2024 MLB Opening Day Picks, Best Bets, Predictions for March 28, 2024

Five Opening Day Best Bets!

Cole Ragans
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - AUGUST 12: Cole Ragans #55 of the Kansas City Royals throws against the St. Louis Cardinals at Kauffman Stadium on August 12, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

We got sprinkles of baseball in South Korea, but now we get the full cake. Hopefully, we get our cake, and we’re able to eat it, too.

We are off to a good start! I had one play for the Korea series, the under in game one. Even though Jake Cronenworth let the ball go through his glove, we still held on for the win. We don’t know what it’s like to lose a bet this MLB season… let’s keep it going.

I have five picks for you on Opening Day. Three are player props, one is a money line, and the other is a total. Unfortunately, we had six picks lined up, but the Brewers—Mets game was postponed until Friday.

Let’s get straight to it. Welcome back, baseball. We missed you.

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These picks are available on BetMGM. Code “JustBaseball” for a first bet offer up to $1500.

2024 Record: 1-0 (+1.0 U)

Detroit Tigers vs. Chicago White Sox @ 4:10 PM EST

Pitching Matchup: Tarik Skubal vs Garrett Crochet

If you’ve followed me these past few years, you know I’m hesitant to drink the juice. I try to find value in plays that are -140 or lower, but that can backfire. If I shelter myself from larger lines, I miss out on value. If I see a -170 line, but it should be -210, isn’t that value? You probably already knew that, but I’m telling myself this while also telling you.

I’m changing my ways. I want all the juice. Make it more expensive, I dare you.

Enter the Detroit Tigers against the Chicago White Sox on Opening Day.

The starting pitching matchup is arguably the most talented left-handed pitcher in baseball against a player making his first Opening Start. It’s not just Crochet’s first Opening Day; it’s his first start since college. He’s made 72 appearances out of the bullpen, but they have no other options after the Dylan Cease trade.

It’s not to say Garrett Crochet isn’t a fine reliever; he is, but he hasn’t been stretched out in Spring Training. His longest outing was under four innings, and his pitch count didn’t exceed 70 pitches. It makes sense; they need him healthy for the entire season.

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Crochet could pitch well, and I still don’t see the White Sox winning. After Crochet exits, the worst bullpen in baseball follows. Their bullpen has zero pitchers projected for an ERA under 4.15. You don’t have to take my word on this, Fangraphs has this bullpen ranked 30th out of 30 teams. On Opening Day, teams with lesser bullpens can fare well, considering everyone is healthy, and we see their best arms. The White Sox don’t have any “best arms”.

I bet Tarik Skubal to win the CY Young. He’s as talented as any pitcher in the game, and he showed out in the second half. Look at how he compared to Spencer Strider in the second half of last season.

Tarik Skubal: 72.1 IP, 3.11 ERA2.04 FIP2.9 fWAR, 32.3% K, 4.3% BB

Spencer Strider: 82 IP, 4.39 ERA, 2.90 FIP, 2.4 fWAR, 34.2% K, 7.1% BB

Skubal’s second half was the best in baseball, but he did play against weaker competition. He allowed only three runs in 30 innings against the worst teams in baseball. The White Sox were one of those teams, and he faced them twice. He threw 12 innings and allowed two earned runs.

Last season, the White Sox offense ranked 28th out of 30 teams against left-handed pitching by wRC+. They were 27th in OPS and had the sixth-highest strikeout rate. After they traded away a big bat against lefties in Jake Burger, they dropped to a 78 wRC+ in the second half against lefties. They are a terrible team all the way around. They might end up being the worst team in baseball by season’s end.

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The Tigers have the better starting pitcher by a mile, the better offense, and a much better bullpen. You can bet on the spread if you want a lower price, but I’m laying it with the money line. Bet the Tigers to -180.

Projection: Tigers ML (-210)

The Pick: Tigers ML (-170) Risk 1.7 U to win 1 U

Minnesota Twins vs Kansas City Royals @ 4:10 PM EST

Pitching Matchup: Pablo Lopez vs Cole Ragans

Is Tarik Skubal is 1A, Pablo Lopez and Cole Ragans are 1B and 1C for me this season. I love all three pitchers, and it’s awesome that these two are facing off on Opening Day.

Considering that the Braves and Phillies game was postponed, this is the best pitching matchup on the board.

Pablo Lopez finished fifth in Major League Baseball last year in SIERA (Skill Interactive ERA). His 3.00 xERA was in the 93rd percentile in the league. He finished third in K-BB%, meaning he racks up the strikeouts without sacrificing walks. He finished seventh in CY Young voting, but deserved to finish even higher last year.

He faced the Royals on Opening Day last season and threw five scoreless innings while only allowing two hits. To their credit, the next time the Royals saw Lopez, they tagged him for six earned runs in four innings. Lopez turned around and threw a complete game shutout on his last go-around against them in 2023. Overall, he put up a 2.66 ERA in three games, with all the runs coming in one start.

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The Royals’ offense was 28th-ranked by wRC+ against right-handed pitching last season. It’s a team with a few talented players, but not enough to scare me against Lopez. Truthfully, most offenses don’t scare me against Lopez. The 28th ranked offenses definitely does not.

Cole Ragans is on the other side, and what a season he turned in. After the Rangers shipped him to the Royals for Aroldis Chapman, he found his velocity, and everything clicked. Look at how he fared in the second half of last year.

Cole Ragans: 71.2 IP, 2.64 ERA, 2.49 FIP, 2.4 fWAR, 31.1% K, 9.4% BB

Tarik Skubal: 72.1 IP, 3.11 ERA, 2.04 FIP2.9 fWAR, 32.3% K, 4.3% BB

Spencer Strider: 82 IP, 4.39 ERA, 2.90 FIP, 2.4 fWAR, 34.2% K, 7.1% BB

The Twins were a league-average offense against left-handed pitching last year, ranking 15th in wRC+ at 100. However, they struck out the fifth most against lefties, Cole Ragans specialty. The Twins haven’t seen him, so they are in for a rude awakening.

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The key for Ragans is to limit the walks. The Twins are a patient team, walking at the fourth-highest rate in baseball last year. As long as he can limit the free passes, he should carve through this twins lineup.

We are not dealing with a Twins bullpen without Jhoan Duran or a putrid Royals bullpen. We are sticking with the biggest edge in the game, the starting pitching matchup.

Kauffman Stadium ranks as Ballparkpal’s fourth-best stadium for pitchers on Opening Day. An overall -8% worse than average run environment with a -35% decrease in home runs, the lowest on the board. It’ll be challenging to hit for much power at Kauffman, which is great for the under.

They’ll have to earn their runs with hits, something I feel we’ll see very little of in the game’s early goings. This line has moved 20 cents since I bet it, but under four through the first five innings at -120 shows value as well.

You can bet under 4.5 up to -150 or under 4 up to -125. If you want a plus money wager, go with under 3.5 at +115 or better.

Projection: 3.3 Runs

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The Pick: First 5 Innings Under 4.5 (-140) Risk 1.4 U to win 1 U

Player Props

Garrett Crochet Under 4.5 Strikeouts (+125) Risk 0.5 U

Crochet has never started a big league game in his career. His 72 regular season appearances and 12 career minor league outings have all come as relievers. The last time he made a start was when he was at the University of Tennessee. Crochet is the first White Sox pitcher to make their first career MLB start on Opening Day since Roy Patterson in 1901.

This is the state of the 2024 Chicago White Sox.

Crochet has thrown 12.2 innings in spring training and has yet to exceed 3.2 innings. He did that in his last spring training start but allowed three runs on five hits with two strikeouts. Not one of his outings in spring training has he been able to exceed 4.5 strikeouts.

He does have a decently easy matchup when it comes to strikeouts. Last year, the Tigers struck out at the sixth highest rate in baseball. However, they were 16th in strikeout rate against lefties last season.

Based on Crochet’s 26.9% career strikeout rate, which is high, he’ll have to go four innings to get five strikeouts. I’ll tip my cap if he can do that at his first start in professional baseball without doing that in spring training. Take this to -105.

Projection: 4.3 Strikeouts

Nestor Cortes Jr Under 4.5 Strikeouts (+100) Risk 0.5 Units

As a Yankee fan, I love Nasty Nestor. However, I’ve been concerned with his spring training outings, and this is a terrible matchup for him to start the year. Nestor’s first start last year only garnered three strikeouts when he was completely healthy.

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He pitched to a 7.71 ERA in spring training. It’s not a big deal if your stuff looks good but you get hit. That’s spring training; guys are getting work in. However, when I see a velocity dip on both the cutter and the fastball (two of the most used pitches), I start to worry. Especially for a player who dealt with rotator cuff strains the year prior.

The Houston Astros struck out against lefties last year at an 18.2% clip, tied with the Nationals for the lowest rate in baseball. There must be something about hitting in Minute Maid Park, as that strikeout rate cut to 17.7%, the best in baseball. Against righties, that rate jumped to 20.5%, so it’s clear that they love facing lefties at home. Rarely any swing and miss.

Nestor has reached four innings in a start of all spring training. I don’t think he’s fully ready to shoulder a five-inning workload unless he completely cruises through this Astros lineup. I think that’s wishful thinking against the third best offense against lefties by wRC+ in 2023.

As a Yankee fan, I’ll be rooting for Nestor, but I don’t think he’ll get his strikeouts. Take this to -110.

Projection: 4.1 Strikeouts

Josiah Gray Under 5.5 Strikeouts (-110) Risk 0.5 Units

You’re probably seeing a theme here. Many of these strikeout totals are too high, especially when it’s expected that some of these pitchers will be on shorter leashes. Exhibit A was Padres vs. Dodgers. It was a low-scoring game, but both pitchers with elite strikeout stuff finished with three strikeouts each. Both pitchers got trounced in game two and went under their strikeout total.

I watched Josiah Gray pitch down in spring training with my own eyes. He looked pretty good against the Astros, albeit against a fraction of the Astros lineup. I came into the game low on Gray for 2024 and didn’t come out of it with a different opinion.

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This line is too high. Josiah Gray has failed to exceed 5.5 strikeouts in 10 of his last 12 games (4.2 strikeouts/game average). Over his final 20 starts of 2023, he was under this number 13 times averaging 4.8 strikeouts per game.

This line is inflated based on his spring training numbers and the fact that the Reds are a strikeout-prone team. He struck out 25 batters in 16 innings of work in spring training. He’s also facing a lineup that finished seventh in strikeout rate against righties last year.

This is a different Reds lineup. Matt McClain is excellent, but he did rock a 31.1% strikeout rate against righties last year. He’s out for the foreseeable future. Enter Jeimer Candelario, who only struck out at a 21.9% rate against righties.

Josiah Gray had a 20.5% strikeout rate (31st percentile) last season. In his first start last year, he had only four strikeouts. I’m not buying the elevated strikeout rate from spring training. Take this down to -120.

Projection: 4.6 Strikeouts

ICYMI: Here are the links to my MLB Futures