It’s Opening Day! Though if you live anywhere near me in the Midwest, it certainly doesn’t look like it. There is a dusting of snow covering the land and sub-freezing temperatures all over the place. In fact, the game I’m covering today will be played right around 40 degrees in Pittsburgh, which should be fun for batters facing Adam Wainwright and Francisco Liriano (who got the Opening Day nod over Gerrit Cole, whom the Pirates are holding him out one more week to recover from a rib cage injury). It is Liriano’s third straight Opening Day start, so don’t expect pressure or nerves to be a big factor today in freezing PNC Park.
Baseball has expanded its Opening Night theme from years past, and instead of just the Sunday Night opener on ESPN, has added two afternoon games to make it a full day of baseball celebration. The Pirates and Cards tilt begins at 1:05 EST and there is an afternoon matinee between the Jays and Rays at 4:05 (also on ESPN), and in the nightcap, MLB has taken a page out of the NFL’s playbook and will give us a rematch of World Series opponents Kansas City and New York. There’s certainly nothing wrong with starting off the season with Matt Harvey trying to get a little revenge against the Royals and Edinson Volquez.
It’s going to be a great season – and I’ll be here all year long with some in-depth looks at the National League. Let’s make it a fun season – and a profitable one!
Today’s Free Pick:
St. Louis Cardinals +114 at Pittsburgh Pirates -122 (TOTAL: 6)
Adam Wainwright vs. Francisco Liriano
It’s an exciting time in Pittsburgh. Not only are the long-suffering Pirates trying to make the Postseason for the fourth straight year (yes, those two wildcard losses hurt, but postseason nonetheless), MLB seems to finally be on board with the Pirates as a marquee franchise, featuring them on ESPN for the season opener. The Cardinals/Pirates/Cubs registered three of the top four records in all of baseball last season and the NL Central figures to be wild and hotly contested once again. Add in the struggles for the rebuilding Brewers and Reds, and there is no reason these three can’t all win 95-plus games once again (though I wouldn’t bet on such an anomalous trio of success – it was unprecedented in the modern six-division era).
A big part of this race will come down to how these three fare head-too-head in their respective 36 matchups. So, despite the snow flurries and the fact that there are 161 games AFTER today, it’s a pretty big game for an Opener and certainly one each team would like to nab to set the right tone.
It’s also a big day for Adam Wainwright. The 34-year old ace missed nearly all of last season due to injury but was one of the best in all of baseball in 2013 and 2014, winning 19 and 20 games and posting a 2.94 and 2.38 ERA respectively. If he can regain his prior form, this Cardinal staff could be devastatingly good and make all the “Cubs will win the World Series” predictions look like cruel over-optimism. The Cards have some major changes this season, and losing Jason Hayward to the aforementioned Cubbies is a BIG blow, but the Cardinals seem to always figure it out with an endless pipeline of minor league talent and organizational excellence. Like the Spurs, or the Steelers, or Duke; Write them off at your own peril.
So who reigns today? Pitchers or batters? The cold weather certainly usually favors pitchers. So does the earliness of the game – conventional wisdom says pitchers are ahead of hitters in the first few weeks of April. The run line opened at 6.5 and shrunk quickly to 6. That feels a little too slim to bet the UNDER, but I am reluctant to bet on batters today.
The best value is on the Cardinals at plus-money. Wainwright is fully healthy, and he has been good historically against the Pirates. He has allowed just eight runs over 34 innings in five starts in 2014. He allowed more than 2 just once and allowed zero twice. Meanwhile, Liriano has allowed 11 runs in his last 26.2 innings against the Cards and 32 runners to reach base, for a WHIP of about 1.30. I think both will pitch pretty well today, but if I can get the starter with better history AND plus money, that will usually be where I look for value.