There's a lot of optimism this year on the North Side of Chicago where the Cubs host the MLB season opener with a baseball odds matchup against the rival St. Louis Cardinals.
It was a busy offseason for Theo Epstein and the Chicago Cubs. Hired three seasons ago as president of baseball operations, Epstein's task of rebuilding the team began with hiring his third manager since arriving in Chicago before the 2012 season, plucking Joe Maddon from the Tampa Bay Rays to replace Rick Renteria.
Epstein also brought in a new veteran arm for the rotation by signing free agent lefty Jon Lester, the two linked together from their time with the Boston Red Sox.
Baseball bettors were also busy betting on the Cubs during the offseason, the MGM in Las Vegas recently reporting that the total number of MLB futures odds on Chicago's National League entry more than double the number of any other team. Optimism always runs rampant on Opening Day, but that's a lot of hope for a team that has finished fifth in the NL Central five years running and hasn't won a World Series since 1908.
Chicago's attempt to stop both of those streaks begins Sunday night in the opener of the 2015 MLB betting campaign, and it all begins with a matchup against the St. Louis Cardinals who are 2-time defending division champions with a pair of World Series titles n the last nine seasons. Lester will deliver the game's first pitch a little past 7 PM (ET) with ESPN's cameras on hand, the game currently a pick 'em at many shops while a few slightly favor the Cubs.
St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright will oppose Lester in the first of 2,430 games on the MLB slate, and the baseball betting board is showing 7½ for the total with a lean to the low side of the mark.
Lester's Cubs Debut Just His 2nd Appearance At Wrigley
After anchoring Boston's staff from 2008 until midway through 2014, Lester was shipped off to Oakland in his walk season to help the Athletics into the American League Playoffs. The Cubs also dealt Jeff Samardzija to the A's about the same time last year, and now Lester is tasked with replacing Samardzija at the top of the Cubs rotation.
Sunday night will be just his second appearance ever at Wrigley Field, and also the second time in his career to face the Cardinals. Lester saw the Redbirds in Boston during an interleague match in June 2008, taking a no-decision with a 7.1 IP, 2 ER linescore in a 5-3 Red Sox win that took 13 innings. His previous trip to the bump in Chicago came in May 2011, the southpaw picking up the dubya despite allowing 5 ER in six frames.
Wainwright has seen the Cubs plenty over the years, and earned his 20th win of 2014 at Wrigley last September with seven shutout innings while whiffing eight. St. Louis won all four of his starts against Chicago last year, and the last three Wainwright made in 2013. The big righty's two assignments at Wrigley in 2014 totaled 14 scoreless innings with the Cubs amassing just eight hits.
Cards With 4-Season Run In Longtime Series
Tonight's tilt will be the 2,345th between the Cubs and Cardinals, Chicago holding a 1,189-1,136 advantage -- 512-412 all-time at Wrigley -- with 19 games ending in deadlock. St. Louis has won the season series each of the past four years, however, going 42-28 in that span. Totals ran 4-4-1 O/U/P at the friendly confines in 2014.
The weather forecast is always important, especially early in the season at Wrigley Field when cold and wind often play into the mix. Today's Windy City projection is a good one, however, with clear skies and a game-time temperature around 60ºF. The thermometer should drop into the low-to-mid 50s as the contest progresses, and we could see a shift from a light SW breeze (out to center) to a NE breeze (in from center) during the matchup.
Lester and Wainwright each made just three starts in spring training, and neither is expected to exceed 90 pitches tonight. I'm going to hope on the 'over' train for my first free MLB pick of the season.
MLB pick: Cardinals-Cubs Over 7 (+109) at Pinnacle