No doubt it will be a bittersweet return to San Francisco's AT&T Park on Friday night for St. Louis in the opener of a three-game series with the Giants. The last time the Cardinals visited there was Game 5 of last year's NLCS, which St. Louis was favored to win. However, the Giants finished it off with three straight home wins, capped by a walk-off series-winning three-run homer by Travis Ishikawa. It was the first game-winning homer to send the Giants into the World Series since a little thing called the "Shot Heard 'Round the World" by Bobby Thompson in a 1951 playoff. That might be the most famous homer in MLB history. Ishikawa was just a bit player on that team. He started this year on the Giants but was waived a few months ago and claimed by Pittsburgh.
Cardinals at Giants (+110, 6.5)
The guy Ishikawa hit that homer off of? The Cardinals' 2015 ace, Michael Wacha, and he starts here. Wacha hadn't pitched at all in last year's postseason until that ninth inning and had never made a big-league relief appearance. Former Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval singled to start the ninth. After an out, Brandon Belt walked to bring up Ishikawa, who crushed a 2-0 pitch. Not sure why Manager Mike Matheny used the rusty Wacha (hadn't pitched in three weeks or so) considering lefty Randy Choate was throwing and ready in the bullpen, as was right-hander Seth Maness. Wacha (15-4, 2.80) hasn't allowed more than two earned this season in five straight starts. He took a no-decision against the Giants on Aug. 18 despite allowing just a run in seven innings. The Giants' Mike Leake (9-6, 3.44), returned from the DL last time out and was sharp, allowing a run over six innings in Pittsburgh. His final start with the Reds before the trade deadline was throwing eight innings of shutout ball in St. Louis.
Key trends: The Cards are 6-0 in Wacha's past six road starts vs. teams with a winning record. The Giants are 2-6 in their past eight series openers. The "over/under" is 10-2 in Wacha's past 12 series openers. The over is 6-0-1 in the Giants' past seven Friday games.
Early lean: Cardinals and under.
Royals at Rays (-105, 7.5)
Tampa may have to put outfielder Desmond Jennings on the disabled list. He aggravated his surgically-repaired knee on Tuesday while running the bases. He has missed about 3 1/2 months this season because of that left knee. Jennings was reinstated from the 60-day disabled list on Aug. 14. Tampa goes with right-hander Erasmo Ramirez (10-4, 3.66) here. He hasn't faced the Royals this season and has a 2.55 ERA at home in 2015. Former Ray Ben Zobrist is 4-for-9 with two homers off him. Kansas City goes with Edinson Volquez (11-7, 3.40). He comes off perhaps his worst start of the season, allowing six runs and nine hits over 6.2 innings in Boston. He did avoid a loss, however. Tampa's Evan Longoria is 4-for-12 with three RBIs off him.
Key trends: The Royals are 5-0 in Volquez's past five series openers. The Rays are 6-0 in Ramirez's past six vs. teams with a winning record. The Royals are 18-5 in the past 23 meetings.
Early lean: Royals and under.
Orioles at Rangers (-140, 8.5)
Here's an important series with American League wild-card implications. Entering Thursday, the Rangers are a half-game behind Minnesota for the final spot and Baltimore is two back. Would appear to be a big pitching edge for Texas in the opener as it goes with lefty Cole Hamels (7-8, 3.82). He made his fourth start Sunday since coming over from the Phillies and got his first win as a Ranger, allowing two runs in six innings in Detroit. Baltimore's Gerardo Parra is 2-for-10 with an RBI off him. Adam Jones is 2-for-3 with an RBI. For the O's, it's Kevin Gausman (2-5, 4.30). They have lost his past four, although he has allowed more than three earned just once in that stretch. He shut out Texas over 6.1 innings on July 2 but took a no-decision.
Key trends: The Orioles are 0-6 in Gausman's past six against teams with a winning record. The Orioles have won four straight series openers. Baltimore has won six of its past seven at Texas.
Early lean: Rangers and over.
Yankees at Braves (+195, 7.5)
New York continues to have a solid lead for the top wild-card spot but has lost five of seven and stopped hitting as Toronto has pulled away in the AL East. The Bombers will lose the designated hitter for this series, meaning arguably their team MVP, Alex Rodriguez, has to take a seat. Masahiro Tanaka (9-6, 3.61) gets the call in the series opener. Be interesting to see him bat. Tanaka is 4-2 with a 1.66 ERA in six career Interleague starts but has never faced Atlanta. For the Braves, it's Williams Perez (4-4, 4.76). They have lost his past six and he has been hit around in four of those. Perez has a 6.12 ERA in four starts this month. He has never faced the Yankees.
Key trends: New York is 5-2 in Tanaka's past seven on the road. The Braves are 0-7 in their past seven vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 4-0 in Tanaka's past four interleague starts. The over is 5-1-1 in Perez's past seven vs. teams with a winning record.
Early lean: Yankees and under.
Astros at Twins (+130, 8)
Houston beat the Yankees on Wednesday for victory No. 71 on the season, already surpassing last year's total. With almost six weeks left on the schedule, the Astros already have achieved their best season since 2010. And they are going to be good for several years. Lefty Scott Kazmir (7-8, 2.39) goes for Houston in this series opener. His final start with Oakland before being traded to the Astros was against Minnesota and he held the Twins to a run over 8.1 innings. Brian Dozier is a career .154 hitter off him in 26 at-bats. Torii Hunter is 9-for-33 with a homer. The resilient Twins start Kyle Gibson (8-9, 3.96). He hasn't won since July 12 and has a 6.35 ERA this month. He hasn't faced Houston this year.
Key trends: Houston is 6-1 in its past seven following an off day. The Twins are 2-7 in Gibson's past nine in Game 1 of a series. The under is 5-1 in Kazmir's past six starts. The over is 8-2 in Gibson's past 10 on Friday.
Early lean: Astros and under.
Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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