Our winning streak hit four consecutive days last night when we picked up another winner when we backed the Milwaukee Brewers as road favorites against the Pittsburgh Pirates. If you have been an avid ready of my daily MLB picks for The Sports Geek over the last several years, you will know that, for the most part, I like to find value by backing underdogs.
But in 2020, with Major League Baseball tossed on its head, you have to be able to use every play in your playbook to find value, and I did that last night when I laid a little wood on Milwaukee. The Brewers were -143 favorites, and I felt they were undervalued, and made my play feeling like I was a prohibitive favorite.
— Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) July 30, 2020
The game went much as I expected as Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff tossed 6.1 dominant innings, allowing no runs and just one hit, while striking out ten. The Brewers bullpen, which has struggled some, to start out the season, finished off the game by not giving up a single hit in the final three frames, and Milwaukee coasted to a 3-0 victory, and we cashed our ticket.
As a general rule, I am never a huge fan of laying wood on the road, but value is value, and you have to exploit it where you can. I find myself in a similar position today, as I am looking at another road favorite that I feel might be underpriced, in the game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Los Angeles Dodgers (4-2) at Arizona Diamondbacks (2-4)
The Arizona Diamondbacks are headed home for the first time this season, as they will host the Los Angeles Dodgers in their home opener tonight in game one of a four-game series. The DBacks are happy to be home as they finished just 2-4 on their first road trip of 2020 and are ready for some home cooking. While it is very early to start thinking about the playoffs, the DBacks have played 10% of their schedule already, and are currently sitting in last place in the National League West, and are the only team in the division with a losing record.
For LA, the Dodgers they are 4-2 on the year, tied for the Major League lead with several teams in the win column, and are coming off of a very satisfying two-game sweep of the Houston Astros in their last series. The Dodgers head to San Diego after this series, and then home for a seven-game homestand, with all of those games coming against the division, and would love nothing more than to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the NL West.
Starting tonight for the Dodgers is Ross Stripling (1-0 1.29 ERA), and for the DBacks, it is Robbie Ray (0-1 7.36 ERA). The Dodgers are -150 road favorites. The game total over/under is set at nine runs. First pitch is scheduled for 6:40 PM PST from Chase Field in Phoenix.
Los Angeles Dodgers
We all knew coming into this season that the Dodgers were going to be very good, and they have shown that so far in baseball’s first full week of action. One area that did concern me, though, was the pitching staff, as they lost David Price to a season-long opt-out, and Clayton Kershaw hit the IL with back pain before ever throwing a single pitch. Throw in the fact the Hyun-jin Ryu, Rich Hill, and Kenta Maeda are all gone from last year’s team, and there were question marks on the mound for sure.
It has been next man up for LA this season, and the pitching staff has been spectacular, as they are in the top five of every major team pitching statistic, including ERA, batting average against, and WHIP. The bullpen specifically has been lights out, as most of their bullpen hasn’t even allowed a single run in 2020. Kenley Jansen, Jake McGee, Blake Treinen, Caleb Ferguson, Scott Alexander, Dylan Floro, Adam Kolarek, and Joe Kelly have pitched a combined 21.2 innings in relief without allowing a single earned run.
Ross Stripling (1-0 1.29 ERA)
In his time with the Dodgers, Ross Stripling has always done whatever has been asked of him. He has started games, worked long relief, and pitched late in games, and he has had success no matter what it is LA has asked him to do. We talked above how it has been next man up for the Dodgers in 2020 with so much of their pitching staff being out, and Stripling has answered that call.
In his first start of the year, Stripling pitched seven innings, allowing just one run on four hits, with no walks and seven strikeouts. And when you look back on his season last year, to see Stripling have success this year isn’t at all shocking, as he was great last year too. Last year Stripling had a 3.47 ERA in 90.1 innings pitched splitting time between the bullpen and the starting rotation. In 2018, he had a 3.02 ERA and made the NL All-Star team when he had a double-digit K/9 ratio.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have to win at least a game or two in this series if they want any shot at contending in the NL West. They came into 2020 as a longshot out west, and starting the season in last place is certainly not where they want to be right now. The schedule hasn’t done them any favors, but with the AL and NL West Divisions both looking to be loaded, that is going to be the case all season long for Arizona.
After this series with LA, they will host the Houston Astros for three games before heading out on the road to play the Rockies and the Padres. It hasn’t been easy, and it’s not going to get easy for the DBacks. If they are going to make the playoffs this year, they are going to have to do it by beating a lot of good teams.
Robbie Ray (0-1 7.36 ERA)
In 2017, Robbie Ray was one of the best young pitchers in the National League when he exploded onto the scene as an All-Star with a 2.89 ERA and over 200 strikeouts. Since that breakout season, we have all collectively been waiting for Ray to return to that form, but as of yet, that just hasn’t happened. He was banged up in 2018, and while he was healthy last year, and the elite strikeout numbers returned, his 4.34 ERA was one of the highest of his career.
2020 didn’t get off to a great start for Ray either, as he got beat up by the San Diego Padres in his first start of the season. In that game, he really struggled with his control as he walked three batters, and gave up four hits and three earned runs, in just 3.2 innings. If Arizona is going to make a run in the National League, they have to have Robbie Ray pitch much more like he did in 2017, than he has since.
Who Do I Like?
The Dodgers are the far superior team in this game. And when you look at the starting pitching matchup, Robbie Ray has the big flashy name, but it is Ross Stripling that has had the better results in the last couple of seasons. Ray’s name recognition has kept this line tighter than it should be, and I see the Dodgers as prohibitive favorites tonight in Arizona.
The Dodgers can do it all, and despite being one of the best hitting teams in the National League statistically right now, many of their best hitters aren’t even hitting yet! Mookie Betts is hitting just .200, and so is Max Muncy. Reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger has been even worse, as he is hitting just .192. This team is crushing people right now, with the highest run differential in the Major Leagues at +20, and when these established bats all start hitting at the same time, this team is going to lead the majors in most offensive stats.
This is going to be a similar play as last night, where I back a favorite that I feel should be priced even higher. Robbie Ray’s big strikeout numbers and name recognition has skewed this number to where backing the Dodgers has much more value than it should.
If Stripling isn’t up to hanging with Ray pitch for pitch, LA can always keep him on a short leash, and turn things over to their unhittable bullpen. You can pencil Ray in for a lot of strikeouts, but too many walks and baserunners and at least a couple of earned runs, which should give LA plenty of room to operate and pick up the win. Give me the Los Angeles Dodgers as road favorites tonight in Arizona, laying -150!