The Game Planner, July 31st-August 6th

Outside of the normal full Sunday slate, there isn’t a lot of choice most days this week, and there are some days where you’re also likely to have to watch some pretty terrible teams if you want to see live baseball. As a Giants fan, I have no sympathy for you. We also get a possible postseason series preview which is entirely on at UK-friendly times, so it’s not all bad news.

The quick notes for those wanting to get right to the games: every game that is likely to end before about midnight UK time is counted as a ‘Watchable Game’. 9:10 PM is usually the latest start time I will include, unless there is a slightly later game of particular note. Each day I will pick out at least one watchable game of interest (identified in bold) and note some reasons why you might want to tune in, such as a particularly exciting player, a key divisional matchup, or a team on a hot streak.

A disclaimer: the schedule, both in terms of game times and projected starters, is extremely subject to change as a result of weather conditions, injuries, and the simple fact that teams sometimes change their minds about how they want to line up their starters, so please be aware that the information below is not set in stone.

The colour coded aspects of the planner are as follows:

Top Pitching Matchup – this week’s most interesting pitching duel, featuring two pitchers of either high quality or of note in some other way, such as a recent run of good form or an unusual pitching motion.
Top Offensive Matchup – a game featuring two of the league’s most productive lineups in recent weeks.
Free Game – MLB.tv’s Free Game of the Day, accessible via the MLB.tv schedule.
BT – A game being shown live on BT Sport, as per the BT Sport TV Guide. Please be aware that BT’s schedule is also subject to change.

Watchable Games

Monday, July 31st
5:35 PM – Braves @ Phillies (Free Game) (BT) – The Phillies still have the worst record in baseball despite winning four in a row, while Atlanta hung around .500 longer than anyone expected, but that mark seems to be vanishing into the distance of late. While this isn’t a particularly interesting matchup in terms of the standings, Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz is intruiging, in the sense that he can touch 100mph with his fastball and is still just 25. His secondary stuff needs work, however, as does his command, and he therefore has rather average strikeout numbers, rather than the eye-popping totals you might expect from his velocity. His opponent, rookie Nick Pivetta, also throws hard, sitting at 94-95 and touching 98, but while his strikeout numbers are more impressive, his control is worse and he has surrendered 16 homers in just 75 1/3 innings. Both teams have time to let players like this develop, and with two very sub-par lineups involved, this may be a good opportunity to see some of their potential.

Tuesday, August 1st
None

Wednesday, August 2nd
6:05 PM – Tigers @ Yankees (BT) – Is Masahiro Tanaka back to his best? A 14-strikeout, one-run performance over eight innings against the Rays on Friday was certainly encouraging, but his last double digit strikeout, no walk start was followed by a start in which he got lit up by Baltimore for seven earned in 5 2/3. There’s no question that Tanaka’s peripherals are outstanding and his stuff is filthy, so if he can stop giving up so many home runs, his ERA should continue to drop like one of his breaking balls. The 47-56 Tigers are already depleted after moving into seller mode, with GM Al Avila even trading his son Alex to the Cubs, along with closer Justin Wilson. The Tigers would probably love to shift the contract of this game’s starter, Jordan Zimmermann; unfortunately his declining skills, 5.69 ERA, and the $74 million over three years remaining on his contract after this year are significant obstacles.
7:10 PM – Blue Jays @ White Sox (Free Game)
8:40 PM – Twins @ Padres

Thursday, August 3rd
7:10 PM – Cardinals @ Brewers (BT)
7:20 PM – Diamondbacks @ Cubs
8:10 PM – Mets @ Rockies – The Rockies have got through their brief wobble that had many Colorado fans nervous and while the Dodgers have completely destroyed any chances either they or Arizona had of winning the division, the wild card looks like a solid bet again, especially with the Brewers starting to fall away. A series in Coors is usually entertaining from a run-scoring perspective, and despite their disappointing year, the Mets haven’t actually been that bad offensively, with an above-average wRC+. With Yoenis Cespedes slowed by injuries, 24-year-old Michael Conforto is the clear highlight of this lineup, slashing .289/.395/.575 over 87 games, in what is his first real opportunity as a full-time player. On the Colorado side, 22-year-old starter German Marquez has posted an impressive 4.08 ERA despite making half his starts at Coors, with almost a strikeout per inning and a pop-up rate in the double digits.

Friday, August 4th
7:20 PM – Nationals @ Cubs (Top Offensive Matchup) (BT) – The potential postseason series preview I mentioned in the intro starts here at Wrigley Field. With Stephen Strasburg and Kyle Hendricks tentatively slated to start this one, it was a clear contender for the week’s best pitching matchup, but given the uncertainty over Strasburg’s health, that tag seemed unwise. Instead, this contest gets the top offensive matchup tag, with the Cubs and Nats at 5th and 6th respectively in wRC+ over the last 30 days, and the Nationals third-best this season. Chicago catcher Willson Contreras has been dominant, with a 1.019 OPS in July, and Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have been their usual highly productive selves with near .400 OBPs. Even Kyle Schwarber has improved since his return from the minors, slugging five home runs, albeit with a strikeout rate north of 30%. The Nationals have had nine home runs from the prodigious Bryce Harper in July and Anthony Rendon‘s MVP-calibre season has continued with a third-straight month of an OPS over 1.000 and more walks than strikeouts. By WAR, Rendon & Harper are now the two front-runners for the NL MVP.

Saturday, August 5th
7:20 PM – Nationals @ Cubs (BT)
9:05 PM – Dodgers @ Mets – The Dodgers have been on an absurd run that has turned the NL West into a no-contest. Since they lost three in a row from June 5th-7th, Los Angeles has gone 38-6 to turn a two-game deficit into a 14-game lead. In that time, they’ve scored 247 runs and allowed just 144. Even with Clayton Kershaw heading to the DL, the pitching staff is still stacked with talent, from breakout star Alex Wood, to elite closer Kenley Jansen, to the resurgent Rich Hill, who has a 1.45 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 31 innings in July. They are even getting useful major league innings from the likes of Hyun-Jin Ryu, who will start this game. Ryu had thrown just 4 2/3 innings over the past two seasons as the result of shoulder and elbow problems, but so far this year has given the Dodgers 15 starts and a 3.83 ERA. He’ll face Seth Lugo, who has the curveball with the most spin in the majors, but also has a partially torn UCL and is attempting the Tanaka route of rest and rehab. The results have been neither spectacular nor particularly concerning so far, although the velocity is clearly down.

Sunday, August 6th
6:10 PM – Yankees @ Indians
6:10 PM – Cardinals @ Reds
6:10 PM – Brewers @ Rays (Top Pitching Matchup) (Free Game) (BT) – I am aware of the perils of making a Sunday game the top pitching matchup, but with the only other real contenders featuring Strasburg, as already discussed, and Yu Darvish, who might be on another team by the time you read this, it’s Chris Archer and new Planner favourite Jimmy Nelson who get the nod, assuming they start. Nelson continued his impressive year by holding the Nationals to two runs over seven innings while striking out 10 last Wednesday. Archer has 177 strikeouts in 142 innings and the highest swinging strike rate of his career at 13.6%. Watch out for his slider, which gets whiffs at a 21% rate and has a .198 batting average against this year.
6:35 PM – Tigers @ Orioles
6:35 PM – White Sox @ Red Sox
6:35 PM – Marlins @ Braves
6:35 PM – Padres @ Pirates
7:10 PM – Rangers @ Twins
7:10 PM – Blue Jays @ Astros
7:15 PM – Mariners @ Royals
7:20 PM – Nationals @ Cubs
8:10 PM – Phillies @ Rockies
8:37 PM – Athletics @ Angels
9:05 PM – Diamondbacks @ Giants (BT)

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