We have reached that time of year where you have to consider a team's motivation when betting on individual baseball games. On Thursday night, the Chicago Cubs lost at home to the Milwaukee Brewers with a chance to celebrate clinching their first NL Central title since 2008 in front of their fans. But the Cubbies won the division a few hours later when the Cardinals lost in San Francisco. So it's a guarantee that Joe Maddon will be resting a key guy or two in each game from here on out, while also limiting the workload of his starters to keep them fresh. The Cubs still haven't nailed down the NL's top seed yet -- that's all but a formality. Chicago clinched the division after 146 games, the fastest by any team since the 2008 Angels. The last two times the Cubs won the division, they were swept in the playoffs (Dodgers in 2008 and Diamondbacks in 2007). The Cubs are +200 World Series favorites this time.
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Yankees at Red Sox (-260, 9)
First pitch of 1:05 p.m. ET on Fox. Yeah, I'll be watching college football, but this game does mean something. It also looks just slightly like a pitching mismatch on paper. New York goes with Bryan Mitchell. The 25-year-old Mitchell (1-1, 2.45) makes his fifth career big-league start and third this season. He was rocked Monday by the Dodgers, allowing six runs (two earned) and eight hits in 2.1 innings. Mitchell missed most of the season after suffering a toe injury that required surgery at the end of spring training. Boston's Jackie Bradley Jr. is 2-for-2 career off Mitchell. Xander Bogaerts is 1-for-3 with a double. The Sox go with lefty David Price (16-8, 3.81), who has been one of the AL's best pitchers in the second half. Price won a seventh straight start Monday vs. Baltimore, allowing two runs and two hits over eight with nine strikeouts. But Price is 1-2 with a 7.79 ERA in three starts against the Yankees this season. That's because of two lousy early-season starts. Brian McCann is 10-for-29 career off him with three homers and seven RBIs. Jacoby Ellsbury is a career .357 hitter off him in 70 at-bats.
Key trends: The Red Sox are 4-1 in Price's past five at home. The "over/under" is 10-1 in Price's past 11.
Early lean: Red Sox and over.
Tigers at Indians (-119, 8)
A 4:10 p.m. ET first pitch on Fox Sports 1. Detroit manager Brad Ausmus cost us a matchup of former Cy Young winners in Friday's opener as he opted to push back Justin Verlander (14-8, 3.33) one day. The Tigers had won four straight of his outings and they were all quality, but Verlander lost at home to Baltimore on Sunday, giving up three runs and seven hits over five innings. It was his shortest outing since July 7, but he still threw 104 pitches -- thus Ausmus' decision. Verlander is 0-3 with an ugly 9.18 ERA in three starts against the Tribe this year. Jason Kipnis hits just .106 off him with 14 strikeouts in 47 at-bats. Carlos Santana has seven homers and 11 RBIs in 61 at-bats off Verlander but 14 strikeouts. Cleveland's Carlos Carrasco (11-8, 3.32) might be hitting a wall as he has allowed four earned in each of his past two starts and lasted just 3.2 innings Monday at the White Sox. He is 2-0 with a 0.51 ERA in three starts this year against Detroit.
Key trends: The Indians are 5-0 in Carrasco's past five vs. Detroit. The Tigers are 1-4 in Verlander's past five in Cleveland. The over is 6-1 in Carrasco's past seven against the Tigers. The over is 4-1 in Verlander's past five in Cleveland.
Early lean: Tigers and under (so I'm basically disregarding the trends on this one).
Marlins at Phillies (-105, 8)
Miami is making a last-ditch miracle effort in the wild-card chase and was expected to finally return Giancarlo Stanton to the starting lineup either Friday or Saturday. He has been limited to pinch-hitting since being activated off the DL on Sept. 6. It's too late, Fish. Miami can partially blame a 6-9 record this season against terrible Atlanta. The Marlins go with Jose Urena (4-6, 4.89) here, and he comes off the best start of his career, shutting out the Dodgers on four hits over 8.2 innings. The 24-year-old Urena was lifted after giving up a base hit to Josh Reddick with two outs in the ninth. He has a ERA of 3.88 in nine starts since joining the rotation in mid-July. Urena is 0-1 with a 4.26 ERA in four appearances (two starts) vs. the Phillies this year. Tommy Joseph is 3-for-3 off him with a homer. Freddy Galvis is 3-for-7 with two RBIs. Philadelphia's Jeremy Hellickson (11-9, 3.76) beat Pittsburgh on Monday in throwing 6.1 innings and not allowing an earned run. He is 2-1 with a 2.59 ERA in five starts this year against Miami. Stanton is 1-for-15 career off him with that one hit a homer. Marcell Ozuna is 5-for-17 with three doubles.
Key trends: The Marlins are 1-5 in Urena's past six vs. teams with a losing record. The Phillies are 5-2 in Hellickson's past seven at home. The under is 4-1 in Urena's past five. The under is 6-2 in Hellickson's past eight at home.
Early lean: Marlins and under.
Blue Jays at Angels (+131, 9)
There's really no excuse for the Jays to take anything less than three of four in this series They better because it's all playoff-caliber teams the rest of the way. Toronto is banged-up, especially reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson, and the offense has struggled this month. The Jays go with lefty Francisco Liriano (7-12, 5.16) on Saturday. He comes off his best start since coming over from Pittsburgh, allowing two runs and three hits in 6.1 innings vs. the Rays, although he took a no-decision. He faced the Angels on June 3 as a member of the Pirates and was rocked for seven runs and 10 hits over 3.1 innings. Mike Trout is 4-for-10 off him with three RBIs. Albert Pujols is just 2-for-17. L.A.'s Ricky Nolasco (5-14, 4.94) has been predictably mediocre since coming over from the Twins. He lost to Seattle on Monday, allowing four runs over six innings. Nolasco hasn't seen the Jays this year. Scuffling Jose Bautista is 2-for-9 off him with three strikeouts. Troy Tulowitzki is 6-for-19 with a homer.
Key trends: The Jays are 4-1 in their past five on Saturday. The Angels are 0-5 in Nolasco's past five vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 4-1 in Liriano's past five. The under is 6-0-1 in Nolasco's past seven.
Early lean: Blue Jays and over.
Cardinals at Giants (-126, 7.5)
San Francisco acquired pitcher Mike Leake from the Cincinnati Reds at last year's trade deadline in hopes of boosting the team's playoff chances. It didn't happen as Leake wasn't great with the Giants, going 2-5 with a 4.07 ERA in nine starts. The team didn't make an effort to re-sign him this offseason, but the Cardinals threw $80 million or so at him, and Leake gets his first crack at his old teammates here. Leake (9-10, 4.60) hast lost both starts since returning from a bout with shingles, allowing seven runs and 15 hits over 10.1 innings. He was much better in the second outing as he regains stamina. The Giants' Hunter Pence is a career .419 hitter off him in 31 at-bats. Brandon Crawford is 7-for-20 with two homers and nine RBIs. San Francisco's Jeff Samardzija (11-10, 4.07) lost to the Padres on Monday, allowing four runs and eight hits in six innings. He lost in St. Louis on June 4, giving up six runs over five innings. Yadier Molina is 10-for-22 career off him.
Key trends: The Cardinals are 2-5 in Leake's past seven vs. teams with a winning record. The Giants are 1-4 in Samardzija's past five at home. The over is 7-3 in Leake's past 10 on the road. The under is 4-0-1 in Samardzija's past five at home.
Early lean: Giants and over. For more free MLB picks click here.
Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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