MLB Picks: With Ace Arrieta On Mound Go Cubs Over Pirates

Matthew Jordan

Friday, June 17, 2016 11:00 AM GMT

Friday, Jun. 17, 2016 11:00 AM GMT

The lone matinee on Friday as usual is from Chicago's Wrigley Field as the NL Central rivals, Cubs and Pirates, meet for the seventh time this season to open a three-game set. 

What You Need To Know
As is the case with all games at Wrigley Field, the total won't be set until hours before the first pitch so the wind direction can be determined. It looks to be a beautiful day in Chicago with sunny skies and temperatures in the high 70s.

The Cubs have the best record in baseball at 44-20, the biggest division lead at 9.5 games over second-place St. Louis and by far the best run differential in the majors at plus-159. Chicago is a +325 favorite on Sports Interaction MLB odds to win the World Series and -5000 to take the NL Central.

Chicago also has the best young position player talent in MLB. Yet the Cubs appear to only be getting stronger. The team's top outfield prospect, 22-year-old Albert Almora Jr. (the initial first-round pick of team president Theo Epstein in 2012), was called up a little over a week ago when fellow outfielder Jorge Soler landed on the disabled list. Almora has been great, hitting .353 with three RBIs in 17 at-bats. He doesn't have the power of Soler but should hit with a much  higher average and is vastly superior defensively. Almora has made such a good impression already that there's talk Soler might now be expendable in a trade for a reliever -- the Cubs have been scouting Yankees lefties Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman. The bullpen is really the only potential weak spot of this team.

Meanwhile, on Thursday the Cubs called up another top prospect, catcher Willson Contreras. Yes, that's with two Ls. The 24-year-old has skyrocketed through the minors. He won the Double-A Southern League batting title in 2015 with a .333 average and was batting .350 with nine homers and 43 RBIs in 54 games at Triple-A this year. Why bring Contreras up when the Cubs already have two veteran catchers in Miguel Montero and David Ross? For one, Contreras' offensive ceiling is way higher than those two. Montero is really struggling both on offense (.210) and in throwing out runners. Ross can't play a ton because he's 39 years old.

The Cubs have won five of six games this season against the Pirates, who have been scuffling since late May. The Cubs swept three in Pittsburgh from May 2-4 and then took two of three at home from May 13-15. Anthony Rizzo has hit Pirates pitching hard, going 11-for-26 with six doubles, two homers, eight RBIs and eight runs scored. Ben Zobrist is batting .318 with a homer and six RBIs vs. Pittsburgh. Addison Russell has two homers and five RBIs.

 

Probable Pitchers
Pittsburgh goes with struggling left-hander and opening day starter Francisco Liriano (4-6, 4.92). He has lost three straight outings and allowed a combined 16 runs and 20 hits over 15.1 innings in them. He also has walked 11 and leads the National League with 41 free passes. Homers also have been an issue as Liriano has given up 13. Last year in 31 starts, he allowed 15.

Liriano faced the Cubs on May 13 in Chicago and was blown up, allowing a season-high eight runs as well as nine hits (three homers) in just 4.2 innings. Liriano had been 4-1 in his previous five starts at Wrigley Field. Rizzo is 5-for-26 career off Liriano with a homer, double and nine strikeouts. Kris Bryant is 4-for-9 with two doubles and a homer against him.

It's ace and reigning Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta (10-1, 1.85) for the Cubs, and I rather doubt they throw Contreras behind the plate in his MLB debut to catch someone as nasty as Arrieta. The right-hander hadn't won his previous two starts, which was pretty newsworthy, but beat the Braves on Saturday, giving up two runs and four hits over seven innings. Arrieta has won 21 of his last 22 decisions and has a 1.13 ERA in that stretch. The Cubs are 10-2 on MLB picks in Arrieta's past 12 at home.

Arrieta has dominated the Pirates this season, going 2-0 with a 1.20 ERA. He has given up just five hits in 15 innings and struck out 16. The Pirates' Andrew McCutchen is a career .310 hitter off Arrieta with nine strikeouts in 29 at-bats. Gregory Polanco is 4-for-22 against him with seven strikeouts.

Cubs and 'under' as long as wind not blowing out; total should be 7.5 or so if not. Chicago is 6-0 in Arrieta's past six vs. Pittsburgh. The 'under' is 6-2-1 in his past nine against the Pirates. 

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Free MLB Pick:  Cubs -238
Best Line Offered:  at BetOnline

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