Contenders in the National League Wild Card and Central Division races, the Cubs and Pirates begin a big series in Pittsburgh on Monday's baseball betting card.
With their strong pitching and opportunistic offense, it doesn't appear anyone is going to catch the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central race. That doesn't mean the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates are ready to concede the title just yet, however.
One of the longest running rivalries in baseball resumes Monday evening in Iron City, first pitch coming at 7:05 PM (ET) and ESPN's cameras on hand to record what is, at least initially, a clash of quality lefthanders. The matchup between Jon Lester and Francisco Liriano is behind the 6½ run total that is priced 15¢ to the 'under' at shops such as BetOnline. SBR's live MLB odds sent this one out with the Pirates listed as -135 chalk, that moneyline since dropping about a nickel at most offshore sports books.
The fourth series meeting of the season begins with the 2,450th game played between the Cubs and Pirates, their rivalry dating to Grover Cleveland's first term in the White House. Pittsburgh has won 1,253 of the previous games for the all-time edge, and the Bucs have also won or tied each of the last five season slates.
It's Chicago with a 6-4 advantage in the 10 games already contested on the 2015 schedule, the Cubs also owning a 131-113 record at PNC Park. Chicago took both of the 3-game series played at Wrigley, halving the 4-game set played on the Three Rivers banks back in April. Totals ran 2-1-1 O/U/P in that set -- which saw closing numbers of 7-7½ -- following a 6-3 O/U outcome in 2014.
Cubs Sweep Brewers To Begin Road Trip
Chicago (57-47, +0.8 units) begins this series in third place 9½ back of the Cardinals, and four behind the Pirates. The Cubs are currently tied with San Francisco for the second NL Wild Card slot thanks to winning their last five matches, four of those in Milwaukee over the weekend. It's a huge week for Joe Maddon and his men who head home to host the Giants for four games after this series.
Theo Epstein made a couple of moves last week at the deadline to add depth to the pitching staff, acquiring Dan Haren from the Marlins and Tommy Hunter from the Orioles. Haren is expected to make his Cubs debut in the finale of this set, Hunter already being called upon from the bullpen and recording a save in his first game for Chicago.
Lester enjoyed a very strong month of July, posting a 1.66 ERA and miniscule 0.76 WHIP in six assignments, each of which lasted at least seven frames. The 10-year veteran also struck out 50 batters in the 43+ innings while walking only five. That only translated into a 3-3 record for the Cubs, however, leaving them 11-10 behind Lester this year. He missed the Pirates each of the two April series, but recorded a gem against them at home in May (7 IP, 1 ER). That was just the second time Lester had faced Pittsburgh and tonight's start is his second at PNC Park, the other an interleague loss for Boston in 2011.
Bucs Back Home After 4-2 Road Trip
Pittsburgh (61-43, +9.5 units) also made a couple of swaps last week, the biggest being Joakim Soria from the Tigers to add some muscle to the bullpen. Soria has a couple of scoreless appearances so far, Sunday's showing ending in his first save for the Pirates.
Liriano's ERA over his last six starts is slightly higher than Lester's, yet the Pirates are 6-0 in that stretch after winning only four of his initial 14 outings. He no-decisioned in a Pittsburgh setback to the Cubs in April, the Pirates winning six of his previous eight tries against Chicago (2.33 ERA).
Thunderstorms are expected to pop up around the greater Pittsburgh area beginning in the early afternoon, and there's still a 50-50 chance of one interrupting the game, so baseball bettors will want to get an update before going to the window. My free MLB pick is going to be on the Cubs simply because they're on a roll.
My MLB Pick: Cubs +120 at The Greek
Season: 68-58-2 (+12.55)