Strong Starting Pitching Justifies First Five 'Under' Bet Between Reds and Pirates

Thursday, April 5, 2018 1:24 PM UTC

Thursday, Apr. 5, 2018 1:24 PM UTC

The Pirates host the NL Central rival Reds tonight at 7:05 ET on MLB Network. Oddsmakers aren't showing much love for either team's pitching with an 8.5 run total in pitcher-friendly PNC Park. Read on to find out why this total is too high.

Cincinnati Reds (1-3, 2-2 O/U) at Pittsburgh Pirates (4-1, 3-1 O/U)

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Free MLB Pick: First 5 'Under'Best Line Offered: at 5Dimes

Don't judge Reds pitcher Homer Bailey (0-1, 1.50 ERA) by his 6.43 ERA last season. The veteran was returning from surgery in the end of June. When other teams' seasons had reached their halfway point, his was only beginning. Consequently, he struggled to find a rhythm, giving up 14 runs in his first 4.1 innings allowed, and thereafter couldn't be consistent.

But do judge Bailey by the fact that even though he struggled as a whole last season, amidst those struggles, he was consistently strong against the Pirates, allowing two runs in 11.2 innings pitched against them, winning both the start at home and the one in Pittsburgh. Two Pirates batters have proven to be dangerous against Bailey based on their career success against him. The first is David Freese, who I doubt will start because Pitt acquired Colin Moran to hit against righties and has been playing well. The other is Sterling Marte, who, in his return to baseball apart from the substance abuse that had gotten him suspended, has two hits in his last 14 at-bats. In 101 active Pirates at-bats against Bailey, the cold Marte and Freese have hit all three of the homers against Bailey.

Cincy hitters aren't showing promising form with which to support to Bailey. The main issue is the slow start of Cincy's best hitter, MVP runner-up Joey Votto, who is batting .200 so far. Votto's weak performance could be concerning considering that this is a continuation of his struggles during Spring Training, during which he underwent a 1-for-18 slump. In four games, the Reds have scored two or fewer runs in two of them. In the other two games, they scored only one run before the sixth inning.

Pitt starter Steven Brault (1-0, 0.00 ERA) won't even need Cincy to play poorly in order to pitch well tonight. The top prospect is stepping in for recently acquired Joe Musgrove, whose DL stint will allow the kid to prove himself. Brault has two primary pitches, the fastball and the slider. The key to his development since 2016 has been to improve the command of the former and become less predictable with the latter. His slider in 2016 was utterly predictable, landing in the lower quadrant 16% of the time. Since 2017, it only does so 12% of the time and is significantly more varied in its location. As a result, whereas opponents hit .367 against his slider in 2016, in 2017 they hit only .227 against it and have yet to his it in 2018. Brault has also gained more control over his fastball by limiting his movement and walks fewer batters.

Brault is a southpaw who has enjoyed strong success especially against left-handed batters, which should trouble Cincy, who largely derives its production from lefties like Votto and Scooter Gennett. In 69 career at-bats against lefties, Brault has allowed only four doubles and zero home runs. PNC Park, which is hardest on left-handed hitters in terms of extra-base hits, will help out the young starter.

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The over/under between these two teams is 2-8 in their last 10 meetings, 0-3 in the last three. Neither team has a lot of relievers whom i'd like to trust. But I trust these two starters, so let's stick with a First 5 play in our MLB Picks.

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