Each day LT Profits Sports seeks an overlay side that has a better chance of cashing than its spread, offering long term value. Here is their Side Value Play for Monday.
The second and third place teams in the National League Central clash on Monday Night Baseball and the underdogs with the hot pitcher could have the edge when Jon Lester and those Chicago Cubs (57-47, 30-23 away) pay a visit to fellow southpaw Francisco Liriano and the Pittsburgh Pirates (61-43, 35-17 home) in the first game of a big three-game series from PNC Park in Pittsburgh, PA at 7:05 ET in a game televised nationally on ESPN.
The posted money line at Pinnacle Sports has Chicago as a road underdog for this contest at current odds of +117.
Cubs Catching Fire at Right Time
The Cubs are catching fire just in time for a playoff push as they come off of a four-game road sweep of the Brewers in Milwaukee, giving them five straight wins overall after wrapping up their last home stand with a win over the Colorado Rockies.
That still leaves Chicago in third place in the Central Division and 9½ games behind the team with the best record in baseball the St. Louis Cardinals in first, but just as importantly the Cubs are now in a flat-footed tie with the World Champion San Francisco Giants for the second wild card spot, and should they earn that nod it would end a long playoff drought and in all likelihood give the division three teams in the playoffs.
That is because the Pirates are in second place 5½ games behind the Cardinals after gaining a four-game split vs. the Reds in Cincinnati by being the winning MLB pick 3-0 on Sunday, and Pittsburgh owns the first wild card spot with a four-game lead on the Cubs and Giants.
Lester Looks Like Himself Again
The Cubs were expected to be improved this season after being a suffering franchise for a long time, and that has indeed come to pass not only because of occasional call-ups of great young talent from what is probably the best minor league system in baseball but also because Lester is starting to look like the stud ace pitcher the Cubs though they were getting when signing one of the most coveted free agents this past off-season.
Lester had a slow start in his first year in the National League and he still stands at just 6-8 overall, but he was masterful in that win last Wednesday over Colorado to end the home stand as he allowed two runs and five hits in eight innings with a whopping 14 strikeouts vs. one walk! That means that Lester has now allowed two runs or less in seven over his last nine starts overall, lowering his ERA to 3.26 and his WHIP to 1.17.
Lester has also had a great ratio all year with 136 strikeouts vs. 32 walks in 132.2 innings and he has very strong peripherals with a 2.93 FIP, 2.98 xFIP and 3.1 WAR, so we would not get so caught up with his losing won/lost record.
Not Sharp Last Time Out
Liriano also has a nice streak going on for Pittsburgh as he has now allowed three runs or less six straight starts, although he was very fortunate to keep that streak in tact vs. the Twins in Minnesota last Wednesday, and he is now facing an offense that has been at its best this year vs. southpaws on the road.
You see, Liriano escaped with allowing only three runs in Minneapolis despite allowing 10 hits and lasting only 5.2 innings, meaning he failed to qualify for a Quality Start,. Furthermore, he needed 106 pitches to get though that short outing as his command was not what it was in previous efforts even though he allowed no walks.
Now, Liriano must contend with a Cubs’ lineup that is batting a nice .269 and averaging a hearty 5.05 runs per game vs. left-handed pitchers on the road for the season.
Chicago Success vs. Lefties
Finally, the Cubs have had good success vs. southpaws regardless of the venue as of late as they are now 9-4 in their last 13 games vs. left-handed starters overall. Additionally, the Cubs have now won five straight games on the road following the sweep on Milwaukee and they are 6-1 in Lester’s last seven starts vs. fellow National League Central Division foes.
With all of this on mind, look for Chicago to overcome a difficult road venue with their hot ace starter on the mound and pull the upset in Pittsburgh Monday on ESPN.
MLB Pick: Cubs +117