By: Willie Bee
A blast and a bunt proved the difference in Saturday's contest between the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs. The old rivals will now wrap up the series and bid each other adios for the season in Sunday's rubber match at Wrigley Field.
Houston takes aim at a third consecutive series win behind Jordan Lyles while Chicago looks to end this short homestand on a winning note with Jeff Samardzija taking the mound. The Cubs are once again the favorites, as they were in the first two contests, with the MLB odds pricing them around -160.
Chicago had a 3-0 lead with Travis Wood spinning shutout baseball for nearly six innings on Saturday before Houston finally got things going. JD Martinez knotted the score with a 3-run, 2-out homer in the sixth, and former Cub Ronny Cedeño won it with a suicide squeeze bunt in the ninth. The 4-3 final marked the seventh UNDER in the last eight clashes between the squads.
A combination of pitching well and Houston being the underdog in all but two of its first 76 games has Lyles turning a profit for bettors. The Astros are a level 5-5 in his 10 assignments, but that's good enough for a 3-unit return with Houston backers averaging a +160 line in his starts.
The young righty has just one bad outing since being called up in early-May, and returns to Wrigley where he made his MLB debut two years ago with a winning performance.
Chicago has won Samardzija's last two starts after losing nine of his first 13 trips to the hill. The former Fighting Irish star is second on the staff with nine quality starts and tied for sixth in the majors with 110 strikeouts. His career line vs. Houston includes 15 relief appearances and two starts which he split against the Astros in 2012, losing on the road and winning at home.
Cloudy skies and muggy temps are the call for Second City. There's a 20% shot at a passing storm interrupting play along with a 10-15 mph SSW blow (out to left-center).
The original umpire crew lost another member when Ron Kulpa was MIA on Saturday after working 1B in the series opener. Crew chief Tom Hallion is also absent, but based on the four field arbiters who worked Game 2, it's Chris Guccione's turn to call balls and strikes. His last plate assignment stayed UNDER to break of string of six OVERS and leave Guccione 9-5-1 O/U/P on the season.
Lyles is pitching as well as any Houston hurler right now, but I remain stubbornly behind my Astros fade with a play on the Cubs in the finale.
My pick: Cubs -159 at Bet365
By: Willie Bee
Game 1 of the series in Chicago between the Cubs and Houston Astros saw four home runs launched. However, all were solo shots and the first three were mashed by the home side to give the Cubs the early advantage in the series.
Saturday's second game is slated for a 4 PM (ET) first pitch, and Chicago's Travis Wood will deliver that toss while Houston counters with Bud Norris. The game was originally sent out with the Cubs at -170 for the opener, but that moneyline has been whittled down a good 20 cents or more at most shops charted by SBR's live MLB odds.
The total will be out later this morning, and we can expect it to be a bit lower than Friday's 10-run mark.
Norris has turned in five pretty good starts since the Tigers lit him up in Motown in mid-May. Problem is, the Astros have lost the last three thanks to providing all of three runs of support. That's been the case for a while now with Houston scoring just 20 runs combined in his last 11 outings, and never more than three in a game during that stretch. Not surprisingly, the Bayou City bunch lost seven of those tilts, Norris' ERA at 3.42 in the string.
The former Cal Poly star has split his eight career starts vs. the Cubs, but done his best work against Chicago on the home mound; Norris is 1-3 at Wrigley with a 4.37 ERA.
Check out the betting lines and odds report for today, here~
Chicago has also lost Wood's last three starts primarily because the offense has been stymied in those games. The southpaw has a 2.70 ERA in those losses, and like Norris, has pitched better than the Cubs' 6-8 record in his starts would indicate. Wood has also pitched very well over his brief career against the Astros, helping the Reds and Cubs to a 6-3 record in nine career assignments while checking Houston hitters to a .198 average and 1.89 ERA (57 IP).
The umpire crew is currently without its chief, Tom Hallion, so that bumps Ron Kulpa up to head honcho status while Hallion's away. Kulpa is in line to have plate duty on Saturday with nine of his previous 14 assignments staying below the total.
A 40% shot at afternoon t-storms is once again in the Chicago forecast, the same chance as Friday when the start of the game was delayed more than three hours. Temps in the mid-to-upper 80s and a SSW wind up to 15 mph are also in the mix (out to left/left-center).
I'll be climbing back on the North Side bandwagon in Game 2 with a play on the Cubs. Don't forget to check back Sunday for a preview and free MLB pick in the series finale.
My pick: Cubs -144 at Bet365
By: Willie Bee
It was such a sweet deal earlier this season when I decided to risk 15 units fading the Houston Astros during the regular season. Call it a 'futures MLB odds' plan though it wasn't technically a futures wager.
I bring this up in advance of the Astros' series opener against the Chicago Cubs for two reasons: 1) What started out as a very profitable venture is sporting red ink right now, dang-near $5.00 in the hole to be exact, and; 2) For those who don't want to read through the rest of this preview to get to my pick for Friday's matinee on Chicago's North Side, I'll be continuing the exercise with a fade on the Astros/play on the Cubs.
As for the three of you who will continue reading -- and I really want to thank my mom for always being there -- the first-ever interleague meeting between the former NL division rivals begins a 3-game set at Wrigleyville. All three contests are afternoon affairs and all three will be part of SBR's weekend MLB betting schedule.
The Astros will send Dallas Keuchel to the elevated portion of the infield as a decided underdog against Matt Garza. The Cubs opened around -175, and the MLB odds still show a moneyline in that same area Friday morning.
As is the case for all games inside hallowed ivy-covered walls, no total will be available until later in the morning on Friday.
Short Trip Interrupts Stretch Of 16 Home Games For Astros
Houston just killed off a 7-game homestand that saw the club take five of seven from the White Sox and Brewers. This weekend trip to Chicago will be followed by another 9-game stay at home against the likes of the Cardinals, Angels and Rays.
Keuchel has reeled off four consecutive quality starts, winning three of them, and the Astros are 5-3 with the young lefty on the mound after he joined the rotation in mid-May. The former Razorback faced the Cubs just once last season, a rather inefficient outing since he needed 82 pitches to get through four innings in a no-decision that ultimately went to Chicago.
While Houston has been turning around its horrible start to 2013 by winning 13 of the last 22, the Cubs are suffering so far in June with only six wins in 18 contests. Among the four setbacks in the most recent five tries was Garza's start in New York on Father's Day. Following up on a shelling he took vs. the Reds, Garza tossed seven scoreless innings vs. the Mets on Sunday, only to see the fine effort wasted by the bullpen.
Due to a long stint on the DL to begin the season, Garza is making just his third start at Wrigley. He split his two assignments vs. the Astros a year ago, picking up the win in Chicago and knocked around for the loss in Houston.
Series Almost Level In 21st Century
As a lifelong Astros fan, it's strange to think of this as an interleague matchup after seeing Houston and Chicago square off so many times the past 51 seasons. The Astros have a 376-329 all-time edge in the series, an even more pronounced advantage in the games played in Houston (207-145, .588).
A closer look at those numbers reveals it's been just about dead even the last 13 seasons, or since the Astros moved into their new grounds in 2000. Games played in Houston are a level 53-53 in that span while the Cubs have the slimmest of advantages over the same stretch at Wrigley (53-52). The Astros have won six of the last eight on these grounds, the last five meetings in Chicago staying below the total.
The weatherman is calling for a 40% chance of thunderstorms and an afternoon high in the mid-80s. There's also a 10-15 mph south wind in the forecast (out to left), so it could be a good day for batters poking flies out to Waveland Avenue. As previously mentioned, I'm fading the Astros and biting on some Cubbie chalk for this MLB pick.
My pick: Cubs -170 at Bet365