MLB Predictions Friday | Expert Picks & Previews Today (June 21)

MLB Predictions Friday | Expert Picks & Previews Today (June 21) article feature image
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Credit: Getty Images. Pictured: Chris Sale (left) and Fernando Tatis Jr. (right).

Welcome to Opening Pitch, our daily column that you'll find throughout the 2024 MLB season.

The goal for Opening Pitch is to highlight top daily projection edges for MLB moneylines and totals, share favorite bets and provide some betting notes and analysis.

You can find expert projections for every MLB game on Friday in the Action App (on both the PRO Projections tab and the game pages) and our Projections Hub.

You can also shop for the best lines on our MLB Odds page.

Here are my favorite bets for Friday, June 21.

MLB Predictions Friday | Expert Picks & Previews Today (June 21)

Diamondbacks vs Phillies

Diamondbacks Logo
Friday, Jun 21
6:40pm ET
Apple TV+
Phillies Logo
Over 9.5
DraftKings Logo

Starting Pitchers: Jordan Montgomery (LHP) vs Taijuan Walker (RHP)

Here’s a great pitching battle between two guys who have drastically lost velocity.

I’ve documented many of Taijuan Walker’s struggles this year, but the primary point is that he’s lost heat across his arsenal. It was even worse in his last outing, where his fastball checked in around 90 mph.

It’s not like Walker ever had excellent stuff, but it’s officially poor, which helps explain an obscenely low swinging-strike rate (6%) and a reasonably brutal batted-ball profile (14% barrel rate, 51% hard-hit rate). He’s also forcing fewer grounders than ever (36%), and pitching to contact on hard-hit fly balls is not how you succeed in the Majors – he’s seen an uptick in HR/FB rate (13%) and HR/9 rate (1.7).

Considering the velocity, the around-five expected run indicators (5.87 xERA, 4.68 xFIP), and the 0.2 fWAR mark across his first 50 innings, I’d power rate Walker as a replacement-level pitcher.

The Snakes can bash around a replacement-level pitcher. They’re often inconsistent, but they’ve posted a 117 wRC+ against right-handed pitching over the past month behind plenty of hard-hit pulled batted balls (46% pull rate, 44% hard-hit rate).

Jordan Montgomery has a similar issue: the velocity on his heavily used sinker is down about two ticks. The result is a vastly diminished stuff profile, fewer strikeouts, and more walks – he’s on pace for a career-low strikeout minus walk rate (7%), a mark that’s halved from his career average (15%).

He finally put together a solid start in his last outing, striking out seven White Sox over five shutout innings. But anyone could do that against the White Sox – I might be able to chip in three scoreless against a lineup slashing .220/.280/.340. The White Sox whiffed at 10 of his 22 changeups, which won’t happen against most lineups.

Life won’t be as easy against the hard-hitting Phillies, who’ve posted a 126 wRC+ against lefties over the past month.

I admit that the Phillies have an excellent bullpen, and they’ll be well-rested after an off day on Thursday.

But I’ll happily fade Arizona’s bullpen, which I hold in very low regard and has posted expected run indicators nearing five over the past few weeks. Additionally, Ryne Thompson and Paul Sewald pitched in Thursday’s win over Washington.

Perhaps most importantly, we should have awesome hitting weather in Philly this Friday, featuring near-double-digit breezes out toward right-center field and super-hot temperatures over 90. The wind can play at Citizens Bank, and BallParkPal projects a +10% Run Factor on Friday, including a 26% Home Run factor.

Combine the weather with the lineups and some very vulnerable arms, and I’ll happily play this over at 10 (+100) or better.

Bets: Over 9.5 (-102, DraftKings) | Play to 10 (+100)

Diamondbacks vs Phillies Same-Game Parlay (Friday, June 21) Image
Braves Logo
Friday, Jun 21
7:05pm ET
Apple TV+
Yankees Logo
Braves ML
DraftKings Logo

Starting pitchers: Chris Sale (LHP) vs Carlos Rodon (LHP)

If you want to fade the Yankees, you must do it behind a southpaw.

The Bombers obliterate righties, but they’re much closer to a league-average lineup against left-handed pitching, with a mere mortal 106 wRC+ against the side. Although Juan Soto is a menace in either split, the other two lefties in the lineup – Anthony Rizzo and Alex Verdugo – perform much worse against same-side pitching.

But unexpectedly, many of the Yankees’ depth and bench pieces hit better against righties, including Anthony Volpe, Gleyber Torres, Giancarlo Stanton, Oswaldo Cabrera and Austin Wells.

And they’ll all have to battle Chris Sale, a surefire Cy Young candidate with expected run indicators in the mid-2.00s, a 30% strikeout rate, and a sub-5% walk rate.

I think he has the best slider in baseball – a lanky sweeping pitch with a 42% CSW rate and a 10% hard-contact rate against.

Sure, he’s seen some slight regression over his past three starts, including a disastrous eight-run outing against Oakland (???). However, I believe the regression can be more aptly characterized as standard variance.

He’s still induced 27 whiffs on 98 sliders thrown across his past two starts. He’ll be hard to hit if he keeps sustaining those rates.

Sale also continues to mix in more changeups and sinkers to help him neutralize righties, who have crushed him over the past few injury-shortened seasons. This year, his platoon splits are much closer to even.

Sale’s seen a resurgence in stuff and is locating everything supremely well. He’s a top-six pitcher.

I’m uncertain if the Braves can hit Carlos Rodon. Their offense is too mercurial without Ronald Acuna Jr. at the top of the order. But they’ve posted a half-decent batted-ball profile against southpaws across the past month, including a low ground-ball rate (37%), a high fly-ball rate (30%), a high barrel rate (10%), a high pull rate (45%) and a high hard-hit rate (45%).

Rodon is also mercurial. The stuff is tremendous (120 Stuff+, but he still struggles with hard contact (10% barrel rate), and I don’t expect him to sustain an 80% strand rate – those two factors explain the difference between his 3.28 ERA and 4.17 expected ERA.

A big part of this handicap is the bullpen matchup.

I continue to scream into the void about how overvalued and overrated the Yankees bullpen is. They rank sixth in bullpen ERA (3.41) but bottom-10 in bullpen xFIP (4.22), bullpen strikeout minus walk rate (12%), and bullpen Pitching+ (98). They’re erratic, with Clay Holmes and Luke Weaver vastly overperforming.

Finally, the Bomber relievers have seen some regression. Over the past two weeks, they’ve posted a 5.32 ERA behind a 14% walk rate. They looked terrible in a series loss against Boston.

Meanwhile, during this fortnight, the Braves bullpen has posted a mid-2.00s ERA and SIERA behind a 30% strikeout rate. Even better, Atlanta had an off day yesterday, while New York had to utilize eight different pitchers in a blowout loss to Baltimore.

I think the Braves have a significant pitching advantage across all nine innings, and the only times we can fade the Yankees is against a lefty. So, I’m taking advantage.

Bets: Braves ML (-115, DraftKings) | Play to ML (-120)

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Brewers Logo
Friday, Jun 21
9:40pm ET
BSWI
Padres Logo
Padres ML
bet365 Logo

How do you all feel about Collin Rea?

Because I think he’s running way too well.

I don’t think his 3.29 ERA represents his current form. His xERA is over five because of a 10% barrel rate, and his xFIP is over four because of a 16% strikeout rate. He’s not a ground-ball pitcher despite being a pitch-to-contact sinkerballer. He has a lame-duck stuff profile (85 Stuff+ across his arsenal).

He has two plus pitches, getting his cutter-sweeper mix across for plenty of called strikes, which is something to consider.

Regardless, I’m betting Rea will experience plenty of negative regression against the Padres, a highly productive, top-three lineup against right-handed pitching behind a pesky, contact-based, line-drive lineup. Luis Arraez and Jurickson Profar are always on base, and there’s decent power behind them in Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr.

Conversely, I quite like how Dylan Cease looks. The stuff looks great (122 Stuff+ across his arsenal) because his fastball comes in 97 with crazy ride (18” iVB, 91st percentile), and his slider is cooking with a 23% swinging-strike rate. The mix is fueling his 30% strikeout rate.

I also don’t mind his curveball in limited usage, and I wouldn't mind seeing more cutters.

But the best part of Cease’s game is improved command. He’s on pace for a career-high 100 Location+ mark and a career-low 7% walk rate. He’s allowed a few too many barrels but has improved his hard-hit rate.

For example, Pitcher List records a Mistake Rate metric, which is how many low-stuff pitches you leave in the zone. Cease ranks 15th among qualified pitchers in Mistake Rate, with a meager 4% mark.

Cease has good stuff, better command, and improved results.

The Brewers are typically an elite offense against right-handed pitching. Still, they’ve posted some questionable results recently because they’re not elevating any hard-hit balls against the side over the past month (50% ground-ball rate, 35% hard-hit rate).

Their expected wOBA against righties over the past month is just .280, the fourth-lowest in MLB during the stretch and 40 points lower than their counterparts on Friday.

The Brewers are likely the better bullpen and defense, but those margins are fairly slim in my opinion – the Padres still rank top-five in Defensive Runs Saved and top-10 in bullpen expected FIP.

So, I’m willing to eat some juice to back Cease and the ascending Padres lineup against Rea and the regressing Brewers lineup.

Bets: Padres ML (-150, bet365) | Play to ML (-155)

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McGrath's Bets for Friday, June 21

For additional bet notifications, follow me in the Action Network App (@tannerstruth).

  • Braves ML (-115, DraftKings) | Play to ML (-120)
  • Brewers vs Padres Over 9.5 (-102, DraftKings) | Play to 10 (+100)
  • Padres ML (-150, bet365) | Play to ML (-155)

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