Obviously, Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz knows way more about baseball than I ever will. But sometimes I think guys in the media simply say things to get attention. And Smoltz may have done so this week when he told the New York Daily News that the current Mets rotation is "way better" than the 1990s Atlanta Braves group headed by Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Smoltz. The first two are already in Cooperstown, and Smoltz will be inducted on July 26. "They've got more talent than we could ever have," he said. Now, the talent part maybe. Glavine and Maddux didn't throw hard at all; they relied on smarts and movement. The Mets' youngsters of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz all are nasty. However, Harvey and deGrom already have had Tommy John surgery, and now Matz is out several weeks with a torn lat muscle. So let's wait at least five years before we start making comparisons to that Braves staff.
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Orioles at Tigers (-145, 8)
Detroit has no chance of catching Kansas City in the AL Central, so do you keep all your assets simply to try for that one-game wild card? Or should the Tigers, who have a pretty barren farm system, deal David Price by the July 31 deadline? I doubt he's back in Detroit next season. Price (9-2, 2.38) would certainly bring back at least one top prospect in any deal even though he will be a free agent. The Tigers have won his past four, and he was strong in his final pre-break start, not allowing an earned run over eight innings in Minnesota. The lefty hasn't faced Baltimore this season. J.J. Hardy hits him well, batting .333 in 36-bats. Adam Jones is 11-for-44 off him with 11 strikeouts. Matt Wieters is a career .366 hitter off Price in 41 at-bats. It looks like Baltimore's Chris Tillman (6-7, 5.40) is finding his form a bit as the O's have won six of his past seven outings. Victor Martinez is 4-for-10 with two RBIs off him.
Key trends: The Orioles are 7-2 in Tillman's past nine vs. the AL Central. They are 2-5 in Tillman's past seven following a quality start in his last appearance. The "over/under" has gone over in four of Tillman's past five vs. the Tigers.
Early lean: Tigers and under.
Dodgers at Nationals (+148, 6.5)
Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (6-6, 2.85) comes off a loss in the All-Star Game on Tuesday, but he only threw 22 pitches in his one inning, so he gets the call here. L.A. had lost four straight of his starts before Kershaw threw a masterpiece to close the first half, shutting out the Phillies on eight hits with a season-high 13 strikeouts. Originally Kershaw was penciled in for the series opener Friday, but L.A. played it safe and bumped him back a day. He hasn't faced Washington this season but is 7-2 with a 2.59 ERA career against the Nats. He befuddles Ian Desmond, who is 3-for-23 off him with seven strikeouts. Bryce Harper is 1-for-6 with a solo dinger. Washington's Doug Fister (3-4, 4.08) makes his first start since July 6, when he held the Reds to one earned over six innings. L.A.'s Howie Kendrick is 6-for-23 with two doubles and a homer off him.
Key trends: The Dodgers are 3-7 in Kershaw's past 10 on the road. They are 2-5 in his past seven vs. teams with a winning record. The Nats are 4-1 in Fister's past five on Saturday. The under is 5-0 in Kershaw's past five on Saturday. The over is 4-1 in Fister's past five at home vs. teams with a winning record.
Early lean: Dodgers and under.
Red Sox at Angels (-148, 7.5)
Apparently, Los Angeles will have closer Huston Street available if needed for a save in this game. Street injured his groin on July 8 and hasn't pitched
since. But he threw off flat ground on Thursday and was set to have a bullpen session Friday. Assuming no setbacks, he will be available Saturday. Street
has 24 saves and a 2.27 ERA. The Halos start Garrett Richards (9-6, 3.53). His streak of five straight quality starts ended last time out, allowing four
runs and a season-high 12 hits in Seattle. Richards pitched in Boston on May 22 and allowed five runs and nine hits in six innings. Mike Napoli is having a
lousy season but is 5-for-9 with two homers and four RBIs off Richards. Boston's Rick Porcello (5-9, 5.90) was hit hard by the Angels opposite
Richards on May 22, allowing seven runs in 4.1 innings. He generally has alternated good starts with lousy ones this year. Mike Trout is 6-for-18 with a homer and seven RBIs off him.
Key trends: Boston is 1-5 in Porcello's past six vs. teams with a winning record. The Angels are 13-3 in Richards' past 16 at home vs. teams with a losing record. The under is 7-0 in L.A.'s past seven at home (entering Friday).
Early lean: Angels and over.
Cubs at Braves (+135, 7)
Chicago has lost starting catcher Miguel Montero for up to six weeks with a thumb injury, so the team has recalled its top prospect, catcher Kyle Schwarber, from Triple-A, which he was tearing up, and it looks like he now may be up for good. He's not ready to be a big-league catcher yet but can rake. He was up briefly early this season and played DH, going 8-for-22 with a homer, six RBIs and six runs scored. Schwarber was sent down, presumably until September, to work on his catching, but the Cubs are in playoff mode and need him now. You might see him play some left field as well. Schwarber probably won't be behind the plate on Saturday because usually David Ross is the personal catcher of starter Jon Lester (4-8, 3.59). He hasn't won in his past 10 starts. Nick Markakis has seen him more than any Brave, going 17-for-73 with six doubles and 17 strikeouts. It's young lefty Manny Banuelos (1-0, 0.75) for Atlanta. This might be his final start of the year as he is nearing his season innings limit when you include the minors; he would go to the bullpen. Banuelos has pitched only 12.0 big-league innings and has never faced the Cubs.
Key trends: The Cubs are 6-2 in their past eight vs. a lefty. The Braves are 4-1 in their past five at home against a southpaw. The under is 5-0 in Atlanta's past five against a lefty.
Early lean: Cubs and under.
Rangers at Astros (-125, 8.5)
Houston gets back one of its rotation members Saturday in Scott Feldman, but the team is still going to trade for a starting pitcher because Feldman is a No. 4 or No. 5 guy at best. Feldman (4-4, 4.80) hasn't pitched in the majors since May 26 due to a knee injury. He did face Texas on May 5 and was rocked for six runs and nine hits in three innings. Prince Fielder is 4-for-13 with two doubles, a homer and seven RBIs off him. Elvis Andrus is a .375 hitter vs. Feldman in 24 at-bats. The Rangers' Colby Lewis (8-4, 4.77) bounced back from allowing 10 runs in four innings vs. the Angels to close the first half by allowing three runs in seven against the Padres. He is 1-0 with a 2.93 ERA in two starts this year vs. Houston. Colby Rasmus is 5-for-12 with a homer off him.
Key trends: Texas is 1-6 in Lewis' past seven vs. the AL West. Houston is 5-2 in Feldman's past seven vs. teams with a losing record. The over is 6-1 in Lewis' past seven vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 4-1 in Feldman's past five vs. teams with a losing record. The Rangers are 5-0 in Lewis' past five in Houston.
Early lean: Rangers and over.
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