We have a tale of two completely different leagues right now, making for some fun matchups. In the NL, only two teams who are not currently in possession of a playoff spot are even within seven games, as the league is mostly wrapped up even with the St. Louis Cardinals surging.
Meanwhile, the AL is still wide open—at least in the Wild Card—as all but three teams are less than four games from a potential playoff berth. The collection of mediocrity should shake out soon as the season winds down. With the final month fast approaching, injuries piling up and teams going in so many different directions, there are plenty of options in our MLB Pick ‘Em Contests just waiting to be taken.
MLB Pick for Monday, August 21: Cleveland Indians over Boston Red Sox
In a rematch of the 2016 ALDS, the Red Sox and Indians will kick off a four-game series on Monday in Cleveland. This matchup will feature two teams leading their respective divisions and the two biggest threats to the AL-leading Houston Astros come October.
In this series, the home-field advantage favors the Tribe, though the Indians actually have a better record on the road. Still, the Red Sox will turn to their rotation’s weakest link in Doug Fister to start on Monday against Mike Clevinger.
Clevinger isn’t exactly Corey Kluber, but the right-hander has been surprisingly solid when given a chance to start. He’s 6-5 with a 3.75 ERA and 1.31 WHIP. His ERA drops to 3.38 when used as a starter, where he has a 1.26 WHIP and is striking out 9.9 per nine innings.
He’s coming off a lackluster relief appearance on August 17, but he went seven scoreless innings in his last start, striking out nine and allowing just four hits and one walk. His last outing against Boston wasn’t a great one, as he went just three innings, allowing five runs and walking four. He’ll have to bounce back from that and also try and improve on his curious reverse splits. Clevinger is only 1-2 with a 5.08 ERA at home while posting a 2.86 road ERA.
Fister has been a fill-in starter for the Sox and has thrown in 10 games, including seven starts. He’s only 2-6 with a 5.56 ERA. The veteran right-hander has the better track record compared to Clevinger, but his stuff has gone downhill the last couple of years. He’s not going to overpower anyone and has just 38 strikeouts in 43.2 innings while walking 23 and giving up 49 hits.
The Indians should have a ton of baserunners on Monday, and with a lineup that includes good all-around hitters like Jose Ramirez and run-producers like Edwin Encarnacion, those baserunners should turn into plenty of runs and an early lead.
Cleveland will just need to be sure to keep Clevinger on a short leash. He pitched well his last time starting and should be able to give five or six solid innings before handing the lead to a dominant bullpen.
The pitching matchup along with the Indians’ edge in the bullpen and Boston’s power shortage at the plate should lead to a victory in the series opener for the Tribe.
MLB Pick for Tuesday, August 22: Colorado Rockies over Kansas City Royals
Kansas City is still in the hunt in the AL Wild Card race, and the Rockies are continuing to push for a postseason berth in the NL, making this a fun series with plenty of playoff implications.
Tuesday’s game is particularly interesting as it pins Royals ace Danny Duffy against Rockies Opening Day starter Jon Gray.
Gray missed much of the season. He was supposed to lead this young rotation but had a 6.19 ERA through his first seven games. He’s been much better since that point, as he had three quality starts in his last four appearances, missing the fourth one by a single out, registering just 5.2 innings.
While Gray is throwing the ball better lately, Duffy has gone the other way for the Royals.
Duffy established himself as an ace for Kansas City last year and was throwing well earlier in the year, but he has regressed since the Royals snapped their nine-game winning streak. The team has won just one of his last four starts and he’s allowed nine runs and 13 hits over his last two outings, totaling just 11.1 innings. What makes those numbers even worse is the competition. He hasn’t faced great offenses in those last two starts, struggling against the Athletics and White Sox.
Kansas City’s offense has outperformed Colorado’s since the beginning of August, so the Royals do have that going for them. They’re also a much better team at home and are equipped to take advantage of the larger ballpark given their propensity for contact over power. The Rockies, however, have the combination of Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon, which is hard for anyone to top.
The bullpen—which has long been the strength of this Royals team—is still good for KC, but the Rockies can match up. Former Royals closer Greg Holland is a beast and seems to be back on track after back-to-back losses. He notched his 35th save on August 14 and pitched another scoreless frame on August 18 against Milwaukee, striking out two.
Bank on the recent trends for Gray and Duffy and take the Rockies over the streaky Royals, who are on a downward turn in their last couple weeks.
MLB Pick for Wednesday, August 23: Washington Nationals over Houston Astros
The Nationals traded away much of their starting pitching depth in the offseason for Adam Eaton, who has spent much of the season on the disabled list. The lack of depth has reared its ugly head and Washington is now sending Edwin Jackson to the mound every fifth day.
To this point, Jackson has produced for the Nats in his second tour of duty for the team. He’s made six starts and has a 2.92 ERA, but his FIP is 4.68. His BABIP is artificially low, while his home run rate is elevated. He’s allowed seven homers in 37 innings. He’s getting hit hard, but many of those are getting caught. In time, some of those will fall and his numbers will regress, but for now he’s getting results. He is, however, a question mark each time out.
Of course, the Nationals are a huge offensive threat, too, but with Bryce Harper out for this series and others still on the shelf, the offense has taken a major hit. Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon make a formidable middle of the order, and Michael Taylor, Wilmer Difo and Adam Lind have been more than capable fill-ins, but Washington’s offense ranks No.24 in the Majors in runs scored in August.
Interestingly, the Astros offense has slowed, too, though it has outscored Washington this month. Carlos Correa’s absence hurts, but George Springer is back, Jose Altuve is a MVP candidate and everyone the team turns to has produced.
On the bump for the Astros is Mike Fiers. He, like Jackson, has struggled with the longball, allowing 30 bombs this year in 133.1 innings. He’s also hit 12 batters and has a propensity to walk batters. He has a 5.56 FIP, though that wildness appears to be an outlier in his career. Fiers had improved after a rough start, but he’s now allowed two home runs in four straight games and has pitched to a 7.48 ERA, going 0-3, in that time. He’s also walked 12, given up 24 hits and struck out 17 in that period.
All in all, look for tons of offense in this game, even with both teams still struggling through injuries and experiencing a bit of an offensive drop off over the last month.
Take the Nationals to get the win over the Astros on the road. Their offense is good enough with the injuries, Fiers is way too home run prone, and Jackson has found a way to get the job done since getting the promotion to the Washington.
Washington also finally has a bullpen that can hold a close game. Sean Doolittle has been a good solution in the closer’s role, and Brandon Kintzler has allowed only four hits in nine innings.