Preview: MLB Opening Day 2021
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Baseball is back. No need for eloquent statements or catchy marketing here today. The MLB season is mere hours away. If you are not excited about it yet, you probably never will be. It has been a long, strange year, but there is light at the end of the tunnel and our reward is a full season of MLB baseball. We have 15 MLB games on the Thursday schedule to kick things off. Let’s take a look at one of our local teams and see what the numbers are telling us.
The Yankees kick things off at home against the Toronto Blue Jays. This is a very high-end pitching matchup between Gerrit Cole and Hyun Jin Ryu. Ryu had sparkling numbers in the shortened 2020 season. He finished with 12 starts, an ERA under 2.70 and over a K per inning. He dominated lefties and was well above-average even to righties in his weaker split. He allowed just a .286 wOBA to righties last season and gave up a HR every 10-plus innings on average. The good news for Yanks fans is that this lineup is very right-handed heavy, but the bad news is Ryu is not that bad even against the weaker of his splits.
Cole had some rocky starts, but overall he ended up righting the ship and having stellar numbers again. Like Ryu, he ended the year with an ERA under 3.00 and an xFIP just barely above 3.30. He had even more strikeout ability with over 11 K/9 in the shortened season. Cole had a WHIP of just 0.96 last season, which is off-the-charts good. He has a low walk rate and does not allow a ton of hits. He was tagged for a few more home run balls than usual, but limiting baserunners allowed that not to be a massive negative for him.
The Yankees were surprisingly below average against lefties in 2020. With this lineup being so righty-heavy, that was a major shock. They did suffer through some injuries and down years for guys who normally crush lefties like Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez. They will need those guys to bounce back to form in order to take that step forward in 2020. DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge performed admirably and are also long-time lefty killers. The Yankees will have games where they tee off on some non-talented pitchers during the year, but unfortunately Ryu is not one of them.
On the flip side of this game you have a young Blue Jays roster that added a couple pieces in the offseason to that talented nucleus. This is a team that projects better than the Yankees Thursday, as the collection of players on that current roster owned a 117 wRC+ score against righties in 2020 with a .344 wOBA as a unit. Cole is way better than your average MLB pitcher, so these numbers are not likely to be as robust, but make no mistake the Blue Jays offense is dangerous. The lineup is long from top to bottom with no easy outs along the way. Cole can shut down anyone when he is on and the Yanks bullpen has always been one of the better ones in the league, but Cole is going to have to pitch a gem here today, because I doubt the Yanks offense puts up enough runs to save him if he doesn’t.
The Yankees are a -180 favorite in this game. That’s a little too rich for my blood given the pitching matchup. Would I take the other side with the Blue Jays? Probably not for a big bet, but I do prefer the plus money on Toronto over the -180 on the Yanks. I also really like the under 7.5 total in this game. Both teams have lockdown bullpens to follow those stud starters. With this being the first game of the year, the entire bullpen is available for these coaches to use as well. You will have some of the highest-end starters being followed by some of the league’s highest-end relievers. Both the Yanks and Jays will have those offensive explosion days where they put up 7-10 runs, but I do not think Thursday is that day given the talent on the mound for both of these teams.
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