A couple of teams on opposite ends of the National League spectrum square off this afternoon in one of the final games at HoHoKam Stadium, and it's the long shot Chicago Cubs that are favorites against the defending World Series Champions.
Morning MLB odds at Pinnacle list the Cubs at -111 while the take-back on the San Francisco Giants is nearly level at -101. First pitch in Mesa will be a little past one o'clock local time (4 PM ET) and delivered by Chicago's Travis Wood. The Giants counter with Ryan Vogelsong.
The Cubs are priced at 50/1 to win the NL according to the latest baseball futures odds at The Greek. That puts them in front of only the Miami Marlins (125/1) in the Senior Circuit. San Francisco, meanwhile, checks in at 13/2, fourth on the chart behind the Dodgers (3/1), Nationals (7/2) and Reds (4/1).
Chicago may not contend for the playoffs, but the Cubs are rising through the Cactus League standings with four straight wins and an 8-3 mark their last 11, including split-squad affairs. Theo Epstein still has some work to do to rebuild the roster with the club still shopping veterans like Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol. Still, manager Dale Sveum has a scrappy young crew that could be a pleasant surprise in 2013 and finish ahead of the current win total (72½).
Wood has pitched his way into Sveum's rotation with a fine spring that has included one start and three relief outings. The former 2nd-round pick by the Reds in 2005 has been credited with three wins along the way while fashioning a 3.00 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 12 innings.
Vogelsong doesn't have any dubyas to show for his excellent exhibition work that has consisted of four official starts so far. The righthander has limited hitters to a .196 batting average while striking out 14 in as many innings, and has yet to give up a long ball.
It should be a perfect afternoon on the east side of Phoenix where the high temp is expected to reach the upper-70s during game. No clouds are in the forecast with only a hint of a breeze, and I'm going to roll with the Cubs for the first of today's free picks.
Greinke Tests Elbow Vs. Old Mates In Night Tilt
Moving crosstown to Phoenix's northwest side, all eyes will be on Zack Greinke tonight when he takes the mound for the Los Angeles Dodgers against the Kansas City Royals. The matchup is slated to get underway at 9:10 PM (ET), and the MLB odds have the Royals as -126 home favorites over the visiting Dodgers (+112).
It is the first official appearance for the pitching prize from this last winter's free agent crop since March 1, and the Dodgers will be holding their breath that Greinke's elbow stands up to the test. The righthander tuned up for this one with four shutout innings in a minor league contest last Wednesday, and he is expected to get in 50 pitches against the team that selected him sixth overall in the June '02 draft.
Among the relievers who will follow him is another former KC hurler, JP Howell, and Adrian Gonzalez is expected to be in LA's starting lineup at first base.
The Royals continue to pace the spring training standings and enter the match with a 4-game win streak. Kansas City leads all clubs with 188 runs scored in exhibition play, and tops all Cactus League squads allowing 4.77 runs per game.
Wade Davis, tonight's KC starter, has certainly done his job keeping the opposition off the pay station as he prepares for his fourth official starting assignment. The big righty worked four innings his last time out after missing some time with a minor shoulder ailment in early March, and manager Ned Yost is hoping to get five innings out of the former Tampa Bay hurler tonight. Yost is listing Luke Hochevar, Aaron Crow, J.C. Gutierrez and Dan Wheeler for his bullpen rotation behind Davis.
Greinke's uncertainty plus the Royals' fine play leads me to back KC with the second of my MLB picks today.
My picks: Cubs -111, Royals -126Preseason: 11-12 (-$1.97)