It's baseball season, and what better way to start the fun than with the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs taking on their fiercest rival, St. Louis Cardinals, on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball.
After a long winter, the boys of summer are back, and while “Opening Day” is still more widely celebrated tomorrow, ESPN has drummed up a fun way to kick off the season with round-the-clock action to give us a little baseball sneak preview.
Speaking of previews, if you haven’t taken a look at our season preview on TheSportsGeek.com, be sure to check it out after today’s column!
The day begins at 1pm EST on ESPN with the new-look, younger Yankees visiting the Tampa Bay Rays and ace Chris Archer. My beat is the Senior Circuit, so I’ll be far more interested in the 4:30 matinee between the Giants (one of my favorite NL value plays) visiting Arizona. It doesn’t get much better than MadBum facing off against Zack Greinke… Except when it does. The nightcap IS even better as the defending champion Cubs take on their fiercest rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball. And that is where our first pick of the season will center; by The Arch for a Jon Lester vs. Carlos Martinez duel.
Today’s MLB Pick:
Chicago Cubs -120 at St. Louis Cardinals +110 (Total: 7)
Jon Lester vs. Carlos Martinez
For the first few weeks of the season, I’ll be a little more deliberate in my column; treating the first few times covering each team in a picked game as a de facto “season preview” as there are always a lot of subtle changes in the offseason that all but the most diligent baseball fans miss. Sure, we know the BIG moves, but the little stuff generally slips by while Football and Basketball dominate the offseason media coverage.
Let’s look at the Cubs first. Their lineup is largely intact, but they will miss Dexter Fowler at the top of the order. He’ll be in the house tonight – just in the opposing uniform. Fowler signed a monster deal with the Cardinals that was too lucrative to ignore. His defense, leadership and getting-on-base ability will be missed. But let’s not weep too much for the Cubbies. Fowler is gone, but surely Jason Heyward is better in 2017 that he was in 2016. He was one of the worst offensive regulars in all of baseball last season but his career sample size suggests it was an odd aberration. Stay tuned.
The Cubs also have another HUGE addition in a healthy Kyle Schwarber. They’ll have to hide him a bit defensively. Enter new-addition and former Cardinal John Jay. He will likely get the bulk of the action in center early, though 22-year old Albert Almora Jr. could very well steal the job on the sheer virtue of insane talent. The rich get richer, right? The rest of the Cubs lineup is the same, and that’s a GOOD thing. Their infield of Bryant, Russell, Zobrist/Baez, and Rizzo is the best infield in baseball – both with the bats AND gloves. Montero and Contreras will split the catching with David Ross retiring in the offseason.
The only other major moves in Chicago were the loss of Aroldis Chapman and addition of Uehara. They’ll be just fine.
In St. Louis, it is an interesting season. They are just two years removed from winning 100 games, yet the roster feels a little odd in some places (Molina, Holliday) and a little uncertain yet promising in others (Diaz, Piscotty, Grichuk) but the rotation is solid, and the Cardinals should once again be in Playoff contention. They don’t have the same explosive pitching as they have in the past, but this is a solid veteran staff if Wainwright can regain his old form and they can coax another solid year out of Mike Leake.
I expect both of these teams to be playing meaningful baseball in September and likely October.
For TONIGHT, however, the edge has to go to Lester and Chicago. These two pitchers met head-to-head three times last year. Martinez was decent, posting a 4.50 ERA over 18 innings. Lester was DOMINANT, allowing just two runs in 20.2 innings, and ERA UNDER 1.00. Lester struck out 21 batters against just three walks, Martinez posted a 19/7 split.
Anytime I can get Lester in a game and the line is less than -150, I’m going to take a long look. Anytime I can get it all the way down at -120, I’m in. The best offense, the best defense and one of the best pitchers in baseball at a price this slim?
Today’s Pick: CHICAGO CUBS to WIN -120
** For a refresher on baseball betting terms (runline, moneyline, listed pitchers, etc.) and nuance, be sure to refer to the baseball betting guide on TheSportsGeek website.