The baseball season is in full swing as we enter the third weekend of the regular season here tonight.
For the duration of the season, I will be releasing some MLB series picks when I see value on a team to win a series, regardless of length. This will likely result in two or three series picks per week and I am excited to roll out my first pick on this Friday evening.
Tonight’s pick will feature a couple of National League clubs in the form of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals as the two teams kick off a three-game set from Nationals Park in Washington.
Let’s break down the probable pitchers and touch on each game before getting into the final pick of who will come out on top after the Sunday afternoon finale. Don’t forget to check out our top MLB betting sites.
Probable Pitchers (as per MLB.com)
- Friday: Trevor Williams (PIT) vs. Patrick Corbin (WSH)
- Saturday: Chris Archer (PIT) vs. Max Scherzer (WSH)
- Sunday: Jameson Taillon (PIT) vs. Anibal Sanchez (WSH)
Now, let’s break down each game’s pitching matchup before getting into the final pick.
Friday: Williams (1-0, 2.25 ERA) vs. Corbin (0-0, 3.75 ERA)
The first game of the series kicks off tonight as right-hander Trevor Williams does battle with Nationals southpaw Patrick Corbin.
For Williams, he has already begun building off of what was a quietly excellent 2018 campaign. Williams pitched to a 3.11 ERA across 31 starts and 170.2 innings last season, winning 14 games in the process. He did outpitch his ERA indicators, however, as he also pitched to a 3.86 FIP and 4.54 xFIP.
However, I am less concerned about that elevated xFIP as Williams has been able to limit home runs in his big league career. xFIP gives the pitcher an ERA based on a home run per fly-ball rate of 10%. However, Williams has been under 10% in each of his first two full big league seasons and was at just 8% last season. He has a real solid 0.89 HR/9 number so far in his young career.
Finally, on Williams, he was actually baseball’s best pitcher in the season’s second half in 2018. That’s right, among qualified pitchers, Williams’ 1.38 ERA was the best in the bigs last season while he went 7-3 across 12 second-half starts. He was one of only three pitchers with a sub-2.00 ERA in the second half along with Zack Wheeler (1.68) and Jacob deGrom (1.73) of the Mets.
Corbin is also coming off a big 2018 season which earned him a rich free-agent contract early in the offseason from the Nationals. The left-hander pitched to a stout 3.15 ERA, but also deserved better as evidenced by his 2.47 FIP and 2.61 xFIP.
Corbin has been solid to start the season, allowing five earned runs in 12 innings, but he’s also allowed 13 hits in that time and is coming off a start where he allowed three home runs against the Mets. Both of Corbin’s outings have come against the Mets this season.
Corbin has been burned big-time by right-handed bats in the early going this season, and the Pirates’ projected lineup features eight right-handed batters including the switch-hitters.
Saturday: Archer (1-0, 2.45 ERA) vs. Scherzer (1-2, 3.32 ERA)
As long as Archer’s appeal for his five-game suspension isn’t decided on before Saturday’s game, he will make his third start of the season after pitching quite well across his first two.
Archer threw five shutout innings and struck out eight in his season-opening start against the Cardinals before issuing a quality start with six innings of three-run ball against the Reds his second time out, albeit he gave up two homers and five hits in this one. He still struck out seven.
We haven’t seen vintage Archer for a few years now as his ERAs have hovered around 4.00 since 2016, albeit with FIPs south of 4.00 in each of those years, but he’s off to a fine start this season. If he can limit the free passes (4.09 BB/9 in 2019), Archer has a nice chance to tame the Nationals offense in this one.
Of course, nothing will come easy against Scherzer despite some subpar outings by his standards to this point. Scherzer is coming off a tough start against the Mets where he allowed four earned runs on eight hits in 6.1 innings, however, he managed to earn the win nonetheless. Scherer also walked three and allowed a homer in his season debut against the Mets on Opening Day.
Still, runs will be at a premium against Mad Max, as per usual. He has racked up a guady 35.9% strikeout rate in the early going and his 2.46 FIP is much more favorable of his work than his 3.32 ERA might suggest.
Sunday: Taillon (0-2, 3.00 ERA) vs. Sanchez (0-1, 6.52 ERA)
Of all the pitching matchups in this series, this one is the most lopsided.
Taillon is off to a nice start to his season despite ended up in the loss column in two of his three starts. The right-hander took a comebacker off the head in his last outing, limiting him to just two scoreless innings against the Cubs. He should be good to go for Sunday’s contest, however.
He was touched up for four runs in six innings in his season debut at Cincinnati on Opening Day, however Taillon came back with seven frames of one-run ball in a no-decision against the Cardinals his second time through.
The 27-year-old pitched to a 3.20 ERA and 3.46 FIP in 2018 after delivering a 4.44 ERA but 3.48 FIP in 2017. He limits the long ball (0.93 career HR/9) while also limited walks (2.29 career BB/9). He doesn’t boast the most strikeout stuff around (8.15 career K/9), however Taillon’s newfound slider has him looking like a star sooner rather than later.
Sanchez had a renaissance season last year with the Braves when he pitched to a 2.83 ERA across 136.2 innings and 24 starts (25 appearances), but 2019 has been different.
Sanchez has issues walks at a huge 5.59 BB/9 clip so far and he allowed two homers in his most recent outing at Philly. Both of his starts have come against a tough Phillies offense.
Still, six walks in 9.2 innings is no good. Until Sanchez finds his command, he will be a pitcher to target regardless of opponent.
Pirates vs. Nationals MLB Series Pick
The clear offensive advantage in this series goes to Washington despite facing the top three pitchers the Pirates have to offer.
Washington ranks ninth with a team .346 wOBA on the season while the Pirates check in at 20th with a .301 mark. Pittsburgh has struggled to hit for power with just a .126 ISO (T-25th) to this point, so they will need to get creative to score runs, especially against Corbin and Scherzer in the first two games of the three-game set.
That said, I like the value we are getting with the Pirates. Let’s note that they are 6-5 to begin the season with the Nationals entering this series with an identical 6-5 record. Washington’s +14 run differential trumps the Pirates’ -1 mark, but I like how the Pirates pitching sets up in this series given the value in their odds.
I also want to make note of the Nationals’ horrendous bullpen so far. The Nats’ 7.79 ERA out of the ‘pen is the worst mark in baseball at this point, although their 5.08 FIP improves to 21st.
The Pirates’ 3.89 bullpen FIP ranks 11th and their closer has been absolutely lights-out early on. Left-hander Felipe Vazquez has pitched 5.2 scoreless innings with three saves on the young season, but has also put together a massive 17.47 K/9 clip and owns a negative 0.26 FIP. You can’t get more dominant than he’s been.
Nationals’ left-handed closer Sean Doolittle has been good too with six scoreless innings, but getting him a lead to protect has been tough. Trevor Rosenthal has been horrible while Tony Sipp, Justin Miller and Joe Ross have struggled immensely as well. No lead is sage with this bullpen right now.
The Saturday matchup with Scherzer is going to be tough, but I still like the Pirates’ value here given the three starting pitchers they will throw at Washington in this series. Add in the struggling Nationals bullpen and I will take a flier on the Pirates in this one.