By Dalton Brown
When the dust settles at day’s end today, MLB’s trade deadline questions will finally have been answered. Plenty of big names have already been moved, and the landscape of the pennant race seemingly looks different by the hour as we approach today’s 4:00 pm eastern time deadline. I’d mentioned in my preseason article that the Nationals were a candidate to sell, and sell aggressively in an effort to free up money, improve their farm system, and get younger - sure enough, Washington completed the biggest move of the week yet when they agreed to send Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Los Angeles Dodgers for an impressive group of four prospects. They’ve also already dealt Daniel Hudson and Brad Hand, and are expected to continue to entertain offers on a number of players between now (11:25am ET) and the trade deadline in a few hours.
To state the obvious, trades like these can drastically alter team performance and affect betting strategy in a number of ways. While the personnel changes are easily identifiable, understanding what a trade signals about a team’s direction and how that signal is received within a team’s clubhouse can be an equally important factor. Take the Seattle Mariners this week as an example. On Tuesday night, Seattle came back from a 7-0 deficit at home, finishing a wild comeback against the Astros with a grand slam in the 8th inning that would send T-Mobile Park into a frenzy the likes of which Seattle hadn’t seen in years. The Mariners improved to 55-46 with the victory, suddenly within shouting distance of the division lead while trailing Oakland by only half a game in the Wild Card race.
The next morning, Mariners GM Jerry DiPoto traded away the team’s closer, Kendall Graveman, to the Astros in a perplexing move one might expect to see from a last-place team. The Mariners’ clubhouse erupted with frustration and sadness, with reports of multiple players in tears and several fiery quotes being leaked to the media indicating that the players did not feel that the front office cared about winning. Seattle limped into Wednesday’s and Thursday’s games against Houston understandably flat, and wound up losing 2 of 3 in what initially felt like a promising series.
While baseball remains a game reliant on individual performances and subject to more randomness than almost anything else you can wager money on, it’s important to make an effort to read between the lines this time of year. It cuts both ways, too - I’d imagine the Dodgers will be pretty charged up next week when Max Scherzer makes his team debut in front of a sold out home crowd against the Houston Astros, for example.
It remains to be seen which trades will ultimately look good months or years from now, but that doesn't mean we can't profit by reading between the lines in the short term.
Last Week: 1-1
Friday, July 30, 7:05 PM ET
Philadelphia Phillies (Vince Velasquez) vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (Wil Crowe)
When the Phillies head west to Pittsburgh for a Pennsylvania showdown, they’ll do so with one eye on this weekend’s series and one eye on the trade deadline, as they actively seek additional help in a tight NL East race. They’ll send Vince Velasquez to the mound on Friday night against Pirates’ rookie hurler Wil Crowe.
Velasquez is starting to get to know the regression monster well as the season approaches its final 2 months - he’s 0-3 thus far in July, allowing 19 runs in 15.2 innings of work. Velasquez’s ERA+ is the worst of his career, at 72 (100 is average) and he’s even managed to pitch worse on the road (6.17 ERA) than at home in Philly’s Citizen’s Bank Bandbox (5.04 ERA). Perhaps most disturbing of all for Velasquez is that he’s put up such putrid numbers while having fairly good luck - with runners in scoring position, the opposition is still only hitting an unsustainably low .181 against him in 2021. He’s borderline automatic fade material for me right now, even against a poor Pirates offense.
He’s opposed by former South Carolina Gamecock Wil Crowe, who is having a pretty rocky rookie season in Pittsburgh. To Crowe’s credit, he’s mostly avoided disastrous performances - through 15 starts, he’s only allowed 4+ runs 3 times. On the other side of that, though, he’s been far from dominant - he’s completed 6 innings in only one start all season, and hasn’t allowed fewer than 2 runs in a start since April 26, his first of the season.
Given what we know about these two starting pitchers, it’s hard for me to understand this total for the first 5 innings being anywhere south of 5.5 runs - and yet here we are, looking at an opportunity to bet the over at 4.5. I’ll take that.
The Pick: First 5 Innings OVER 4.5 (Playable to 5)