Earlier this week, I wrote about Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre's chase for 3,000 career hits, which should happen at some point after the All-Star break if Beltre stays healthy. Now we turn to the Angels' Albert Pujols, who like Beltre will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer five years after he retires. Pujols is set to become the ninth member of the 600-HR club (he might have Thursday night). By the end of the season, Pujols should get to No. 7 on the list, currently occupied by Jim Thome at 612. Sammy Sosa sits in eighth place with 609. Could Pujols join Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714) in the 700-HR club? Unfortunately for the Angels, probably so. I say unfortunately because Pujols is on one of the worst contracts in the sport. The 37-year-old is owed $27 million in 2018, $28 million in 2019, $29 million in 2020 and $30 million in 2020. He also has a $3 million bonus for reaching 3,000 hits, which he will eventually, and a $7 million bonus for breaking the HR record, which he won't. Oh, and Pujols gets a $10 million personal services contract after his playing days are over. While it's possible, I'm not sure I see Pujols getting to 700 because he's breaking down as it is. To pass Willie Mays for fifth on the list, Pujols would need 661. That's doable if healthy.
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Cardinals at Cubs (-146, TBA)
Chicago returns home from a disastrous West Coast road trip, swept by the Dodgers and terrible Padres, and is no longer the World Series betting favorite at most sportsbooks. It's a 2:20 p.m. ET first pitch from Wrigley and on the MLB Network. It's the first time this year that the rival Cardinals are in town. St. Louis is 3-2 in the series thus far at home. It's former Cardinal John Lackey (4-5, 5.18) on the bump for Chicago. He has lasted just five innings each of his past two outings and allowed five earned in both. He is 1-3 with a 5.27 ERA in five home starts this year. Jhonny Peralta hits him well, going 12-for-37 with a homer. St. Louis' Lance Lynn (4-3, 2.93) lost in Colorado Sunday, giving up four runs over five innings. He took a no-decision vs. the Cubs on April 6 (5.1 IP, 2 ER). Struggling Anthony Rizzo hits .344 off him with two homers and eight RBIs in 32 at-bats.
Key trends: The Cardinals are 0-6 in their past six series openers. The Cubs are 0-4 in their past four in Game 1 of a series. The "over/under" is 9-1-1 in Lackey's past 11 vs. the NL Central.
Early lean: I don't trust Lackey at all and would lean the over first and foremost regardless of number unless the wind is blowing in, but it's almost desperation time for the Cubs and perhaps Thursday's day off will work wonders.
Yankees at Blue Jays (+105, 9)
Monitor the status of Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius, who was fortunate he didn't suffer any broken bones in his right hand when he was hit by a pitch Tuesday in Baltimore. Gregorius, who missed the first 20 games of the season with a shoulder injury, is third on the team in hitting .307. He didn't play Wednesday and might have to miss a game or two more. The Yanks go with Michael Pineda (6-2, 3.32). He hasn't given up more than three earned runs since his first start of the year. It's his first look at Toronto in 2017. Josh Donaldson is just 1-for-18 off him. The Jays are set to activate lefty Francisco Liriano (2-2, 6.35) to make this start. He has been out since May 10 with left shoulder inflammation. It's his first look at the Yankees this year. Matt Holliday is a career .344 hitter vs. Liriano with two homers in 32 at-bats.
Key trends: The Yankees are 6-1 in their past seven road games vs. a lefty. The Jays are 6-2 in Liriano's past eight at home. The under is 6-1 in Liriano's past seven at home.
Early lean: Yankees and over.
Astros at Rangers (-103, 8.5)
The pitching matchup of the night. It's AL Cy Young favorite Dallas Keuchel (8-0, 1.81) for Houston. The lefty has allowed more than two earned just once all season. He came off the DL last Saturday, missing just one start, and held the Orioles to one run over six. Keuchel is 5-7 with a 4.24 ERA in his career against Texas, including 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA in four starts last year. Rougned Odor is 2-for-24 with six strikeouts off Keuchel. Ryan Rua might get a spot start in left as he's 7-for-16 off Keuchel. Texas had won six straight starts by Yu Darvish (5-3, 2.97), but that ended Saturday in Toronto as Darvish allowed three earned over six innings. All three were on a Jose Bautista homer. Darvish was 0-1 with a 3.38 ERA in three starts a season ago vs. Houston. George Springer is 5-for-12 vs. Darvish with two homers.
Key trends: The Astros are 14-3 in their past 17 series openers. The Rangers are 4-0 in Darvish's past four at home. The under is 4-1 in Darvish's past five at home.
Early lean: Rangers (Keuchel has to lose sometime) and under.
Dodgers at Brewers (+194, 7)
I feel sorry for the Brewers here because when Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw has an off start by his standards he's usually totally dominant the next time out. Kershaw took a no-decision on Sunday vs. the Cubs in allowing four runs, including three homers for the second time this year, and a season-high 11 hits in just 4.1 innings. He didn't retire the side in a single inning, which is almost unfathomable. He is 5-4 with a 3.11 ERA in 11 career starts against Milwaukee. The Brewers are a young squad and just a few have seen him because Kershaw hasn't faced them since 2015. Milwaukee's Jimmy Nelson (3-3, 3.83) comes off his best outing of the year, holding the Diamondbacks to one run over seven innings with a season-high 10 strikeouts. He became the first Brewers pitcher with at least 10 strikeouts and no walks in a game since Yovani Gallardo did it against the Pirates on July 15, 2012 (14 strikeouts). L.A.'s Yasiel Puig is 2-for-5 against him with two RBIs.
Key trends: The Dodgers are 5-0 in their past five on Friday. The Brewers are 1-4 in Nelson's past five at home. The under is 8-2 in Nelson's past 10 at home vs. teams with a winning record.
Early lean: Brewers on runline (+110) and under.
Nationals at A's (+132, 8)
Washington's Bryce Harper got his four-game suspension reduced to three on Wednesday and decided to start serving it then, so he's out here. The Nats also will add the designated hitter for this interleague matchup. Still, it's a break for A's starter Andrew Triggs (5-4, 2.64). He allowed six runs last time out vs. the Yankees but only one was earned and took the loss. It's his first look at the Nationals, although Matt Wieters (0-for-2) and Adam Lind (1-for-1) have faced him. Washington's Stephen Strasburg (6-1, 2.94) looked the best he has all season on Saturday against the Padres, throwing seven shutout innings and whiffing a career-high 15. Strasburg struck out the side in the third and sixth and had at least two strikeouts in each of the first six innings. His single matched the Padres' hit total through five innings. Not many A's have faced him. Khris Davis is 4-for-6 with two homers.
Key trends: The Nats are 7-1 in their past eight following an off day. The A's are 1-8 in their past nine interleague road games. The under is 6-1-1 in Washington's past eight.
Early lean: A's (might as well roll the dice with Harper sitting as good underdog value) and under.
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