MLB Picks Today | Odds, Expert Projections for Thursday, June 8
Getty Images. Pictured: Michael Harris II, Miguel Amaya, Donovan Solano
Welcome to Opening Pitch, my column that you'll find daily throughout the 2023 MLB season.
My goal for Opening Pitch is to highlight my top daily projection edges for MLB moneylines and totals, share my favorite bets and provide some betting notes and analysis, mainly as I react to opening and overnight lines while using my baseball betting model.
I will look to release a new version of Opening Pitch daily between midnight and 3 a.m. ET; after I enter my overnight bets in the Action Network App and update the MLB projections. Hopefully, you will use it as your morning betting guide to get ahead of the baseball markets.
You can also shop for the best lines on our odds page.
Expert Picks for Thursday, June 8
Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Cincinnati Reds
Clayton Kershaw vs. Graham Ashcraft
First Pitch: 12:35 p.m. ET
Kershaw has been better against lefties (2.56 xFIP) than righties (3.06 xFIP) throughout his career, and the Reds send out nine right-handed or switch-hitting bats against him. Cincinnati ranks 15th against lefties this season (105 wRC+) compared to 23rd against righties (88 wRC+) — thanks to all those right-handed hitters.
I expect better results for Graham Ashcraft (career 5.54 ERA, 4.43 xERA, or expected ERA) at some point. Pitching models would also bring him closer to his career mid-four xERA. He has a high BABIP (career .317), a low strand rate (career 65.4%), and a high home run rate (1.08 HR/9), especially for a pitcher with a career 52.1% groundball rate.
Reds manager David Bell also did an excellent job managing his bullpen the past couple of games, leaving all of his key relievers available for Thursday. The Dodgers' options are more limited after using three relievers (Brusdar Graterol, Evan Phillips, and Yency Almonte) on back-to-back days.
Bet the Reds to +178 (36% implied) for Thursday afternoon, at a 2% edge compared to my projection (+163 or 38% implied).
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Washington Nationals
Merrill Kelly vs. Josiah Gray
First Pitch: 1:05 p.m. ET
Wind speeds are never particularly dramatic at Nationals Park, but the direction does seem to impact the run-scoring environment significantly. Thursday afternoon's conditions should favor the pitchers — with 6 mph winds blowing in from left-center field.
Merrill Kelly (2.80 ERa, 3.82 xERA) and Josiah Gray (3.09 ERA, 4.48 xERA) have drastically outperformed their underlying indicators this season. Kelly has a particularly low BABIP (.248; .281 career), while Gray has a high strand rate (85.1%: 80.6% career).
Pitching models view Kelly as an above-average arm (105 Pitching+), but they aren't too fond of Gray (90 Pitching+) and view him closer to a replacement-level starter, with a decent cutter, a below-average sinker and four other fringe pitch types.
I projected the totals at 4.17 for the first five innings (F5) and 8.08 for the full game. Bet an F5 Under 4.5 (to +100) or F5 Under 5 to -135, in addition to an Under 8.5 (to -106) or 9 (to -125).
Minnesota Twins vs. Tampa Bay Rays
Bailey Ober vs. Tyler Glasnow
First Pitch: 1:10 p.m. ET
Glasnow has been somewhat shaky in his return from the IL (7.42 xERA) and experienced a velocity dip (from 96.6 mph to 95) between his first and second outings. Glasnow averaged just 95 mph on his fastball on June 3 against the Red Sox, his lowest mark in a start since 2017:
Despite outperforming his expected ERA (2.33 ERA, 3.61 xERA), Bailey Ober has been highly effective. Still, pitching models (103 Pitching+) put him on par with Glasnow (104) in a limited sample, albeit with a drastic advantage in Stuff+ numbers for Glasnow.
Conversely, the Twins are third by bullpen Pitching+(104), rank second in Stuff+ (113), and are around league-average by both FIP (4.16) and K-BB% (14.8%).
Bet the Twins to avoid the sweep at +138 or better.
Houston Astros vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Framber Valdez vs. Jose Berrios
First Pitch: 7:07 p.m. ET
While the results for Jose Berrios (3.66 ERA) look encouraging and pitching models (102 Pitching+) view him as an above-average arm, a 4.58 xERA says that he hasn't improved much relative to last season; he's just getting more help from his defense (.308 BABIP vs. .328 BABIP). Berrios had a comparable Pitching+ figure last season too.
The Blue Jays have a significant defensive advantage over the Astros, ranking first in Defensive Runs Saved (+32) compared to 17th for Houston (+2), which could explain some of Berrios' luck. Still, he can keep the Astros offense in their lesser split (107 wRC+ vs. lefties; 98 wRC+ vs. righties), and he consistently performs better at home (career 3.74 xFIP) than on the road (career 4.58 xFIP).
Surprisingly, Framber Valdez is carrying his highest xERA (3.85) since 2019 while also posting the highest strikeout and lowest walk rates of his career. His strand rate (79.4%) is unusually high (74.9% career), and his groundball rate (59.5%) is at a career low.
Among 174 qualified starting pitchers (min. 10 innings) this season, Valdez ranks 152nd in hard-hit rate (38%), in the 13th percentile with pitchers like Dean Kremer, Sean Manaea, Lance Lynn, Luke Weaver and Yusei Kikuchi, after ranking 85th among qualified starters in hard-hit rate last season.
Surprisingly, with all their right-handed bats, the Blue Jays rank better against righties (116 wRC+) than lefties (97 wRC+, 21st). Still, you can back Toronto in both halves to +102 (F5) and +100 (full game).
Additionally, bet Over 8 to -120, or Over 8.5 to -102 (projected 8.8)
Atlanta Braves vs. New York Mets
Justin Verlander vs. Spencer Strider
First Pitch: 7:20 p.m. ET
Pete Alonso left Wednesday's game after getting hit by a pitch on his wrist; X-rays were negative, but he might sit out of Thursday's contest as a precaution — even with the Mets struggling.
Per pitching models, Spencer Strider (116 Pitching+) is the best starting pitcher in baseball right now, even while mainly deploying a two-pitch mix, with a four-seam fastball or slider nearly 95% of the time.
The same metrics think that Justin Verlander (105 Stuff+, 107 Location+, 104 Pitching+) has taken a step back following his remarkable Cy Young season (118 Stuff+, 107 Location+, 109 Pitching+), coming off of Tommy John surgery at nearly 40 years old. Expected ERA has Strider about an entire run better than the future Hall of Famer (2.70 vs. 3.72 xERA) in current form, and pitching models see an even more significant difference (closer to 1.3 runs).
Verlander's fastball velocity (94.4 mph) is down slightly (95.1 mph in 2022), but what's much more concerning – even in a small sample – is a 9% dip in strikeout-minus-walk rate (from 23.5% to 14.4%).
I projected the Braves closer to -185 in either half of this matchup. Bet Atlanta to around -170 in either market, assuming Pete Alonso doesn't play.
Chicago Cubs vs. Los Angeles Angels
Drew Smyly vs. Reid Detmers
First Pitch: 9:38 p.m. ET
I suppose the model wants us to keep backing the Cubs against lefties. Chicago ranks sixth (117 wRC+) against southpaw pitching this season, compared to 19th (95 wRC+) against righties.
And I view Drew Smyly (3.29 xERA; 4.17 in 2022) as a better pitcher than Reid Detmers (4.48 xERA; 4.05 in 2022), even though pitching models (100 Pitching+ for Detmers; 97 for Smyly) would disagree with that assessment.
Smyly started throwing a sinker last season, and both that pitch and his curveball (combined 92% usage rate) generate weak contact; his xERA and BABIP have both plummeted:
I make the Cubs closer to 48% in either half of this matchup; bet their moneyline down to +116.
Zerillo's Bets for Thursday, June 8
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- Atlanta Braves F5 (-170, 0.5u) at FanDuel (bet to -171)
- Atlanta Braves (-165, 0.5u) at FanDuel (bet to -169)
- ArizonaDiamondbacks / Washington Nationals, F5 Under 4.5 (+110, 0.5u) at FanDuel (bet to +100 or 5, -135)
- Arizona Diamondbacks / Washington Nationals, Under 9 (-120, 0.5u) at FanDuel (bet to -125 or 8.5, -106)
- Chicago Cubs F5 (+120, 0.5u) at WynnBet (bet to +118)
- Chicago Cubs (+120, 0.5u) at FanDuel (bet to +116)
- Cincinnati Reds (+190, 0.5u) at WynnBet (bet to +178)
- Milwaukee Brewers (+105, 0.5u) at WynnBet (bet to +102)
- Minnesota Twins (+146, 0.5u) at FanDuel (bet to +138)
- San Francisco Giants / ColoradoRockies, Over 11.5 (-110, 0.5u) at Caesars (bet to -116)
- Toronto Blue Jays F5 (+106, 0.5u) at FanDuel (bet to +102)
- Toronto Blue Jays (+115, 0.5u) at WynnBet (bet to +100)
- Toronto Blue Jays / Houston Astros, Over 8.5 (+100, 0.5u) at WynnBet (bet to -102 or 8, -120)