MLB Predictions Today | Odds, Expert Picks for Blue Jays vs. Mariners & More (July 21)

MLB Predictions Today | Odds, Expert Picks for Blue Jays vs. Mariners & More (July 21) article feature image

Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images. Pictured: Yusei Kikuchi (Blue Jays)

Baltimore enters Friday in first place in the AL East, meaning that it's the first day of the MLB season where the Rays aren't leading their division. After a 30-9 start, Tampa Bay has played below .500 baseball and now is in a tight race for the division crown.

The Orioles and Rays will continue their four-game weekend series in Tampa on Friday as part of a 15-game full MLB slate.

The Cubs and Cardinals begin the action at Wrigley Field with a Friday afternoon game, while two division leaders (Braves and Brewers) begin their weekend series in Milwaukee.

The Blue Jays and Mariners will have a playoff rematch — this time in Seattle — while the first-place Rangers visit Chavez Ravine and the Dodgers.

Here are my best bets for a loaded Friday night MLB slate.

Orioles vs. Rays

6:40 p.m. ET · Kyle Bradish vs. Zach Eflin

Kyle Bradish is third amongst all starters in Stuff+ in the last 30 days, behind only Corbin Burnes and Graham Ashcraft.

For the first time in his young MLB career, Bradish's fastball is playing above average, and it's making a massive difference in his underlying performance. He's always had the excellent slider (159 Stuff+) and curveball (154 Stuff+), but now his fastball (102 Stuff+  last 30 days) enables him to get ahead in counts without getting crushed.

The improved fastball has helped his swinging strike rate and strikeout rates in the last month. He has 46 strikeouts and nine walks in his last 43.1 innings pitched, with a 1.87 ERA.

For all of the talk of the dominance of the Rays' lineup this season, Tampa Bay is a league average offense since June began. The projection systems would put the Rays slightly above average for the remainder of the year, but I'd bet the under on them maintaining a season-long 120 wRC+ as an offense.

As good as the Rays were in April and May, that level of hitting production wasn't sustainable given the talent in the lineup.

Zach Eflin's production at the top of the Rays' rotation is sustainable though. He has a career-high strikeout and whiff rate, and he's maintained his elite command while doing it.

The result is a career-low xERA and stellar underlying metrics despite being one of the most unlucky pitchers in baseball. Eflin ranks in the bottom 10 for worst defenses surrounding him on his starts alone, based on outs above average from Baseball Savant.

I'd bet under 8 at -115 or better, and I'd also bet Bradish over 5.5 strikeouts at -115 or better because the market isn't catching up to his improved fastball.

I also bet a small wager on Bradish 40/1 to lead the day in strikeouts.

Picks: Kyle Bradish Over 5.5 Strikeouts (-115 or Better) | Orioles/Rays Under 8 Runs (-115 or Better)

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Braves at Brewers

8:10 p.m. ET · Michael Soroka vs. Freddy Peralta

Michael Soroka has had an admirable and arduous journey to return from two consecutive major injuries to pitch again in the big leagues.

It's clear from the underlying data that he's not the same pitcher anymore, though.

Soroka could still build back to what he was — 20.3% K rate and 2.68 ERA in 2019 — but he's showing no signs of that at the present moment.

Soroka's 87 Stuff+ and below-average command numbers give him a 92 Pitching+. That puts him in the same tier as Zach Davies, Ken Waldichuk, Javier Assad and Tylor Megill. Most of them are barely starting pitchers in rotations and Megill is currently struggling in Triple-A.

Soroka has featured below-average command for starters and doesn't have the stuff to pitch around it.

The Braves also don't have the bullpen depth and health to shorten the game behind Soroka right now. The bullpen had a lot of usage in the series against Arizona, and Atlanta didn't get an off day.

With favorable hitting conditions in Milwaukee on Friday night, I'm looking to purely fade Soroka. Soroka's slider is the only pitch graded as above average by Stuff+, and the command on said pitch is mediocre given the success hitters have had against it this season (.550 SLG against).

The Brewers' offense is in its better offensive split against a right-handed pitcher, as well.

I'd bet the team total over 4.5 runs at -105 or better.

Pick: Brewers Team Total Over 4.5 Runs (-105 or Better)

Photo by Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/Getty Images. Pictured: Michael Soroka (Braves)

Blue Jays vs. Mariners

10:10 p.m. ET · Yusei Kikuchi vs Bryce Miller

Yusei Kikuchi's command still isn't great, but the Blue Jays lefty now has passable command for an MLB starter. His zone rate and his first-pitch strike rate have improved year-and-year, and his Location+ numbers from FanGraphs are enough to get by with his plus stuff.

The result is an improved 4.46 xERA for Kikuchi, an above-average walk rate and peripherals that put his xFIP down at 4.18.

There's a bunch of buy signals for Kikuchi because the improved command has come from a tweak in the pitch mix.

The Mariners' lineup is quite patient and will take a lot of first-pitch strikes, so if Kikuchi is pitching from ahead, he'll be able to generate a lot of strikeouts.

Kikuchi is trending up while Mariners starter Bryce Miller is trending the other way. He has an excellent fastball but his secondaries are underdeveloped. Now that he's lost some velocity on the fastball, he's more vulnerable.

The Blue Jays' lineup has always hit fastballs well in the past and now instead of seeing upper 95s and 96s from Miller, he's been throwing closer to 94.0-94.5 mph in the last few outings.

That dip in velocity worsens his ERA projection.

Seattle has the bullpen advantage, but Toronto's superior lineup means it should be a small favorite.

Seattle also lost Jarred Kelenic (112 wRC+) to injury before Thursday and replaced him with Cade Marlowe (86 wRC+ in Triple-A).

Pick: Blue Jays ML (+100 or Better)

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