MLB Predictions Saturday | Expert Picks, Odds, Previews

MLB Predictions Saturday | Expert Picks, Odds, Previews article feature image

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) Pictured: Manny Machado

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.

As a reminder, you can find all of my bets in the Action Network App and get live alerts every time I log a new bet.

You can also find expert projections for every MLB game 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 Saturday, May 11.

MLB Predictions Saturday | Expert Picks, Odds, Previews

Cubs vs. Pirates

Saturday, May 11
4:05 p.m. ET
Cubs Odds
MoneylineTotalRun Line
-104o/ -118u
Pirates Odds
MoneylineTotalRun Line
-104o/ -118u
Odds via FanDuel. Get up-to-the-minute MLB odds here.

Justin Steele (CHC) vs. Paul Skenes (PIT)

The most-anticipated debut since Stephen Strasburg is finally here. Within one season of being drafted first overall, 21-year-old Paul Skenes will take the mound on Saturday evening against the Chicago Cubs.

There’s a lot to be excited about with Skenes. He immediately becomes one of the top arms in MLB, and between him and Jared Jones, the Pirates have one of the best young 1-2 punches. In seven games at Triple-A, Skenes recorded a dominant 0.99 ERA with 45 strikeouts over 27 1 /3 innings. 

To say he was near unhittable is an understatement. His rise to the Majors was swift and well-warranted. How good? Well let this Eno Sarris tweet show you:

Top five bulk pitchers in Triple-A by Stuff+

1) Nick Pivetta
2) Paul Skenes
3) Kyle Bradish
4) Taj Bradley
5) Cade Horton

*min 50 pitches/appearance. google doc updated. Stuff+:

— Eno Sarris (@enosarris) May 7, 2024

The only player in bulk with better Stuff+ than Skenes was Nick Pivetta. And if you follow Action Network, you know Pivetta's a favorite of our experts with his 180 turnaround into a high strikeout arm. 

Skenes likely gets limited to around 80 pitches on Saturday. Still, he arguably is immediately on par with Cubs left-hander Justin Steele. The southpaw returned on Monday from injury and threw 4 2/3 scoreless innings against the Padres; he flashes elite control and has an impressive career 5% barrel rate. 

If you’re looking for someone to tell you to back Skenes, here it is. Do it.

Our very own Sean Zerillo has co-signed this bet on the Buccos, both over the first five innings (F5) and full game. On the conservative side, these two starting pitchers are close to a wash — but the ceiling is much higher for Skenes, who has flashed elite control in the Minors to complement elite swing-and-miss stuff. 

Funny enough, the Pirates offense also finds itself in the best split possible for this matchup. Against right-handed pitching, the Buccos are dead last (74 wRC+). But against southpaws, that number jumps to 13th (101 wRC+). 

The Cubs are third against lefties and 20th against right-handed pitching, so they’ll be in their weaker split. Dansby Swanson is also questionable and missed Friday night’s series opener. 

It’s going to be must-watch TV when Skenes takes the mound on Saturday, and I’ll be along for the ride. 

Bet: Pirates Full-Game Moneyline (-105 | Bet to -115)

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Reds vs. Giants

Saturday, May 11
7:15 p.m. ET
Reds Odds
MoneylineTotalRun Line
-122o/ +100u
Giants Odds
MoneylineTotalRun Line
-122o/ +100u
Odds via FanDuel. Get up-to-the-minute MLB odds here.

Nick Lodolo (CIN) vs. Mason Black (SF)

Can the Reds Stop the Bleeding?

The Reds are in a tailspin. They entered Friday's series opener against the Giants as losers of eight straight games.

Mason Black made his debut against the Phillies on Monday. His first couple of innings were smooth, but then he began to break down in the second and, notably, third time through the order. He finished with 4 1/3 innings of five-run ball. 

Black projects as a middle-of-the-line starting pitcher. ZiPS, ATC and THE BAT all have his projected ERA in the mid 4s. He is a predominantly fly-ball pitcher and is a bit wild. Even in Triple-A the last two seasons, his BB/9 sat in the mid-3s. 

Obviously, it’s hard to take much from his first start, but looking back at his 2023 numbers across Double-A and Triple-A, Black was middle of the line. The same can't be said about Nick Lodolo.

After undergoing season-ending surgery last season, Lodolo has come back strong in 2024. The third-year pro has a 2.79 ERA and ranks in the top 5% in whiff rate. He strikes out nearly a third of all batters and has filtered in a higher changeup usage from last season (47.5 whiff%). 

Through five starts this season, we’ve seen Lodolo boast a .219 xBA and he projects as an above-average pitcher. He has shown flashes of that potential in his two years prior, his lone issue being barrels (9.1%).

The Giants grade out as a bottom-10 offense against left-handed pitching (96 wRC+). It’s Michael Conforto's weaker split and lefty-killer Jorge Soler is on the injured list.

Taking the bullpens out of this, Lodolo is the deserving favorite over the first five innings and I would look to back the lefty here against Black.

The Reds have an aggressive offense that runs the bases extremely well and should cause a lot of stress on the rookie right-hander who is still adjusting to the highest level of baseball.

Bet: Reds F5 ML (-115 | Bet to -130)

Dodgers vs. Padres

Saturday, May 11
8:40 p.m. ET
Dodgers Odds
MoneylineTotalRun Line
-105o/ -115u
Padres Odds
MoneylineTotalRun Line
-105o/ -115u
Odds via FanDuel. Get up-to-the-minute MLB odds here.

James Paxton (LAD) vs. Matt Waldron (SD)

Player props to target: Fernando Tatis Jr. & Manny Machado

James Paxton is a walking negative regression monster. Through six starts, the southpaw has a 3.06 ERA, but expected metrics are three runs higher than actual. 

That’s right, his xERA and xFIP are both in the low 6s as Paxton has struggled limiting hard contact. He ranks in the bottom 7% of all pitchers in strikeout rate (career-worst 12.9%) and he has seen his control completely disappear (17.3 BB%). 

Paxton has benefitted from a .245 BABIP and 85.2 LOB% — both marks are way above his career averages. All underlying metrics suggest that’ll turn for the worse. His barrel rate (9.3%) remains an issue, and he’s seen his hard-hit rate gradually rise, as has his ground-ball rate. 

All of this to say that San Diego’s bats should be active against the southpaw. The two Padres I have circled are Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado. 

Machado has an impressive .280 ISO against southpaws this season and his FanGraphs rolling fly-ball and hard-hit rate graphs are both on the rise. Machado is turning the corner at the plate and is due for positive regression (.273 xBA, .461 xSLG vs. .250 BA, .393 SLG).

Both his hard hit and barrel rates are at its highest since 2021 and again, this is a great matchup against Paxton, a pitcher who rarely racks up strikeouts. 

Tatis is another player I’m looking to buy despite his minimal success of late. His hard-hit rate also ranks in the top 10% of all hitters and his barrel rate has taken a slight jump. Perhaps most impressive is his career-best .301 xBA (.255 actual). 

Last season, Tatis posted a 152 wRC+ against left-handed pitching and a .227 ISO. Despite his lack of success against lefties this season (.129 average), he does have a .357 on-base percentage. 

Now could the walks burn me in the end? Totally. Paxton is definitely wild. But Tatis has been aggressive early on and has been hitting the ball hard.

I’ve begun to play more overs on 1.5 Hits + Runs + RBI props on hitters — walks can at least lead to runs scored — and I will be looking to do so for both Tatis and Machado, as well as dabble in some home run stake.

Similar to last week with Adley Rutschman, I am waiting for the lines to come out on both before deciding which prop to target.

The lines should be out late Friday night or early Saturday.

Bets: .5u on Tatis and Machado Over 1.5 Hits + Runs + RBI (or Total Bases, TBD) | .1u on HR

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