Free Picks: Service Plays for Wednesday, April 23

Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Wednesday, April 23

Wunderdog

Padres vs. Brewers
Pick: Under 7.5

The Milwaukee Brewers have been the big surprise to open the 2014 MLB season, and come into this contest with the best record in baseball. They have done it off the mound as the Brewers rank second overall in team ERA, and their pen is getting it done as their bullpen ERA ranks #5 best. San Diego has not improved upon a bad offense from a year ago, as they rank #27 of 30 teams with a team batting average of just .228. Pitching has dominated the first two games in this series with just a total of 10 runs scored. San Diego is in a doubly good spot on the UNDER as the Padres are 20-5-2 to the UNDER in their last 27 after their opponent scores 2 or fewer in their previous game, and 20-5 to the UNDER when they scored 2 or less. The Brewers 34-15-2 to the UNDER in their last 51 games overall. Go with the UNDER in this one.

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SPORTS WAGERS

Baltimore -105 over TORONTO (1st 5 innings)

Dustin McGowan cannot be favored over Chris Tillman. In three starts, McGowan has lasted a combined 13 innings. He happened to stifle the Orioles back in Baltimore a couple of starts ago when he went 6.1 frames and didn’t allow a run. That was under extremely favorable weather conditions but lightning will not strike twice, especially indoors at the Air Canada Center. McGowan has a 1.92 WHIP to go along with a BAA of .333. This is a guy who has had multiple shoulder surgeries since 2008 and has only pitched a total of 69 innings over the past 5+ years with most of those coming last season in relief. McGowan is like a lame racehorse that is ready to pull up at any second and his chances of another successful outing against the Orioles is extremely low. Thus far, McGowan's dominance has dropped from the 9.1 K’s/9 that he displayed last season to 5.5 this year and he has continued to issue free passes at a high clip. His ground ball rate has dropped from 47% last season to 35% in the early going. Meanwhile, the Orioles are leading the AL with a .296 BA.

Chris Tillman had a fine follow-up last year to his surprising '12, and this may just be the start. There are simply so many encouraging nuggets in the rather gaudy across-the-board second half skills growth. Groundballs, strikeouts and swinging K rate are all up and control improved also. Of course, doing it over a full season is another challenge but age & this growth suggest far more upside than down. We’re not missing an opportunity to fade McGowan because his skills are among the worst in the league and he's not going to fool Baltimore twice in such a short period.   


COLORADO -101 over San Fran

If the better pitcher won every game we’d all be rich. Matt Cain has an edge over Tyler Chatwood but that’s not going to prevent us from backing the Rockies and their 8-3 record at home. In fact, the Rockies are hitting a robust .346 at Coors and against righties that average is even higher at .369. The Rockies have won four of their last five home games while scoring 34 runs over that span. The Giants have scored three runs in the first two games of this series against a couple of back-end starters. Things don’t get easier here for San Fran against Chatwood.

Chatwood went 8-5 with a 3.15 ERA in 111 IP for the Rockies last season. A high groundball rate continued to trend up and he only allowed more than 2 ER in just two of first 14 starts. Chatwood spent August on the DL with a sore elbow and upon his return his skills were weaker in September but all-in-all it was a solid growth year. A low fly-ball % minimizes his downside and given his age, 1st half of last year may be for real. In two starts this year, Chatwood has walked one batter and struck out 11 in 13 frames. His surface stats are fully supported by his elite 56% groundball rate and 11% swinging strike rate. The Rockies are seeing beach balls while the Giants are seeing BB’s and now we get Colorado at home as a pooch. Yeah, that works.

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SPORTS WAGERS

COLUMBUS +126 over Pittsburgh

OT included. This is such an interesting series. The Jackets led 3-1 in Games 1 & 3 and lost them both. The Penguins led 3-1 in Game 2 and lost that one. Still, aside from a couple of meltdowns in small windows, the Jackets have played nose to nose with the Penguins. They were clearly the better team in Pittsburgh and were clearly the second best team in Columbus in Game 3. These are all learning curves for the very inexperienced Jackets. There is no crystal ball in the world that can predict how they’ll respond tonight but we can almost assure you that they’ll be better in Game 4 than they were in Game 3.

Columbus has better balance, better goaltending and they have a better core of defensemen than the Penguins. They continuously took foolish penalties in Game 3 and if that gets corrected in this one, a different result is likely. Pittsburgh wore down the Jackets in Game 3 because Columbus spent too much time in the box. In fact, the Jackets spent eight minutes in the box in the first 22 minutes of the game (to the Pens none) and by the time that was done, the entire lineup was out of sorts. The Penguins power-play is too lethal and it also drains the stamina out of a team. You cannot put yourself at that disadvantage time and time again and expect positive results. That’s an issue that will be addressed and pounded into their collective heads heading into this crucial Game 4. In the end, it’s all about value and the Jackets taking back a tag at home in a game they have at least a 50% chance of winning and perhaps slightly more is where all the value lies.

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SPORTS WAGERS

SAN ANTONIO -8 over Dallas

The Spurs got a scare in the first game of this series but rallied to defeat the Mavericks by five points while scoring just 90 points. Pay no attention to that. The Spurs had an awful shooting day. Truth is, San Antonio was generally able to get exactly the shots it wanted and will continue to do so against a Dallas defense that scrambles itself into knots trying to account for all threats. That trend will continue as Gregg Popovich relies even more on Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, either of whom can break down the Mavs' first line of defense with ease and force compromises that lead to open shots. The case for the Spurs should be self-evident. Popovich has kept everything in balance this season by controlling the minutes of his best players as he experimented with lineups of all kinds. That combination leaves San Antonio both absurdly flexible and in a position to capitalize on bigger minutes from its star contributors. After all, the Spurs wrecked the league with Parker, Tim Duncan, Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard all logging fewer than 30 minutes a game. How good might this team be when those same stars are logging upwards of 36 minutes?

That first game has the Mavericks overvalued here. Hell, Miami is 10½ over Charlotte and this is a bigger mismatch than that one with the total being 13 points higher! Playoff teams with offense-only players like Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, and Vince Carter can compete for a game or two but there are going to be blowouts in this series and this looks like one of them. The Mavs ranked 21st in defensive numbers this season and that’s a stat that cannot defeat San Antonio. Not only are they the Mavs the eighth seed matched up with the best in the West, but they also lost all four regular-season meetings. No team built a more lopsided efficiency differential against Dallas than San Antonio and none can so thoroughly exploit the Mavs' defensive lapses like the Spurs. Again, pay no attention to Game 1.

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Dave Price

Milwaukee Brewers -128

The Padres bounced back with a win in the second game of the series, but they are 5-11 in their last 16 games following a win, 4-9 in Ross' last 13 starts and 1-5 in his last six road starts.  The Brewers are 15-6 on the season and a tremendous 21-5 in their last 26 in the third game of a series.  Lohse has been outstanding over his last three starts, going 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA.  The Brewers are 10-4 in his last 14 home starts and 2-0 in his last two starts versus San Diego.  His clubs are 6-2 in his last eight starts against the Padres, including 4-0 in home starts during this span.  Take Milwaukee.

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Steve Janus

Brewers/Padres Under 7½

There's some great value on the under in tonight's matchup between the Brewers and Padres. Milwaukee will send out Kyle Lohse, who is 3-1 with a 2.67 ERA and 1.111 WHIP over 4 starts. San Diego will counter with Tyson Ross, who is 2-2 with a 2.13 ERA and 1.224 WHIP over 4 starts. We should be looking at a total closer to 6.5 with these two on the mound. On top of that we get both offenses off a poor showing last night, as they teams combined for just 3 runs over 12 innings.

The UNDER is a 10-1 in Ross' last 11 starts versus a team with a winning record and a perfect 6-0 in his last 6 starts on the road in this spot. We also see that the UNDER is 13-3 in the Brewers last 16 home games against a team that has won less than 40% of their games on the road and a 4-0-1 in Lohse's last 5 starts at home.

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Jack Jones

Kansas City Royals +124

Great value here for the Kansas City Royals as a road underdog to the Cleveland Indians Wednesday night.  This team has really been playing solid baseball of late, winning six of their last eight games overall.  The Indians have dropped eight of their last 12.

My biggest reason for backing the Royals tonight is the edge they have on the mound.  Jason Vargas has gone 2-0 with a 1.24 ERA and 0.931 WHIP in four starts this season.  The left-hander has been dominant in his last two starts against Cleveland, going 1-0 with a 0.64 ERA while allowing just one earned run over 14 innings.

Justin Masterson had a career year last season, but he certainly overachieved compared to what he has done lifetime.  That has shown thus far in 2014 as Masterson is 0-0 with a 4.98 ERA and 1.569 WHIP through four starts.  The right-hander is 5-5 with a 4.34 ERA and 1.459 WHIP in 14 career starts against Kansas City, including 1-2 with a 6.27 ERA in his last three starts against the Royals, allowing 13 earned runs in 18 2/3 innings.

The Royals are 21-8 in their last 29 games vs. a starter with a WHIP greater than 1.30.  Kansas City is 18-8 in its last 26 road games vs. a team with a losing home record.  The Indians are 1-4 in Masterson's last five home starts.  Cleveland is 0-5 in its last five vs. a left-handed starter.  Bet the Royals Wednesday.

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John Ryan

Philadelphia Phillies vs. Los Angeles Dodgers    
Play: Philadelphia Phillies +147

The simulator shows a high probability that the Phillies will win this game and take the first three of this four-game set with the Dodgers. Cole Hamels makes his first start of the season and this will be the first time the Big Three have started three consecutive games. We already know how good Lee has been and Burnett pitched very well last night and also went 3-for3 at the plate. Arguably one of the best LH starters in the NL, Hamels had a fantastic rehab and looks to be in mid-season form. Supporting this graded play is a proven system posting a 56-34 mark for 62% winners since 1997. Play against home favorites with a money line of -125 to -175 (LA DODGERS) inconsistent NL offensive team scoring <=4.1 runs/game and is now facing a team with a below average bullpen posting an ERA>=4.50 and after scoring and allowing 3 runs or less. Hamels is  6-1 with an 8-3 team record when starting against Dodgers with an ERA of 2.41 and a WHIP of 1.018.


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Teddy Covers

New York vs. Boston
Pick: Over

The Red Sox bullpen is completely spent.  Boston hasn’t had a day off since last Monday.  They’ve gotten very short stints from each of their last two starters, needing eleven innings of bullpen work over the last two games alone.

Boston Manager John Farrell: “This turn through the rotation (our starting pitching has) been less than we've shown in the past. It's been less than expected. For us to play with consistency, we need our starting rotation to lead us through that. Right now we're not getting that.”

Boston’s bullpen issues are likely to be on full display tonight with John Lackey taking the hill for the Red Sox.  The Yankees have owned Lackey – he’s got a 6.26 ERA against them in six starts since 2011.  Lackey certainly isn’t in good form, battered for 20 hits and 12 earned runs in just eleven innings of work over his last two outings.  And the Yankees lineup has finally woken up, pounding out 30 runs over their last five ballgames.

But there’s little reason to think that Boston won’t be able to trade runs with New York at Fenway tonight.  Yankees starter Michael Pineda won’t get away with any ‘pine tar pitching’ tonight like he probably did when he faced the Red Sox two weeks ago, and a short turnaround second look for Boston’s lineup against him is an advantage for Boston.   The Red Sox are 4-1 to the Over on this homestand; with all four Overs cashing by at least three runs or more.  Expect more of the same here!

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MLB Predictions

Cincinnati Reds +108

These two teams have split the first two meetings of this four game series with Pittsburgh winning the first 6-5 and Cincinnati winning last night 4-1. Tonight's starting pitching match up will feature Alfredo Simon for Cincinnati and Charlie Morton for Pittsburgh. Simon has made three starts for the Reds and has a stellar 0.86 ERA, .173 OBA and 0.81 WHIP. He is in the rotation for Mat Latos, but should get serious consideration to stay if he continues to pitch like he is. The past two seasons with Cincinnati he pitched in relief only and had a 2.66 ERA in 2012 and 2.87 ERA in 2013. In 21.1 innings pitched vs Pittsburgh in his career he has a 2.53 ERA. Charlie Morton will be making his 5th start tonight for the Pirates. He is 0-2 with a 4.32 ERA, .274 OBA and 1.32 WHIP. After 6 shutout innings in his first start he has posted a 5.68 ERA over his last three. He is 5-6 with a 4.09 ERA all time vs the Reds. Note that the Reds have won 5 of their last 7 games and they've scored 4+ runs in 9 straight. The Pirates have lost 7 of their last 10 games overall and 4 of their last 5. I think this is a case of the wrong team being favored and I'll take the value on the road team.


Kansas City Royals +119

These two teams have also split their first two meetings with the Indians winning the first 4-3 and the Royals winning last night by a score of 8-2. Tonight the Royals will have Jason Vargas on the rubber who has been pitching great over his first four starts going 2-0 with a 1.24 ERA, .204 OBA and 0.93 WHIP. In his latest start he went 7 innings giving up 7 hits but no runs with 4 strikeouts and a walk. He will be up against Justin Masterson for Cleveland who is 0-0 over 4 starts with a 4.98 ERA, .271 OBA and 1.57 WHIP. After a great spring and a solid first start Masterson has struggled positing a 7.36 ERA over his last three starts. Over 19 appearances (14 starts) vs the Royals Masterson has a career 4.87 ERA, .289 OBA and 1.49 WHIP. Note that the Royals are 6-2 over their last 8 games, 4-1 in their last 5 road games, and 4-0 in their last 4 after allowing 2 runs or less in their previous start. The Indians are just 1-4 in their last 5 as a home favorite, 0-5 in their last 5 vs left-handed starters, and 1-4 in Masterson's last 5 home starts. The Royals have won 5 of these two teams last 7 meetings. Vargas has been pitching great so far this season, and Cleveland is struggling with lefties. I'll take the Royals with a generous underdog price tag.


New York Yankees +111

I think a good value bet here with Michael Pineda and the Yankees. I always liked Pineda. I thought he was going to be an up and comer with the Seattle Mariners. Injuries cut that short and he sat out the last two years, but Pineda is finally starting to pan out wearing the pinstripes. He has put together three terrific performances, giving up just a run each to the Blue Jays and Red Sox in his first two starts. He then blanked the Cubs in his most recent outing on April 16th. Pineda has allowed only 13 hits all season long. Likewise, his WHIP has been extremely low at 0.89. Pineda carries a 1.00 ERA into tonight. Red Sox pitcher, John Lackey, is still trying to find some of his magic from 2013, but so far, has been struggling mightily. He brings a 5.25 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP to the matchup tonight. Including two back-to-back shellackings against the Orioles and the Yankees. He'll need to do a much better job against them tonight or risk falling way behind in this young season. The Yankees' batters have had great success against Lackey in the past, posting a .271 batting average against him. No reason why the Yankees shouldn't have a good shot at winning this game, and as underdogs, I'll be on it

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Chip Chirimbes

Reds vs. Pirates
Play: Pirates

This is the sixth meeting of these two rivals already this season and the Reds have taken three of the five decisions so far. Last night Jonny Cueto dominated the Pirates shut down Pittsburgh and tonight might be just as tough as Alfredo Simon (2-1, 0.86 ERA) take the mound. Charlie Morton (0-2, 4.32) take the hill for Pittsburgh and he has five career wins over the Reds the most of any team.


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Bob Balfe ‏

Oakland A's -150

This has been a very entertaining series so far. Both starters have almost identical numbers however Perez can struggle on the road at times. The difference in this ball game will be the bullpen. Oakland has a much better pen while Texas really struggles closing out games. Take the A’s

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Larry Ness

Philadelphia Phillies at Los Angeles Dodgers
Prediction: Los Angeles Dodgers

Cliff Lee went eight innings in a series-opening 7-0 win over the Dodgers on Monday and then A.J. Burnett limited LA to two runs over 6.2 in a 3-2, 10-inning victory Tuesday night. New Philly manager Ryne Sandberg (he became "interim manager" of the Phillies in August 2013 & was officially named manager on September 22, 2013), is finally getting an opportunity to see the possibilities of what could be a formidable trio in the front of his rotation. Following the two aforementioned back-to-back solid pitching performances against LA, Cole Hamels will try to lead the visiting Phillies to a season-best fourth straight win in his 2014 debut Wednesday night.

Hamels comes off the disabled list (shoulder inflammation), as he was cleared to join the rotation after throwing seven innings of one-run ball at High-A Clearwater on Thursday. He wrapped up his rehab assignment with a 2.12 ERA over 17 innings in three starts. "The potential and possibilities in the rotation, once we did sign Burnett in the spring, we'll see it when Hamels is in there," Sandberg told the team's official website. "We'll see the rotation in complete strength. I've been waiting for that day." Hamels hopes to pick up where he left off last season, when he had 2.68 ERA over his final 16 starts (he was just 6-3 in those games with Philly going 10-6).

Hamels is 6-1 with a a 2.41 ERA in 11 career starts vs LA (team is 8-3) and has gone 3-0 with a 2.22 ERA in four starts at Dodger Stadium, including two in the postseason. He'll face a Los Angeles team that has totaled just 21 runs (2.63 per) while batting .203 in its last eight games. However, the good news for LA fans is that Zack Greinke (3-0, 2.42 ERA) takes the mound. He had won three straight starts to open 2014, before receiving no runs in a 4-2, 12-inning home loss to Arizona on Friday. He allowed one run and three hits while striking out eight over six innings. Greinke has limited opponents to two runs or less in each of his four outings and will try to win his first four decisions for the first time since a 6-0 start in 2009 with Kansas City en route to winning the AL Cy Young Award. The right-hander has gone 10-1 with a 1.71 ERA in his last 15 starts dating to last season!

Here?s the reason I?m backing the Dodgers in this game. Greinke surely justified the Dodgers signing him away from the Angels in the off-season, as he went 15-4 with a 2.63 in 2013, ending the regular season as MLB?s top money earner among starters (22-6 / plus-$1,498). Greinke won the AL Cy Young award with KC back in 2009 but likely became more well-known by going 16-6 with Milwaukee in 2011 and then 15-5 in 2012 (9-3 with the Brewers and then 6-2 with the Angels). Greinke struggled at first with the Angels, but then went 5-0 with a 2.04 ERA in his final eight starts. Greinke's "claim to fame" in 2011 and 2012 was that he was nearly unbeatable pitching at home for the Brewers.

Milwaukee was a remarkable 24-1 in his 25 home starts at Miller Park (includes postseason), during his 1 1/2 seasons with the Brewers. The Angels were just 4-3 in his home starts after he arrived in Anaheim in late July but that still made his teams a MONEY-MAKING 28-4 in his 32 home starts over he 2011 and 2012 seasons. His home dominance continued with the Dodgers at Chavez Ravine, as the Dodgers went 12-2 in his home starts during the regular season, with Greinke posting a 2.11 ERA. He then won his lone home start in the 2013 postseason over the Cards.

Doing the math, he entered the 2014 season a quite remarkable 41-6 in home starts since the beginning of the 2011 season. Throw in his 1-1 start at home in 2014 and one gets 42-7 or an 85% win rate. That?s good enough for me.

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Jeff Alexander

Cleveland Indians -122

We hit with the Royals yesterday behind Shields, but the Tribe has the advantage tonight.  While Cleveland has poor numbers against lefty starters this season, it has faced just three southpaw starters at home.  Long term numbers are far more important, and the Indians are 12-3 in their last 15 home games versus a left-handed starter.  They are also 25-10 in their last 35 during game 3 of a series, 13-3 in Masterson's last 16 starts during game 3 of a series and 11-4 in his last 15 starts as a favorite of -110 to -150.  The Royals are 3-7 in their last 10 road games versus a right-handed starter and 2-5 in their last 7 during game 3 of a series.  Vargas is off to a nice start, but the Royals have lost both of his road starts, and his 5.40 ERA versus Cleveland is a bad sign.  Masterson will be focused as he looks to pick up his first win of the season.  Plus, I like the fact his career ERA (4.34) versus the Royals is over a run better than Vargas' ERA in the series.  The Royals are 3-7 in their last 10 meetings in Cleveland.

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Dave Price

Milwaukee Brewers -128

The Padres bounced back with a win in the second game of the series, but they are 5-11 in their last 16 games following a win, 4-9 in Ross' last 13 starts and 1-5 in his last six road starts.  The Brewers are 15-6 on the season and a tremendous 21-5 in their last 26 in the third game of a series.  Lohse has been outstanding over his last three starts, going 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA.  The Brewers are 10-4 in his last 14 home starts and 2-0 in his last two starts versus San Diego.  His clubs are 6-2 in his last eight starts against the Padres, including 4-0 in home starts during this span.  Take Milwaukee.

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Michael Alexander

New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox
Play: New York Yankees +108

Lackey posted back-to-back quality starts to begin the season, allowing a total of three earned runs in 13 innings. Things started to fall apart at New York on April 12, when the veteran was reached for six runs on 10 hits - including a career-high four home runs - in 5 2/3 innings. Lackey kept the ball in the ballpark against the Baltimore Orioles over the weekend but issued a season-high four walks and another 10 hits and six earned runs in the loss. Lackey comes in with a sky high 5.25 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP

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LT Profits

Charlotte Vs Miami
Pick: Charlotte +11

The pesky Charlotte Bobcats came within one point of covering the spread vs. the two-time defending champion Miami Heat in a 99-88 loss as 10-point underdogs in Game 1, and the Bobcats probably would have covered if Al Jefferson was not considerably slowed by a foot injury sustained earlier in the game. Jefferson still finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds after averaging 21.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and scoring at least 20 points in 37 of his last 45 regular season games. Jefferson should improve tonight after treatment and about 2½ days of rest with Sunday being an afternoon game. The Heat have not yet turned up the intensity as they will inevitably do in these playoffs and they do not figure to tonight either with a 1-0 series lead over an opponent they know they can beat sleepwalking. The Bobcats are 6-1 ATS in their last seven games following a straight up loss.

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Andy Iskoe

KC Royals +121

As many of you may know the starting point for my baseball handicapping is in looking for significant differences in the quality of starting pitching. This will dictate whether I look towards a Totals play or a Side play. In this game the starting pitching edge is with Kansas City. Lefty Jason Vargas has been a steady though unspectacular pitcher with his previous teams in Seattle and the Angels. He is off to an outstanding start this season with all 4 of his starts meeting my definition of Quality Starts (at least 6 innings pitched while allowing 2 earned runs or less). In averaging 7.2 innings per start Vargas has posted a 1.24 ERA and 0.93 WHIP. Cleveland starter Justin Masterson is a decent starter himself but has not been as effective early this season as he was at the start of last season. He's averaged just 5.4 innings per start while posting a 4.98 ERA and 1.57 WHIP. Cleveland has struggled against lefties this season. The Royals are starting to hit the baseball after the offense had struggled initially. Getting the Royals at a nice underdog price with a starter in good current form and capable of going deep into the game, with the support of a solid bullpen, especially closer, lends itself to an attractive play on a road underdog.

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Joe Gavazzi

Baltimore Orioles +100

These two starters matched up April 11th, when Toronto emerged with a 2-0 victory. It was no fault of Tillman, who worked a strong 8 innings, allowing just 2 runs on 3 hits. That added to a strong recent history for Tillman, who in his last 3 outings has turned in a 1.96 ERA vs. the Blue Jays. That start is also a part of his work for the season to date, which has seen Tillman record a mark of 2-1 with a 1.71 ERA. Much the opposite has been true for McGowan. Even with his solid start vs. Baltimore 12 days ago, McGowan is still just 1-3 with a 5.29 ERA vs. Baltimore. Outside of that start, the performance of the off-injured McGowan has left much to be desired. A 4.85 ERA has seen him work 13 IP, allowing 25 BR. In his most recent start, a 9-5 loss to Minnesota, McGowan lasted just 4 IP, allowing 3 runs on 6 hits with 4 walks. Last night, Baltimore wasted a solid start by Gonzales. A 3-3 late inning tie dissolved into a 9-3 loss. Tonight, behind this pitching mismatch, Baltimore evens the series.

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Harry Bondi

SAN ANTONIO (-8) over Dallas

Spurs only played 14 minutes and still won on Sunday. They ran out to a 12 point lead in the first 7 minutes of the game and then went on an impressive closing run of 19-4 in the fianl 7 minutes of game one to earn the victory. San antonio has dominated Dallas covering 12 of their last 16 meetings. Now that the Mavs have their attention, we expect the Spurs to play a complete game and blow the Mav's out.

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