I, like most Americans, prefer offense. I think that's why hockey and soccer struggle a bit in this country. There just isn't much scoring; even though I'm a big fan of both sports. But sometimes, a pitchers' duel is baseball beauty. And we get one on Friday (actually a few) in the clear marquee game of the night in Pittsburgh as the Los Angeles Dodgers make their only visit of the season. It will be televised by ESPN and thus have live betting at sportsbooks. It also could be a preview of a Game 1 of a playoff series as the Pirates are atop the NL wild-card standings, and the Dodgers are going to win the NL West even though the Giants are hanging around. It's the first time Pittsburgh and Los Angeles have played this season.
Dodgers at Pirates (+127, 6)
It's All-Stars and Cy Young candidates Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers and Gerrit Cole of the Pirates. The lefty Kershaw (9-6, 2.37) extended his scoreless streak to 37 innings Saturday against the Angels, throwing eight shutout innings and allowing only two hits. Kershaw hasn't given up a run since Wilmer Flores' RBI single for the Mets on July 3 at Dodger Stadium. He is the first pitcher since Luis Tiant in 1972 to produce multiple single-season scoreless streaks of at least 37 innings as he had a 41-inning streak last season. Kershaw is also the first pitcher since Orel Hershiser in 1988 to have four consecutive starts of at least eight scoreless innings. Finally, he can tie a franchise record of six 200-strikeout seasons in this one, currently held by Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. Kershaw has 192. Cole (14-5, 2.29) for some reason struggles against the Reds with a 6.09 ERA against them this season (three losses) but it's 1.91 against everyone else. Cole hasn't allowed more than three earned runs in a game since June 24, when he allowed five earned runs, of course, to the Reds.
Key trends: The Dodgers are 8-3 in Kershaw's past 11 road starts vs. teams with a winning record. The Pirates are 7-0 in Cole's past seven at home vs. teams with a winning record. The "over/under" has gone under in seven straight Kershaw starts. The under is 5-2-1 in Cole's past eight at home vs. teams with a winning record.
Early lean: Umm, under! Take the Dodgers.
Astros at A's (-120, 6.5)
If Kershaw and Cole weren't facing off, this pitching matchup would be the marquee one of the night as it's All-Stars and AL Cy Young candidates. The leader for the latter is likely Houston's Dallas Keuchel (13-5, 2.35). He had a shaky outing on July 26 in Kansas City but was back to normal last time out against Arizona, allowing two runs over six innings. The guy has gone at least six innings in a pretty incredible 33 straight starts, the longest in Astros history and currently in MLB. Keuchel is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in two starts against Oakland this season. Coco Crisp (if he plays as he was scratched Wednesday with neck stiffness) is 7-for-19 with three doubles off him. Brett Lawrie is just 2-for-15. It's Sonny Gray (11-4, 2.12) for Oakland. The A's have won his past three, and he has allowed only three runs over his past 23 innings. He has faced Houston once in 2015, allowing three runs over five innings on May 19. Jose Altuve is 5-for-14 off him. Colby Rasmus is 2-for-6 with a double and RBI.
Key trends: The Astros are 8-0 in Keuchel's past eight on five days of rest. They are 1-5 in his past six on the road. The A's are 2-5 in Gray's past seven at home vs. teams with a winning record. The over is 5-1 in Keuchel's past six vs. teams with a losing record. The Astros are 6-0 in his past six against Oakland.
Early lean: Under! Take Oakland.
Mets at Rays (+107, 6.5)
New York can do no wrong right now and brings an MLB-best six-game winning streak into this one. And it's another fine pitching matchup. With all due respect to Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard, the Mets' ace right now is Jacob deGrom and he goes here. DeGrom (10-6, 2.09) hasn't lost since July 2. He has allowed only four earned runs over his past four starts. He's No. 2 in the majors in ERA and third in opponents' batting average at .199. DeGrom has never faced the Rays. It's Jake Odorizzi (6-6, 2.86) for Tampa. He has given up six earned over his past three starts and is 3-2 with a 1.41 ERA at home this season. Odorizzi has never faced the Mets. Reminder that New York will add the DH in this interleague game.
Key trends: The Mets are 5-1 in deGrom's past six on the road. The Rays are 5-2 in Odorizzi's past seven against teams with a winning record. The under is 6-0 in the Mets' past six following an off day. The under is 5-1 in Odorizzi's past six at home vs. teams with a winning record.
Early lean: Under again! Go Mets.
Marlins at Braves (+132, 6)
Miami's season is lost, but I look for a bounce back next season for the Marlins because ace Jose Fernandez (4-0, 2.13) looks back to pre-Tommy John surgery form. And, of course, if Giancarlo Stanton can stay healthy, which he can't seem to do; he remains on the DL. Fernandez blanked the Padres on four hits over six innings last time out, but then again he's unbeatable at home. Literally. In two road starts this year he is 1-0 with a 3.46 ERA. First look at Braves in 2015. Atlanta's Julio Teheran (7-6, 4.59) has been inconsistent this season but is still only 24. Last time out he was good, allowing two runs over seven innings at the Phillies. Teheran is 1-0 with a 1.54 ERA in two starts this year against Miami. Dee Gordon is 5-for-14 off him. Christian Yelich is 6-for-20 with an RBI.
Key trends: The Marlins are 10-3 in Fernandez's past 13 vs. teams with a losing record. The Braves are 11-1 in Teheran's past 12 on Friday. The over is 4-1 in Fernandez's past five on the road. The over is 6-1-1 in Teheran's past eight vs. teams with a losing record.
Early lean: Trend here ... under. Take Atlanta.
Phillies at Padres (-169, 6.5)
Philadelphia could activate second baseman Chase Utley off the DL on Friday, assuming it didn't on Thursday (unlikely with a day game). He has been out since June 22 with an ankle injury. Utley has lost his starting job at second base so I could see him being an August trade possibility if he shows at least a little something and agrees to waive his no-trade clause. But Utley may want to finish his career as a Phillie. It's rookie Aaron Nola (2-1, 3.38) for the Phillies here. He remains on a bit of a pitch count as the Phillies are handling their future ace with kid gloves. This will be his first look at San Diego. The Padres' James Shields (8-4, 3.74) hasn't allowed more than three earned runs in any of his past four, but San Diego has lost three of them. He hasn't faced the Phillies this season. Utley, if he plays, is 2-for-6 with an RBI career off him.
Key trends: The Phillies have won six straight series openers. The Padres are 2-9 in Shields' past 11. The over is 4-0 in his past four series openers.
Early lean: Have to go under again. Take the Padres.
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