Most closers are a dime a dozen, but it's pretty amazing how much difference a dominant one can make. And the Cincinnati Reds had one of the most dominant in league history, at least in terms of his fastball, the past few years in lefty Aroldis Chapman. But he of course was traded to the Yankees this offseason with the Reds rebuilding. The Cincinnati bullpen was pretty good with him as the back-end anchor. Now? Terrible. On Tuesday, the Reds bullpen allowed a run for the 21st straight game, a major-league record. In this modern-day era of specialized relievers, that's almost impossible to imagine. Entering Wednesday, the Cincy bullpen has a combined ERA of 6.52 that is by a mile the worst in the majors. The Reds also have one save, which is also easily the worst.
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Brewers at Reds (-112, 8.5)
We will have to see if Cincinnati carries that streak past Wednesday's game and into this one. While the Reds did set the mark for consecutive games allowing a run by the bullpen, the 2004 Indians hold the record for consecutive bullpen appearances with at least one run allowed at 30. But the Indians didn't use the bullpen 30 straight games as the Reds had done the past 21 in a row because there were a few complete games mixed in there for the Tribe. Should we be surprised that Cincinnati's relievers are struggling? The payroll for the Reds' current bullpen is just $4,754,765. The Reds are spending only 5.11 percent of their payroll on the bullpen, the lowest percentage in baseball. I feel fairly confident saying the Reds will need a reliever or two here with Alfredo Simon (0-3, 13.50) starting. If he's not the worst starter in baseball right now, I'm not sure who is. The Brewers' Jonathan Lucroy is 6-for-10 off him with two homers and three RBIs. It's Chase Anderson (1-3, 5.55) for Milwaukee. He has been pretty bad over his past three, allowing 17 runs in 13.1 innings. He has allowed six homers in that stretch. Cincy's Joey Votto is 1-for-2 off him with four walks.
Key trends: The Brewers are 0-6 in their past six Thursday games. The Reds are 0-6 in Simon's past six in a series opener. The "over/under" is 5-0 in Anderson's past five. It's 4-1-1 in Simon's past six.
Early lean: Way over! Take Milwaukee.
Tigers at Indians (-120, 8.5)
Detroit is going to be scary if it gets some consistent pitching as the team is very good offensively. One of the club's top prospects, Michael Fulmer, gets his second career major-league start here. He was acquired in the Yoenis Cespedes trade last summer from the Mets. With Shane Greene injured (and lousy), Fulmer took his spot Friday in Minnesota and allowed two runs and seven hits over five innings. Obviously no Indians have faced him unless it was in Grapefruit League play. Cleveland's Trevor Bauer (1-0, 5.28) started the year in the bullpen but was called on to start due to an injury to Carlos Carrasco, and Bauer allowed three runs and five hits over four innings Saturday in Philadelphia. He pitched 3.1 innings of relief on April 24 vs. Detroit and gave up two runs in 3.1 innings. J.D. Martinez is 7-for-16 with a homer and four RBIs off him. Ian Kinsler is 7-for-19 with a dinger.
Key trends: The Indians are 2-5 in Bauer's past seven at home. The under is 6-1 in his past seven overall.
Early lean: Tigers and under.
Diamondbacks at Marlins (-135, 8)
Young Miami left-hander Adam Conley (1-1, 3.67) comes off a no-hit effort here. What, you didn't hear about that? Conley no-hit the Brewers over 7.2 innings Friday, but Manager Don Mattingly had to pull him at that point because Conley, who has some injury history, had thrown a career-high 116 pitches. You can't blame Mattingly for that. Maybe 20 years ago you leave the guy in. The Marlins' bullpen lost the no-hitter but Conley did get his first win. He has never faced Arizona. It's lefty Robbie Ray (1-1, 4.97) for Arizona. He was the Snakes' most consistent pitcher in his first three outings but has allowed 10 runs and 15 hits over seven innings in his past two. The Rockies tagged him for four homers in four innings on Friday. Not many Marlins have faced Ray. Martin Prado is 1-for-3. Christian Yelich is 0-for-3.
Key trends: The Snakes are 2-6 in Ray's past eight road starts. The Marlins are 11-5 in Conley's past 16 starts. The under is 9-1-1 in Ray's past road starts.
Early lean: Marlins and under.
Nationals at Cubs (-137, TBA)
Clearly the series of the weekend and my guess an NLCS preview, although the Mets might have something to say about that. Unfortunately we won't see Jake Arrieta vs. either Stephen Strasburg or Max Scherzer. Will the Cubs have Jason Heyward back for the opener -- Nats were interested in him this offseason as well -- after he missed a third straight game Wednesday? Heyward is dealing with a wrist injury and I don't know how much longer the Cubs can go without putting him on the DL. Nats right-hander Joe Ross (3-0, 0.79) is scheduled for Game 1 and he has been better than Strasburg and Scherzer. Ross has allowed only two earned runs and 15 hits in 22.2 innings. No Cubs have faced him much. Kris Bryant is 1-for-3 with an RBI. Anthony Rizzo is 2-for-3 with a double. It's the weak link of the Chicago rotation in Kyle Hendricks (1-2, 3.52) but he has largely been solid. He held the Brewers to a run over five innings last time out. Bryce Harper is 1-for-6 career off him with a homer.
Key trends: The Cubs are 1-7 in their past eight vs. the NL East. The under is 5-0 in his Hendricks' past five at home.
Early lean: Nationals and under if wind not blowing out.
Red Sox at White Sox (+103, 9)
I mentioned in Wednesday's Opening Line Report that John Danks (0-4, 7.25) was set to start that game for the White Sox but that he had been so lousy that the team had to do something with him soon. It did as Danks will be designated for assignment, meaning the White Sox will eat the remaining $13 million or so on his contract this season -- about the amount Adam LaRoche would have made. This was the right move, even though Danks is very respected in the clubhouse. The White Sox moved Carlos Rodon into Wednesday's start for Danks and will use Erik Johnson as the No. 5 for now on Thursday. He's still one of the team's top prospects but the time is now since Johnson is 26 and has a career 4.17 ERA in the majors in 16 starts. He was 1-1 with a 3.74 ERA in four starts at Triple-A Charlotte this year. Boston counters with lefty Henry Owens (0-0, 4.82), who has made two starts in place of the injured Joe Kelly. He has never faced the Pale Hose.
Key trends: The Red Sox are 0-4 in their past four Thursday games. The White Sox are 6-1 in Johnson's past seven road starts. The over is 6-0 in Owens' past six on the road. The over is 11-3-2 in Johnson's past 16 overall.
Early lean: White Sox and over.
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