The second half of the season gets officially kicked off tonight, albeit a lighter load of games as about a dozen or so teams will be enjoying one extra night of All-Star Break rest. It should be an exciting Fall in MLB as several surprising teams are faced with the charge of proving they can hang in the race for the long haul.
In the National League, the two clear surprising teams are the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Pittsburgh Pirates, though both are surprising for different reasons. The D-Backs have enjoyed plenty of success in their relatively short existence, so post-season baseball is nothing surprising in Phoenix, however after last year’s strikeout filled debacle, expectations were relatively low in the desert this season. At 49-43 and only three games behind the defending World Champs, the expectations are suddenly as hot as the Phoenix summer.
In Pittsburgh, so say they have been mired in a slump of mediocrity would be incredibly benign; “deplorable” “miserable” and “pathetic” wouldn’t be overly severe either. It’s been nearly two decades since this squad finished above .500, yet at the break, here they are – four games over .500 and just one game out in the uber-competitive NL Central.
Will either team hold on? I lean “no” on both, but it is sure going to be a much more interesting summer than fans in either city anticipated.
Let’s get to today’s free picks.
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Florida Marlins +110 @ Chicago Cubs -120
A. Sanchez (6-2, 3.58) vs. M. Garza (4-7, 4.26)
The first half of the season couldn’t end soon enough for either of these teams. The Marlins limped through the last six weeks, although they did close on a rare 5 game winning streak (after dropping 19 of 20), while the Cubs have been booting the ball all over the yard since April. Tonight features a pretty strong pitching matchup for both teams as they send their de facto aces to the mound.
For Florida, they do enter the second half hot, winner’s of five straight, and have fared decently with Anabel Sanchez on the mound. What is interesting though, is despite his 6-2 record, the team is just 9-9 in his starts. That is a screaming neon sign that their bullpen is unreliable and that Sanchez isn’t pitching deep enough into ball games. That could be part of the reason why the over is 8-3 in his last 11 starts.
Matt Garza was Chicago’s marquee free agent acquisition this offseason. While it hasn’t gone Barry Zito poorly; it has been far from a success. Garza is just 4-7, and the team is 6-10 with him on the hill. Nearly 5 earned runs a night with a defense that leads the NL in unearned runs is a recipe for some pretty poor results.
I like the Marlins tonight, but I like the OVER even more once it officially posts, provided is is no higher than 9. For now, my official pick is Florida at the +110, but keep an eye on the over as well.
New York Yankees -150 @ Toronto Blue Jays +130 (TOTAL: 9.5)
B. Colon (6-4, 3.20) vs. J. Reyes (4-7, 4.57)
The Yankees begin the second half of the season in their familiar place, right in the thick of the AL East pennant race and looking like a virtual certainty to make the Postseason. By the way, did you hear Derek Jeter got his 3,000th hit?? Obviously, I kid, but it will be a nice change of pace in the Bronx to have the media circus that surrounded the wait for the landmark hit. Now, they can get back to the business of winning the AL pennant.
Tonight won’t be as easy as it looks at first glance. Toronto hurler JoJo Reyes got a lot of attention for his record breaking streak of futility, losing 22 straight decisions, but in truth he wasn’t really THAT bad. In fact, the past few weeks he has actually been more than “not bad”; he’s been “pretty good.” He has allowed four or less runs in 7 of 9 starts, twice throwing shutouts, while he racked up 4 wins personally, and the team notched 5.
For the Yankees, they’ll give the ball to resurgent Bartolo Colon tonight, with hopes he can continue his dominant pitching performance. In his last three starts, Colon is 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA and a WHIP of just 1.20. The Yankees have fared well with Colon on the hill, going 8-4 in his 12 starts this season.
The Yankees have a lot of trends pointing towards the UNDER. The UNDER is 12-3-1 in their last 16 road games, and 8-2-1 in their last 11 games overall and as the favorite. For Toronto, the UNDER is also very prevalent, 15-4-2 in their last 21 games as an underdog. That is two pretty strong trends going in the same direction, so I’ll gladly go along with them.