“The Empire Slate” is a weekly look at betting angles and trends involving New York sports.
The Yankees are off to the best start in baseball largely on the shoulders of a pitching staff that leads the majors in WAR (5.2 at FanGraphs) and leads the American League in fielding independent pitching (FIP), a statistic that isolates pitching from other areas of run prevention.
Still, just six weeks removed from a shortened spring training, Yankees management has to be careful not to push their starters too hard. That explains why they are inserting Luis Gil into their rotation for a spot start Thursday night, the first time they have used a sixth starting pitcher all season.
It comes amid a stretch of 23 games in 22 days and at the onset of an eight-game road trip, so it’s an opportune time to get the other starters an extra day of rest. The Yankees have been smart not to ask too much of their starters this season, which is also the product of having a trustworthy bullpen. The starters’ 152⅔ innings ranks 15th in MLB.
Gil’s spot start means a 22-8 Yankees team is an underdog to a 15-14 Chicago White Sox team Thursday, with the Bronx Bombers getting moneyline odds as good as +130 at Caesars, among other sportsbooks. If you’re looking for a decent price on the Yankees, this might be the best opportunity you’ll get for a while.
While Gil has been generally awful at Triple-A, posting a 9.54 ERA, his last start was a promising step forward, as he went five innings in a relatively efficient 78 pitches and struck out nine batters. He’s a talented 23-year-old pitcher with stuff good enough to miss major league bats (in the majors last year, he had a 3.07 ERA and 11.7 K/9).
Given Gil’s spotty performance so far, betting on the Yankees will make for a breath-holding experience, but remember, you also get an excellent bullpen and offense for the money.
Draft doings involve duos
The Jets and Giants achieved admirable symmetry in the NFL Draft.
The Jets’ first two picks were Cincinnati cornerback Sauce Gardner and Ohio State receiver Garrett Wilson. The Giants’ first two picks were Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux and Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal. See where we’re going with this?
For years to come, the talented, young players will be battling each other in practice, with Gardner and Wilson presumably jostling in the defensive secondary and Thibodeaux fighting through Neal’s pass blocking to try to get to the quarterback.
That, potentially, is a good bit of roster-building, and the fact that the Jets also were able to land Florida State edge rusher Jermaine Johnson II — a player some speculated might go above Thibodeaux — could provide another boost.
Most draft analysts seemed to like both teams’ selections on Day One.
It was such an impressive haul that the bookmakers took note by … oh wait. Apparently, the teams still have some work to do. The Jets are as high as 150/1 (at FanDuel) to win the Super Bowl. The Giants are as high as 100/1 (at BetMGM, among others).
Hey, the rebuild has to start somewhere, and this draft seemed like a solid one for both teams, neither of which was one transcendent player away from becoming contenders. Better to concentrate on variety and roster pieces that fit well together. Check on both accounts.
Rangers on the ropes
The return of Ryan Lindgren from a lower-body injury seemed to make an impact in the Rangers’ 5-3 win Wednesday night to avoid elimination in their first-round playoff series with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Lindgren slid back into the lineup with fellow defenseman Adam Fox to provide steadier play in the Rangers’ end of the ice, and he also chipped in three shots on goal, one of which went in.
The Rangers, still down 3-2 in the series, remain in a tight spot when the teams resume the series Friday night in Pittsburgh. But the bookmakers give the Rangers more than a puncher’s chance, particularly since Sidney Crosby’s availability for the Pens is somewhat in doubt. According to The Athletic, he was evaluated for a concussion after a hard hit from Jacob Trouba Wednesday.
The Rangers are slight road favorites Friday, with the moneyline ranging from -135 (at DraftKings) to -125 (at PointsBet and others). New York entered the series as a -110 to -115 favorite, so a loss in either of the next two games would be a blow to a franchise that took a major step forward this season.
For the adventurous and the true believers, there is a silver lining in all of this: The Rangers’ Stanley Cup odds now stand at a robust +2800 at DraftKings, ahead of only the Oilers, Wild, Bruins, Kings, Stars, and Capitals — the other teams on elimination’s doorstep.
Mets mound matters
On Monday, we explored the strength of the Mets’ pitching even in the absence of ace Jacob deGrom, which has made them a liability to the sportsbooks.
It looks like the timeline for deGrom’s return just got a lot clearer. General Manager Billy Eppler told reporters that deGrom has begun his throwing progression. That doesn’t mean he’ll be back in a few weeks. Remember, he’s just playing light catch for now and still hasn’t set foot on a pitcher’s mound.
But the news comes at a good time for the Mets, who have seen Tyler Megill show some signs of cooling off after a very fast start. If deGrom returns by the end of June, which seems to be the expectation, the Mets could get one of the biggest mid-season boosts in the game and they won’t have to give up any prospects to get it.
It’s a good season, so far, to root for the local baseball clubs.
Photo: Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY