By Dalton Brown
Heading into next week’s Major League Baseball All-Star Break, this weekend is make-or-break for teams on the verge of deciding whether to buy or sell over the next few weeks with the trade deadline approaching. Teams like the Washington Nationals (42-44, 4.5 games out in the NL East but in 4th place) and Los Angeles Angels (44-42, 9 games out of the AL West and in 4th place) have to essentially decide at the midway point of the season whether they intend to fight for contention, sell off player assets for future value, or stand pat and see what happens as the July 31st trade deadline finally comes to pass.
Teams out of contention all over the league will be trying to move valuable players, and even the most talented teams in the league will be looking for help to stay one step ahead as the pennant race heats up. The Dodgers, as an example, suddenly find themselves desperate for pitching help after disturbing allegations involving Trevor Bauer, a season-ending injury to Dustin May, and Clayton Kershaw battling forearm soreness on the injured list. Will they call the Nationals about Max Scherzer, or the Twins about a reunion with Kenta Maeda? In their same division, the upstart Giants will surely be looking for an impact bat. Perhaps they’ll be calling the Rangers in an attempt to acquire Joey Gallo, or contacting the Twins about the availability of Max Kepler. It’s an exciting time of year for MLB fans, and a decidedly nervous time of year for players potentially on the move. For many teams, this weekend will also serve as an additional showcasing of available talent before the phones heat up in front offices a few weeks down the line.
Before the break and the deadline, though, we still have an exciting weekend of baseball games ahead, so let’s dive into a few spots where I’m seeing money-making opportunities for us on Saturday/Sunday.
Last Week: 1-1
Saturday, July 10, 10:10pm ET
Arizona Diamondbacks (Caleb Smith) @ Los Angeles Dodgers (Walker Buehler)
Not much has gone right for the 25-64 Diamondbacks in 2021, and as such they figure to be active in trying to move players like Eduardo Escobar and Ketel Marte to contenders by the end of the month. Their pitching was doomed by injuries early on, losing Madison Bumgarner and Zac Gallen for extended periods right as each were settling into a groove. Despite the constant avalanche of bad news and terrible baseball, the Diamondbacks have started to uncover a few bright spots in recent weeks. Caleb Smith, who Arizona acquired in an August 2020 trade that sent Starling Marte to Miami, has been one of them.
Smith pitched mostly in relief over the first two months of 2021, but finally got the opportunity to start as the calendar turned to June. While his 2-5 record doesn’t reflect it, Smith has consistently given the Arizona Diamondbacks outings that keep them in games - in his 7 starts, he’s allowed 2 or fewer runs 5 times. He’s also dominated the Dodgers over two relief appearances and one start, allowing 3 hits over 9 scoreless frames. While L.A. boasts one of the best lineups in the league, they’ve been known to struggle against certain left handed starters repeatedly - fading them against Eric Lauer, for example, has consistently yielded positive results over the years. For the Los Angeles Dodgers, it’ll be Walker Buehler taking the mound on Saturday evening. At 8-1 with a 2.49 ERA and a sparkling and expanding playoff resume, Buehler’s exploits are a rather poorly kept secret at this point. He’s dominated Arizona for his career and has allowed 2 runs over 14.1 innings against the Snakes during the course of this season.
Saturday night in LA, I believe it’s very likely we’re looking at a quiet first five innings between these two starters, and the public perception of Caleb Smith hasn’t caught up to how well he’s been able to attack the mighty Dodgers this season. As such, I’m seeing a potentially very valuable play on the under here.
The Pick: First 5 Innings UNDER 4 or Better
Sunday, July 11, 1:10pm ET
Atlanta Braves (Ian Anderson) @ Miami Marlins (Pablo Lopez)
The Marlins enter this weekend’s series with Atlanta feeling good about themselves, and for good reason after winning 3 of 4 from the defending World Series Champion Dodgers. Miami has been paced by their starting pitching all season, ranking 7th in starters’ ERA at 3.43. Despite the best run differential in the division at +20, the Marlins find themselves in last place at 38-48, 8.5 games back of the New York Mets.
When the Miami Marlins finish off their series with the Atlanta Braves this Sunday afternoon, they will send Pablo Lopez to the mound to face the Braves for the fourth time this season. Lopez opposed the Braves just nine days earlier, producing one of the strangest outings from a starting pitcher in MLB history on July 2nd, one that start saw him throw one pitch, hitting Ronald Acuna Jr and resulting in Lopez’s ejection and an eventual loss on his record after the Braves would convert the run and win 1-0.
While I’d be willing to wager Lopez lasts longer than one pitch on Sunday, I wouldn’t recommend betting on him to last longer than a few innings. Although Lopez has established himself as a respectable starter at the MLB level, he’s yet to figure out the division rival Braves. In 11 career starts against Atlanta, Lopez is 2-6 with a 5.85 ERA - in 2021, he’s 0-2 with a 14.14 ERA. Among Braves’ hitters, Freddie Freeman (.308), Ronald Acuna (.389), Ender Inciarte (.500), Tyler Flowers (.444), and Austin Riley (.400) have all pummeled the righty over the last few years. The Braves counter with young righthander Ian Anderson, currently the owner of a very respectable 8-6 record with a 2.93 ERA in his first 23 career starts. He’s posted a solid 2.63 ERA over 2 career starts against Miami, and should do enough on Sunday to put Atlanta in the driver’s seat given the run support he’s likely to receive. I like Atlanta win at -140 or better in this spot.
The Pick: Braves -140 or Better