Whether the Texas Rangers repeat as AL West champions or make the playoffs at all could somewhat depend on what happens Saturday against visiting Pittsburgh in interleague play. Not whether they win or lose but because it's the first MLB start in more than 18 months of ace right-hander Yu Darvish. He had Tommy John surgery on March 17, 2015. Darvish made five starts on rehab assignment over the past month or so and built up to 87 pitches in his final outing. He won't go past 90 pitches here and certainly will be on an innings/pitches limit this season, probably around 140ish innings. But that would leave him the opportunity to still pitch in the postseason should Texas get there. The Rangers don't want to approach the 216 innings (including playoffs) that the Mets gave Matt Harvey off his Tommy John surgery last year. If Darvish is as good as he was pre-surgery, the Rangers have a stellar 1-2 punch along with Cole Hamels. Some guys take a good year, however, to return to form following TJS.
Pirates at Rangers (-150, 9)
Darvish was 13-9 with a 2.83 ERA and 277 strikeouts in 2013, his last full season. He was an equally good 10-7 with a 3.06 ERA and 182 strikeouts in 144.1 innings in 2014 before being shut down in mid-August. He was knocked around in Houston in his final start on Aug. 9, 2014. For his career, Darvish averages 16.4 pitches per inning. At that rate, he would make it through about 5.1 or 5.2 innings per game on a 90-95 pitch count limit. A few Pirates have faced him. John Jaso is 9-for-22 with two doubles, two homers and three RBIs but also eight strikeouts. Francisco Cervelli is 3-for-5 with two doubles. Matt Joyce is 1-for-9 with four strikeouts. Keep in mind that Bucs add the DH. The Pirates go with Juan Nicasio (4-3, 4.46). He has allowed at least four runs in three straight starts. Nicasio hasn't faced many Rangers. Prince Fielder is 2-for-4 with a double and walk against him. Adrian Beltre is 1-for-3 with a homer.
Key trends: The Pirates are 1-4 in their past five Saturday games. The Rangers are 4-1 in Darvish's past five at home. The "over/under" has gone under in 13 of his past 16 at home vs. teams with a winning record.
Early lean: Rangers and under.
Orioles at Indians (-155, 8)
Baltimore's Ubaldo Jimenez starts against one of his former teams here. The Rockies sent him to Cleveland at the trade deadline in 2011 and Jimenez stayed there through 2013. And that '13 season was the last year he was any good. Jimenez (2-5, 6.04) has been hit hard three straight starts and allowed six runs and eight hits over 5.2 innings Sunday at the Angels. His rotation spot might be in some jeopardy with another stinker. Cleveland's Danny Salazar (4-3, 2.32) might be the most underappreciated starter in the American League. He hadn't allowed more than five hits in his first eight starts, so maybe he was due a bad one. Salazar gave up four runs on eight hits over 4.1 innings in a loss in Boston last time out. Opposing teams are still just hitting .181 against him this season. The Orioles' Manny Machado is 2-for-3 with a homer off him. Chris Davis is 1-for-5 with three strikeouts.
Key trends: The Orioles are 0-4 in Jimenez's past four road starts. The Indians are 6-1 in Salazar's past seven at home. The over is 4-1 in Jimenez's past five. The under is 9-4 in Salazar's past 13 at home.
Early lean: Indians and over.
Cardinals at Nationals (-135, 7.5)
This game will be on Fox TV in some markets. The Cardinals likely will remain without leadoff hitter and third baseman Matt Carpenter as he is on the paternity list. St. Louis goes with Adam Wainwright (4-3, 5.77), and the Cardinals have won six straight of his starts -- scoring at least 10 runs in three of them. He beat the Cubs last time out, allowing three runs and seven hits over six. Wainwright didn't face Washington earlier this season. Bryce Harper is 6-for-15 off him with two doubles. Jayson Werth is 5-for-27 but with two homers and seven RBIs. It's lefty Gio Gonzalez (3-2, 2.87) for the Nationals. His ERA rose a run in his last start thanks to allowing seven runs and 10 hits over five innings against the Mets. Gonzalez has a 1.54 ERA in five career starts against the Cards. Yadier Molina is 6-for-15 with three doubles against Gonzalez.
Key trends: The Cardinals are 4-0 in Wainwright's past four vs. Washington. The Nats are 2-5 in Gonzalez's past seven Game 3 starts of a series. The over is 8-3 in Wainwright's past 11 road starts. The over is 5-1 in Gonzalez's past six on Saturday.
Early lean: Nationals and over.
Dodgers at Mets (-142, 7)
Also on Fox in some markets. So how good is Dodgers rookie Kenta Maeda (3-3, 3.29) really? He has come way back to earth after a record-setting start. Maeda has allowed four earned runs in three straight starts and four of five -- he allowed one earned in his first four MLB starts. Maeda lost to the Mets on May 11, allowing four runs and six hits in five innings. He gave up two dingers, his only game thus far giving up multiple homers. The guy who hit both? Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard (only the second Mets pitcher ever with two dingers in a game), and he goes here. Syndergaard (5-2, 1.94) hasn't allowed a run in his past two starts, spanning 14 innings against Milwaukee and Washington. He also has 21 strikeouts in that span. He allowed two runs in eight innings in beating Maeda and the Dodgers on May 11. Corey Seager is 2-for-4 with a homer against him. Adrian Gonzalez is 2-for-6 with a home run.
Key trends: The Mets are 12-4 in Syndergaard's past 16 at home. The under is 13-6 in his past 19 there.
Early lean: Mets and under.
Astros at Angels (+110, 7.5)
You know those issues that Mets are having with Matt Harvey? Houston is in the same boat right now with reigning AL Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel. The lefty fell to 2-6 with a 5.92 ERA in allowing a season-high seven runs and nine hits over six innings in a loss to Texas on Sunday. That's the fifth time this year Keuchel has allowed at least five runs. He hasn't faced the Angels in 2016 but was 3-1 with a 1.71 ERA in four starts against them last year. Mike Trout is 10-for-31 with 11 strikeouts against him. Albert Pujols is 5-for-25 with a homer. The Halos go with Jered Weaver (4-3, 5.33). He won for the first time since April 26 on Sunday, allowing two runs and five hits against Baltimore. Weaver owns a 2.98 career ERA in nine starts vs. Houston. Jose Altuve hits .345 off him in 29 at-bats. George Springer is 4-for-12 with a homer. Colby Rasmus is just 1-for-17 with six strikeouts.
Key trends: The Astros are 1-4 in Keuchel's past five on the road. The Angels are 1-5 in Weaver's past six vs. teams with a losing record. Houston is 4-1 in Keuchel's past five vs. L.A. The over is 12-3-1 in his past 16 on five days of rest.
Early lean: Angels (why is Houston favored?) and over.
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