After being swept four games over the weekend at the New York Mets, are the Chicago Cubs still the best team in baseball? Once healthy, I would say yes, although they clearly need bullpen help. Apparently the Cubs won't be trading for the Yankees' Andrew Miller as the Bombers have told Miller they are keeping him. They didn't say the same thing to closer Aroldis Chapman. Chicago also needs to get center fielder and leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler back off the DL. They are 5-9 entering Monday since he landed on the DL. BetOnline still has the Cubs as the World Series favorites at +340. The Giants are next at +650.
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Reds at Cubs (-250, TBA)
Chicago has dominated Cincinnati this year, going 9-1 entering Monday's series opener. It's an unusual Tuesday matinee (2:20 p.m. ET) from Wrigley. I don't think anyone could argue that the Cubs' Joe Maddon is one of the best managers in baseball. But he does sometimes take his starting pitchers out a bit early. Tuesday's Cubs starter, John Lackey (7-4, 3.27), was clearly PO'd when he was pulled after 6.1 innings and 101 pitches in Thursday's game vs. New York. The move ended up backfiring as the bullpen blew Lackey's lead and the Cubs lost. Lackey has now held 11 of its past 12 opponents to three runs or fewer, but the Cubs have dropped his past three. He is 1-1 with a 5.84 ERA this year vs. the Reds. Eugenio Suarez is a career .368 hitter off him with a homer in 19 at-bats. Billy Hamilton is a career .333 hitter off Lackey in 21 at-bats. The Reds go with lefty Brandon Finnegan (3-7, 4.48). He has lost three in a row and was bombed for eight runs in 2.1 innings in Washington on Thursday. Finnegan is 0-1 with a 5.91 ERA in two starts vs. the Cubs. Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist both have homers off him.
Key trends: The Reds are 1-6 in Finnegan's past seven on the road. The Cubs are 4-1 in Lackey's past five in Game 2 of a series. The "over/under" is 5-2-2 in Finnegan's past nine vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 4-0 in Lackey's past four at home.
Early lean: Cubs and over.
Tigers at Indians (-157, 8)
Entering Monday's series opener, Detroit was 0-9 against Cleveland this season. The Indians had outscored the Tigers a whopping 60-20 in those games. Detroit starts Jordan Zimmermann (9-4, 3.95) in this one. He has not been good his past two outings, raising his ERA from 3.24. He lost to Cleveland on June 24, allowing a season-high-tying seven earned runs and nine hits in a season-low 3.2 innings. That was his fourth non-quality start in the past five. The Tribe's Jason Kipnis is 4-for-5 career off him with two triples and four RBIs. Carlos Santana is 2-for-6 with a homer. Cleveland's Carlos Carrasco (4-2, 2.56) has a 29.1 percent strikeout rate that is the highest in the American League. He whiffed 14 (one shy of career high) over 7.1 innings and allowed one run and three hits in a win in Toronto on Thursday. Last time Carrasco faced Detroit was June 25 in Motown and threw a complete-game four-hitter with seven strikeouts. Miguel Cabrera his .357 career off him with a homer. J.D. Martinez is 7-for-19 with two homers and seven RBIs.
Key trends: The Tigers are 1-5 in Zimmermann's past six vs. teams with a winning record. The Indians are 9-3 in Carrasco's past 12 vs. teams with a winning record. The over is 4-1 in his past five at home vs. Detroit.
Early lean: Indians and over.
Pirates at Cardinals (-147, 8)
ESPN game so will have live betting at sportsbooks. Pittsburgh goes with stud youngster Jameson Taillon (2-1, 3.86). I predicted he would win in Seattle last Wednesday, and Taillon did, allowing one run and six hits over six innings with a career-best six strikeouts. This will be his first career start against the Cardinals. They go with Mike Leake (5-6, 4.13). He threw a quality start Thursday against Kansas City in allowing two earned and five hits over seven innings but was on the wrong end of a 4-2 decision. The Cards have dropped his past three, and Leake's last win was June 12 in Pittsburgh, allowing two earned and six hits in seven innings. Andrew McCutchen is a career .239 hitter off him with 16 strikeouts in 71 at-bats. David Freese, meanwhile, is 11-for-22 off Leake with two doubles, a homer and five RBIs. Freese doesn't play every single day but with those numbers I'm sure he will be in there.
Key trends: The Cardinals are 2-5 in Leake's past seven at home. The over is 4-1-1 in his past six.
Early lean: Pirates and over.
Orioles at Dodgers (TBA)
Baltimore loses the DH for this interleague game. What will the Orioles do for an encore in July after setting the June MLB record with 56 homers? They face one of the few Dodgers starting pitchers not currently injured in Kenta Maeda (7-5, 2.82). Where would this team be without him this year with that rotation so decimated? Maeda won in Milwaukee last time out, allowing one run and three hits over six innings. This will be his first look at the Orioles. They go with ace Chris Tillman (10-2, 3.71). He has not been ace like in allowing at least four runs and not lasting more than five innings in each of his past three starts, although the Orioles have won two of them. This will be Tillman's first chance to bat this year as it's his first interleague start of 2016. He's from the L.A. area as well. A few Dodgers have faced him. Howie Kendrick is 3-for-8 with a double. Adrian Gonzalez is 1-for-4 with an RBI. Chase Utley is 0-for-3.
Key trends: The Orioles are 8-0 in Tillman's past eight interleague starts. The over is 9-2-2 in his past 13 interleague outings.
Early lean: Honestly not sure why this is TBA as from what I can tell Tillman and Maeda are locked into start. Go Orioles.
Rockies at Giants (-205, 6.5)
When I previewed San Francisco's game in Oakland last week, I wrote that Giants ace Madison Bumgarner might be pitching angry because he wasn't able to hit since the Giants added the DH. Except that the team voluntarily dropped that so Bumgarner could hit. San Francisco became the first team to opt against it since Sept. 23, 1976, when the White Sox allowed starter Ken Brett, brother of Royals Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett, to hit for himself. Ken Brett was 0-for-3 that day. Bumgarner is a good hitter for a pitcher, but that's not a real smart move in taking a better bat out of the lineup just to make your ace happy. I wish the Giants had lost by a run or something and it would cost them a playoff spot this fall. But San Francisco won 12-6 with Bumgarner allowing four runs in 6.1 innings and going 1-for-4 with a double and run scored. He is 1-0 with a 2.03 ERA this season against the Rockies. Carlos Gonzalez is a career .321 hitter off him with five homers and 10 RBIs in 53 at-bats. Colorado goes with ace Tyler Chatwood (8-4), who will be activated off the DL. He hasn't pitched since June 18 when he lasted 1.2 innings in Miami because of a back injury. Chatwood has otherwise been stellar on the road this season at 5-0 with a 1.25 ERA. He's 1-1 this year with a 3.46 ERA in two starts vs. the Giants. Buster Posey is 2-for-14 career off Chatwood.
Key trends: The Rockies are 7-1 in Chatwood's past eight road starts. The Giants are 6-1 in Bumgarner's past seven at home. The Giants are 7-1 in Bumgarner's past eight at home vs. Colorado. The under is 5-1 in his past six overall.
Early lean: Giants and under.
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