Unfortunately, I never got to see Barry Bonds in person, so the greatest player I ever did see with my own eyes was certainly Alex Rodriguez. I not only saw him once with the Rangers and a couple of times with the Yankees but also one game in 1994 when he was playing for the Class A Appleton Foxes of the Midwest League. I'm no scout, but it was obvious this guy had superstar potential, and Rodriguez surpassed even the biggest of expectations as the No. 1 overall pick out of a Miami high school in the 1993 draft by Seattle. The Yankees return home on Friday, and it will be Rodriguez's final big-league game as he will retire and become the highest-paid special advisor in sports history. Barring an epic final game, Rodriguez will fall just short of becoming the fourth member of the 700-homer club. He also will fall short of the most homers by a shortstop, which is 345 by Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. Needless to say, if Rodriguez (who has 344 dingers playing short) didn't move to third base following his trade to the Yankees, he would have shattered Ripken's mark. Like Bonds, I doubt we see Rodriguez in Cooperstown in my lifetime as Rodriguez was caught twice cheating with performance-enhancing drugs.
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Cardinals at Cubs (-182, TBA)
The lone matinee of Friday with a 2;20 p.m. ET start from Wrigley in Game 2 of this series. The game should have live betting available with it on the MLB Network. The Cardinals go with Adam Wainwright (9-6, 4.34). He had been pitching much better of late, but that all came apart Sunday against Atlanta when he allowed six runs -- three in the first and second -- and nine hits in six innings in a loss. It was his first personal defeat since June 27. Wainwright is 1-0 with a 4.26 ERA in two starts this year against the Cubs. Anthony Rizzo is 11-for-35 career off him with a homer. Fellow NL MVP candidate Kris Bryant is 0-for-6. The Cubs' Jake Arrieta (13-5, 2.59) still has a chance to repeat as the NL Cy Young winner and might if he keeps pitching like he did Saturday in shutting out Oakland on three hits over eight innings. It was his first win since June 27. Arrieta is 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA in two starts this year vs. the Cards. He befuddles both Matt Carpenter (0-for-18) and Matt Holliday (1-for-18).
Key trends: The Cubs are 4-1 in Arrieta's past five at home vs. the Cardinals. St. Louis is 13-3 in Wainwright's past 16 at Chicago. The "over/under" has gone under in four of his past six vs. the Cubs.
Early lean: Cubs.
Rays at Yankees (+101, 8.5)
As I expected, this has been picked up for national TV and will be shown on Fox -- A-Rod joined Fox as an in-studio analyst in last year's playoffs and was actually quite good at it. I'm pretty sure the network will look to him again in the 2016 postseason. I'm really curious where Joe Girardi will play A-Rod. I would think he would want to play the field one last time unless he's worried about embarrassing himself without much practice in the field this year. It would be great to see Rodriguez at shortstop, but that's unlikely. He probably will just DH. A-Rod will be facing Rays ace Chris Archer (6-15, 4.26). He beat the Twins last time out, allowing one run and three hits over six innings in his best start in weeks. Archer lost his lone start vs. the Yankees this year, allowing four runs (one earned) over eight innings on May 27 in St. Petersburg. Rodriguez is 2-for-15 career off him with two homers -- Bovada is offering some props for his final game, so check them out. Jacoby Ellsbury destroys Archer, hitting .643 in 28 at-bats. The Yankees go with lefty CC Sabathia (6-9, 4.18). He lost to Cleveland on Saturday, allowing three runs over 5.2 innings. Sabathia took a no-decision in his lone start vs. Tampa this year, allowing three runs in 4.2 innings. Evan Longoria is a career .388 hitter off him with six homers in 67 at-bats. The Rays are expected to activate infielder Matt Duffy, who was acquired in the Matt Moore trade, from the DL for this game.
Key trends: The Rays are 0-4 in Archer's past four vs. the Yankees. New York is 4-1 in Sabathia's past five vs. Tampa. The under is 8-2 in Archer's past 10 during Game 1 of a series.
Early lean: Rays and under.
Braves at Nationals (-280, 7.5)
I'd still say Washington's Stephen Strasburg is the Cy Young favorite, but his teammate Max Scherzer -- who has been the NL's best starter since the beginning of June -- is definitely closing the gap. Strasburg (15-2, 2.80) allowed four runs and eight hits in just 4.2 innings Saturday in a loss vs. San Francisco, his second start in the past four that was rather shaky. It was also the first time all year that he didn't go at least five innings. Strasburg is 2-0 with a 1.98 ERA in two starts against Atlanta this season. Freddie Freeman hits him well, going 12-for-31 with three homers and nine RBIs. The Braves' Mike Foltynewicz (5-5, 4.37) comes off one of his best starts of 2016 as he won in St. Louis, allowing one run and six hits over six innings. Foltynewicz hasn't faced the Nationals in his career. Monitor the status of Bryce Harper as he hasn't played this week as of this writing with a neck problem.
Key trends: The Braves are 2-6 in their past eight series openers. The Nats are 6-0 in Strasburg's past six in Game 1 of a series. The under is 4-1 in his past five vs. Atlanta.
Early lean: Nationals and under.
Pirates at Dodgers (-158, 8)
Do the Dodgers regret that trade with Oakland for Josh Reddick and Rich Hill at the deadline yet? Reddick hasn't hit at all, and Hill was supposed to finally make his L.A. debut in this game but won't. Hill was unable to throw a scheduled bullpen session Tuesday due to lingering issues with a severe blister on his left hand. The guy hasn't pitched since July 17. I mean, a blister? I'm no doctor, but those shouldn't take a month to heal. So Ross Stripling (3-3, 3.79) will get the call here. He threw five shutout innings Saturday against the Red Sox. He was only called up because of an injury to fellow pitcher Bud Norris. Stripling has never faced the Pirates. Pittsburgh goes with a guy it got at the trade deadline who is actually healthy in former Yankee Ivan Nova (8-6, 4.83). He won his Pirates debut on Saturday against Cincinnati, allowing three runs and six hits over seven innings. Nova hasn't faced the Dodgers this year. Reddick is 5-for-13 career off him with two solo homers.
Key trends: The Dodgers are 4-1 in their past five after an off day. The over is 8-3 in L.A.'s past 11 vs. teams with a winning record. The Bucs are 10-2 in the past 12 meetings.
Early lean: Pirates and over.
Orioles at Giants (-105, 8)
After dealing with several injuries in the minors, it finally looks like former highly-touted prospect Dylan Bundy has arrived with the Baltimore Orioles. The 23-year-old is living up to expectations after being moved into the rotation full time. He made his fifth big-league start Sunday at the White Sox, and it was another good one as Bundy allowed two runs and four hits with nine strikeouts in six innings. He has 29 strikeouts against just three walks in his past four starts and is 3-1 in them. This will be his first career start vs. the Giants and also his first chance to hit in a regular-season game as the Orioles lose the DH for this interleague matchup. San Francisco's Matt Cain (4-6, 5.16) threw five shutout innings last time out for the second straight start. Both were against Washington. Cain has faced Baltimore once in his career, and that was back in 2013. J.J. Hardy is 5-for-17 career off him with two homers. Mark Trumbo is 1-for-5 with a solo shot.
Key trends: The Orioles are 6-18 in Cain's past 24 in Game 1 of a series. The under is 4-1 in Bundy's past five. It is 6-2 in Cain's past eight on Friday.
Early lean: Orioles and under.
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