MLB Odds, Preview, Prediction for Rays vs. Braves: Can Charlie Morton Keep Atlanta Bullpen Rested? (Friday, July 16)

MLB Odds, Preview, Prediction for Rays vs. Braves: Can Charlie Morton Keep Atlanta Bullpen Rested? (Friday, July 16) article feature image

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images. Pictured: Ozzie Albies.

  • Tampa and Atlanta resume play after the All-Star break on Friday with a three-game series.
  • Both team hit a snag before the break, with the Rays playing sub-.500 baseball in June and the Braves losing Ronald Acuna Jr.
  • Tanner McGrath explains below how he's betting on Atlanta to start the game off hot.

Rays vs. Braves Odds

Rays Odds+110
Braves Odds-130
Over/Under8.5 (+100/-120)
Time7:20 p.m. ET
TVMLB Network
Odds as of Thursday evening and via DraftKings.

The Rays and the Braves both exit the All-Star break with a touch of desperation.

The Rays have had a lackluster past month, while the Braves are a downright disappointment. Plus, while the Braves just lost their best player for the season, the Rays are dealing with a major injury to their top pitcher.

In this interleague series, I'm interested to see which hungry dog runs faster. The Rays are always valuable as underdogs, but the Braves tend to play better at home and have their ace on the mound tonight.

So, which side presents the most value in this series opener?

Rays Raise the Bar on Defense

The Rays are in a bit of trouble.

While they made a silent surge right before the break – winning five of six before ASG weekend – the Rays posted a 12-14 record in the month of June while losing their top starting pitcher.

However, this is Tampa Bay we’re talking about. The Rays are the most well-run team in the league, and they find value in the least-expected places – including the pitching staff. Plus, their +85 run differential is almost 30 runs better than their top divisional rival in Boston (+57), indicating they may be the stronger team.

The Rays had a pretty decent first half offensively, and their lineup is certainly better than average. However, it’s the defensive side of the inning where the Rays make their money, as they’ve allowed the fewest runs in the division and the second-fewest runs in the AL.

The Rays pace the league in defensive runs saved (56), and the bullpen ranks second in FIP (3.55), xFIP (3.78) and WHIP (1.15). Meanwhile, the rotation has posted top-10 numbers, and the entire staff is lights out at home (3.29 FIP, 1.03 WHIP at The Trop this season).

Braves Need Bullpen Help

The Braves need help, and Joc Pederson will provide some of that.

However, I’m unsure of how much. Pederson has good batted-ball statistics (91.2 mph exit velo, 10.2% barrel, 46.2% hard-hit), and Atlanta needs an outfield replacement for Ronald Acuña Jr., but Pederson also strikes out a ton (25.8%) and is a total defensive liability.

How about some help for the bullpen? Because Atlanta is a train wreck in that department. Will Smith is a below-average closer, Josh Tomlin has allowed a .376 wOBA while posting an ERA approaching six, and Tyler Matzek and A.J. Minter have been only moderately better.

However, I’m quite bullish on the starting rotation. Ian Anderson is becoming a stud, while Charlie Morton — today’s starter — is finding his groove again. Once Huascar Ynoa is healthy, the Braves' top half of the rotation is quite solid.

With or without Acuña, the Braves have heaps of upside. They were one game away from the World Series last season, and right now they’re just four games out of first place with ~45% of the season left to play.

Pederson is a good start, but the Braves need a little more help. The front office should bring out the big guns so Brian Snitker can go win the division.

Rays-Braves Pick

My initial lean was on Tampa Bay. The Rays always pose value as underdogs, and that’s especially true playing against a team like Atlanta.

However, a couple things have pushed me the other way:

First, Charlie Morton is a much better pitcher than Michael Wacha. As mentioned, Morton is really starting to find his groove recently, as he’s posted a 1.91 ERA and a .69 WHIP over his past five starts. Meanwhile, Wacha pairs his 4.87 ERA with a 6.08 xERA, fueled by horrific batted-ball statistics.

Second, while the offense has staggered at times, the Braves bats always heat up at home. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay has been the second-worst road offense over the past 30 days (69 wRC+, .270 wOBA, .626 OPS).

Given the massive advantage the Rays have in the bullpen, I’m looking to hop on the Braves first five moneyline. I'm playing that at -130 or better odds and hoping the Braves' home bats come out early while the Rays' road bats continue to run cold.

Pick: Braves F5 ML (-130 or better)

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