Welcome to my first "Five to Follow" story of the 2017 Major League Baseball season, otherwise known as Year 1 P.C. - as in Post Cub. Seriously, can anything happen this year that could top the Cubs ending their 108-year title drought last season? I doubt it, but that's what makes baseball great is there are always unexpected story lines. The purpose of these stories is to get you the lines almost immediately after they are posted each day (usually in around 1:30 p.m. ET) to get a jump-start on any possible betting advantages . Certainly a large part of these will be focusing on the pitchers, but also injuries or where you might see a key guy sit out. Those getaway day games are often when I recommend betting heavily against the road team, for example. It's usually when a manager will rest a key player or two. I'll be here all season, for the most part, every Tuesday-Saturday. Let's make some money.
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Yankees at Rays (-120, 7.5)
These teams are total opposites in my mind: the Yankees should rake but their starting pitching looks terrible (after Masahiro Tanaka, although he was awful Sunday), while the Rays probably won't hit a lick but have some really promising young pitching. It tells you all you need to know about New York's rotation that 36-year-old CC Sabathia is their No. 2 guy. He did have a solid 3.91 ERA last year, his best since 2012. But I think that was a fluke, and he wasn't great this spring. The big lefty was 1-0 with a 5.52 ERA last year in three starts vs. Tampa. Evan Longoria is a career .403 hitter off him with seven homers and 16 RBIs. New Rays catcher Derek Norris is 3-for-9 with five RBIs. Tampa listened on Jake Odorizzi (10-6, 3.69) this offseason in searching for a bat but ended up trading Drew Smyly instead. Last year, Odorizzi posted the fourth-most strikeouts of any pitcher on fastballs alone (126). He was 2-1 with a 2.29 ERA in three starts vs. the Yankees. Greg Bird is 2-for-5 with two homers off him. New Yankee Matt Holliday is 2-for-5 with two solo dingers.
Key trends: The Yankees are 3-10 in Sabathia's past 13 vs. the AL East. The Rays are 6-2 in Odorizzi's past eight Tuesday starts. The "over/under" is 3-1-1 in Sabathia's past five vs. the Rays.
Early lean: Rays and under.
Indians at Rangers (+126, 9.5)
Best opening series in the majors with both clubs winning their respective division last year. The Indians should repeat in the Central, but I don't see the Rangers winning the West again unless they trade for pitching at some point. Might Cleveland have beaten the Cubs in the World Series if Carlos Carrasco was healthy? Quite possible. He missed the entire postseason and the final few weeks of the regular season after going 11-8 with a 3.32 ERA. Carrasco dealt with mild elbow inflammation during the spring but apparently is good to go. Carrasco lost his lone start vs. Texas in 2016, allowing seven runs (three earned) in four innings. Former Indian Mike Napoli is 3-for-4 career off him with two doubles. Rangers lefty Martin Perez (10-11, 4.39) made one start against the Indians last season and allowed six runs on 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings. The Rangers' home ballpark is hitter-friendly but Perez was 8-3 with a 3.24 ERA there in 2016. The Tribe's Carlos Santana is 2-for-5 career off him.
Key trends: The Tribe are 15-7 in Carrasco's past 22 road starts. The Rangers are 11-3 in Perez's past 14 at home. The under is 8-2 in Carrasco's past 10 on the road.
Early lean: Indians and under.
Mariners at Astros (-130, 8.5)
Since I don't think the Rangers will repeat in the AL West, one of these two will win it. Probably Houston, although it needs one more starting pitcher (Jose Quintana?). The Astros go with young right-hander Lance McCullers here. He'll have to pitch like a No. 2 this season for Houston to reach the playoffs if it doesn't trade for a pitcher. McCullers was limited to 14 starts a year ago due to injury but had a nice 3.22 ERA and 6-5 record. McCullers was lit up in his final spring start, but I don't consider that to mean much. He was 1-1 with a 1.46 ERA in two starts last year vs. Seattle. Robinson Cano is 6-for-14 off him with five strikeouts. Seattle's Hisashi Iwakuma led the Mariners with 16 wins in 2016 but also had 12 losses and a 4.12 ERA. So clearly some good run support. He is 5-6 with a 3.70 ERA in 14 starts against the Astros in his career and 3-3, 3.26 ERA in eight starts at Minute Maid Park. Jose Altuve is a career .421 hitter of him in 38 at-bats.
Key trends: The Mariners are 2-5 in Iwakuma's past seven vs. Houston. The under is 4-1 in his past five vs. the AL West. The under is 17-4 in McCullers' past 21.
Early lean: Astros and under.
Cubs at Cardinals (+135, 7)
It's the first start in likely the final season in a Cubs uniform for Jake Arrieta. He's going to hit free agency next winter and the Cubs aren't giving him a seven-year, $210 million deal. They have the money, but Theo Epstein pays for potential production and not past performance. Arrieta is an excellent pitcher but will be 32 to start next season. So he probably only has a couple of really good seasons left. He'll still get paid big time by someone. Arrieta was 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA last season but really tailed off in the second half. Control was a problem. Arrieta was 3-1 with a 2.38 ERA in four starts vs. Cardinals. Yadier Molina can't hit him much, going 4-for-24 with nine strikeouts. St. Louis right-hander Adam Wainwright didn't get the Opening Day call for the first time since 2012, but he's no longer the ace. Wainwright had a career-worst 4.62 ERA and 1.404 WHIP in 2016. He did win 13 games. Wainwright was 1-1 with a 7.98 ERA in three starts vs. the Cubs. Anthony Rizzo is a career .306 hitter off him with a homer in 36 at-bats.
Key trends: The Cubs are 5-1 in Arrieta's past six vs. the Cards. They are 6-1 in Wainwright's past seven vs. the Cubs. The over is 5-1 in Arrieta's past six against St. Louis.
Early lean: Cubs and over.
Padres at Dodgers (-230, 7)
The Padres were given the lowest wins total of the season by sportsbooks at 65.5. This is easily the most anonymous team in the majors. Seriously, name me one Padre other than Wil Myers. It's going to be a long season until the Chargers take over the sporting scene in San Diego. Wait, what? Lefty Clayton Richard gets the call for the Fathers here. He was awful as a reliever with the Cubs, released, signed with the Padres and went 3-3 with a 2.52 ERA in 53.2 appearances, nine of them starts. That's not happening again. Richard had an ERA of 8.10 in six Cactus League starts. That's more like it. He was 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA in two appearances vs. the Dodgers last year. Adrian Gonzalez is 10-for-17 career off him with five RBIs. Kenta Maeda would have won NL Rookie of the Year in some seasons after going 16-11 with a 3.48 ERA in 2016, but his superstar teammate Corey Seager took that award. Maeda was 2-1 with a 3.27 ERA in four starts vs. the Padres. Myers is 2-for-11 off him with three RBIs and six strikeouts.
Key trends: The Padres are 6-1 in Richard's past seven starts. The Dodgers are 0-5 in Maeda's past five. The under is 5-2 in Richard's past seven at L.A.
Early lean: Dodgers and under. You will want to go under many a Padres game this year.
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