New Home Run King
It's still only April, but it's probably fair to say that Major League Baseball will have a new home run king this season. Baltimore's Chris Davis was the spring favorite at sportsbooks to repeat with the most dingers after he hit a career-high 53 last year. This season, Davis has just two, and was placed on the 15-day disabled list Sunday. Davis suffered a left oblique strain in Friday's game and he's going to miss more than the 15-day minimum. By the way, White Sox rookie Jose Abreu is now the +250 heavy favorite at sportsbooks to hit the most home runs this year. Davis is down to +2000.
Even though Davis is hitting only .250 with 13 RBIs, this is obviously a major blow to the Baltimore offense. He also led the AL with a .427 inter-league average in 2013. Outfielder Nick Markakis shifted to first base for games Saturday and Sunday. Nelson Cruz has moved from DH to right field and Jemile Weeks has been the DH. Weeks was acquired this offseason from Oakland for closer Jim Johnson. He was once a highly-touted prospect who hit .303 in 97 games as a rookie in 2011 with the A's. He has flopped since. The Orioles recently called him up, and Weeks is 3-for-8 with two runs scored.
The Orioles continue to await third baseman Manny Machado's return from his injury rehab. He's playing in the minors and could be activated later this week if all goes well.
Pirates' Sinking Ship
The Pirates enter this series ahead of the Cubs alone in the NL Central after having lost 14 of 19 games. The pitching staff ranks an okay 12th in ERA -- struggling Wandy Rodriguez is now on the DL, as is closer Jason Grilli -- but the offense is really scuffling. The Pirates have scored three runs or fewer in 15 of their 26 games. Reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen (.286, four home runs, 14 RBIs) has been decent but that's about it. Outfielder Starling Marte, who recently got a big extension, is hitting just .229 and has an on-base percentage of .308 as the leadoff hitter. Pedro Alvarez has six home runs but has struck out 25 times in 93 at-bats. New first baseman Ike Davis, acquired from the Mets, is hitting .185.
Pittsburgh might have the worst situation in the majors at shortstop and right field. The Pirates shortstops, usually Jordy Mercer, are hitting .161 with a .221 on-base percentage. The right fielders, a position where you are supposed to have a power bat, are batting .221 with two home runs. The team is also terrible at catcher, now that Russell Martin is on the disabled list.
Perhaps facing an AL team will change things. The Pirates had the best interleague record in MLB last year at 15-5 and have nine straight road wins against AL clubs.
Pittsburgh starts right-hander Charlie Morton (0-3, 4.35). The team has lost the past three times he has taken the mound. He walked five and allowed four runs over six innings against the Reds in his last game. Morton has a 4.85 ERA on the road this season. All three home runs he has allowed have come against right-handers. Morton hasn't won an inter-league game since 2008 when he beat the Angels in the first big-league start of his career. Not many Orioles have seen him. Delmon Young is 1-for-3 with a home run. J.J. Hardy is 3-for-8 off him with a double.
The Orioles start their ace, righty Chris Tillman (3-1, 3.38). His season ERA nearly doubled in his last start when Tillman was roughed-up for nine hits, resulting in three home runs and seven runs over 5.2 innings in Toronto. Yet Tillman got the win. He is 0-1 with a 0.69 ERA in two home starts this year. Only a couple of Pirates have faced Tillman. Chris Stewart, who may get the start at catcher with Martin out, is 2-for-4 off him. Pittsburgh could use lefty-hitting reserve outfielder Travis Snider as the DH.
MLB free picks: Orioles -130 on MLB odds and the 'under' 8 runs at +120. The Pirates are 3-13 in their past 16 against righty starters. The Orioles are 7-1 in their past eight after a loss. The 'under' is 7-0 in Tillman's past seven Tuesday starts. The 'under' is 5-0-1 in Pittsburgh's past six games.