If the slumping Kansas City Royals aren't careful, they are going to lose the top seed in the American League playoffs. They seem to have taken their foot off the gas way too early. Entering Tuesday, they had lost eight of 10 and are just 4-9 in September. In the first half of the season, the Royals allowed 3.69 runs per game. In the second half, they've allowed 4.44 runs per game. In September, they've allowed 6.62 runs per game. Those struggles don't bode well for winning the World Series. Since 2010, 46 teams have made the postseason. The nine that finished .500 or worse in September went 19-29 in the playoffs and none reached the World Series.
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Royals at Indians (-140, 7.5)
Cleveland is finally starting to play to expectations, digging out of a huge hole and at .500 entering Tuesday, but it's probably too late with the Tribe 4.5 games out of the second wild-card spot and still also having to jump the Angels and Twins. Look out for Cleveland next year, however. The Indians go with Danny Salazar here. Salazar (12-8, 3.57) has had a 6.23 ERA over his past four starts. He made consecutive starts vs. Kansas City early in the year, allowing eight earned runs in 13 innings. Eric Hosmer is 7-for-15 with two homers and five RBIs against him. Mike Moustakas is 3-for-17 with a homer. Royals lefty Danny Duffy (7-7, 4.14) hasn't won since Aug. 25. He has made one start vs. Cleveland this year and lasted just one inning, allowing four runs and six hits. Carlos Santana is 8-for-20 with a homer and two RBIs off him.
Key trends: The Royals are 1-4 in Duffy's past five on the road. The Indians are 4-1 in Salazar's past five at home vs. teams with a winning record. The "over/under" has gone under in 13 of Duffy's past 16. The over is 6-1 in Salazar's past seven vs. K.C.
Early lean: Indians and over.
Cubs at Pirates (+117, 7)
This is your ESPN Wednesday night game and thus will have live betting at sportsbooks. Should be a terrific matchup. The Cubs' Jake Arrieta (19-6, 1.99) looks to continue his Cy Young push. He held the Phillies to one earned last time out. He has won each of his past eight starts and has allowed more than one run just once in that stretch. Arrieta is 2-1 with a 0.86 in three starts this year against the Bucs. Andrew McCutchen is 8-for-18 off him with two doubles. Neil Walker is 2-for-20. Pittsburgh's A.J. Burnett (8-5, 3.14) returned from the DL last Thursday and was OK, allowing three runs in five innings vs. Milwaukee. He is 1-0 with a 0.69 ERA in two starts this year vs. Chicago. Starlin Castro hits .471 career off him with four RBIs. Anthony Rizzo is 6-for-25 with two homers.
Key trends: The Cubs are 14-2 in Arrieta's past 16 on the road. The Pirates are 7-2 in Burnett's past nine vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 8-3-1 in Arrieta's past 12. The over is 5-0 in Burnett's past five.
Early lean: Cubs and under.
Astros at Rangers (+131, 8.5)
Houston is not going to have outfielder Carlos Gomez at all for this huge series. He hasn't played since Sunday with a back problem. Gomez has been a disappointment since coming over from Milwaukee at the deadline, batting .234 with four homers and 13 RBIs. Houston starts lefty Dallas Keuchel (17-7, 2.22) as he continues his Cy Young push. He lost for the first time in more than a month last time out despite not allowing any earned runs at the Angels. Keuchel is 1-0 with a 1.23 ERA in two starts this season vs. Texas. He's 13-0 at home, but on the road he's 4-7 with a 3.13 ERA. Adrian Beltre is 8-fof-35 off him with four extra-base hits. Elvis Andrus hits only .194 against Keuchel. Texas counters with lefty Martin Perez (2-5, 5.43). He is just 1-3 with a 5.64 ERA in his past four outings but has a 2.17 ERA in four career starts vs. Houston. Chris Carter is 6-for-13 with two homers off him.
Key trends: The over is 5-0 in Keuchel's past five at Texas. Houston is 5-2 in his past seven vs. Texas.
Early lean: Astros and over.
Tigers at Twins (-155, 8.5)
I still can't believe the Twins are right in the wild-card mix. Team is doing it with mirrors -- and superstar rookie Miguel Sano. Minnesota remains without closer Glen Perkins, but he is hoping to be available come Friday. The Twins start Ervin Santana (5-4, 4.73) in this one. He has won three straight starts, going at least seven in each. He has faced the Tigers once this year, allowing six runs and eight hits over four innings on July 10. Victor Martinez is 10-for-25 career off him with two homers and five RBIs. Detroit was to start Anibal Sanchez here, but his season is now likely over after his shoulder flared up during Monday's bullpen session. So it's lefty Daniel Norris (2-2, 4.43). Norris has been on the DL since Aug. 20 with an oblique injury. He hasn't faced the Twins in 2015.
Key trends: The Tigers are 1-7 in their past eight in Game 3 of a series. The over is 4-0 in Santana's past four at home.
Early lean: Twins and over.
Reds at Giants (-162, 7.5)
Keep an eye on the status of Cincinnati speedster Billy Hamilton. He left Monday's game with a shoulder injury. It was the same shoulder Hamilton injured in August, which caused him to land on the DL. Might as well shut him down for the year -- at this point it benefits the Reds to lose as much as possible to improve draft position. The Reds start Michael Lorenzen (4-8, 5.45) here. They have won his past three, although he hasn't been very good in them. The Giants go with Jake Peavy (6-6, 4.15). He hasn't lost at home since July 8 and is 4-2 with a 3.46 ERA there in 2015. It's his first start this season against Cincinnati.
Key trends: The Reds are 1-4 in Lorenzen's past five on the road. The Giants are 11-1 in Peavy's past 12 vs. teams with a losing record. The under is 10-2 in Peavy's past 12 on four days of rest.
Early lean: Giants and under.
Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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