Cubs vs. Pirates Odds, Preview, Prediction: Can You Trust Jake Arrieta & Chicago’s Bullpen? (Tuesday, May 25)

Cubs vs. Pirates Odds, Preview, Prediction: Can You Trust Jake Arrieta & Chicago’s Bullpen? (Tuesday, May 25) article feature image
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Jon Durr/Getty Images. Pictured: Jake Arrieta #49 of the Chicago Cubs.

Cubs vs. Pirates Odds

Cubs Odds -159
Pirates Odds +138
Over/Under 8.5 (-115 / -106)
Time 6:35 p.m. ET
TV MLB.TV
Odds as of Tuesday morning via DraftKings.

In the NL Central, every team other than the last-place Pittsburgh Pirates (18-28) has a plausible path to winning the division. On Tuesday night, Pittsburgh hosts a Chicago Cubs (24-22) team that is only 1.5 games behind the first-place St. Louis Cardinals.

Pittsburgh has accumulated a run differential of -78, which is the worst in the league. On average, the Pirates lose each game by 1.7 runs. The Cubs have a run differential of +12, meaning their record is not a fluke.

As of Tuesday morning, it is unknown who Pittsburgh’s starting pitcher will be. Additionally, the Pirates have the worst batting lineup in the league. Meanwhile, the Cubs will send an unreliable starting pitcher, Jake Arrieta, to the mound.

Arguably the worst team in baseball is going up against a playoff contender, but the question warrants consideration: Can the Pirates can upset the Cubs at home?

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Chicago Cubs

As a 35-year-old, Jake Arrieta is not the same pitcher that he once was. In 2015, Arrieta won the National League Cy Young Award with a 22-6 record, 1.77 ERA, and a 2.61 xFIP. However, since 2016, Arrieta has not had an xFIP below 4.00.

Currently, Arrieta reports a 4.46 ERA and 5.16 xFIP. In comparison to most starting pitchers in the league, Arrieta is below average. Furthermore, his recent game log raises concerns. Arrieta pitched five innings and allowed four earned runs in his most recent start — which came against a Washington lineup that scores the ninth-fewest runs per game.

Given Arrieta’s vulnerability, the Cubs may have to rely on their relief-pitchers. Unfortunately for Chicago, its bullpen has a 5.07 FIP — the highest in MLB. Even after adjusting for ballpark effects, the Cubs bullpen still reports an xFIP of 4.50, which is the fourth-worst in the league.

Backing up Arrieta and the Cubs Bullpen is a strong lineup. Chicago averages 4.63 runs per game, which is 0.28 runs above average. If Chicago defeats Pittsburgh on Tuesday, it will likely come via run production from 1B Anthony Rizzo, OF Kris Bryant and the rest of the Cubs lineup.

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Pittsburgh Pirates

As of Tuesday morning, the Pirates have not yet announced a starting pitcher for Tuesday’s game against the Cubs. However, it has been reported that Cody Ponce will be making a spot start. Ponce has logged only 17 career innings of MLB action, so he is comparable to a box of chocolates: You do not know what you are going to get. He could be a Godiva chocolate, or he could be a chocolate laxative.

Last year, Ponce had a 3.18 ERA but a 5.67 xFIP in 17 innings. The difference between his actual ERA versus xFIP is largely explained by Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP): Opposing hitters only had a .163 BABIP against him.

Consistently, a pitcher’s BABIP will be around .300 regardless of how good he is. Therefore, there is probable cause to expect Ponce’s .163 BABIP from 2020 to regress towards that .300 norm. Furthermore, if indeed his .163 BABIP regresses as expected, then it stands to reason that Ponce’s ERA should increase from his 3.18 mark in 2020.

Based on his previous body of work in the minors, Ponce does not appear to be an overly promising pitching prospect. FanGraphs projects Ponce to accumulate a 4.52 ERA this season, which is close to Arrieta’s level.

Ponce’s underwhelming projections and relative unpredictability notwithstanding, Pittsburgh’s batting lineup is even more problematic. The Pirates average only 3.35 runs per game, which is the worst in the league. In fact, Pittsburgh scores one fewer run per game than the league average of 4.35. However, according to my model, the Pirates should average 3.83 runs per game.

Other than baseball nerds like myself, most people could not name a single Pirates player. Nonetheless, Pittsburgh’s lineup does, in fact, feature several good hitters, including 2B Adam Frazier, OF Bryan Reynolds and C Jacob Stallings.

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Cubs vs. Pirates Pick

The Cubs are the obvious pick to win. Pittsburgh is arguably the worst team in the league, and Chicago is a playoff contender. However, the obvious bets are usually the worst ones, and the Pirates merit a bet as moneyline underdogs.

Pittsburgh has an awful lineup, but the Cubs are vulnerable with Jake Arrieta on the mound. Additionally, the Cubs bullpen is even worse than Arrieta, so Chicago’s pitching staff could struggle — even against a weak Pirates team.

I like the Pirates moneyline at +138 and would bet it to +120.

Pick: Pittsburgh Pirates Moneyline +138 (Play to +120).

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