Daily Expert MLB Picks: Tuesday, May 1, 2018, Opening Line Report
With Tuesday the first of May, it's a good time to check the updated standings. You would think it wouldn't much matter this early in a season which teams are leading their divisions. You would be wrong. Since the advent of the first wild-card spot in 1996, 15 of the 22 World Series winners led their division on May 1. That includes the 2017 Houston Astros. The other division leaders on May 1 last year were Baltimore (missed playoffs), Cleveland (won AL Central), Washington (won NL East), Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee (tied in NL Central - Cubs won that) and Colorado (wild-card team). I tend to think every current AL division leader will take its division; rather doubt any of the three NL leaders do.
Pirates at Nationals ( -245, 7.5 )
Pittsburgh is one of those NL division leaders (as of this writing) that I don't believe has staying power. The Cubs will pass the Bucs soon enough. It's Chad Kuhl (3-1, 4.55) on the mound for the Pirates here. He has won back-to-back starts, going six innings in each after not lasting more than 5.2 in his first three. Kuhl struck out a career-high eight last time out vs. Detroit. He threw six shutout innings, allowing one hit, in his only career start at Nationals Park on July 17, 2016. Ryan Zimmerman is 2-for-3 off him with two RBIs. Washington ace Max Scherzer (5-1, 1.62) struck out 10 in a win at the Giants last Wednesday, his fourth game this season with double-digit Ks. He leads the NL with 57 strikeouts and hasn't allowed more than two earned in a start yet this year. Pittsburgh's Starling Marte is 4-for-14 off him with six strikeouts. Gregory Polanco 1-for-11 with six Ks.
Key trends: The Pirates are 1-7 in Kuhl's past eight on the road. The Nats are 9-2 in Scherzer's past 11 at home. The "over/under" has gone under in eight of Scherzer's past 11 on Tuesday.
Early lean: Nats on runline and under.
Braves at Mets (-205, 7)
How freaking good has Braves rookie Ronald Acuna, the No. 1-ranked prospect in MLB, been so far? As expected, the team kept him in the minors long enough to have another year of control, but Acuna already is making a case for NL Rookie of the Year. The 20-year-old is the youngest player in the majors and has three multiple-hit games in his five with an obscene 1.289 OPS. Acuna gets his first look at New York ace Noah Syndergaard (2-0, 2.86). He took a no-decision in Atlanta on April 20 before Acuna's promotion, allowing three runs over six innings with six strikeouts. His bullpen blew him a win last time out in St. Louis. Freddie Freeman is 5-for-12 career off him with a homer. Atlanta lefty Sean Newcomb (1-1, 4.23) lost to the Nationals in his season debut, surrendering a season-high six runs over 4.1 innings. Amed Rosario is 2-for-2 off him with two doubles. Newcomb won't have to worry about Yoenis Cespedes, who expects to miss a few games with a thumb injury.
Key trends: The Mets are 13-5 in Syndergaard's past 18 following a Mets loss. The over is 4-1 in his previous five vs. the Braves.
Early lean: Mets on runline and under.
Rockies at Cubs (-173, TBA)
Any time these teams play, I always wonder what if. In the 2013 draft, Houston chose pitcher Mark Appel No. 1. Had the Astros chosen anyone else, the Cubs coveted Appel - who proved a bust and is out of baseball now. Instead, the Cubs took Kris Bryant at No. 2, a guy the Rockies absolutely would have taken No. 3 if available. Instead, Colorado took Jon Gray, who goes here. Gray (2-4, 5.79) comes off his best start of the year, blanking San Diego on three hits with 11 strikeouts over six innings. Gray claims to have changed the grip on his slider entering that one. He was shelled by the Cubs on April 20 (5 IP, 7 R). Bryant is 0-for-2 against him. Javier Baez is 3-for-3 with a homer. The Cubs' Kyle Hendricks (2-1, 3.10) comes off his best outing of the year, shutting out the Brewers on four hits over seven. He won in Colorado on April 20 (5 IP, 3 ER). Nolan Arenado is 5-for-19 against him with a homer.
Key trends: The Rockies are 5-12 in Gray's past 17 road starts vs. teams with a winning record. The Cubs are 2-5 in Hendricks' past seven at home vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 10-3 in Hendricks' past 13.
Early lean: Cubs.
Yankees at Astros (-170, 8)
MLB Network game and the clear series of the early week. The Yanks start lefty Jordan Montgomery (2-0, 3.76). He took a no-decision vs. the Twins on Thursday, allowing two runs over five innings. Walks are a big reason he hasn't gone longer than six yet with 12 free passes over 26.1 innings. Houston's Carlos Correa is 4-for-6 against him with a homer. Former Yankee Brian McCann 2-for-3 with a dinger. Astros ace Justin Verlander (4-0, 1.36), an early AL Cy Young leader, is among the league leaders in pretty much all pitching categories. He went seven Wednesday vs. the Angels, allowing two runs and striking out nine. Aaron Hicks is 0-for-9 vs. Verlander. Giancarlo Stanton 1-for-5 with a homer and three Ks.
Key trends: The Yanks are 4-1 in Montgomery's past five road starts. The Astros are 7-1 in Verlander's past eight at home. The over is 4-0 in Montgomery's past eight on the road.
Early lean: Astros and over.
Dodgers at Diamondbacks (+203, 7.5)
I wrote last week that the Dodgers were one of the biggest favorites in a decade when Clayton Kershaw (1-4, 2.84) took the mound last Wednesday against the terrible Miami Marlins and a starting pitcher that no one had ever heard of. Kershaw, though, was definitely not himself in tying a career high with six walks - he used to go six weeks without that many. He entered that start without having issued a walk in his previous three starts. Kershaw also didn't walk more than four batters all season in 2017 and hadn't allowed six walks in a game since April 7, 2010 vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was just the third time in his career he had allowed six walks. Kershaw took the loss, allowing three runs and five hits over a season-low five innings. He's 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA and 18 strikeouts in two starts this year vs. Arizona. Paul Goldschmidt is a career .224 hitter of him with three homers and 18 Ks in 49 at-bats. The Snakes' Matt Koch (1-0, 1.93) got his second career win Thursday, allowing two runs in six at Philadelphia. He has thrown one career inning vs. L.A.
Key trends: The Snakes are 4-1 in their past five on Tuesday. The over is 9-1 in L.A.'s previous 10 vs. the NL West.
Early lean: Diamondbacks on runline and over.
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