By Dalton Brown
With fewer than 100 games now left on each team’s Major League Baseball schedule, we’re now well into the midsection of the 2021 campaign. Division races are up in the air all around the league, but perhaps none will be more competitive than the National League West. It’s a division the Dodgers have owned for the better part of a decade, having won it eight years in a row while often leaving little doubt behind them. While plenty of time remains for the Dodgers to assert themselves as the class of the division again, the San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres will have a lot to say about that in the coming months.
The Giants themselves are seeing resurgent campaigns from veterans, as well as contributions from bargain pickups, with players like Kevin Gausman, Alex Wood, Brandon Crawford, and Buster Posey putting together career-best seasons through mid-June. They currently hold a tight two-game lead over the defending world champion Dodgers, although it's far from a lead worth celebrating with so much still to be decided. My instinct tells me that regression is coming for the Giants as the season rolls along, likely pulling them back toward their projections - after all, it’s difficult to imagine the oldest team in the sport featuring this many players looking like they’ve gone back in time for an entire regular season of baseball.
If the Giants do fall off the divisional lead, the Dodgers’ other competition in the NL West is to the south, and the San Diego Padres. The Padres’ roster overhaul in recent seasons has been well-documented - with hitters like Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado alongside a star-studded pitching staff, there’s plenty of reason to tune in when the Padres are on TV. With Blake Snell underperforming expectations and the Padres in the midst of an ugly June (4-11), I’d also expect San Diego to be active at the trade deadline.
For any of the three teams battling for the divisional crown, the title would mean more in terms of what it allows them to avoid than anything else. In a National League full of high-end starting pitching, a single-game Wild Card playoff against Jacob deGrom or Brandon Woodruff could spell doom for a team that may have had a great season otherwise. If the Giants can stay in contention late into the summer, the NL West will be the division to watch as the season goes along with stakes through the roof every time rivals meet.
After a second straight 1-1 betting week, let’s get back on track this week with some MLB winners.
Last Week: 1-1
Friday, June 18
Cincinnati Reds (Tony Santillan) @ San Diego Padres (Chris Paddack)
When the Reds head to San Diego to begin a 4-game series this weekend, it’ll be a battle of NL contenders heading in different directions. The Reds have won 6 in a row, sweeping the Rockies at home and then sweeping the Brewers on the road in Milwaukee. As mentioned above, San Diego has been an absolute mess in June - most recently, they were swept in an alarming turn of events by the Rockies at Coors Field.
On Friday night, the Reds will turn to rookie Tony Santillan for his second career start. Santillan was competitive in his first career start against Colorado, battling through 4.2 innings of one run ball despite allowing 5 hits and 4 walks. At Triple-A Louisville, Santillan pitched to a solid 2.51 ERA and 1.08 WHIP, but walked 12 in 32 innings while allowing 5 home runs. Santillan’s outing against Colorado was decent enough on paper, but allowing 9 baserunners over only 5 innings against the worst road offense in MLB BY FAR is concerning - especially against righties, a split in which Colorado’s wRC+ is a putrid 59 (41% worse than average). San Diego will be an entirely different challenge. The Padres hit right handed pitching better than they do lefties, and will present a difficult road environment for the rookie to adjust to at Petco Park.
Chris Paddack toes the rubber for San Diego, following 3 starts in which he’s allowed a 5.59 ERA against the Cubs and Mets. Paddack has failed to live up to the hype he produced as a rookie - this season, he’s in the bottom 25% of pitchers in Barrel% against, expected slugging percentage against, and curveball spin rate. It doesn’t help his chances to be facing Cincinnati, either - the Reds have the second most home runs against right handed pitching in 2021 while producing an excellent 110 wRC+ in that split. With Winker and Castellanos healthy, Cincy features the two top hitters by average in the National League alongside a resurgent Joey Votto. Given Paddack’s contact profile and lack of relative curveball depth this season, it’s difficult for me to see him escaping Friday night without the Reds stringing together some extra-base hits.
The Pick: First 5 innings Over 4.5 or less
Sunday, June 20
New York Mets (Taijuan Walker) @ Washington Nationals (Patrick Corbin)
When the Mets and Nationals meet in Washington on Sunday afternoon, bettors are presented with a rare rematch of an exact pitching matchup from earlier this season. Corbin and Walker faced off at Citi Field on April 25, a game the Mets won 4-0 behind a scintillating 7 scoreless innings from Taijuan Walker. With Jacob deGrom’s various minor injuries as the season has gone along, Walker has been a huge reason the Mets have played like a first-place team even on the days deGrom isn’t on the bump.
Taijuan Walker always projected to be a top of the line major league starter - from a talent perspective, his repertoire of pitches have always projected favorably. This season, he’s decreased his reliance on his four-seam fastball, mixing in a good sinker and slider to keep hitters off balance, and it has paid dividends. His 88 DRA- (12% better than average) is the best he’s posted in his career alongside a sterling 2.12 ERA. Against Washington on Sunday, it makes sense to me that he would be able to come close to replicating his previous performance in April - Washington’s wRC+ of 86 against RHP ranks 25th in MLB.
Patrick Corbin’s season for the Washington Nationals has followed an almost opposite trajectory - his ERA+ of 68 (32% worse than average) is the worst of his career. His Baseball Savant page yields a cringeworthy batted ball profile as well, where he ranks below the 10th percentile in xwOBA, xERA, xBA, and xSLG. He’s allowed 3 or more runs in 5 of his last 6 starts as well. That leads me to like the Mets here.
The Pick: Mets -140 or better/Mets -1.5 at +120 or better