Daily Expert MLB Picks: Thursday, March 29, 2018, Opening Line Report
In my opinion, there will be only one decent division race in Major League Baseball this year. The Indians will run away with the AL East, the Astros will in the West, the Nationals in the NL East, the Cubs in the Central and the Dodgers in the West. That leaves only the AL East, where Boston and the Yankees will resume their battle for division supremacy. Whichever finishes second probably gets the top wild-card spot. My other wild-card team in the AL is the Angels, while in the NL it's St. Louis and the NY Mets. Washington beats Houston in the Fall Classic; the Nationals are +800 at BetOnline to win the first championship in franchise history. And then Bryce Harper will leave for a $400 million contract with someone like the Phillies, Cubs or Dodgers. Welcome to the 2018 MLB season! March 29 is the earliest Opening Day ever, necessitated by players getting 3-4 more days off during the season per the new CBA. As always this season, I'll mention start times for matinees only and include national TV info where available.
Cubs at Marlins ( +174, 8 )
The first pitch of the season will come a little after 12:30 p.m. ET from south Florida on ESPN. After Derek Jeter's fire sale, it will be a miracle if the Marlins: 1) sell out another 2018 game after this one - if this even is; and 2) they don't finish with the fewest wins in the majors. Miami is given a win total of 64.5, and that feels way too high to me. I'm thinking 58-104. Seriously, name me five Marlins right now. One of the few promising players on the team currently is 26-year-old Dominican right-hander Jose Urena, who gets his first Opening Day assignment. He's one of the hardest-throwers in the majors. That didn't translate to much success his first two years, but Urena was much improved last season in going 14-7 with a 3.82 ERA. He was 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in two starts vs. the Cubbies. Chicago lefty Jon Lester (13-8, 4.33) is still a good pitcher but is pretty clearly trending down a bit. He's not the ace any longer but deserved the Opening Day call for what he has done for the franchise. Keep in mind that Lester is incapable of throwing to first base so the Marlins may bunt/run on him often.
Key trends: The Cubs are 20-6 in Lester's past openers of a series. The Marlins are 1-6 in their past seven vs. a lefty. The "over/under" has gone under in seven of Chicago's past nine vs. a right-hander.
Early lean: Cubs and under.
Cardinals at Mets (-131, 7)
Wild-card preview!? A 1:10 p.m. ET first pitch from Queens. It's the Mets debut of new manager Mickey Callaway, formerly the highly-respected pitching coach of the Indians. Great hire because the pitching staff is the strength of the Mets - they just can't seem to keep their rotation guys healthy (the team also overhauled its conditioning and sports science program this offseason). If ace Noah Syndergaard stays healthy, he'll be a Cy Young contender. He was limited to just 30.1 innings last year due to injury and was 1-2 with a 2.97 ERA. No one has nastier stuff. In five Grapefruit League starts, Syndergaard posted a 1.35 ERA, hitting 101 mph with his fastball. It's the Cardinals debut of their big offseason trade acquisition, former Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna. He is 3-for-14 career off Syndergaard with a homer and four strikeouts. Carlos Martinez (12-11, 3.64 in 2017) goes for St. Louis. He lost his lone start last year vs. the Mets, allowing five runs in five innings. Re-signed Met Jay Bruce is 4-for-19 off him with two homers.
Key trends: The Cards are 4-1 in Martinez's past five vs. the Mets. New York has lost Syndergaard's past five overall. The under is 12-4-1 in the past 17 meetings in New York.
Early lean: Mets and under.
Yankees at Blue Jays (+138, 8.5)
A 3:37 p.m. ET first pitch from north of the border. The Yankees look like they are back to "Evil Empire" status as one of the World Series favorites and adding slugger Giancarlo Stanton in trade this offseason simply because they were one of the few teams able to swallow the vast majority of that ridiculous contract. The Bombers should be the top road draw in the majors this season with the Stanton and his MLB-best 59 homers joining a lineup with Aaron Judge, who set an MLB rookie record with 52 bombs last year on the way to winning ROY. Oh, and Gary Sanchez is excellent too. The Yanks already have gotten some bad news as injury-prone first baseman Greg Bird is sidelined again. He had surgery Tuesday for a broken spur in his ankle and will miss 6-8 weeks. Neil Walker, normally a second baseman, and Tyler Austin likely will platoon there for now. It's young ace Luis Severino (14-6, 2.98) for the Bombers; he was among the AL leaders last year in ERA, WHIP and Ks and finished third in the Cy Young voting. Jays lefty J.A. Happ (10-11, 3.53) gets his first-ever Opening Day start. He was 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA last year vs. the Yankees. Stanton has a homer in nine at-bats off him.
Key trends: The Yankees are 3-8 in their past 11 road games vs. a lefty. The Jays are 4-12 in Happ's past 16 series openers. The under is 17-8-3 in Happ's past 28 overall.
Early lean: Blue Jays and under.
Giants at Dodgers (-294, 7)
ESPN game. These NL West rivals both recently got terrible news. The Giants are probably toast already with ace Madison Bumgarner expected to be out until June following surgery to replace a broken pinkie on his pitching hand. Naturally, it occurred in what was to be his final spring start. Bumgarner missed a large chunk of 2017 following a shoulder injury suffered in a dirt-bike accident and the Giants collapsed. The Dodgers, meanwhile, are deep and talented enough to deal with the loss of third baseman Justin Turner, at least during the regular season. He is dealing with a broken wrist but didn't need surgery; he's probably out until June too. Logan Forsythe should to third base in Turner's absence, with Chase Utley and Kike Hernandez splitting regular duty at second base. Instead of Bumgarner vs. Clayton Kershaw here it's Ty Blach vs. Kershaw. Blach filled in solidly last year and was 8-12 with a 4.78 ERA. Kershaw (18-4, 2.31) was limited to 27 starts due to back troubles but nearly won another Cy Young anyway. He didn't allow a single run this spring. The lefty is 22-9 with a 1.60 ERA in 40 career starts against the Giants.
Key trends: The Dodgers are 49-10 in Kershaw's past 59 at home. The Giants have lost Blach's past five. The under is 10-1-1 in Blach's past 12 vs. the NL West.
Early lean: Dodgers on runline and under.
Rockies at Diamondbacks (-105, 9.5)
Arguably the best player in baseball the second half of last season not named Giancarlo Stanton was Arizona's J.D. Martinez, but the Snakes were never realistically going to re-sign Martinez and he's now in Boston. To replace his power, Arizona traded for Tampa Bay outfielder Steven Souza Jr. Alas, he will start on the DL with a right pectoral strain and likely won't return until mid-May. Jarrod Dyson and Chris Owings will cover right field in his absence. With Zack Greinke getting a bit of a late start this spring, the opening start for Arizona goes to lefty Patrick Corbin. He was 14-13 with a 4.03 ERA last year and 2-1 with a 4.03 ERA in four starts vs. the Rockies. Colorado's Jon Gray (10-4, 3.67) is a dark-horse Cy Young candidate. He was 2-1 with a 3.50 ERA in three starts vs. Arizona.
Key trends: The Diamondbacks are 7-1 in Corbin's past eight at home vs. Colorado. The over is 5-2 in the Rockies' past seven on the road vs. a lefty.
Early lean: Diamondbacks and over.
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