Today's Free Picks for
Posted at 9:55 AM EST.
8:05 PM EST. As frustrating as this past winter was for Pittsburgh fans, their last two seasons were excruciating, and part of the problem in each was the under-performance of veteran stars like Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole. However, this year the Pirates overhauled lineup looks very impressive to us. Pitching coach Ray Searage gets the hype, but it has been said that Jim Benedict was vital to the Pirates’ successful pitching evolution in the first half of this decade and Steven Brault (LHP) was/is a student. Brault has made two starts and what sticks out to us is his very low 8% line drive rate, 67% first-pitch strike rate and 13% swing and miss rate. It’s a small sample size to be sure but this wager is more about backing a Pirates’ team in very good spirits that is winning, scoring runs and having great at-bats while taking back an inflated price in Chicago.
Jon Lester (LHP) has made two starts and is 1-0 with a 2.89 ERA and now the market will not only pay heavily to back him, they’ll pay heavily to back the Cubs as well. What those surface stats don’t tell you is that Lester’s BAA in those two starts was .270. His xERA is 4.55. Lester’s combination of skills slippage and diminished velocity make the risk even higher. Lester did a good job of limiting free passes in recent years, but his ability to get ahead in the count and pound the zone waned last year and does not look better this year with four walks issued in 9.1 innings. Right-handed batters suddenly became a problem last year as well, as his command against them worsened (22 HR allowed, 4.1 BB’s/9 in 593 PA). Lester has been one of the most durable hurlers in MLB over the past decade, logging 200+ IP in five consecutive seasons and in eight of the past nine prior to 2017 (192 IP in 2011). Left shoulder fatigue and lateral tightness shelved the 34-year-old for a couple weeks last August and may have impacted his 2H performance (5.17 ERA/4.27 xERA in 78 IP). However, the velocity decline persisted throughout and many of the issues noted above were largely present in the 1H as well. Given his age and declining skills, there is no reason to pay the same prices on Lester today that one would have paid two years ago or even last year. He is so overpriced.
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Pittsburgh +166 (Risking 2 units - To Win: 3.32)