This is the first of two plays for me here on Saturday. Tampa Bay fell to Chicago in ten innings last night when Yoan Moncada drove home the go-ahead run with a line drive over Jaker Bauers‘s head in left field.
Long before that, Lucas Giolito looked great in seven innings of work, surrendering just one run on two hits. A host of Tampa Bay pitchers combined to keep it close and give their team the chance to tie the game in the eighth inning.
Saturday evening’s matchup looks on paper to be one that could follow suit, each side throwing out a promising young left-handed starter in the midst of a breakout season.
Let’s start with the White Sox’ Carlos Rodon, who has so far been better in his career than I would have guessed. It hasn’t been smooth sailing for the former third overall pick in 2014 but Rodon has posted an ERA+ of at least 100 in each of his first three seasons.
He’s been even better than that this season, his fourth. After three consecutive years with a WHIP around 1.40, Rodon has that figure just over 1.00 with a corresponding ERA+ of 129. After jumping his walk rate from 2.9 per nine innings in 2016 to 4.0 in 2017, Rodon has it back at a manageable 3.2 this year.
The real difference has been the number of hits he has allowed, from 8.3 per nine last season (to that point, a career-best) to 6.3 this season. He’s done it by pitching to contact; Rodon’s strikeout rate had increased every year, and was about to reach double-digits on a per nine basis, until this season. After fanning 9.9 per nine innings in 2017, Rodon is striking out just 7.6 this season.
It’s no coincidence he’s getting deeper into games. In nine starts (he didn’t debut until June 9), Rodon has pitched into or through the eighth inning four times, including in each of his last three. Overall, he’s averaging nearly an inning more per start this season than he did in 2017.
Moreover, Tampa Bay might be his best matchup yet. Rodon just breezed through four starts in July at Houston, vs. St. Louis, at the Angels and vs. Toronto, giving up six runs in nearly 29 innings. He faced Boston, Oakland, Texas and Cleveland twice in June.
His opponent on Saturday, Blake Snell, has gained more recognition for his breakout year in 2018. He was named an all-star for winning a dozen games before the break, racking up 134 strikeouts in fewer than 120 innings, and maintaining a 2.27 ERA.
Snell went 1.2 innings against the National League and hasn’t taken the mound in the big leagues since, landing on the disabled list with left shoulder fatigue. Over three weeks of rest should do the trick for a young pitcher soon to surpass last year’s career-high of 129 innings. His hit and walk numbers are near replicas of Rodon’s, while he does strike out double-digits per nine.
And like Rodon, he will face a weak offense on Saturday. I’ve got the total between these two guys in the first five innings at 3.5. Instead, the oddsmakers have hung 4.0. This gives us a nice window to try and cash and an even more generous one to push.