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April 21, 2016

There are two picks tonight.

1: Take Toronto Blue Jays (-115) on the ML against Baltimore Orioles risking 3.45% to win 3%.
(Estrada and Tillman must start for wager to have action)

To say Chris Tillman has struggled against Toronto would be an understatement. This Blue Jays lineup has 58 hits against him in 158 at-bats with nearly half of them going for extra-bases! Toronto sluggers have hit 13 dingers against him and have a .383 on-base percentage when facing him! Whether it's been through hits or walks then, they've gotten on base and punished him big time. The fact that the likes of Encarnacion, Bautista and Donaldson have given him plenty of issues not to mention Ryan Goins and Kevin Pillar is problematic for him and the O's defense means he won't have the luxury of picking his battles and intentionally walking anyone. That's because the batter on deck usually has good numbers against him as well and by issuing free passes, he's only likely to compound his troubles. If the Blue Jays can avoid grounding out into double-plays, we believe they'll chase him out of the game as they often have in the past.

Marco Estrada on the other hand has kept a dangerous Baltimore lineup largely at bay in most of his previous starts against them. He was brilliant in his first outing of the season this year and was only troubled in the second appearance after taking an unfortune come-backer to his calf! He's shaken that off since and is fully healthy going into this game. The veteran righty has a solid 3.33 ERA and 0.945 WHIP against Baltimore and that has helped his team win 3 of 4 games against Buck Showalter's side.

The Blue Jays left 10 men on base in last night's game and will be more careful with runners in scoring position! Their failure to capitalize on so many opportunities cost them yesterday as a 'passed ball' in extra innings saw the Orioles win by the narrowest margin! Given that Baltimore is atop the AL East division and is the very team they are chasing, they'll want to get that all-important 'W' here and pull a full game back against their rivals. It's also worth noting that Toronto's first 17 games of the season are against division opponents and with this being #17, they have a chance to end this opening stretch with a winning record, given that they're currently 8-8 on the season! After this they have a series of non-divisional games and they won't face the O's until June! It's important for them to win this rubber match to close the gap against Baltimore especially since they have the edge in starting pitchers. The Orioles have lost 10 of the last 12 to Toronto when Tillman toes the rubber and that includes an 0-6 mark at Camden Yards! If John Gibbons' bullpen doesn't cost them the game, Toronto should build a healthy lead in the first 5 of 6 innings of this game! Back them at this short price.

2: Take Toronto Raptors -1 spread against Indiana Pacers for 3% of the bankroll.

The Raptors made a critical mistake in Game 1 of this series by allowing the Indiana Pacers to "steal" a game on the road and take home court advantage away from Toronto. Even though they managed to even up the series by taking Game 2, their loss in the first game has no doubt skewed public's perception. There was a reason why the Pacers were able to take game 1 of this series and that was due to all of the incredible pressure that was placed on the Raptors' shoulders. After being swept by the Wizards last season, they no doubt succumbed to the mental pressure of being installed as a hefty favorite on their home court. Expectations were too high and they crumbled under the weight. Their response to that performance in Game 2 was pivotal and with the monkey now off their back of picking up their first playoff 'W', we expect them to get back to playing the kind of basketball that got them the #2 seed!

It's worth reminding that the Raptors finished the season just 1 game behind Cavaliers for the #1 seed in the East and it's easy for people to forget just how good a team they are. This is a team that finished with a much better record than Pacers, while Indiana was fortunate to even make the playoff this season. Toronto is clearly the better team in this opening series and with a change of venue and away from the pressure of expectant home fans, the Raptors players should be able to play more loose and relaxed and that will give them an edge tonight.

Consider the fact that the Raptors not only won the season series against Indiana but also against every other East playoff team! They are clearly an elite team in not only the Eastern Conference but the league in general. They are 16-7 against teams with winning records in the second half of the season! The Pacers on the other hand are a team that seemingly crumbles when they take a step up in competition as evidenced by their unimpressive 8-14 record against teams with winning records in the second half of the season. These two teams should not be considered in the same class but the spread is basically a pick'em due to the venue change. Given that Toronto needs to only win the game and we don't have to worry about them covering any kind of point spread, our interests are aligned with the team and the coaching staff and what is the better team, no matter what statistics or standings are looked at.

Given how much Jonas Valanciunas had hurt the Pacers on the inside in the first two games of the series, he can no longer be ignored. Indiana is going to need to come up with an answer for him and that means they are going to be double-teaming him or bringing in help defense and pay more attention to him. When they do that, it is going to open up space for DeRozan and Lowry and the 3-point shooters on this roster to do damage. There is no question that DeRozan has been kept in check so far this series but could be due for a big game! For an All-Star player that is right up there among league leaders in going to the free-throw line, he did not shoot a single foul shot in the last game! We expect both him and Lowry to fare better than they have in the first 2 games if Pacers decide to focus on Valanciunas.

The other issue is it's not just Valanciunas but also Bismack Biyombo who's capable of doing damage against the undersized Ian Mahinmi. Biyombo is in fact a better rim-protector and an excellent shot-blocker and rebounder including offensive boards! Simply put, the Pacers have to 'pick their poison' as the Raptors enjoy a matchup advantage not only in the guard positions but also in the 'Center' spot as well and we believe that is too tall of a task for them to overcome.

The Raptors squad is the healthiest it has been all season long and that is a big advantage for them. Top perimeter defender, DeMarre Carroll missed much of the season with injuries and they often had others joining him on the sidelines. Carroll will be back in the lineup tonight as well as Terrence Ross, who has been cleared from concussion protocol as well. Toronto has everyone available to them and that gives coach Dwane Casey options as far as tactical adjustments/versatility and which players he wants on the court at any given time based on what they each bring to the table.

The Pacers on the other hand have a couple of banged up players. Starting Center, Mahinmi has had lower back issues and although he will play, he's not at 100%. Keep in mind he was not effective against Toronto's front-court even when fully healthy. Myles Turner could play a big role tonight but as a rookie, he's made some costly mistakes. Jordan Hill would have been useful but given how little Frank Vogel has played him in recent games, he won't be in ideal game shape. Keep in mind that Toronto has won 20 of 28 games this season following a double-digit victory! The Raptors will be motivated to take back home court advantage which puts the Pacers in a less than ideal spot. There is great value in backing the better team at this incredibly short price.

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