White Sox might be the most overrated to start the season. The White Sox certainly performed well during the shortened 2020 season, but they overperformed and are bound to regress. Additionally, the White Sox had the fortune of playing all their regular season games against only AL and NL Central teams, the two weakest divisions in the league last year.
Dylan Bundy who has become an ace since joining Angels ahead of last season. He should have no trouble against a White Sox lineup missing Eloy Jiménez and his backup, Adam Engel. In Engel’s place will likely be 22-year-old rookie Andrew Vaughn who has yet to play professional baseball in the high minors, nor log an inning in left field in a live game. The Angels’ lineup is always dangerous as it includes Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon, and while they face a tough test in Lucas Giolito, they should be able to scratch together enough runs to back Bundy.
On Opening Day, I like the Angels to win outright as +105 moneyline underdogs and I would play them up to -105.
Houston Astros at Oakland Athletics
Kenny Ducey: The Oakland A’s fought the Houston Astros admirably in last year’s American League Division Series, and we don’t even have to wait one game into the new season to see what should be a thrilling rematch. This time, though, there should be a new victor in this four-game set.
The A’s, on paper, were the superior team to the Astros last year before Houston’s sudden, inexplicable offensive explosion. The Astros ranked just 15th in OPS, 15th in batting average and 17th in wRC+ during the regular season, and while the A’s were only slightly better in these categories, Oakland’s bullpen was one of the league’s best, giving it a clear edge.
Both teams return very similar lineups, though the Astros will have a hard time replacing George Springer at the top. The A’s, while losing Liam Hendriks in free agency, may have assembled an even stronger bullpen with Trevor Rosenthal and Sergio Romo joining a great cast of shutdown relievers. I think the Astros’ offense should be at an slightly greater disadvantage here without Springer, while Chris Bassitt and the bullpen, at full-strength, will be as good or better than 2020.
I like Oakland in this game not only because of the bullpen and offensive edge, but also because it was a stupid 24-11 at home last year, including the postseason. On top of that, while I am one of the biggest Zack Greinke guys around, you can’t deny that he’s declining at age 37. He ranked in just the fifth percentile last year in fastball velocity and allowed a decent amount of hard contact.