Daily Expert MLB Picks: Thursday, May 31, 2018, Opening Line Report
Here's hoping you didn't rip up those Dodgers NL West futures tickets back when the team was a season-worst 16-26 and much closer to last place than first in the division. There were never really any questions that L.A. was the most talented team in the West and would turn it around eventually. That has begun and will really get a boost on Thursday with the return of three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. The lefty has been sidelined about a month by left biceps tendinitis. I'll be fascinated to see if Kershaw opts out of his contract after this season like he can. At full health, he would get a raise from his current $33 million annual salary. But Kershaw hasn't been able to stay healthy in recent years and will be 31 next March. Still pretty young, but long-term mega-contracts given to pitchers after age 30 almost never work out. I can't imagine Kershaw ever leaving the Dodgers unless he badly wants to pitch for his hometown Rangers.
Angels at Tigers ( +185, 9 )
First game of the day at 1:10 p.m. ET and on the MLB Network. This could be really rough on the players with that start time if Wednesday night's game is delayed for a while due to rain. It's lefty Andrew Heaney for the Halos. Heaney (2-3, 3.09) has been a pleasant surprise this year, allowing more than two earned just twice in eight starts. He took a no-decision at the Yankees last time out, allowing one run over 6.1. It's his first career look at Detroit. Tigers lefty Francisco Liriano (3-2, 3.90) was set to start here but landed on the DL Tuesday in a minor surprise. He apparently tweaked a hamstring in a bad start vs. the White Sox on Saturday. So it's 27-year-old rookie left-hander Ryan Carpenter (0-1, 8.31), who will be called up from Triple-A for a spot start. He last pitched in the majors on May 16 and allowed six runs and seven hits in a loss to Cleveland. No Angels have seen him.
Key trends: The Angels are 1-6 in Heaney's past seven on the road. The Tigers are 4-1 in their past five vs. a lefty. The "over/under" is 4-1 in Heaney's past five road starts vs. teams with a losing record.
Early lean: Angels on runline and over.
Cubs at Mets (+135, 8)
ESPN+ game and first meeting of the season between these teams. Both looked like rising powers when they met in the 2015 NLCS. The Cubs stayed at that level but the Mets fell off. The Mets bumped struggling Jason Vargas up to Wednesday so they will give Seth Lugo (1-1, 2.48) a spot start here. All 20 of his appearances this year have been out of the bullpen and he's been quite good - until getting roughed up for three runs in 1.1 innings Monday in Atlanta. Needless to say, he won't be going very deep into this one. The Cubs' Anthony Rizzo is 2-for-4 off him with a homer. Kyle Schwarber is 2-for-2 with a double. Chicago lefty Jose Quintana (5-4, 4.78) seems to alternate terrific with terrible. It was the latter Saturday vs. the Giants, allowing four runs in 4.1 innings. He's 1-1 with a 1.93 ERA in 2 career starts vs. the Mets. New Met Jose Bautista can't hit him, going 2-for-22 with eight Ks.
Key trends: The Cubs are 3-13 in their past 16 road games vs. a lefty. They are 1-8 in their past nine at the Mets. The over is 5-1 in Quintana's past six on four days of rest.
Early lean: Mets and over.
Nationals at Braves (-108, 9)
It's the third series between these NL East foes this season. Washington lost two of three in Atlanta from April 2-4 and won two of three at home a week later. The Nats go with Tanner Roark (2-4, 3.17). He has gone exactly seven innings each of his past three, allowing just five combined runs and 14 hits. Yet he's 0-1 because Washington doesn't score for him. Roark won in Atlanta on April 2 (7 IP, 1 ER). Ender Inciarte is a career .400 hitter off him in 25 at-bats. Braves lefty ace Sean Newcomb (5-1, 2.75) comes off easily his shortest outing of the year, three innings (6 H, 3 ER) of a no-decision in Boston on Saturday. Newcomb is from the Boston area so maybe was a bit nervous in his first Fenway start. He lost to Washington on April 2 (4.1 IP, 5 ER). Bryce Harper is 2-for-3 with a homer against him.
Key trends: The Nats are 7-1 in their past eight series openers. The Braves have won five straight on Thursday. The under is 4-0 in Atlanta's past four series openers.
Early lean: Nats and under.
Phillies at Dodgers (-175, 6.5)
Looks to be the pitching matchup of the night and one we could see in Game 1 of a playoff series if the Phillies have staying power. Their young ace Aaron Nola (6-2, 2.27) is on track for an All-Star appearance. He took a no-decision Saturday against Toronto despite allowing just one hit and striking out 10 over 6.2 innings. The Dodgers' Yasmani Grandal is 1-for-2 off him with a homer. Matt Kemp 0-for-11. L.A.'s Kershaw (1-4, 2.86) has looked mortal at times this season but hasn't gotten much run support, either. He last pitched May 1 in Arizona (6 IP, 2 ER). If you are wondering, Kershaw hasn't won single-digit games in a season since 2009. No current Phillie has more than seven at-bats off him. Aaron Altherr is 1-for-3 with a homer.
Key trends: The Phillies are 1-7 in Nola's past eight on the road. The Dodgers are 5-1 in Kershaw's previous six vs. the Phillies. The under his 4-0 in his previous four against them.
Early lean: Phillies on runline and over (call that a hunch).
Red Sox at Astros (-195, 8.5)
Opener of a terrific weekend series and potential playoff preview. Houston will be a tad short-handed as catcher Brian McCann has landed on the disabled list. The 34-year-old had just one hit in his past 26 at-bats and is batting .219 with four homers in 114 at-bats. Might be near the end of the line for him. Houston's Lance McCullers Jr. (6-3, 3.98) has had two lousy starts this year and one was last Saturday when he lasted 4.1 innings and surrendered seven runs and three homers in Cleveland. He had one-hit the Tribe over seven innings the start before that. The Sox's Xander Bogaerts is 4-for-12 with two doubles off him. Struggling Sox lefty Drew Pomeranz (1-2, 6.75) lasted a season-low 3.1 innings Saturday vs. Atlanta (5 ER) but avoided a loss. He may be pitching for his job here. Jose Altuve is 7-for-17 off him.
Key trends: The Astros are 2-5 in their past seven vs. a lefty. The over is 9-3 in Pomeranz's past 12 series openers. The over is 12-5 in the past 17 meetings.
Early lean: Astros on runline and over.
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