Five to Follow Expert MLB Betting Picks: 7/21/2017, Opening Line Report
The next week or so is likely to determine the future of the Pittsburgh Pirates not just this year but also for 2018. The Bucs got back arguably their best all-around position player Tuesday in outfielder Starling Marte. He leads all Pirates offensive players in WAR, batting average and stolen bases the past two seasons. Marte had tested positive for PEDs early in the season - of course he has no idea how that happened -- and was suspended 80 games. The Pirates went 39-41 during Marte's absence. The Bucs are right around .500, but they still in the race for the NL Central and a wild-card spot - and playing well after the break. So management is likely to see if Marte provides a spark. If so, then I believe the Pirates will stand pat ahead of the trade deadline and try to reach one more postseason with this group. However, if the Bucs don't make some sort of move by July 30, then both starting pitcher Gerrit Cole and outfielder Andrew McCutchen, especially McCutchen, could be dealt to a contender to refurbish the farm system. Second baseman Josh Harrison also could be put on the market. The Pirates know they are about to cede the Pittsburgh spotlight to the Steelers as it is so there won't be as much fan backlash if the team has a fire sale.
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Cardinals at Cubs (-155, TBA)
As usual, when the Cubs are home on a Friday they play the lone matinee of the day with a 2:20 p.m. ET start on the MLB Network. The Cubs appear to have avoided disaster on Wednesday when Kris Bryant left the team's game in Atlanta when he injured a finger sliding headfirst into third. Has Bryant learned nothing from the hand injuries suffered by Mike Trout and Carlos Correa this season doing the same thing? Slide FEET FIRST! X-rays were negative but it's possible Bryant misses a few games. The Cubs start Jake Arrieta (9-7, 4.17). He won in Baltimore last time out, allowing one earned over 6.2 innings against his former team. It helped he had a seven-run lead by the fifth inning. He's 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA in two starts this year vs. the Cards. Matt Carpenter is just 1-for-29 career off his former TCU teammate with nine strikeouts. St. Louis' Carlos Martinez (6-8, 3.36) hasn't won since June 16. He's 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA in two starts vs. the Cubs. Bryant might get the day off regardless as he's 3-for-22 off him with 11 strikeouts.
Key trends: The Cubs are 6-1 in Arrieta's past seven at home vs. St. Louis. The "over/under" is 4-0 in his past four against the Cards at Wrigley. The Cards are 1-5 in Martinez's past six on the road.
Early lean: Cubs.
Nationals at Diamondbacks (TBA)
Might be the Arizona home debut of newly-acquired outfielder J.D. Martinez. I say might because he injured his left hand Wednesday in Cincinnati while striking out. X-rays were negative but Martinez sat Thursday. The Snakes showed they are going all-in this season by sending a couple of prospects to Detroit for the slugging Martinez, who hits free agency after this season. He should benefit greatly from leaving Comerica Park, the 22nd-best hitter's park in the majors, for Chase Field, which ranks second overall to Coors Field. That Arizona lineup is really loaded now. Unfortunately, the best the Diamondbacks can hope for is the top wild-card spot because the Dodgers are winning the NL West. Martinez would face a former Tigers teammate in Max Scherzer (11-5, 2.01). He shut out the Reds over six with 10 strikeouts last time out. Scherzer has now recorded double-digit strikeouts in nine of his past 10 starts. He started his career with the Diamondbacks and beat them on May 4 (7 IP, 1 ER, 11 Ks). Martinez is 2-for-7 off him with two homers. This was to be Arizona lefty Patrick Corbin (6-9, 4.66), but he was moved up to Thursday when Taijuan Walker was put on the paternity list. The Snakes haven't announced a pitcher yet. They likely will call someone up for a spot start or go with a bullpen-by-committee type start.
Key trends: The Nats are 6-1 in Scherzer's past seven on five days of rest. The Snakes are 2-9 in Corbin's past 11 vs. teams with a winning record. The over is 5-2 in Scherzer's past seven series openers. The over is 9-1 in Corbin's past 10 on Friday.
Early lean: Nationals will be big favorites regardless and take them on the runline.
Pirates at Rockies (-160, 11.5)
This starts a nine-game West Coast trip for Pittsburgh, which concludes the day before the trade deadline. If the Bucs can go 4-5 at worst, then management probably stands pat. The Bucs start Trevor Williams (3-4, 4.69). He allowed 10 hits over 5.2 innings last time out vs. St. Louis but escaped with a no-decision with only two earned surrendered. It's his first career start against Colorado. Rockies rookie Jeff Hoffman (6-1, 4.33) is fading as he had an ERA of 2.25 five starts ago. He has allowed exactly four earned in each of his past two. As one might expect, he's much worse at home (6.44 ERA) than on the road (2.45). Hoffman has never faced Pittsburgh.
Key trends: The Pirates are 1-5 in Williams' past six. The Rox are 4-0 in Hoffman's past four series openers. The over is 6-0 in Colorado's past six.
Early lean: Rockies and over.
Red Sox at Angels (+178, 7.5)
This might be the most intriguing American League pitcher vs. hitter matchup of the season: Chris Sale against Mike Trout. The likely 2016 Cy Young winner against the best player in baseball. Lefty vs. righty. Sale (11-4, 2.59) took a no-decision last time out against the Yankees despite throwing 7.2 shutout innings and striking out 13 - his third straight game with at least 11. Sale has 13 double-digit strikeout games this season, six shy of tying the single-season franchise record set by Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez. Trout is 5-for-16 career off Sale with a homer and three strikeouts. L.A.'s Ricky Nolasco was scheduled to start Wednesday but was pushed back to here for whatever reason. Nolasco (4-10, 4.82) has pretty much alternated being fantastic or terrible in his past six starts. He is 3-2 with a 5.68 ERA in seven career starts against the Red Sox. Hanley Ramirez is 3-for-7 against him with a homer.
Key trends: The Sox are 4-1 in Sale's past five vs. teams with a losing record. The Angels are 2-5 in their past seven at home vs. a lefty. The under is 4-0 in Sale's past four.
Early lean: Red Sox and under.
Braves at Dodgers (-290, 7.5)
Why is Dodgers lefty Alex Wood getting no Cy Young love? At 11-0 and with a 1.56 ERA, he leads the majors in win percentage and ERA, although Wood hasn't thrown enough innings (86.2) to qualify for the ERA title yet. L.A. has won its past 25 games started by either Clayton Kershaw or Wood. That's amazing. Wood's first three big-league seasons were with Atlanta, and he was traded to the Dodgers in the 2015 season. Matt Kemp is 5-for-11 with a homer against him. Tyler Flowers is 3-for-3 with three RBIs. Braves lefty Jaime Garcia (3-7, 4.33) is available for trade, although his value isn't great right now. He does come off a very strong outing vs. Arizona, allowing one run and four hits over seven. The Dodgers' Logan Forsythe is 2-for-2 with two extra-base hits career against him.
Key trends: The Braves are 4-1 in Garcia's past five vs. the NL West. The Dodgers are 20-6 in their past 26 vs. a lefty. The under is 4-1 in Wood's past five.
Early lean: Braves on runline and under.
Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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