Daily Expert MLB Picks: Friday, April 20, 2018, Opening Line Report
With a loaded farm system, the ability to add payroll and a mega-prospect on the way, it's not impossible that the Atlanta Braves stay in the wild-card race all season (depending on Freddie Freeman's wrist injury suffered Wednesday - more on that Friday). However, they do have a glaring hole at third base. (Ryan Flaherty is raking right now but go look at his career numbers. It won't last.) Problem solved? I wouldn't go that far yet, but it's interesting that the team has signed former Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista to a minor-league deal. Bautista still has some pop as he hit 23 homers last year. He hasn't played third base regularly in a decade (just 12 games there since 2012), but this is a low-risk, potentially high-reward deal for the Braves. Bautista has reported to the club's extended spring training complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., to start getting ready. The six-time All-Star would receive a $1 million, one-year contract if added to the 40-man major league roster.
Blue Jays at Yankees ( -183, 9 )
While star third baseman Josh Donaldson isn't close to returning from the disabled list, Blue Jays designated hitter Kendrys Morales is expected to be activated Friday. Morales was placed on the DL on April 10 after suffering a Grade 1 right hamstring strain while running the bases. He was hitting .227 with a homer and six RBIs. It's Marco Estrada (1-1, 4.24) on the mound. Because of a minor back issue and some postponements, he hasn't pitched since April 11 in Baltimore, allowing four runs in four. He took a no-decision on March 31 vs. the Yankees, allowing three runs in seven. Aaron Judge is 7-for-17 off him with two homers. New York's Sonny Gray (1-1, 6.92) was rocked for six runs in three innings last time out in Boston. He went four on April 1 in Toronto and allowed one run. Maybe Morales should wait one more day as he's 2-for-20 off Gray with six Ks. Justin Smoak is 5-for-27 with 11 strikeouts.
Key trends: The Yankees are 3-8 in Gray's past 11 vs. the AL East. The Jays are 6-0 in Estrada's past six at New York. The "over/under" is 5-0 in Estrada's previous five at the Yankees.
Early lean: Yankees and over.
Astros at White Sox (TBA)
Remember last August when then-Tiger Justin Verlander cleared waivers because no one wanted to be responsible for his big salary? Clearly a huge mistake for all those contenders who passed - which does, to be fair, include Houston until the Astros and Tigers worked out a trade. Verlander has been perhaps the best pitcher in baseball since joining Houston late last August. Verlander (2-0, 1.35) was named AL Player of the Week for last week. As well he should have considering Verlander threw 15 innings and allowed just five hits and one run while striking out 20 vs. the Rangers and Twins. He has plenty of history with the White Sox, going 20-13 with a 3.82 ERA in 42 starts career but just 7-8 with a 4.11 ERA in 21 starts on the South Side. Jose Abreu hits him well, going 14-for-35 with five homers. Chicago was to start James Shields, but he had to be used in Wednesday's wild extra-inning loss in Oakland. The Sox haven't announced his replacement yet - could be a bullpen-by-committee thing.
Key trends: The Astros are 6-1 in Verlander's past seven on the road. The Sox have lost six straight at home vs. teams with a winning road record. The under is 5-2 in Verlander's past seven on the road.
Early lean: Astros will be massive favorites regardless - take them on runline.
Red Sox at A's (+125, 8.5)
Boston will add a nice rotation piece on Friday with the activation of lefty Drew Pomeranz off the disabled list. Pomeranz suffered a flexor strain during his first start of spring training. In his last rehab outing last Friday, he allowed two runs in 5.1 inning sin Double-A. Pomeranz could be in line for a big year because he's set for free agency. Always bet big on those guys. Pomeranz went 17-6 with a 3.32 ERA in 32 starts last year and will be a very rich man if he does that again. Former Red Sox Jed Lowrie hits him better than any Oakland player, going 4-for-8 with a homer and five walks. Oakland's Kendall Graveman (0-3, 9.87) has been pretty terrible as you can see, not lasting more than five innings in four starts and allowing at least four runs in all of them. Last year, he made one start vs. Boston and took a no-decision, allowing two runs in six innings.
Key trends: The Sox are 9-4 in Pomeranz's past 13 on the road. The A's are 3-12 in Graveman's previous 15 vs. teams with a winning record. The over is 4-1 in Graveman's past five vs. teams with a winning record.
Early lean: Red Sox on runline and over.
Reds at Cardinals (-178, 8.5)
The Reds, who fired Manager Bryan Price on Thursday (more on that in Friday's Opening Line Report), are expected to activate outfielder Scott Schebler on Friday. He hasn't played since April 1 with an elbow injury and is the team's primary right fielder. Schebler started the year 4-for-12 with a homer. He is 2-for-9 with four strikeouts career against Cardinals starting pitcher Michael Wacha (2-1, 5.52). He will be on extra rest as he was due to start Wednesday at the Cubs, but naturally that was postponed. It will thus also be his second start in a row vs. the Reds, allowing four runs over five innings in a win last Thursday. Cincinnati lefty Brandon Finnegan (0-1, 10.38) made his season debut vs. the Cardinals last Saturday and allowed five runs and six hits while walking four over 4.1 innings. It was his first start since June 26, 2017, because of injury. The Cards' Matt Carpenter is 4-for-11 with two homers off him.
Key trends: The Cards are 11-0 in Wacha's past 11 vs. the Reds. The over is 4-0 in Finnegan's previous four vs. the Cardinals.
Early lean: Cardinals and over.
Nationals at Dodgers (-125, 6.5)
Clearly the series of the weekend, maybe season, and this one shown on ESPN+. I fully expect each team to repeat in its division despite slow starts. At first, we were going to be denied a matchup between three-time Cy Young winners Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw here as Rich Hill was scheduled for L.A. However, he was placed on the DL Wednesday and Kershaw will move up and still pitch on normal rest. So, this has become must-see TV. Kershaw (1-2, 1.73) comes off his best start of the young season, allowing just two hits and one run over seven vs. Arizona, striking out a season-high 12 in his first win. Kershaw is 11-2 in 96 career innings vs. Washington with a 1.97 ERA. Bryce Harper can't hit him, going 1-for-18 with 12 strikeouts. Scherzer (3-1, 1.33) had one bad start on April 4 in Atlanta but was named NL Player of the Week on Monday after beating the Braves and Rockies last week and surrendering just three hits and two runs with 21 strikeouts over 16 innings. Guy is ridiculous and leads the majors with 38 strikeouts. His WHIP is 0.67 (second in MLB). Matt Kemp has seen him by far more than any Dodger and is just 6-for-46 with 14 Ks.
Key trends: The Dodgers have won seven straight Kershaw home starts vs. Washington. The under is 6-1 in his past seven at home against the Nats. The under is 5-0-1 in Scherzer's past five on the road.
Early lean: Despite that low total, and I almost guarantee you it drops to at least 6, you have to go under. Take L.A.
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