Justin Verlander’s struggles continued last night as he allowed seven earned runs for the second consecutive start for the first time in his big league career. It was a measure of concern in Detroit for the last few weeks. Now it might be a measure of near-panic as thr former MVP and Cy Young winner in 2011 has accelerated his decline from peak form and now sunk into “can we win with him on the mound?” territory over the last five weeks.
Hopefully, as a baseball fan, he gets it straightened out. It’s always sad to see great players rapidly tail off for unexplained reasons. Meanwhile, the blowout win moved the Royals into just a half-game out of first place, and the Indians are just 2 ½ games out of the top spot in third. The AL Central looks to be a race again, and with no team more than five games removed from the division lead, it could be a wild one.
We will look to get on track again tonight after another tough one-run loss with Jared Weaver getting bested by the Cleveland Indians who notched their tenth straight home win. Let’s get n the comeback trail with today’s free pick.
Today’s Free Pick:
Cincinnati Reds -122 at Pittsburgh Pirates +115 (Total: 7.5)
Johnny Cueto (6-5, 1.85 ERA) vs. Brandon Cumpton (2-2, 6.06 ERA)
I’ve gone to the Johnny Cueto well a few times lately, and I think the biggest reason why is that despite his mediocre 6-5 record, his ERA is the ebst in the NL and he is in the top two or three in nearly every single pitching statistic for starting pitchers. Simply put, he has been dominant. His defense failed him in two recent starts allowing a boatload on unearned runs, yet the Reds have far and away the fewest errors of any team in the National League. Their defense is good – so as it regressed to the norm, Cueto got the customary defensive support. He has also been the victim of some spotty bullpen work. However with Broxton and Chapman finally both healthy, they have shored up the backend bullpen issues, and aside from some concerns about the 7th inning (which Cueto generally pitches into; he leads the NL in complete games) he should be handing the ball to a reliable source tonight.
On the mound for the home Pirates is Brandon Cumpton, who has had some struggles since joining the Pirates rotation. His ERA is over 6 and he is facing a Reds lineup, that like their bullpen, in finally healthy and has been hitting well of late.
Cueto famously had some troubles in PNC Park in last year’s wild card game. I expect their fans to be a little extra-amped for tonight’s game, but I don’t expect a similar rattling result. Cueto should be able to handle himself and I like the Reds to get their sixth win in eight tries against the Pirates in 2014. When most other factors are relatively even, I’ll take the team with the vastly superior starting pitcher on the mound at a modest price.