Today's Free Picks for
Posted at 9:00 AM EST. Odds subject to change.
World Series Game 2
Arizona +140 over Texas
8:03 PM EST. Such a sick loss yesterday but it’s not going to deter us from coming back on the underdog again.
A 30-year-old lefty on his third team in three seasons, twice dealt at the deadline, and a 35-year-old righty who didn’t make his major-league debut until he was 30, after a spell overseas, don’t exactly make for the standard top-of-the-rotation starters you expect to find in Game 2 of the World Series. But Jordan Montgomery (the former) and Merrill Kelly (the latter), have more than earned their starring roles in the currently unfolding drama. Sometimes the spotlight finds you.
Kelly will attack batters with a kitchen sink approach that is less designed to overpower his opponent than it is to overwhelm them for choice. You can’t eliminate enough of his pitches or locations, because he’ll throw four pitches to lefties and five to righties, in various parts of the zone. If you want to get into generalities, he does like the bottom third of the zone and below, but that won’t preclude him from climbing the ladder when he needs a whiff. As the postseason has gone on, he’s piled up more swinging strikes—seven against the Dodgers, eight in NLCS G2, and then 12 in a rematch with Philly. Unsurprisingly the extra strikes (and strikeouts) have driven his pitch count up—while he’s thrown 89, 89, and 90 pitches respectively, they’ve come in 6.1 5.2 and five-inning outings. Where Kelly has excelled over his last two seasons compared to the first three back stateside is keeping the ball in the yard. While his HR/FB rates have been relatively consistent, he bumped his ground ball rate up to the highest point since the shortened 2020 season. Continuing that trend will be important in a couple ways against the Rangers. For starters, the Rangers can obviously mash. This was the case with Philly, too, and the only three homers he’s allowed this postseason were in that Game 2 at Citizens Bank Park. Well, Globe Life Field is another hitter’s haven, and the Rangers are going to be the deepest lineup he’s faced. Arizona did a great job breaking making adjustments against Philly, but the Rangers lineup doesn’t chase like the Phillies do, and there aren’t the same dead spots to work around.
Justin Verlander noted this in the ALCS:
’The problem that presents is that a lineup like that is so deep that you can't focus on a pocket of hitters and say if I don't let them beat me, I'll be good. Every one of their guys has the opportunity to beat you. You've got to be on your game 1-9.’’
On the other side, Montgomery might well be the master at limiting damage on contact. He has seen his strikeout rate thin out over the past few years, but his results have only gotten better. He’s quickly cemented himself as one of those guys who are just Like That, even if the advanced metrics (like DRA-) scream “regression!” That “fewer strikes, more success” formula has been accentuated in the playoffs, as Montgomery has only punched out 15.6% of batters (down from 21.4% in the regular season), but has seen his ERA fall to a sparkling 2.16. While he’s missing fewer bats, he has compensated by taking lessons from your grumpy teacher and becoming even stingier with the free passes (you gotta say “may I have a walk,” not “can I have a walk”), with his walk rate dipping below 4% in the postseason.
Montgomery won’t present as many options for batters to choose from, but he’s more unpredictable in terms of location, and boasts the command to routinely nick the edges of the zone—he (along with Jonah Heim) has earned double-digit called strikes in three of his five appearances so far, with the only two being his abbreviated ALDS Game 2 against Baltimore (four innings) and his relief stint in Game 7 (2.1 innings). Montgomery has an elite defense behind him and knows how to make use of it. He hasn’t punched out more than six batters in a game this postseason, but between the defensive prowess of those behind him and his ability to keep the ball off the barrel of the bat, he’s made it work.
By any advanced measure, and especially by DRA-, Kelly is the better pitcher. At the risk of recency bias, this is a pretty even matchup between starters. Still, if forced to choose, we’d say the D’Backs have a slight advantage on the hill.
The Rangers are an offensive force, with a deep lineup full of varied hitting styles. There’s no break from one through nine. But if there’s one thing Kelly may be able to use to his advantage it’s that this team struggled the most with curveballs from right-handers. It’s not Kelly’s dominant pitch by any means, but he used it with aplomb against the Phillies to surprise them on another turn through the order. The Rangers slashed .191/.223/.307 against the pitch (vs RHP) this year, and while anyone can get predictable going to the well too many times, Kelly has the depth of repertoire to keep them off of the deuce while still mixing it in more frequently than normal.
Likewise, Arizona struggled with Uncle Charlie from left-handed pitchers, and what do you know, Montgomery has a doozy. The Snakes only managed a .170/.211/.304 slash line against curves (vs LHP), while Montgomery allowed only a .197 average and .330 slugging percentage against his curve in 2023. That could be the key for him all night against an offense that will throw a bunch of right-handed bats against him. The platoon-neutral curveball could be exactly what he needs to navigate this lineup.
That celebratory and dramatic walk off jack last night might have a lasting effect or a hangover effect. The Rangers scored two in the ninth and one in extra innings to turn a 0-1 series deficit to a 1-0 series lead. Wins do not get more emotional than that one. This series, game to game is such a toss up that we have to continue to take back prices when offered, especially prices in this range.
Arizona +140 (Risking 2 units - To Win: 2.80)