Cubs vs. Reds Pick MLB – April 21st

It’s a mixed bag in MLB action today with about a half-dozen matinee “get-away day” games wrapping up series as well as about a half dozen evening games starting off weekend four-game sets.  I took a breather yesterday to dust off the pants after a skidding second week of the season.  It’s a long season for sure, but still eager to get back to our winning ways and stack up a little momentum.

It’s also one heckuva day for National League pitching, with some of the best in the business on the bump today getting the ball.  The afternoon starts off with Clayton Kershaw and his 2-0 record and 1.64 ERA in Atlanta, and Max Scherzer looking to guide the red-hot Nats to his personal third win in the series wrap-up in Miami.  Johnny Cueto gets the ball as the Giants wrap up the series with Arizona at 3:45 EST and Gerrit Cole tries to reestablish his usual excellent form and shake off an early 0-2 start tonight as the Pirates visit Petco (not a bad place to get right if you are a struggling starting pitcher).

But the most interesting matchup is the Cubs visiting Cincinnati tonight.  Not because the two teams are even; last week’s romp in Chicago showed they are decisively NOT – but because of tonight’s pitching matchup.  Brandon Finnegan took a  no-no into the seventh inning last week in Wrigley before the Reds bullpen brought out their gas cans and blew the lead (a sentence I will likely write 30-50 more times this season…).  Can he muster a similar effort tonight?  Because he will likely NEED to with Jake Arrieta on the mound.  Even the most ardent Cubs fan had to expect a little regression from Arrieta this season.  After all, the veteran delivered LITERALLY the great second half of a season in MLB history last year.  But at 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA, Arrieta is JUST as good and looking Cy-worthy once again.

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Today’s Free Pick:

Chicago Cubs -200 at Cincinnati Reds +192 (Total: 6.5)

Jake Arrieta (3-0, 1.23 ERA) vs. Brandon Finnegan (1-0, 2.04 ERA)

This isn’t a pick against Arrieta – but so far this season, Finnegan has actually been MORE unhittable than Arrieta.  Of course, his control has left something to be desired, so his WHIP is higher, but he has actually struck out a higher percentage of batters and allowed less hits per inning than the reigning Cy Young winner.  The Cubs lineup can grind out at bats as well as anyone in baseball – think the vintage Yankee squads – which means that even if Finnegan IS unhittable again, they will likely wear out the youngster by the sixth or seventh inning and get to the miserable Reds bullpen.

Here’s some staggering stats on Arrieta from ESPN.com: “The reigning NL Cy Young winner has the longest quality-start streak on the present-day mound, is 19-1 with a 0.91 ERA, 0.71 WHIP and .156 opponent batting average in those 23 starts. Those numbers have all gotten better in the last 16 — 14-0, 0.70, 0.69 and .152.”

Um.  Yeah.  Basically, this guy has over the last 23 starts has been even better than what was considered the greatest stretch EVER by Bob Gibson – and that dominance led to the mound being lowered.  SO to pick Cincinnati would be a little fool-hearty tonight.  I see Finnegan keeping the Reds in it, but their bullie blowing up things as it has a half dozen times already this young season.  Cincinnati’s bullpen ERA is 6.06, 29th in baseball.  Perhaps one of their talented young starters will slide over to help things out once Homer Bailey comes off the DL, but it is pretty unlikely any help is realistically arriving in 2016 – a year dedicated to the rebuilding process after jettisoning their entire rotation as well as several key position players (and trying to move Phillips and Bruce, only to be thwarted by no-trade clauses and failed physicals).

The Cubs are seeing an average of more than four pitches per at bat.  More importantly, they are batting just .236 but have the third best OBP in the NL and are scoring the second most runs in the league.  Look for them to pull away and win by at least two or three runs tonight as it is unlikely the Reds are scoring.

The regular -200 line is too little value for me, but on the -1.5 runline at -120 is a good deal.

Free Pick: Chicago Cubs (RUNLINE -1.5) -120

Chris Scheeren / Author