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Monday’s Interleague Baseball Preview & Double Best Bet

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Danny Duffy is quietly becoming a legitimate ace in Kansas City’s starting rotation. The talented southpaw is 2-1 with a 3.54 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in eight starts this season, including going 1-0 with a 3.45 ERA and 1.27 WHIP over his last three outings. I expect  Duffy to shine again in tonight’s interleague affair with the Cardinals.

Duffy currently ranks in the Top 10 in first-pitch strike rate, contact rate and in-zone contact rate. Those rankings indicate two things – Duffy is getting ahead in the count and batters are struggling to square up on his pitches in the zone.

Duffy has thrown 71% strikes through his first eight starts, while allowing 70.1% contact. The lefty is struggled recently, giving up a combined 4 home runs in his last two outings. However, Duffy is walking no one (6.7% BB%) and boasts a 15.9% swinging strike rate this season. His strikeout rate has also climbed in each of the past three months: 9.0 K/9 in April; 10.53 K/9 in May; and 11.89 K/9 in June.

Since entering the league in 2011, Duffy has posted a career 57% first-pitch strike rate, which is well below the MLB average of 60-61% over that span. Duffy’s first-pitch strike rate of 63.9% this season is a significant breakthrough in that the difference between 1-0 and 0-1 pitch counts is 223 points of OPS!

For Duffy, it has been an incredible 300 points over his career! Duffy’s fastball has been electric, yielding a .590 OPS in 2016 as compared to .778 last season and his .725 career rate. His slider has been equally impressive, garnering a strikeout rate exceeding 50% with a velocity topping out at 4 mph faster than in prior years.

In short, Duffy is posting a career-best Strike%, K%, BB% and Contact% as a starter in 2016. The 27-year-old is also supported by solid metrics: 3.90 FIP, 3.59 xFIP and a 3.11 SIERA. In the month of May, Duffy posted a 2.75 ERA and 2.73 FIP, together with a 29.5% K%, 3.9% BB% and 25.5% K-BB%.

Duffy is also 1-0 with a career 1.86 ERA and 0.93 WHIP versus the Cardinals, while the Royals are 23-9 in Duffy’s last 32 home starts and 4-1 in his last five home outings versus teams with a winning record.

Kansas City also possesses a very talented bullpen that owns a 2.81 ERA and 1.18 WHIP this season, including posting a 2.14 ERA and 0.98 WHIP over the last seven games. In contrast, St. Louis relievers have struggled against American League bats, posting a 5.33 ERA and 1.37 WHIP in 27 interleague innings this season. St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright has struggled away from home where he owns a 5.74 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in 2016.

Wainwright’s 5.02 FIP, 4.63 xFIP and 9.0% K-BB% further substantiate his struggles on foreign soil. However, I also like the UNDER 8.5 runs in this interleague game because, among other things, Wainwright is trending in the right direction, posting a 2.36 ERA and 2.38 FIP in June after garnering a 7.18 ERA and 5.30 FIP in April.

Both his strikeout numbers (4.55 K/9 in April to 8.44 K/9 in June) and K-BB% (2.4 in April to 17.0% in June) have improved as well. Wainwright is also 4-1 with a career 3.00 ERA and 1.05 WHIP versus the Royals.

The ‘under’ is 36-16-5 in the Cardinals’ last 54 interleague games and 7-3-1 in their last 11 games overall. The ‘under’ is also 6-0 in Wainwright’s last six starts on full rest and 4-1 in his last five road outings versus teams with a winning record. The ‘under’ is 17-6 in Duffy’s last 23 starts and 21-8-2 in his last 31 starts versus .501 or greater opposition.

Equally important is the the fact that the ‘under’ is 8-1-4 in the last 13 meetings in this series, including 4-0-2 in the last six meetings in Kansas City.

Finally, Kansas City is 37-15 in its last 52 home games, 42-16 in its last 58 home games versus right-handed starters, 20-7 in its last 27 interleague games versus right-handed starters, 11-3 in its last 14 games off a win and 23-9 in Duffy’s last 32 home starts. Take the Royals at an excellent price in this interleague affair and invest with confidence.