In December 2013, the Minnesota Twins signed pitcher Phil Hughes to a three-year, $24 million free-agent deal despite some inconsistent results from Hughes while he was with the Yankees. It looked like a brilliant move at first for Minnesota, which can't compete for the major free agents, as Hughes was 16-10 with a 3.52 ERA in 2014 and set the big-league record for the best strikeout-to-walk ratio by a starter at 11.625 per nine innings. He had 186 strikeouts and just 18 walks. So then the Twins did something stupid. In December 2014, they reworked his remaining deal into a $42 million extension. I don't get why teams do this. If you have a guy under a good contract, take advantage of it -- it's why the Cubs shouldn't extend Jake Arrieta. Just let him pitch out his deal through the 2017 season. I mention this because Hughes has predictably regressed in a big way and is 1-7 with a 5.74 ERA this year. And now Manager Paul Molitor has sent Hughes to the bullpen for long relief, a role he hasn't had since 2009 with the Yankees. Teams like the Twins can't afford to make expensive mistakes like this.
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Giants at Braves (+185, 7.5)
San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner has never pitched a big-league no-hitter, and I'm not about to predict that happens in Thursday's matinee (12:10 p.m. ET) in Atlanta, but let's just say I wouldn't be surprised it does with how sorry the Braves are offensively and at home. Bumgarner (6-2, 2.12) was fantastic in May with a 4-0 record and 1.05 ERA in six starts. The Giants have won his past seven outings overall. The lefty was 1-0 with a 2.63 ERA in two starts last year against the Braves. Ender Inciarte is 7-for-26 career off him with an RBI. Atlanta's Aaron Blair (0-3, 6.67) was recalled from the minors to start Saturday against Miami and was solid, allowing two runs in 5.2 innings. He was good enough to stick in the rotation. Blair has never faced the Giants.
Key trends: The Giants are 16-5 in Bumgarner's past 21 road starts vs. teams with a losing record. The Braves are 1-4 in Blair's past five vs. teams with a winning record. The "over/under" has gone under in three of Bumgarner's past four in Atlanta.
Early lean: Giants and under.
Diamondbacks at Astros (-130, 7.5)
Arizona will add the DH for this interleague game. Matchup of very disappointing Cy Young winners here. For Arizona, it's Zack Greinke, who won the AL Cy Young in 2009 with Kansas City and finished second in the NL voting last year to Chicago's Arrieta despite leading the majors in ERA. Greinke (6-3, 4.71) can't seem to put it together on a consistent basis with his new team. He had a couple of quality starts in a row but then allowed four runs in six innings vs. the Padres on Saturday. He gave up a solo home run to Matt Kemp in the first then held the Padres scoreless until the sixth, when they added three more. Houston's Jose Altuve is a career .533 hitter off him in 15 at-bats. Luis Valbuena is 10-for-23 off him with three doubles and a homer. It's 2015 AL Cy Young winner and lefty Dallas Keuchel (3-6, 5.58) for Houston. He does come off a promising start and his first win since mid-April, allowing two runs in seven innings at the Angels. Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt struggles against him, going 2-for-13 with eight strikeouts.
Key trends: Arizona is 5-1 in Greinke's past six vs. teams with a losing record. Houston is 6-1 in Keuchel's past seven at home vs. teams with a losing record. The under is 5-2-1 in his past eight vs. teams with a losing record.
Early lean: Astros and under. Guess I have faith in both guys.
Red Sox at Orioles (+105, 9)
Boston likely will be again without outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. for this game after he was placed on the paternity list Tuesday. Bradley might be an All-Star this year as he's hitting .331 with nine homers and 37 RBIs and had a 29-game hitting streak that was snapped last week. Cuban bust Rusney Castillo replaced him on the active roster. Bradley is allowed to miss as many as three games. The Sox start Rick Porcello (7-2, 3.68) here, and suddenly that huge extension he got last season doesn't look so bad for the team. He hasn't faced Baltimore this season and is 3-7 with a 5.45 ERA in 12 career starts against the Orioles. Adam Jones is 9-for-34 off him with a homer and 10 strikeouts. Manny Machado hits .389 against Porcello in 18 at-bats. Chris Davis has three homers in 26 at-bats off him. Baltimore's Ubaldo Jimenez (2-6, 6.36) is about to lose his rotation spot. He has allowed six runs in each of his past three outings and lasted just 1.2 innings Saturday in Cleveland. Buck Showalter didn't exactly give him a ringing endorsement after. Jimenez lost in Boston on April 13, allowing four runs in five innings. Dustin Pedroia is a .385 career hitter off him. David Ortiz is just 2-for-20.
Key trends: The Red Sox are 5-2 in Porcello's past seven vs. the AL East. The Orioles are 2-5 in Jimenez's past seven starts. The over is 5-2 in Jimenez's past seven at home vs. teams with a winning record.
Early lean: Red Sox and over.
Royals at Indians (-159, 7.5)
Now that the White Sox have faded and Royals are beaten up, the AL Central is there for the Cleveland Indians to take. When healthy, they should have the best rotation in the division, if not the AL, and the Tribe get back one of those guys on Thursday as Carlos Carrasco (2-0, 2.45) will be activated off the disabled list. It will be Carrasco's first start since he strained his left hamstring covering first base in Detroit on April 24. Manager Terry Francona said Carrasco will probably be on an 80-pitch limit. Carrasco owned the Royals in 2015, going 4-0 with a 1.55 ERA in four starts. They hit just .160 off him. Lorenzo Cain is 6-for-19 off him. Eric Hosmer is 5-for-17 with three extra-base hits. Kansas City's Yordano Ventura (4-3, 5.17) was shelled by the White Sox last time out, allowing seven runs and nine hits over seven innings, but his offense bailed him out. Ventura lost in Cleveland on May 6, allowing five runs in four innings. Jason Kipnis is 7-for-25 with a homer against him. Carlos Santana is 6-for-20 with two dingers.
Key trends: The Royals are 0-4 in Ventura's past four road starts vs. teams with a winning record. The Indians are 5-0 in Carrasco's past five series openers. The Indians are 4-0 in Carrasco's past four vs. K.C. The over is 6-0 in Ventura's past six vs. Cleveland.
Early lean: Indians and under.
Rays at Twins (+105, 8.5)
Minnesota just recalled its top position player prospect in outfielder Byron Buxton, but it has lost the No. 2 guy, outfielder/DH Miguel Sano, to the disabled list with a left hamstring strain suffered on Tuesday. While Buxton has been a bust at the big-league level thus far, the 23-year-old Sano has been better, this season hitting .235 with 11 homers and 27 RBIs (latter two lead team). Last year, he hit .269 with 18 homers and 52 RBIs in only 279 at-bats. Guy has plus-plus power. So that's one less worry for Tampa Bay starter Matt Moore (2-3, 5.31) on Thursday. The lefty won for the first time since April 17 on Saturday, allowing three runs in 6.2 innings against the Yankees. He is 1-0 with a 3.24 ERA in three career starts vs. the Twins. Joe Mauer is 2-for-4 off him with two RBIs. It's Kyle Gibson (0-3, 6.10) for Minnesota. He will be activated off the DL and take the rotation spot of Hughes. Gibson last pitched in the majors on April 22 in Washington and allowed seven runs in three innings. Tampa's Evan Longoria is 4-for-10 with four RBIs off him. Brad Miller is 5-for-11 with two doubles.
Key trends: The Rays are 2-8 in Moore's past 10 on the road. The Twins are 4-10 in their past 14 vs. a lefty. They are 1-4 in Gibson's past five at home. The over is 4-0-1 in Moore's past five.
Early lean: Rays and over.
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