Free MLB Picks For Thursday, 4/20

by Taylor Smith
on April 20, 2017

After a full day of baseball action on Wednesday, things quiet down for an 11-game Thursday slate.  The tone set by some elite arms from the day before continues to ring true, however, as the likes of Chris Sale, Noah Syndergaard and Stephen Strasburg toe the rubber in search of wins for their respective clubs.

It’s going to be a very interesting day for baseball, with the action getting started early with the first game sounding off at 12:37 pm ET. Let’s dive into Thursday’s slate to see which way we might want to lean with our MLB bets:

Boston Red Sox (-1.5)
VS
Toronto Blue Jays (+1.5)
Total: 7.5
  • Chris Sale (1-1, 1.25 ERA) vs. Marco Estrada (0-1, 3.50 ERA)
  • Weather: Irrelevant (Retractable Roof)
  • Moneyline: Red Sox -162, Jays +141
Betting Value: We’re favoring the Red Sox in this one, so there isn’t a great play overall. Toronto offers mild value with a +138 Moneyline, but it isn’t good enough to go hard at.

Our first elite arm to hit the mound on Thursday is Boston’s Chris Sale, as the dominant lefty will look for his second win as a member of the Red Sox. Sale has been as good as advertised since coming over in a trade from the White Sox, allowing just three runs and 11 total hits across 21 stellar frames in 2017.

Sale is a pretty strong bet to keep his excellent start rolling in Toronto, as the Jays have been fairly lifeless on offense and Sale had no issues against them in two starts last year (2-0, 1.69 ERA). Toronto has actually crushed lefties (3rd in batting average) so far this year, but the power hasn’t been there and this lineup isn’t half as scary with Josh Donaldson (calf) still on the mend.

Even if Sale does get bumped around more than expected, he’ll likely get bailed out by a simmering Sox offense. Boston has exploded behind Mookie Betts’ resurgence after a slow start, while this offense can certainly rough up Estrada, who showed two starts ago (3 homers allowed vs. Rays) that he can get dinged as well as anyone.

This is still a matchup Estrada can potentially keep under wraps, of course, as he did go 2-2 with a solid 3.18 ERA against this Boston offense a year ago.

Estrada can keep this one interesting, but it’s only a matter of time before the bottom drops out. Boston’s offense is on fire and Sale provides a serious edge in this pitching matchup. We’ll take Boston straight up, while Boston’s offensive upside always gives us a shot at the Over.

Pick

Red Sox
6
Jays
3
Cleveland Indians (-1.5)
VS
Minnesota Twins (+1.5)
Total: 8
  • Trevor Bauer (0-2, 8.44 ERA) vs. Ervin Santana (3-0, 0.41 ERA)
  • Weather: 11 mph winds, high of 45 degrees, 16% chance of rain
  • Moneyline: Indians -138, Twins +128
Betting Value: There isn’t a ton of value here, as the Money Lines are tight and the Total isn’t enticing with the pitching talent here.

Trevor Bauer takes the mound for the third time this year for the Indians, still seeking his first brilliant performance. Bauer hasn’t come close in two tries, allowing 10 runs and 15 hits across 10 frames of work.

Carving out his best performance could be difficult on the road against the Twins, who have fared just fine against right-handed pitching. They also made Bauer work for any success in 2016, forcing him to a weak 5.48 ERA across four starts.

It’s anyone’s guess which version of Bauer will show up in this one, but he may need to be on point for Cleveland to escape with a win. Ervin Santana certainly has been on, as Minnesota’s top arm has been borderline flawless through three starts, allowing five total hits and just one run.

Avoiding Cleveland’s bats could lead to a tricky fourth start, of course, but Santana kept it together (1-1, 3.18 ERA) against these very Indians in two starts a year ago. Santana is in a clear groove, Bauer is struggling and Minnesota has enough power to bust this game open on the other side. I’d be tentatively worried this is the spot Santana implodes, but it’s hard not to favor him. This game does boast some upside with serious power on both sides, but if Santana can continue his hot run, the better bet will be the Under in this spot.

Pick

Twins
3
Indians
2
Detroit Tigers (+1.5)
VS
Tampa Bay Rays (-1.5)
Total: 8
  • Daniel Norris (1-0, 2.19 ERA) vs. Erasmo Ramirez (1-0, 3.72 ERA)
  • Weather: Irrelevant (Dome)
  • Moneyline: Tigers -105, Rays -115
Betting Value: There isn’t much obvious betting value here. The pitching isn’t great and these offenses can explode, though, so the only thing that stands out is the Over.

Daniel Norris will try to keep a very strong start to 2017 going on Thursday, but he’ll be looking to do it on the road against a Tampa Bay offense that excels at home and also does good work against southpaws (11th in batting average this year).

Norris has really been on top of his game to start the year, however, containing an explosive Boston offense (3 runs) in his 2017 debut and later stifling the Indians (0 runs) on the road. Norris is a hit or miss prospect that can flat-line at any moment, but he was oddly enough at his best on the road (3-0, 2.81 ERA) a year ago.

Tampa Bay has fared well against left-handed pitching, but they still have a lineup that can be prone to dry spells. Norris might have the offensive edge behind him, too, as the Tigers get 26-year old righty Erasmo Ramirez, who will be making his first official start of the year. Ramirez has held it together in five appearances and was strong at home in 2016 (3-2, 2.66 ERA), but got absolutely destroyed by this Detroit lineup (5 hits, 5 runs in 2 innings of work).

Ramirez could be in a good comfort zone at home and with no real work on his arm, but this isn’t the spot to go all in and trust him. Trusting Norris isn’t much easier, but we’ll back Detroit’s explosive offense here and aim for the Over in a game where the pitching simply isn’t reliable.

Pick

Tigers
6
Rays
4
Los Angeles Angels (+1.5)
VS
Houston Astros (-1.5)
Total: 7.5
  • Matt Shoemaker (0-0, 6.14 ERA) vs. Lance McCullers Jr (1-0, 4.67 ERA)
  • Weather: Irrelevant (Retractable Roof)
  • Moneyline: Angels +144, Astros -168
Betting Value: An Angels upset is the only real value play here, but we’re riding with the Astros at home.

The Astros will look to take three of four from the Angels after winning 5-1 last night. Josh Reddick had a big night for the ‘Stros, going three-for-four and coming just a single short of hitting for the cycle. Houston hasn’t been swinging it all that well of late in their home yard, but they’ve started 10-5 thanks to some strong pitching.

Lance McCullers Jr. started the season with a pair of excellent efforts, but faltered a bit on Saturday in Oakland. The young fireballer went just 4.1 innings and the A’s touched him up for five runs on eight hits. He’s one of the better strikeout arms in the game when he has his command. McCullers has enjoyed pitching against the Halos in the past, as he owns a 2-1 record with a tidy 2.09 ERA in six career outings against Anaheim.

Matt Shoemaker will take the mound for the Angels as he tries to recreate his 2016 form. Shoemaker emerged as one of the few reliable arms on the LA staff last season, but he hasn’t looked quite like himself to start this year. Through 14.2 innings, Shoemaker has allowed 11 runs on 14 hits along with four homers.

McCullers at home is easy to back, plus Shoemaker hasn’t looked great and the Astros are more than capable of retiring him early. Look for Houston to put up enough runs to help this hit the Over and McCullers to keep this thing in check enough to nab the win.

Pick

Astros
6
Angels
3
Baltimore Orioles (+1.5)
VS
Cincinnati Reds (-1.5)
Total: 9
  • Wade Miley (1-0, 2.45 ERA) vs. Scott Feldman (1-1, 2.87 ERA)
  • Weather: 13 mph winds, high of 78 degrees, 58% chance of rain
  • Moneyline: Orioles -120, Reds EVEN
Betting Value: The margin for error is small but the Reds at home in this matchup is a solid value, while the offensive upside also makes the Over extremely playable.

Baltimore looks for another win in Cincinnati after taking a 2-0 win last night. The Orioles didn’t bust out the bats on Wednesday, but they certainly could on Thursday, when they get the mediocre Scott Feldman. Feldman has been surprisingly serviceable to this point, but is not an elite arm and may be due for some sharp regression.

That’s not to say we should be firmly backing the ever volatile Wade Miley, who certainly knows how to get batters to miss pitches but also tends to give up deep shots. In a hitter’s park against a potent offense, that could spell trouble.

Miley has been better than expected to this point, however, as the lefty gave up just one hit to the Yanks in his 2017 debut and then pitched admirably (3 runs allowed) in a win over the Blue Jays in Toronto. Miley may have to be at his best yet for this one, however, as the Reds are 9th in the league at connecting versus southpaws and are 3rd in homers against lefties.

This wasn’t an enviable spot for Miley a year ago, as he struggled in general on the road and didn’t do a great job at containing the Reds (8 hits and 4 earned runs in 6 innings). A similar performance might actually lead to a win tonight, but it stands to reason he could have even more trouble than that.

The Reds offense is one to fear in this spot, but the Orioles are dinging up righties (14 home runs) and could put on a show in this park. Ultimately, this doesn’t project as a low-scoring game given the pitching and these offenses. We tentatively back the Orioles, while the Over is the clear play.

Pick

Orioles
7
Reds
5
Philadelphia Phillies (+1.5)
VS
New York Mets (-1.5)
Total: 6.5
  • Aaron Nola (1-0, 3.27 ERA) vs. Noah Syndergaard (1-0, 0.95 ERA)
  • Weather: 8 mph winds, high of 63 degrees, 7% chance of rain
  • Moneyline: Phillies +160, Mets -185
Betting Value: If there is any chance Thor is scratched or can’t finish his start, the Phillies are an appealing underdog pick with a nice +165 Moneyline.

The Mets shove undeniable ace Noah Syndergaard back out onto the mound, provided his torn fingernail issue isn’t too bothersome. He’s obviously been an absolute menace so far this year, while Thor also handled the Phillies with ease in 2016 (2-0, 1.29 ERA).

The only real concern here would be Syndergaard being a late scratch or not being able to make it through this start. That shakiness does raise a red flag in this spot, especially since the Phillies do carry some heavy bats.

Philly has a solid arm on the other side, too, as Aaron Nola has been respectable to get 2017 going and showed some great stuff in 2016. It’s worth noting this will be just his second run-in with an explosive Mets offense that slapped him around in 2015 (13.50 ERA), however.

This is an easy call on paper, as Thor is as dominant of an ace as they make in the majors. He’s at home against a lineup he’s dominated and provided he’s fully healthy, backing the Mets in this spot is obvious. If Thor is on fire, the Under is the likely play in this matchup.

Pick

Mets
4
Phillies
2
Washington Nationals (-1.5)
VS
Atlanta Braves (+1.5)
Total: 7.5
  • Stephen Strasburg (1-0, 3.00 ERA) vs. RA Dickey (1-1, 3.86 ERA)
  • Weather: 5 mph winds, high of 80 degrees, 24% chance of rain
  • Moneyline: Nationals -175, Braves +150
Betting Value: The Nats are probably winning this but the Braves at +160 are interesting, as they get Matt Kemp back and are at home. They’re a sneaky upset play.

The Nats hand us another ace on Thursday, as Stephen Strasburg is set to make his fourth start of the year. Strasburg has been solid overall, giving up just 16 hits and 7 total runs through his first three appearances of 2017.

As solid as Stras has been, we haven’t seen his elite K potential yet this year. It’s worth wondering if he could deliver his best performance yet against a Braves offense that doesn’t boast much power outside of Freddie Freeman and Matt Kemp.

As favorable as this matchup looks on paper, it actually could be a tough one. Strasburg did not get out of all of his matchups with Atlanta cleanly in 2016, posting a shaky 4.22 ERA and allowing two dongs. With Kemp returning to the lineup, Strasburg won’t be able to pitch around Atlanta’s two mashers and could need to turn in a special performance.

The wily old veteran R.A. Dickey toes the rubber for the Braves on the other side, as the knuckleballer refuses to quit. He’s actually been fairly respectable so far in 2017, but he will surely have his work cut out for him against a nasty Washington lineup.

The Nats come in hot, too, as Bryce Harper double-donged last night and could be seeking his first jack against Dickey. Dickey has kept things somewhat in check in this matchup, though, so it’s worth wondering if he’ll find a way to limit Washington’s power and merely keep the ball on the ground.

Ultimately, it’s easy to side with a powerful Nats offense and a far more talented arm in Strasburg. Dickey is capable of being annoying and the return of Kemp could give the Braves a needed jolt, but the smart money’s on the Nats. Given the offensive upside with Washington, we’d target the Over in this spot, too.

Pick

Nats
8
Braves
4
Kansas City Royals (+1.5)
VS
Texas Rangers (-1.5)
Total: 9
  • Danny Duffy (2-0, 1.80 ERA) vs. Andrew Cashner (0-1, 5.06 ERA)
  • Weather: 12 mph winds, high of 80 degrees, 5% chance of rain
  • Moneyline: Royals -115, Rangers -105
Betting Value: This one is tight, so with Duffy on the mound and Kansas City’s offense lacking pop, the Under might be the only real play in this matchup.

Danny Duffy looked like an ace to end last season, and he’s carried that form over to this season thus far. Duffy has now gone seven innings in back-to-back starts and allowed just three total runs in both games combined against the Astros and Angels. He’s struck out 17 batters in 20 innings so far this season, which is certainly a solid pace. Duffman will have his work cut out for him tonight, though, as he’ll face a Rangers team loaded with bats playing at home in a premier hitter’s park.

Texas will counter with Andrew Cashner, who will be making his debut as a Ranger at Globe Life Park. Cash was fairly mediocre in his first start with the club over the weekend against Seattle, lasting 5.1 innings and surrendering four runs on five hits with three walks and a pair of strikeouts. He’s flashed excellent K potential in the past, but he’s never really been able to harness it and make himself into a top-tier starter at the big league level.

Cashner has been particularly vulnerable against lefties, and the Royals certainly have their fair share of power bats from that side of the plate. Mike Moustakas has been hot to start the season, but the same can’t be said for first baseman Eric Hosmer. Hosmer’s hitting just .204 through his first 14 games and has a single homer to go along with five RBI. He’ll come around eventually, but it’s been a sluggish start for the KC slugger.

Texas has been playing terrible baseball of late, and they’re fresh off winning just three games during a nine-game west coast road swing.  Vegas actually likes the Royals as road ‘dogs in this one, which goes to show how much they think of Duffy’s form and how little they think of the Texas pitching staff as a whole.

Pick

Royals
5
Rangers
3
St. Louis Cardinals (+1.5)
VS
Milwaukee Brewers (-1.5)
Total: 8
  • Carlos Martinez (0-2, 3.57 ERA) vs. Zach Davies (0-2, 8.79 ERA)
  • Weather: Irrelevant (Retractable Roof)
  • Moneyline: Cardinals -120, Brewers EVEN
Betting Value: Milwaukee has been good and they’re at home, but the real play is St. Louis against the combustible Davies.

Carlos Martinez had one of the weirder outings you’ll ever see last Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium. The Cardinals’ ace struck out 11 Yankees, but also walked eight over the course of just 5.1 innings of action. He allowed just two runs despite facing constant traffic on the basepaths but still wound up taking the loss as the Cards’ bats couldn’t figure out CC Sabathia.

We expected the Brewers to be a cakewalk of a matchup for most top-tier pitchers coming into the season, but Milwaukee has been surprisingly frisky in the early stages of the season. Eric Thames is absolutely hitting the cover off the ball (.408/.500 with 7 homers and 12 RBI), while Travis Shaw has also looked like a nice pickup. Ryan Braun is still doing Ryan Braun things, so Martinez’s task doesn’t figure to be a breeze at hitter-friendly Miller Park tonight.

The Cardinal bats will have to deal with Zach Davies, who has struggled tremendously to begin his ‘17. In 14.1 innings over three starts, Davies has been battered for 21 hits and 14 runs along with eight walks. He hasn’t lasted longer than five innings in any of his outings. This is a tiny sample size, of course, but he’s allowed a .555 wOBA and a hard contact rate north of 35 percent to right-handed hitters.

The St. Louis offense has been rather dismal to start the season, but they got a two-homer game out of Dexter Fowler yesterday afternoon. If Fowler can start swinging a hot stick at the top of the lineup, STL’s offense should really start to perk up. While we don’t fully trust Martinez to shut the Brewer bats down, the discrepancy between starters is too good to ignore.

Take the Cardinals.

Pick

Cardinals
5
Brewers
4
Arizona Diamondbacks (+1.5)
VS
San Diego Padres (-1.5)
Total: 7.5
  • Patrick Corbin (1-2, 2.81 ERA) vs. Clayton Richard (1-2, 3.60 ERA)
  • Weather: 10 mph winds, high of 69 degrees, 3% chance of rain
  • Moneyline: Diamondbacks -115, Padres -105
Betting Value: This is another close call so the obvious play is the Over. The pitching doesn’t guarantee much offense but Arizona’s offense is quite explosive and it won’t take much to get 8 runs out of this one.

We get a duel between two average arms in San Diego, as Clayton Richard and Patrick Corbin both continue to try to mask their flaws. Corbin has been living on ground balls all year, inducing no fewer than 9 in each of his three starts. It stands to reason that once the ball gets hoisted, he’s going to be in some serious trouble.

There’s no guarantee that happens against the Padres, but they certainly have displayed some nasty power early in 2017. Sadly, we haven’t seen much of that out of the Padres against southpaws (just 4 homers). Corbin wasn’t lights out against San Diego a year ago (1-1, 3.95 ERA), but he was passable and could be in a fine enough spot to trust him tonight.

Of course, we could also back Richard, who forces teams into even more ground balls and presents just as troubling of a matchup for the D’Backs, who bat 25th currently against left-handed pitching.

You could go either way here, as neither arm is elite and neither offense seems to have a distinct advantage. However, Corbin is the one that gets the positive park shift and to this point it’s been Richard (4 dongs allowed) that has given up more power. Arizona is clearly the more stacked offense, too, so hitting woes aside, they could easily sneak by in this matchup if they can get a hold of a few long balls.

The pitching styles more likely than not collaborate for a boring, low-scoring game, but Arizona still carries the offensive upside. We’ll take the Diamondbacks and this is still a pretty low Total so we’ll bank on their offense waking up a bit and hitting on the Over.

Pick

Diamondbacks
5
Padres
3
Seattle Mariners (-1.5)
VS
Oakland Athletics (+1.5)
Total: 8
  • James Paxton (2-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Cesar Valdez (2017 debut)
  • Weather: 13 mph winds, high of 64 degrees, 4% chance of rain
  • Moneyline: Mariners -150, Athletics +130
Betting Value: We prefer Seattle as a safe bet, but the Athletics did just wreck the Rangers and will be at home. With a solid +130 Moneyline, they’re in play here if you’re feeling frisky.

James Paxton for AL Cy Young? Why not? Felix Hernandez has been the unquestioned No. 1 in Seattle for over a decade now, but a certain southpaw is suddenly giving him a run for his money. After a strong finish to 2016, Paxton has come out like gangbusters to start this season. He’s made three starts against a pair of potent offenses in the Astros and Rangers, yet he still hasn’t allowed a run and he’s struck out 22 in 21 innings. He’s really, really good.
Tonight he’ll get to face an Oakland offense in one of the game’s premier pitcher’s parks. The A’s have a few boppers in the lineup (most notably Khris Davis), but for the most part they aren’t an offense we typically fear. They don’t strike out a ton as a team, but with the way Paxton’s throwing right now it may not matter.

With Kendall Graveman hitting the DL with a back issue, the Athletics will turn to Cesar Valdez to make the start in this one. Valdez hasn’t appeared in a big league game since 2010 and nearly fell out of baseball completely in 2014. He throws a wide variety of pitches, even the occasional knuckleball, and his delivery is reportedly fairly deceptive. Valdez could prove tough on some of the Mariner hitters thanks to his status as a relative unknown.

However, we like Seattle in this one. There’s no reason to go against Paxton given his current form, and we just saw the Seattle bats break out in a big way by scoring 10 runs yesterday afternoon against the Marlins. We don’t expect a ton of runs in this game, but whatever runs we do see are more likely to come from the Mariners.

Pick

Mariners
4
Athletics
1
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