MLB Odds & Picks: Our Staff’s 3 Best Bets, Including Cubs vs. Brewers, Diamondbacks vs. Padres & White Sox vs. Angels (Sunday, April 4)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images. Pictured: The Angels celebrate Justin Upton’s home run on Saturday.
The first Sunday of the MLB season features 12 games as most teams wrap up their first series of the season. The day begins with a nationally televised matchup between the Braves and Phillies on ESPN, and ends with Sunday Night Baseball, which will feature Shohei Ohtani making his first start of the season against Dylan Cease and the White Sox as the Angels look to take 3 of 4 in the opening series.
MLB Odds & Picks
Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Chicago Cubs
Collin Whitchurch: Today is Mitch Keller’s 25th birthday. And this passage in time reminds us that we’re still waiting for the right-hander to turn into the type of pitcher that once made him a consensus top-50 prospect in baseball.
A year ago, Keller made only five starts and if you look at his ERA, it’s not all that bad. But he also walked more hitters than he struck out. In his one start against the Cubs, he lasted just 2 2/3 innings and gave up two home runs at Wrigley Field.
On Sunday, he’ll be facing a Cubs lineup that last year ranked seventh in the majors in BB%. Chicago’s lineup hasn’t been overwhelming this season through two games against the lowly Pirates, but Saturday’s five-run effort showed plenty of promise. Javier Báez, coming off a forgettable 2020, had two hits and two stolen bases. Jason Heyward and Kris Bryant — the latter also coming off a season he’d probably prefer to forget — both went deep. The top-three hitters in the lineup combined to draw four walks.
What kind of team the Cubs are long-term is still going to take a while to determine, but this offense is more than primed to take advantage of an opportunity against a starting pitcher who it’s tough to have any confidence in.
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. San Diego Padres
Sean Zerillo: Mark Melancon, Emilio Pagan and Craig Stammen each tossed more than 30 pitches combined for the Padres during the first two games of this series. Simultaneously, Taylor Clarke, Kevin Ginkel and Stefan Crichton all worked back-to-back days for Arizona.
But just two pitchers on either side saw work on Saturday. So those key relievers for both teams should be relatively fresh for this contest after a day of rest.
You’re likely familiar with Padres’ starter Chris Paddack, whose 2020 metrics (3.77 xFIP, 3.91 SIERA) belie a 4.73 ERA and 5.02 FIP. “The Sheriff” had a rocky spring (11 IP, 16 H, 13 R, 7 BB, 8 K) and still needs to develop a breaking pitch to complement his fastball/changeup combination. At worse, he’s a competent No. 3 starter with significant upside potential.
Taylor Widener is likely the name that gives you pause concerning this total. Sunday will mark his first major-league start, following 12 appearances out of the Diamondbacks’ bullpen in 2020. Widener posted solid numbers as a starter throughout his minor-league career, and he has three pitches that have a chance to play average or better at the MLB level.
Widener pounds the upper part of the strike zone with his fastball before dropping levels with his slider and changeup. He owns more velocity than you might expect (average fastball 94.5 mph, 73rd percentile) for a pitcher of his stature (6-foot-0, 195 lbs). A solid spring (14 2/3 IP, 3 BB, 19 K) indicates that he’s ready to fill a rotation spot for the rebuilding Diamondbacks.
Arizona also has an off day on Monday, and I would expect to see Torey Lovullo empty his bullpen if needed in order to keep this game close, and help his team avoid a four-game sweep at the hands of their divisional rivals.
I projected this game total at 8.03 runs for Sunday and would either bet Under 9 to -111 or Under 9.5 to -120.
Chicago White Sox vs. Los Angeles Angels
Matt Trebby: While I’d love to say this is totally a bet on Shohei Ohtani as he makes his first start of 2021 on the mound (and will apparently be in the lineup, as well), this pick is a big fade on Dylan Cease. The White Sox right-hander’s 4.01 ERA in 12 starts last year may seem like a sign of improvement, but his big-time walk issues and 6.36 FIP tell a different story.
The Halos’ lineup also appears to have gotten a boost in the form of first baseman Jarrett Walsh and Justin Upton, both of whom had big hits to help win the game on Saturday night.
We don’t have much info on Ohtani given his 1 2/3 innings pitched last season, but he did have some major struggles this spring. He at least has more proven success in the majors than Cease, so I’ll back Los Angeles to take the finale on national television.