Sorry Nationals fans and backers, but I warned you. On Wednesday's Opening Line Report, I said to watch Stephen Strasburg very closely in his first start back from a DL stint due to elbow pain. If said pain returned and Strasburg had to be pulled from the game, his season was surely over (and maybe 2017 too) and so was Washington's chance to win the pennant for the first time in franchise history. Unfortunately, Strasburg had to leave the game against Atlanta after just 2.2 innings because of pain -- Nationals manager Dusty Baker said Strasburg felt a "pinch in the back of his elbow"-- and he will undergo an MRI on Thursday. The 28-year-old underwent Tommy John surgery after experiencing pain in that same elbow in late August 2010. It's very unusual for a pitcher to ever get back to normal after two Tommy John surgeries. Let's hope it's not that. Did the Nationals get insurance on that $175 million extension they signed Strasburg to earlier this season?
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Brewers at Cardinals (-220, 8)
I was hoping that St. Louis would be attempting to tie the big-league record with a homer in 27 straight games here, but the Cards' streak was stopped at 25 in a row Wednesday against Pittsburgh. Milwaukee starts Jimmy Nelson (7-13, 4.36). He comes off a no-decision in Pittsburgh, allowing one run and four hits in 5.1 innings -- his second straight start vs. the Bucs. Nelson has just one victory since July 17. He is 0-1 with a 3.75 ERA in two starts this year against the Cardinals. Matt Carpenter is 6-for-13 career against him with a homer. Jhonny Peralta is 5-for-13 with three RBIs. The Cards' ace these days is clearly Carlos Martinez (13-7, 3.07), and he hasn't lost since Aug. 6 Martinez comes off a win over Cincinnati, allowing two runs over six innings -- his fifth straight quality start. Martinez has owned the Brewers this year, going 2-0 with a 0.95 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 19 innings. Ryan Braun is 5-for-18 career off him with seven strikeouts. Scooter Gennett is 6-for-20 with three doubles.
Key trends: The Brewers are 1-7 in Nelson's past eight road starts vs. teams with a winning record. The Cards are 5-1 in Martinez's past six vs. Milwaukee. The "over/under" has gone under in four of his past six vs. Milwaukee.
Early lean: Cardinals and under.
Red Sox at Blue Jays (-110, 9)
It didn't used to be a huge deal when a pitcher got to 20 wins in a season because they were in four-man rotations. But nowadays all teams go with five-man groups and sometimes six. So it's obviously tougher to get to 20 wins; only two guys did in 2015. Boston's Rick Porcello (19-3, 3.23) can be the first to the mark in 2016 on Friday. He hasn't personally lost since Aug. 3. Last time out, Porcello won in Oakland, giving up two runs and four hits over seven innings. He hasn't walked a batter in three straight outings. Porcello is 2-0 despite a 5.21 ERA in three starts vs. the Blue Jays this year. Edwin Enarnacion hits .382 off him with three homers and 10 RBIs in 34 at-bats. Jose Bautista is 14-for-34 off him with three homers and nine RBIs. Toronto's Marco Estrada (8-7, 3.56) lost at Tampa Bay on Saturday, allowing five runs in five innings. It's the third time in four starts he has allowed at least five earned. Estrada is 2-1 with a 2.57 ERA in three starts vs. Boston. David Ortiz is 3-for-17 against him with two homers. Mookie Betts is 0-for-11.
Key trends: The Sox are 6-1 in Porcello's past seven vs. teams with a winning record. The Jays are 7-2 in Estrada's past nine vs. the AL East. The over is 4-1 in Porcello's past five and in Estrada's past five.
Early lean: Blue Jays and over.
Dodgers at Marlins (+136, 6.5)
Quite possibly the pitching matchup of the season. Dodgers ace lefty Clayton Kershaw (11-2, 1.79) will be activated from the disabled list and make his first big-league start since June 26. He looked very good in his final rehab start but is likely going to be on a pitch count here off that herniated disk in his back. If something flares up again in this start, much like Strasburg, cross the Dodgers off your teams capable of winning the NL pennant. Kershaw's season-high in runs allowed was five, and that came on April 26 in a loss to Miami. He did strike out 10 over seven innings. Miami's Jose Fernandez (13-8, 3.03) comes off his worst start of the year, allowing seven runs and 12 hits over 5.2 innings in a loss at Cleveland (I recommended the Tribe then). In his last seven starts, Fernandez is 1-4 with a 4.54 ERA. But the guy is a different animal pitching at home. Fernandez won at the Dodgers on April 28, allowing two runs and striking out eight over six innings. Adrian Gonzalez is 1-for-10 off him with a homer. Corey Seager is 2-for-2.
Key trends: The Dodgers are 0-5 in their past five on Friday. The Marlins are 19-4 in Fernandez's past 23 at home vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 5-1-1 in Kershaw's past seven on the road. The under is 9-4 in Fernandez's past 13 at home.
Early lean: Marlins and under.
Royals at White Sox (-109, 8.5)
Kansas City expects outfielder Lorenzo Cain, an AL MVP finalist last year, back in this series opener. Cain has been out since Aug. 30 with a wrist injury. He's having a moderately disappointing season compared to 2015 as he's hitting .287 with nine homers, 56 RBIs and 13 steals in 102 games. Catcher Salvador Perez also should be in there after getting hit on the wrist Tuesday and sitting Wednesday. The Royals go with Yordano Ventura (10-9, 4.22). They have won his past seven. He beat the Tigers on Saturday, allowing a run but walking six over six innings. Ventura has not allowed more than three earned runs in a start since July 3 and is 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA in three starts this year vs. Chicago. Red-hot Jose Abreu is 3-for-13 off him with two homers. The Sox might still be in division contention if lefty Carlos Rodon (6-8, 3.90) had pitched like he has lately for the majority of the season. He's working on a string of six straight quality starts and has a 1.91 ERA in that stretch. He's 1-1 with a 2.55 ERA in three starts vs. the Royals. Cain is 5-for-8 off him with a double.
Key trends: The Royals are 6-1 in Ventura's past seven vs. Chicago. The Sox are 5-1 in Rodon's past six at home. The under is 6-2 in Ventura's past eight.
Early lean: White Sox and under.
Cubs at Astros (+127, 8)
The only interleague series of the weekend, and if any NL team is built to add the designated hitter it's the Cubs -- even after losing slugger Kyle Schwarber, who would be a DH if he played in the AL, to a season-ending injury in the first week. Chicago lefty Jon Lester (15-4, 2.61) looks to continue his Cy Young push. He comes off a complete-game win over the Giants, allowing a run and three hits; he went 7.2 no-hit innings. Lester has a 1.85 ERA in nine starts since the All-Star break. He hasn't faced Houston since 2008. Colby Rasmus is 3-for-15 off him with five strikeouts. Evan Gattis is 2-for-3 with an RBI. Houston rookie Joe Musgrove (2-3, 5.06) has generally been very good or very bad in his six big-league starts. It was the latter on Saturday in Texas, allowing five runs and eight hits over 4.1 innings. Musgrove hasn't seen the Cubs but was shelled in Pittsburgh in his lone interleague start.
Key trends : The Cubs are 10-1 in Lester's past 11 during Game 1 of a series. The Astros are 0-5 in Musgrove's past five at home vs. teams with a winning road record. The over is 9-3-1 in Lester's past 13 on the road.
Early lean: Cubs and over.
Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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