Home run (Safe bet)
Pick the San Francisco Giants (1.60) to beat the San Diego Padres at home.
At first glance, this isn’t such an obvious safe bet. The Padres’ Tyson Ross has been excellent overall this season, posting a 3.16 ERA in five starts. Even more important here is that he threw an 8 inning shutout against these very Giants on April 18. In that game, he was dominating striking out nine and allowing just four hits and one walk. Overall, the Giants have a lifetime .225 batting average in 92 plate appearances versus Ross.
So what gives here? First, you have to look at Ross’s extreme home-road splits. He’s just a different pitcher when he’s at Petco Park, which is where he threw his gem versus the Giants. In three starts in San Diego this year he has a 1.80 ERA; in his two road appearances that number balloons to 5.86. This isn’t a small-sample-size aberration. Last year he had a 2.03 ERA at Petco in 15 games and a 4.02 ERA in 20 contests elsewhere.
The other key factor is San Diego hitters are facing Madison Bumgarner. Like Ross, Bumgarner has put up solid numbers so far this year (3.14 ERA). But most important here is Bumgarner has been excellent against Padres hitters in his career, holding them to a combined .205 batting average and .219 on base percentage in 161 plate appearances. Even if a pitcher of Bumgarner’s pedigree wasn’t throwing, the Padres would have trouble scoring runs as they are the worst run-producing offence in the National League.
Squeeze play (Gutsiest call)
Take the Cleveland Indians, on at 2.05, to win on the road against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Road wins are generally a tough pick, but I like the pitching matchup here.
The Indians’ Justin Masterson has yet to register a decision. Early in his season his mechanics looked off as he had back-to-back horrible starts on April 6 and April 12 (total of 10 earned runs allowed in 8 1/3 innings). But over his past two starts, Masterson, who when on his game back be one of baseball’s toughest pitchers, has returned to form. He’s conceded just four earned runs in 12 2/3 innings (and struck out 15 over that stretch). Historically, he’s also gotten the better of Angels hitters – in 123 plate appearances, Masterson has held them to a .198 batting average.
The Angels are going with Tyler Skaggs. The left-hander has been solid for the Angels so far in 2014 (3.21 ERA). But there are a few concerns here. First, he has not thrown well at home (5.54 ERA at Angels Stadium versus 1.20 anywhere else). Second, he’s been inconsistent. He’s only posted two quality starts (six innings or more pitched; three runs or less allowed) out of four starts. Part of the gamble here is that Skaggs is not on his game.