The Pittsburgh Pirates are taking on the Cincinnati Reds in the second game of a split day-night doubleheader tonight at 7:10 pm EST. Both of these teams are hovering around .500 and hanging in there for the time being. In the long run, I don’t expect either of these teams to make a run at the playoffs, especially with them being in a division with three clear playoff contenders in front of them.
This game has a really intriguing pitching matchup, and I generally like both options here. Mitch Keller is making his major league debut for the Pirates, and this kid is a legit prospect. Keller is only 23 years old, and he has dominated at almost every level of the minor leagues after getting drafted out of high school at pick No. 64.
Keller is currently seen as the Pirates No. 2 overall prospect, which is pretty encouraging, and the numbers back that up. In AAA this season, Keller is striking out almost 11 batters per nine innings, which is an elite mark. His walks are somewhat high, but they are still fine if he can continue to be this dominant.
Keller had very few walks when he was a younger prospect, and his walks have continually gone up over his time in professional ball. I don’t know of a real reason as to why that is, but my best guess is that he probably nibbles a lot, which has caught up to him at higher levels. That being said, I doubt that Keller is a guy that lacks a lot of control, especially with a 50/60 command grade. I assume that he is a pitcher that doesn’t ever want to give in because he is more apt to getting out of jams with his stuff if he happens to walk batters.
The biggest concern I have with Keller is how he will pitch later in games. His fastball is graded as a really good pitch, and the curveball isn’t far behind. He does appear to have a third pitch, which is a changeup, but it isn’t on the same level as his fastball and curveball.
The encouraging thing about this, for now, is that these talented pitchers with only two pitches are often able to survive a while before hitting that wall where teams get to them. I think Keller needs to improve his changeup to stick in the majors, but I have little doubt that Keller will pitch well for the most part early in his career.
Sonny Gray is a pitcher that is relatively underrated, especially after his poor stint with the Yankees last year. Gray really struggled with home runs in the Bronx, and there was a lot of talk about him just struggling with pitching in New York City to begin with. Gray has pitched about as well as I would’ve expected going into the year, and I still think he has been relatively unlucky.
His K rate is elite, and I expect that number to continue to be impressive. In this particular matchup, I would expect Gray to struggle relative to his seasonal numbers in terms of strikeouts. The Pirates are an offense that doesn’t strike out a ton, but they are not really a tough matchup. They are getting a ballpark upgrade going to Great American, but I still am not scared of the lineup as a whole.
I like the Pirates in this game because I think that Keller is being undersold due to his lack of exposure. The Reds are -150 while the Pirates are +140. I think this line should be closer to -120 for the Reds, leaving value in the Pirates.
My favorite bet in this game is by far the under. Both of these pitchers are better than they are being given credit for, and since it is the second game of a doubleheader, we will likely see a watered-down lineup missing a key player or two. I love the under-9 here.