Home run (Safe bet)
Pick the Detroit Tigers, on at 1.62, to win at home against the Cleveland Indians.
Two very interesting pitchers square off on Thursday in this contest, but many factors tip in the Tigers favor. A six-time All-Star, Detroit starter Justin Verlander has been in excellent form in the early part of this season. He owns a 2.57 ERA in 21 innings pitched (to go along with 20 scoreless innings in spring training). Beyond recent performance, he has historical elements working for him.
The first is his track record versus Cleveland hitters. In a hefty sample set of 349 plate appearances, Verlander has held Indian players to a .234 batting average. Key batters Nick Swisher (.183 batting average), Carlos Santana (.188) and Jason Kipnis (.125) have all struggled against the Tigers’ ace.
The second is his comfort at home. At Comerica Park, Verlander has a lifetime 3.09 ERA in 132 appearances (compared to 3.71 ERA on the road). Beyond the Tigers’ starter, Detroit’s bullpen has also been excellent. They relief corps has given up the fifth fewest runs (out of fifteen American League teams). The upshot: the relievers shouldn’t blow any sort of lead.
Cleveland will counter with Danny Salazar. While his early ERA (6.75) suggests he’s not great, Salazar can dominate. (In his last outing he struck out 10 batters in 3 2/3 innings). But the issue with a youngster like Salazar is consistency, and he’s yet to show he can throw solidly game-in and game-out. That said, even if he gets the Indians off to a good start, his bullpen is currently one of the worst in the game, placing third in terms of the most runs allowed per game in the AL.
Squeeze play (Gutsiest call)
Go over 7 total runs between the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers at 2.02
This game is certainly a clash between the National League West’s elite clubs. But the Giants will get separation in this game and win by a respectable sum. The Giants’ success starts with their pitcher, Madison Bumgarner. The left-hander has always gotten the best of the Dodgers. In 163 plate appearances, Los Angeles’ batters have a measly .200 batting average. This shouldn’t be too surprising as Bumgarner is an elite lefty, and the Dodgers struggle against left-handers of all stripes. This season, the Los Angeles lineup is batting a paltry .213 versus lefties.
So we can expect Bumgarner to perform, but why will the Giants score enough to lead to the required margin of victory? The Dodgers’ starter Hyun-jin Ryu will help. He doesn’t have a history of success against the Giants. In 116 plate appearances, they’re hitting a strong .298 with a .371 on base percentage. Moreover, the Giants have swung the bat well in general this year. They rank third in runs scored per game in the NL.