It's the time of year where you shouldn't just be paying attention to the good teams in the standings -- i.e. the AL East and West races and AL wild-card chase, etc. (not much drama in NL) -- but also what the worst teams are doing in an effort to land the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft. There are no projected superstars in that draft like a Bryce Harper or Kris Bryant, but it's reportedly a deep Top 10 group of guys. Entering Wednesday, the Phillies have a 1.5-game "lead" over Atlanta for the worst mark in the majors, and it's going to come down to one of those two teams. The Phils need all the help they can get, but the Braves are going to be quite good likely as soon as 2017 when they move into their new stadium with a ton of young pitching prospects. Also, you want to finish with one of the 10 worst records so you don't have to give up your first-round pick if you sign a top free agent.
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Cubs at Pirates (-132, 8)
This very early start (12:35 p.m. ET) will have live betting at sportsbooks as it's nationally televised by the MLB Network. And it could be a huge one for the Cubs if they can win Wednesday night's game. If that's the case, then a win here could get Chicago within two games for that top wild-card spot. But if the Pirates win Wednesday and here, you can pretty much lock the Cubs into that second spot. It's Kyle Hendricks (7-6, 4.08) for the Cubs. You can all but mark him down for at least three earned allowed and no more than six innings. He is 0-1 with a 5.56 ERA in three starts this year vs. Pittsburgh. Pedro Alvarez is 3-for-8 with a homer off him. It's Charlie Morton (9-7, 4.02) for the Cubs. Morton comes off a win over Milwaukee, allowing two runs over six innings. He hasn't faced the Cubs this year.
Key trends: The Cubs are 5-1 in Hendricks' past six with five days of rest. They are 7-2 in Hendricks' past nine. The Pirates are 1-7 in Morton's past eight on Thursday. The "over/under" is 8-2 in Hendricks' past 10 road starts vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 4-1 in Morton's past five. The over is 3-0-1 in his past four vs. the Cubs.
Early lean: Pirates and over.
Royals at Indians (-151, 7)
Cleveland gets back 2014 Cy Young winner Corey Kluber here as it tries to make a late, unlikely push to the second wild-card spot. Kluber (8-13, 3.41) hasn't pitched since Aug. 29 due to a hamstring injury but still is among the league leaders in innings, strikeouts and complete games. Kluber is 1-3 with a 4.34 ERA in four starts this year against Kansas City. Mike Moustakas hits .457 off him with a homer in 35 at-bats. Eric Hosmer is 10-for-37 with five doubles, three homers and 12 RBIs vs. Kluber. Kansas City's Yordano Ventura (11-8, 4.42) hasn't been sharp in his past two, allowing four earned in each and not lasting six innings. He is 0-1 with an 8.44 ERA in one start vs. the Tribe in 2015. Jason Kipnis is 4-for-18 with a homer off him. Carlos Santana has two blasts in 15 at-bats.
Key trends: The Royals are 6-1 in Ventura's past seven overall. The Indians are 4-1 in Kluber's past five at home vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 7-3 in Kluber's past 10 at home. The over is 4-0 in Ventura's past four vs. Cleveland.
Early lean: Indians and under.
Blue Jays at Braves (+203, 8.5)
This will be Toronto's final game outside the AL East the rest of the regular season. The Jays also start a nine-game homestand on Friday vs. Boston, so it might be easy to overlook a bad Braves team a bit. Marco Estrada (12-8, 3.31) gets the call here for the Jays. They have won his past three, but he has been homer-prone of late, allowing 10 of them over his past six outings. Atlanta's Andrelton Simmons is 3-for-4 with a triple off him. Cameron Maybin is 2-for-4 with a homer. The Braves' Matt Wisler (5-7, 5.60), one of those good young pitchers, had been temporarily relegated to the bullpen but was good in a start vs. the Mets last time out, allowing two runs in six innings. He has never faced the Jays, who are again without the DH.
Key trends: The Jays are 7-3 in Estrada's past 10 on the road. The Braves are 0-6 in Wisler's past six starts. The over is 6-2 in Wisler's past eight.
Early lean: Blue Jays and over.
Astros at Rangers (+102, 9)
Finale of this huge series; Texas, unbelievably, took over first place in the AL West with Tuesday's win. The Rangers start Colby Lewis (15-8, 4.45) here. Lewis comes off one of the best starts of his career, retiring the first 21 batters vs. Oakland and finishing with a complete-game two-hit shutout without a walk. Interesting because Lewis had been pretty terrible in his previous three starts. Lewis is 3-0 with a 4.40 ERA in four starts this year against Houston. Carlos Correa is 2-for-6 with two homers off him. Jed Lowrie is a career .348 hitter against him. Houston rookie Lance McCullers (5-5, 3.10) hasn't won since July 29. He is 0-2 with a 4.97 ERA in his past five outings.
Key trends: The Astros are 0-8 in McCullers' past eight on road. Texas is 7-1 in Lewis' past eight vs. Houston. The over is 4-0 in his past four against the Astros.
Early lean: Rangers and over.
Angels at Twins (-108, 8.5)
Huge, huge series begins here between AL wild-card contenders. The Twins could put a nail in the Angels' coffin with a four-game sweep, although I don't expect that. I don't think the Angels can afford anything worse than a split, and even that would be quite damaging. Lefty Hector Santiago (8-9, 3.21) gets the call for Los Angeles. The Angels have won his past two, and Santiago has allowed just two combined earned runs over 13 innings. Santiago hasn't faced the Twins this year. Aaron Hicks is 2-for-5 with two homers off Santiago. Twins lefty Tommy Milone (8-5, 3.73) was bombed last time out, allowing seven runs in 3.2 innings at the White Sox. He hasn't faced the Angels in 2015. Erick Aybar is 9-for-24 off him. Albert Pujols is 9-for-22 with seven doubles.
Key trends: The Angels are 1-7 in their past eight vs. lefties. The Twins are 7-1 in their past eight series openers. They are 5-2 in Milone's past seven at home. The over is 6-0 in Minnesota's past six on Thursday. The Angels are 9-1 in the past 10 meetings.
Early lean: Angels and under.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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