The supposed ace of the team with the best record in the American League at the start of the year has not pitched like one, making the Angels live underdogs vs. the Royals Sunday.
The team with the best record in the American League could be overpriced Sunday night with a disappointing starting pitcher when southpaw Hector Santiago and the Los Angeles Angels (60-56, 24-33 away) pay a visit to struggling right-hander Yordano Ventura and those Kansas City Royals (70-46, 41-20 home) in the final game of a four-game series from Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, MO at 8:05 ET in a game televised nationally on ESPN.
The posted money line at Pinnacle Sports has Los Angeles as a road underdog for this contest at current odds of +117.
Chasing the Astros Again
The Angels had been chasing the Houston Astros all year until finally passing them and taking over first place in the American League West the final day before the All-Star break. However, the Astros re-established command more recently by sweeping a three-game series from the Halos in Houston, and the Angels have still not recovered as they are still in second place currently 2½ games back.
The Royals are in no such tight race as the team with the best record in the American League and the second best record in all of baseball behind only their Missouri-mates the St. Louis Cardinals. The Royals are the defending American League Champions, but remember that they were a wild card last year and they are now on their way to their first division title since 1985 with a 12-game lead over the second place Minnesota Twins in the American League Central!
The Angels won the series opener here in Kansas City 7-6 on Thursday, but the Royals have come back to be the winning MLB picks the last two nights by scores of 4-1 and 9-4 respectively.
The Royals allowed James Shields to walk away via free agency during the off-season with the intent of making the young flame-throwing Ventura their ace after a very good rookie season last year, but Ventura has not been up to that task recording a mere six Quality Starts all season to this point! Luckily, the Royals alleviated that problem by acquiring a true ace in Johnny Cueto at the trading deadline, but Ventura remains a weak link in the starting rotation.
Ventura seems very immature while often being very demonstrative on the field, and unfortunately that has usually been in a bad way as he is just 7-7 pitching for a team that is 24 games over .500 with a lofty 4.97 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. Furthermore, the 24-year-old has only 83 strikeouts in 101.1 innings, which is less than you would expect from a pitcher that has topped out at 100.0 MPH on his fastball while averaging 95.8 MPH.
That points to a lack of movement as Major League hitters will eventually catch up to a fairly straight fastball no matter how hard it is thrown. Yes, Ventura comes off of probably his best start of the year tossing six scoreless innings while allowing just two hits vs. the Detroit Tigers for just his sixth Quality Start of the season, but keep in mind that he has yet to record back-to-back Quality Starts this year.
Santiago is just 7-6 for the Angels despite owning a 2.87 ERA and 1.17 WHIP, although honestly we think being around a .500 pitcher is a true value of his ability while the ERA and WHIP are fluky given Santiago’s 4.16 FIP and 4.42 xFIP. Still, that does not mean that Santiago is not a capable Major League pitcher and we still feels he offers value as an underdog here vs. the erratic Ventura.
Santiago has now made five career starts vs. the Royals since September of 2012, and he has yet to allow more than three runs in any start while posting a sparkling 1.53 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and holding Kansas City batters to a .179 batting average. Santiago has also allowed three runs or less in 11 of his last 12 starts overall this year, although only five of those outings were official Quality Starts since he failed to go six innings the other times.
Still, while his starts are not always pretty, Santiago has usually been effective for the most part and the Angels’ bullpen has become solid as well with a 3.05 ERA the last 10 games over 40 innings of work.
Trending the Underdogs
Finally, while there are not too many negative trends for the Royals during this great season, one that applies here is that they are only 2-6 in Ventura’s last eight starts vs. teams with winning records. As for the Angels, they have tended to be at their best when wrapping up longer series, going 21-8 in their last 29 Game 4s of any series.
While Ventura was sharp last time out, we simply do not trust him to have back-to-back good outings and recommend backing the Los Angeles Angels at an underdog price visiting Kansas City on Sunday Night Baseball.
MLB Pick: Angels +117