MLB Underdog Picks: Royals vs. Rays

Matthew Jordan

Wednesday, July 9, 2014 2:11 PM UTC

Wednesday, Jul. 9, 2014 2:11 PM UTC

It's two teams with American League wild-card hopes -- one more realistic than the other -- on Wednesday night in St. Petersburg, Fla., as Tampa Bay hosts Kansas City. The Rays opened as -132 favorites on MLB odds with a total of 7 runs.

Playoffs!? Playoffs!?
Entering Tuesday, the Royals are only 3.5 games behind the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central but it would be a monumental upset of the Tigers don't win the Central for a fourth straight season. They are huge -600 favorites at sportsbooks with the Royals are +550. Expect the Royals to be aggressive buyers ahead of the July 31 trade deadline as the franchise is very eager to end the longest playoff drought in baseball. There's talk the team would like to add someone like the Twins' Kendrys Morales or Josh Willingham to platoon with struggling Billy Butler at designated hitter (Willingham can play the outfield, too). Manager Ned Yost dropped struggling DH Billy Butler and his two homers to seventh in the lineup for Monday's series opener against the Rays. The only Royal having a very good offensive season for his position is All-Star catcher Salvador Perez. Outfielder Alex Gordon has been OK but not really deserving of the All-Star spot he received.

The Rays don't know if they are going to be sellers or buyers yet. They enter Tuesday 9.5 games out of a wild-card spot and the AL East lead. Two weeks ago it looked like sellers as the Rays were buried in the AL East cellar at 16 games under .500. However, they have won 10 of 13 since then entering Tuesday. They just got more whole in the rotation with the season debut of pitcher Jeremy Hellickson off injury on Tuesday night.

Tampa Bay isn't a great offensive team, either, especially with 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers on the DL. He hasn't played since May 30 with a fracture in his right wrist and won't be back for at least a few more weeks. Myers had regressed this year as it was, batting just .227 with five home runs. Of course, he was acquired in the big trade with Kansas City in December 2012 in a package that sent Rays starter James Shields to Kansas City. He dominated the Rays in Monday's win, but will be a free agent after this season.

The best baseball betting handicappers share their valuable MLB picks here. 

Probable Pitchers
Royals right-hander Yordano Ventura takes the mound. Ventura (6-7, 3.07) would be in the AL Rookie of the Year conversation in many other years --just not with Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Abreu around in 2014. Ventura has had quality starts in five of his past six outings (the Royals are 4-2 in that stretch). He was going for his first complete-game shutout July 4 in Cleveland but left with one out in the ninth when the Tribe's Michael Brantley homered off him. I have a feeling Yost wasn't too upset with that dinger because Ventura had thrown 113 pitches and this is a guy the franchise wants to treat with kid gloves as he's a potential future ace.

Ventura's 2014 debut (he pitched 15.1 innings in 2013 but still retains rookie status) came at home against Tampa Bay on April 8. He took a no-decision despite shutting out the Rays on two hits over six innings. Ben Zobrist and the injured David DeJesus are the only Rays with hits off him. Ventura is 4-1 with a 2.32 ERA in six road starts this season. Batters are hitting just .226 off him in those starts.

The Rays start right-hander Alex Cobb (4-6, 4.28). The 26-year-old hasn't lasted more than five innings in his past three starts, but Tampa Bay has won his past two, in Detroit and Baltimore, in which Cobb allowed three earned runs in each. Cobb is 0-4 with a 4.37 ERA in six home starts. Oddly, right-handers hit way better (.287) off him than lefties (.205) overall this season. Cobb hasn't faced Kansas City in 2014 but was 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA in two starts last year. Newly signed Royal Raul Ibanez is a 3-for-11 career off Cobb with two homers. Perez is 4-for-9 with two RBIs off Cobb.

MLB Free Picks: Royals +122 and the 'under' 7 runs at -115 on MLB odds. The Royals are 7-3 in their past 10 Wednesday games. The Rays are 1-6 in Cobb's past seven starts with four days of rest. The 'under' is 4-0 in Ventura's past four against the AL East. The 'under' is 6-1 in Cobb's past seven Wednesday starts. 

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