If I were to tell you that the Los Angeles Angels had an AL MVP candidate this season, obviously you would think of reigning MVP Mike Trout. But have you seen what three-time NL MVP Albert Pujols has been up to lately? Entering Wednesday, he's hitting a very nice .277 with 23 homers (first in AL) and 47 RBIs, while ranking second in the AL in slugging (.581). In June, Pujols is batting .355 with 12 homers and 24 RBIs and clearly will win the league's hitter of the month award. Pujols still has the worst contract in baseball, but it's nice to see him having a strong season at age 35. Pujols is +1000 to lead the majors in homers in 2015.
Orioles at Red Sox (-125, 8.5)
Don't expect to see Orioles All-Star center fielder Adam Jones back for this one. Jones hasn't played since Sunday with a shoulder injury and is targeting Friday. He's hitting .298 with 10 homers and 36 RBIs. Should make things easier for Red Sox rookie left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez (3-1, 3.13), who has been a huge bright spot in his five career starts this season. He did face the Orioles, who traded him to Boston last summer, on June 9 and shut them out on three hits over six innings. Miguel Gonzalez (5-4, 3.33) comes off the disabled list for Baltimore. He hasn't pitched since June 9 due to a groin injury. He is 1-0 with a 4.11 ERA in three starts vs. Boston this season. Hanley Ramirez is 3-for-7 with two homers and four RBIs off him.
Key trends: The Orioles are 8-1 in Gonzalez's past nine on Thursday. The Sox are 2-6 in their past eight in Game 3 of a series. The "over/under" has hit under in 11 of Gonzalez's past 13 on the road. The under is 6-2-1 in his past nine vs. Boston.
Early lean: Red Sox and under.
Mets at Brewers (+122, 7.5)
New York has lost excellent young catcher Travis d'Arnaud back to the disabled list. He suffered a hyperextended left elbow in a tag play at the plate against Atlanta earlier this week. D'Arnaud previously spent seven weeks on the DL recovering from a broken right pinkie and bone bruise in his wrist. In 71 at-bats, d'Arnaud is hitting .296 with four homers and 17 RBIs. New York starts Jacob deGrom (7-5, 2.34) here. He has allowed just three runs and nine hits over 14.1 innings in his past two starts but has gotten no support as the Mets have lost both. He beat the Brewers on May 16, allowing one run over six innings. Ryan Braun is 0-for-7 off him. Milwaukee rookie Taylor Jungmann (2-1, 3.50) has made three starts this season and they have gotten worse each time out. No Mets have seen him.
Key trends: The Mets are 1-4 in deGrom's past seven on Thursday. The over is 7-1 in deGrom's past eight vs. teams with a losing record.
Early lean: Mets and under.
Dodgers at Cubs (-130, TBA)
I'm starting to believe in the Cubs and think they will at least be a wild-card team this season, probably a year ahead of schedule. They could potentially go for a four-game sweep on Thursday if they win Wednesday. The Cubs won low-scoring games against Dodgers aces Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke to start this week. That's impressive. Have to like Chicago's chances here behind lefty Jon Lester (4-5, 3.80). After a rough patch, Lester has allowed just two earned runs and eight hits over 13.1 innings over his past two outings. Howie Kendrick has seen him the most of any current Dodger, going 6-for-23 with three doubles and three RBIs. Carlos Frias (4-5, 4.68) gets the call for the Dodgers. They have lost his past two and Frias has allowed 10 runs over 10.2 innings. Very few Cubs have faced him.
Key trends: The Dodgers are 1-5 in Frias' past six vs. teams with a winning record. The Cubs are 4-1 in Lester's past five at home. The under is 5-0-1 in his past six at Wrigley.
Early lean: Cubs.
Padres at Giants (-115, 7)
The Padres won the bidding for James Shields this winter, signing him for $75 million, which is actually pretty reasonable. Already you are hearing the Padres might listen on him if things don't get turned around. The Cubs, who also bid for Shields, would certainly be open to a trade. Shields (7-1, 3.75) takes the mound here and he comes off his first career NL loss, allowing four runs over six innings in Arizona. It was his third straight start the Padres lost. He beat the Giants early this season, allowing one run over seven innings. Buster Posey is 0-for-7 against him. Gregor Blanco 4-for-9 with three RBIs. The Giants' Chris Heston (7-5, 3.83) has just been OK since his no-hitter, allowing six runs in 10.2 innings over two stats. The Padres beat him on May 6 as Heston allowed five runs and 11 hits over five innings. Yonder Alonso is 2-for-3 with a double and RBI off him.
Key trends: The Padres are 4-1 in Shields' past five vs. teams with a winning record. The Giants have lost seven straight in Game 3 of a series. The over is 7-2 in Heston's past nine. It is 7-1 in Shields' past eight vs. teams with a winning record.
Early lean: Padres and under.
Reds at Pirates (-160, 7.5)
Cincinnati is expecting to have back stellar closer Aroldis Chapman (15 saves, 2.01 ERA) off the paternity leave list Thursday. He has allowed just one run over his last eight opportunities with six saves during that stretch. Anthony DeSclafani (5-5, 3.48) starts for the Reds. He is 0-1 with a 4.09 ERA in two starts this season against the Pirates. Pedro Alvarez is 3-for-6 with a homer and two RBIs off him. Gregory Polanco is 3-for-5 with a double. Pittsburgh's A.J. Burnett (6-3, 2.05) comes off his worst outing, allowing four runs and a whopping 14 hits (career high) over 6.2 innings in a loss to Washington. He is 1-0 with a 2.92 ERA in two starts this year vs. Cincinnati. Jay Bruce can't hit the guy, going 3-for-31 with 11 strikeouts. Joey Votto hits .308 with a homer and six RBIs in 26 at-bats.
Key trends: The Reds are 1-4 in DeSclafani's past five on the road. The Pirates are 3-7 in Burnett's past 10 at home vs. teams with a losing record. The under is 14-2 in Burnett's past 16 at home vs. teams with a losing record.
Early lean: Pirates and over.
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