It is the final week before the All-Star break and there are a trio of encounters that have implications to division races and baseball handicappers have to sort them out against the MLB odds.
One contest is a national cable game and really matters to the home team and the other two confrontations are in the American League and definitely matter to all four squads. In each instance we will breakdown the starting pitchers and what they will mean towards tonight MLB picks.
Cardinals vs. Cubs: Lackey vs. Lester
The Chicago Cubs have a younger, less-experienced team which is still learning what it takes to win consistently. St. Louis has the best record in baseball and has schooled their more youthful division rivals, beating them seven of nine times this season.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon said, as his club was being swept in St. Louis nine days ago, that losing to the Cardinals was as much "mental as it was physical." No question Jon Lester (4-6, 3.74 ERA) was acquired to lead the Chicago pitching staff and he hasn't won since May and sporting a 5.74 ERA in June... it's time for him to start earning his money. Lester will take on a slumping St. Louis lineup which is averaging 2.1 runs per game in their last seven and is 7-11 versus left-landed starters. His mound opponent will be former Red Sox teammate John Lackey (6-5, 3.30, who has a 2.17 ERA in his last four starts and he will face a scuffling Chicago lineup with a .207 average and scoring 2.2 runs per game over its last dozen contests.
Many sportsbooks betting odds have the Cubs as -130 Wrigley Field favorites (Wagerweb.ag is at -125 when we checked) for this ESPN Monday night matchup. While it would be fun to see the Cubs finally make this more competitive, I'm not sold, especially since on Lester and the Cards are 33-14 after allowing two runs or less this season.
Slight Advantage - Lackey and St. Louis
Orioles vs. Twins: Chen vs. Hughes
Baltimore and Minnesota are both in second place in their respective AL divisions with 43-39 records. The Orioles road trip continues after losing series to the White Sox and Minnesota is thrilled to be back in the Twin Cities after a 4-6 away excursion.
After making a massive surge to be become a AL East contender, Baltimore has dumped five of seven and turn to Wei-Yin Chen (4-4, 2.84) who has strung together five very good outings in posting an ERA under 2.00. He will face Phil Hughes (7-6, 4.27), who is overcoming a slumbering start and has a 1.59 ERA in his past three outings, but has again been felled by the gopher-ball, surrendering at least one homer in five consecutive starts, including a pair twice.
The MLB betting odds opened at a Pick, shot to the Birds around -120 and that have tumbled back to the O's under -110. Definitely like the fact Hughes and the Twinkies are 9-1 after he's given up two or fewer earned runs in his last two outings, but, Baltimore is 10-1 after a win by eight or more runs and Chen and his mates are 3-1 versus Minnesota.
Slight Advantage - Chen and Baltimore
Rays vs. Royals: Colome vs. Volquez
Yesterday was a big day for both Tampa Bay and Kansas City as they get ready to collide this evening. The Rays ended a dismal seven-game losing streak with win over the Yankees and the Royals held off second place Minnesota to earn a split in the series.
Alex Colome (3-4, 4.70) will attempt to make it two straight for Tampa Bay, but it might not be that simple for the righty who is 0-3 with a 4.63 ERA in his last eight starts (Rays 0-8). Edinson Volquez (8-4, 3.48) has been running hot and cold since June 5th but has picked up four wins in a row and was bailed out from what could have been a loss at Houston in his last start.
Kansas City is a -132 home favorite and they are 29-14 after scoring four runs or less in three straight games and we will give them the nod for sports picks since they are 10-3 against the Rays the last two years, including 5-1 at Kauffman Stadium.
Advantage - Volquez and Kansas City