MLB Odds: Bet Cubs Behind Lester In Series Finale vs. Pirates

Matthew Jordan

Sunday, May 15, 2016 11:00 AM UTC

Sunday, May. 15, 2016 11:00 AM UTC

The Pirates and Cubs conclude a three-game series on Sunday at Wrigley with perhaps the best pitching matchup around baseball for the day. Chicago is -140 on MLB odds.

What You Need To Know
I sort of feel sorry for the Pittsburgh Pirates. It is a very well-run organization with some excellent players in their primes. For example, they have maybe the best all-around outfield in baseball in annual NL MVP candidate (and former winner) Andrew McCutchen in center along with left fielder Starling Marte and right fielder Gregory Polanco. Name me a better outfield.

Pittsburgh has made the playoffs each of the past three seasons despite a small-market payroll. The problem is that Pirates keep landing in the wild-card game. They won it in 2013 but had to use ace pitcher Francisco Liriano instead of potentially having him for two games in the NLDS, which the Pirates lost to St. Louis. In 2014, the Pirates lost the wild-card game to the Giants and their ace in Madison Bumgarner. Last year, the fell to the Cubs and their ace Jake Arrieta.

My point being: Pittsburgh badly wanted to win a division title this year for the first time since 1992 so it wouldn't again have to play in that winner-take-all wild-card game. Alas, the Bucs probably will have to take that route again if they make the playoffs because the Chicago Cubs are pretty clearly the class of baseball and might clinch the division by Labor Day the way things are going. Pittsburgh simply has the misfortune of playing in the same division with the powerhouse, big-spending Cubs and arguably the best-run franchise in baseball in the St. Louis Cardinals. The Pirates close the season with three games in St. Louis and that could be crucial for a wild-card spot.

Probable Pitchers
It's one of the best young pitchers in baseball starting for Pittsburgh in 25-year-old right-hander Gerrit Cole (3-3, 3.78). Although, he hasn't been his usual dominant self at time this season as he's having trouble going deep into games with high pitch counts. Cole hasn't lasted more than six yet. Control (12 walks) has been a problem occasionally. Last time out, he allowed two runs and six hits over six innings in a win in St. Louis. Cole allowed only his second homer of the season, hit by St. Louis rookie Jeremy Hazelbaker. The Pirates are 1-4 on MLB odds in Cole's past five starts vs. teams with a winning record.

Cole lost at home to Chicago on May 2 and it was his worst outing of the year, giving up six runs (five earned) and six hits over 4.2 innings, walking a season-high four. Cole allowed the Cubs' leadoff man to reach base in each of his first four innings. They all got to at least second base, with Dexter Fowler twice stealing second and Addison Russell also getting a steal (the other, Matt Szczur, got there when Cole's pickoff throw was wild). Cole allowed 25 steals last year, fifth-highest in the majors.  Anthony Rizzo hits Cole well in his career, going 8-for-20 with three doubles and two RBIs. Struggling Jason Heyward is 3-for-15 with a double and four walks against him. Kris Bryant is 3-for-10 with four walks and six strikeouts. The only current Cub who has homered off Cole is Javier Baez.

Speaking of allowing stolen bases, Cubs lefty Jon Lester led the majors by far in 2015 with 44. Lester clearly was having trouble adjusting to the National League, where running is used more often than in the AL. He has been much better this year, allowing three steals. Lester (4-1, 1.96) is in the early Cy Young conversation with six quality starts in seven outings. The Cubs have won the past four times he has taken the mound. He gave up three runs on four hits in six innings Tuesday vs. San Diego. It was the fifth time this season he has allowed five hits or fewer. The 'under' has hit on MLB picks in 13 of Lester's past 16 on four days of rest.

On May 4 in Pittsburgh, Lester didn't allow a run in 5.2 innings despite giving up eight hits in a 6-2 victory. It's the only start of 2016 where Lester didn't go at least six innings. Lester was able to escape a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the fourth. McCutchen is just 2-for-16 career off him with four strikeouts. Marte is 3-for-12 with a double. Polanco is 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. Matt Joyce hits him well, going 4-for-11 with two homers and six RBIs.

For our MLB Free Picks, we'll take Cubs and 'under' as long as the wind isn't blowing out. Probably a total of 7 if not. The 'under' is 7-2-1 in Lester's past 10 vs. teams with a winning record. It is 5-2 in Cole's past five in  same scenario. Chicago is 17-8 in its past 25 Sunday games. The Cubs are 4-1 in its past five in Lester's next start following a quality start. 

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Free NHL Pick:  Cubs -148 & Under
Best Line Offered: at Heritage

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