Did I pick the St. Louis Cardinals to win the NL Central? I did. But get off to a 20-6 start as they have entering Wednesday? Certainly not. Some stats I found about teams that begin a season winning 20 of their first 26 (makes that 1984 Tigers 35-5 start even more amazing): St. Louis is the 35th team to start with at least that many wins in the first 26, and 12 of the previous 34 won the World Series; seven more made the Fall Classic but lost; a total of 23 made the playoffs; only one team finished with a losing record (1912 Reds). The Cards are still only +600 third-favorites to win the pennant (no Adam Wainwright hurts) but -200 to take the NL Central. They will.
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Astros at Angels (+106, 7.5)
Will surprising Houston have George Springer for this series opener? He didn't play Wednesday as he was to go through a concussion test. He left Tuesday's game after colliding head-first with a padded wall in right field. Springer is hitting only .192 but has four homers, 12 RBIs and a crazy 10 steals. It's Collin McHugh (4-0, 3.41) on the mound for Houston. He had his worst outing of the season last time out, allowing four runs (all on solo homers) over seven innings against Seattle but won his 11th straight decision dating to last August. Albert Pujols is 3-for-10 with a homer and three RBIs off him. It's Hector Santiago (2-2, 3.14) for the Halos. He also had his worst outing of the season last time out, allowing four runs and nine hits over five innings against the Giants. Chris Carter is 4-for-8 with a dinger and four RBIs off him.
Key trends: Houston is 4-1 in its past five series openers. The Astros are 1-8 in the past nine at the Angels. The "over/under" has gone under in four or the past five meetings.
Early lean: How things have changed! The Angels are home dogs to Houston. Halos and over.
Rangers at Rays (-167, 7.5)
I'm not sure how often the Rays will be the biggest favorites on the board this season, but that's the case on Thursday behind ace Chris Archer (3-3, 1.64). Maybe there's a trend here as he comes off his worst start of the season, allowing four runs and six hits over six innings against Baltimore. He hadn't allowed an earned run in his previous four starts. Adrian Beltre is 1-for-9 with three strikeouts off him. Nick Martinez (2-0, 0.84) goes for Texas. He has allowed more than one earned run just once this season: last time out against Oakland he gave up two in six innings. Asbrubal Cabrera is 2-for-2 with a double off him.
Key trends: The Rangers are 5-0 in Martinez's past five starts. The Rays are 1-5 in Archer's past six series-opening starts. The under is 5-0 in his past five overall.
Early lean: Rangers and under.
Cubs at Cardinals (-117, 7.5)
St. Louis rallied from big deficits in the first two games of this series. That's why the Cardinals bug me. They really shouldn't be that good. No stars but also no easy outs and a solid pitching staff, even without Wainwright. John Lackey (1-1, 3.69) starts in Thursday's series finale. He allowed just a run and six hits over six innings last time out against Pittsburgh. Cubs catcher Miguel Montero is 3-for-6 with two doubles and two RBIs off him. With all due respect to Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta (3-2, 2.84) is the Cubs' ace right now, and he starts this one. Here we go again: Arrieta comes off his worst start of the season, allowing four runs and seven hits in five innings. Matt Adams is 5-for-12 with three RBIs against Arrieta.
Key trends: The Cubs are 6-2 in Arrieta's past six vs. the NL Central. The Cards are 8-1 in Lackey's past nine at home. The under is 5-0 in Lackey's past five at home.
Early lean: Cubs and under.
Padres at Diamondbacks (-103, 9)
This has the highest total on the board. Odrisamer Despaigne (2-0, 2.95) failed to make the rotation out of spring training but is filling in for the injured Brandon Morrow. Despaigne has been excellent in his two starts (six total appearances), allowing three total runs over 13.2 innings. On April 14 he faced Arizona and gave up a run and two hits over seven innings. Mark Trumbo is 4-for-11 with a double and three RBIs off him. It's former Red Sox Rubby De La Rosa (2-2, 5.40) for Arizona. He pitched in San Diego on April 13 and allowed three runs and six hits over six innings. The Snakes have lost his past three outings. Wil Myers is 4-for-7 with two doubles and two RBIs off him.
Key trends: The Padres are 1-7 in their past eight Thursday games. The under is 4-1 in Despaigne's past four vs. Arizona.
Early lean: Padres and over.
Marlins at Giants (-126, 7)
This is your latest-starting game at 10:15 p.m. ET and a matchup of veteran right-handers. Dan Haren (3-1, 2.70) comes off his best start of the season (there you go!), shutting out the Phillies over six innings on four hits. Buster Posey is 1-for-6 career off him with two strikeouts. Angel Pagan is 5-for-8 with a homer, double and triple. Haren is 6-6 with a 2.94 ERA in his career against the Giants. Tim Hudson (1-2, 3.78) gets the call for San Francisco. He allowed three runs on two hits over eight innings last time out vs. the Angels. Giancarlo Stanton is just 3-for-18 career off him with no homers and six strikeouts.
Key trends: The Giants are 7-1 in Hudson's past eight at home vs. teams with a losing record. The under is 6-1 in his past seven overall.
Early lean: Giants and under.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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