Could be a wild day at Wrigley Field on Friday afternoon as the Cubs' magic number to clinch their first playoff berth since 2008 was at two entering Thursday. Chicago was off Thursday, so if the San Francisco Giants were to lose on Thursday night in San Diego, the Cubs could clinch simply with a victory on Friday. If the Giants win, then the Cubs can't do it in front of the fans and would have to potentially wait until San Francisco's result on Friday night. Pittsburgh just clinched its third consecutive playoff berth on Wednesday night. .Oddly, it was also the third straight year the Pirates did it on Sept. 23. They are one of three teams to reach the playoffs each of the past three seasons, and they have now reached the postseason in three consecutive seasons three times in franchise history, also in 1970-72 and 1990-92.
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Pirates at Cubs (-119, TBA)
This is your lone matinee and will have live betting at sportsbooks as it's televised by the MLB Network. Big series here as really the Cubs have to take two of three at a minimum to have any shot of overtaking the Pirates for the top wild-card spot. They probably need a sweep. And the next time the Cubs see Pirates ace Gerrit Cole, who starts on Friday, would be that wild-card game. Cole (17-8, 2.64) is going to come up short in his bid for 20 wins. He took a no-decision vs. the Cubs on Sept. 16, allowing three earned in six innings. He is 6-1 lifetime against the Cubs, including 4-1 in Wrigley Field. Anthony Rizzo hits .357 off him in 14 at-bats. Starlin Castro is 6-for-16 with four RBIs. Cubs lefty Jon Lester (10-11, 3.46) dominated the Pirates on Sept. 15, throwing a complete game and allowing one run and five hits. Andrew McCutchen is just 1-for-10 career off him. Starling Marte is 3-for-7 with a double.
Key trends: The Pirates are 10-1 in Cole's past 11 on Friday. The Cubs are 5-2 in Lester's past seven at home. The "over/under" has gone under in seven straight Pirates games vs. a lefty. The under is 10-1-1 in Lester's past 11 vs. teams with a winning record. Pittsburgh is 4-1 in Cole's past five at the Cubs.
Early lean: Cubs and under no matter the number.
Braves at Marlins (-225, 6.5)
Expect to see Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman back in the starting lineup Friday. He didn't start Wednesday against the Mets due to a wrist injury, but hit a pinch-hit two-run double, then remained in the game and hit the game-winning three-run homer in the ninth inning. The Braves need all the help they can get against Marlins ace Jose Fernandez (5-0, 2.18), who is simply unbeatable at home. With a victory, Fernandez would set a major-league record for most home wins without a loss to begin a career. He's currently 16-0 with a 1.11 ERA in 25 career starts at Marlins Park. Freeman is 3-for-12 with a homer off him career. Andrelton Simmons is 2-for-10 with a double. The Braves go with rookie Ryan Weber (0-1, 3.26). He hasn't faced the Marlins in his three career big-league starts.
Key trends: The Marlins are 7-0 in Fernandez's past seven at home vs. teams with a losing record. They are 0-5 in his past five on Friday. The over is 6-0 in Fernandez's past six on Friday.
Early lean: Fernandez gets the record. Take Marlins on runline and under.
Twins at Tigers (-116, 8.5)
Will Detroit have Miguel Cabrera back in the lineup here? He has been dealing with a back injury for a little bit and got Wednesday off. Cabrera looks tired and beaten up, hitting just .193 over his past 16 games without a homer. This is a series the Twins need to sweep and they could find themselves in the wild-card lead (for second spot) by Sunday if they do. Minnesota starts Mike Pelfrey (6-10, 4.16) here. He has a 7.23 ERA over his past five starts. He is 1-2 with a 4.19 ERA in three starts vs. Detroit in 2015. Cabrera is 6-for-26 off him. Ian Kinsler is 4-for-16 with two doubles and a homer. Detroit rookie lefty Matt Boyd (1-5, 7.40) hasn't won since Aug. 5, his first start with Detroit since coming over from Toronto. Boyd hasn't faced Minnesota.
Key trend: The Twins are 1-5 in Pelfrey's past six series openers. The Tigers are 1-5 in Boyd's past six vs. teams with a winning record. The over is 4-0-1 in Pelfrey's past five.
Early lean: Tigers and over.
Rays at Blue Jays (-163, 8.5)
The Jays did enough in their big series with the Yankees to open this week, taking two of three, to all but assure they win the AL East. This game starts their final home series of the regular season. Toronto can still catch Kansas City for the top seed in the AL as well. Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (10-11, 4.05) goes for Toronto. He is 0-3 with a 4.94 ERA this year against Tampa Bay. Asbrubal Cabrera is 6-for-16 with two homers and five RBIs off him. Tampa Bay has won the past three starts of Jake Odorizzi (8-8, 3.38). He is 1-1 with a 5.11 ERA in two starts vs. Toronto. Jose Bautista is 0-for-11 with four strikeouts off him. Josh Donaldson is 1-for-6 with a dinger.
Key trends: The Rays are 0-4 in Odorizzi's past four road starts vs. teams with a winning record. The Jays are 10-2 in Dickey's past 12. The under is 8-3 in Odorizzi's past 11 vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 5-1 in Dickey's past six in Game 1 of a series.
Early lean: Jays and over.
Rangers at Astros (-142, 8.5)
This game is on ESPN2 and will have live betting at sportsbooks. Clearly the series of the weekend. If Texas takes even two of three, the AL West race is over. Houston still is dealing with the Angels and Twins for that second wild-card spot. The Rangers start Yovani Gallardo (12-11, 3.41). He is 0-2 with a 7.71 ERA in his last two starts. Gallardo is 2-1 with a 6.14 ERA vs. the Astros this season. Colby Rasmus is 7-for-22 off him with two homers. Luis Valbuena is 9-for-28 with three doubles. Astros lefty Scott Kazmir (7-10, 2.73) has just two wins with Houston since coming over from Oakland. He's 0-1 with a 4.71 ERA this month. Kazmir is 2-1 with a 1.60 ERA this year vs. Texas. Mitch Moreland is 3-for-8 with a homer off him. Adrian Beltre hits just .208 with 13 strikeouts in 48 at-bats off Kazmir.
Key trends: The Rangers are 6-1 in their past seven against a lefty. Houston is 0-6 in Kazmir's past six on five days of rest. The under is 8-0 in Gallardo's past eight during Game 1 of a series.
Early lean: Astros and under.
Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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