Pirates vs. Cubs MLB Odds & Picks: Hitting Woes Will Continue at Wrigley (Sunday, April 4)

Pirates vs. Cubs MLB Odds & Picks: Hitting Woes Will Continue at Wrigley (Sunday, April 4) article feature image
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Julio Aguilar/Getty Images. Pictured: Mitch Keller of the Pirates.

  • The Pittsburgh Pirates have one of the worst lineups in baseball, but surprised many with their Opening Day win over the Chicago Cubs.
  • Chicago hitters, who struggled mightily last season, will face a solid pitcher in Mitch Keller.
  • Tanner McGrath isn't expecting many runs to be scored Sunday at Wrigley Field and explains his reasoning below.

Pirates vs. Cubs Odds

Pirates Odds +150
Cubs Odds -185
Time Sunday, 2:20 p.m. ET
TV MLBTV
Odds as of Saturday and via BetMGM

The Pirates and Cubs play rubber match Sunday, with both trying to steal two out of three to start their respective seasons.

Despite an aging roster and a competitive division, the Cubs still have dreams of a playoff run. Meanwhile, the Pirates are one of the worst teams in baseball, and it was almost shocking to see them pull off the opening day victory.

However, both teams have one thing in common: underwhelming offenses.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Pittsburgh’s opening night win was exciting, especially against Kyle Hendricks. However, Saturday’s 5-1 loss emphasized the Pirates’ biggest issue — hitting.

The Pirates can’t hit, and they can’t hit for power. In 2020, they finished in the bottom five of every major offensive statistical category. On Saturday they managed just one run on five singles and a triple, all off starter Jake Arrieta.

Against the Cubs’ three relievers, the Pirates went 0-for-9 with seven strikeouts and no walks. Granted, Brandon Workman and Craig Kimbrel are good relivers, but still, yikes.

The Pirates’ bright spot coming into this season is youngster Ke’Bryan Hayes. The 24-year-old made his MLB debut last season and slashed .376/.442/.682 for a 1.124 OPS in his 24 games last season.

Moreover, he mashed a two-run homer in the Pirates’ opening day victory. Hayes provides some excitement on an overall-bleak Pirates roster.

Unfortunately, Hayes exited yesterday’s matchup with wrist discomfort. X-rays on his wrist were negative, which is good news for the Pirates, but his status going forward is unknown.

Starting Pitcher: Mitch Keller

Keller has had an intriguing two seasons in the big leagues.

In 2019, Keller made 11 starts and had some of the worst luck imaginable. In 11 starts, he posted an ERA of 7.13 but an xERA of 2.76 and a FIP of just 3.19. I think some of that is due to a BABIP of .475.

In 2020, however, Keller made just five starts and ran incredibly well. Behind a BABIP of just .104, he posted an ERA of 2.91 with an xERA of 6.17 and a FIP of 6.57.

In 2019, Keller had an ERA- of 164 with a FIP- of 72. He then flipped that script in 2020, with an ERA- of 66 but a FIP- of 152.

I’d imagine Keller’s true value lies somewhere in the middle.

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Chicago Cubs

The Cubs bounced back in a big way yesterday, and Jake Arrieta pitched very well in the win.

The Cub’s offense feels like it’s getting weaker by the day. The core of the lineup is getting older, and Javier Baez had the worst season of his career in 2020.

In fact, everyone on the Cubs had a poor 2020. Last season, the Cubs finished just 21st in OPS (.705), 20th in wRC+ and 19th in wOBA (.309).

But the Cubs still won their division in 2020 behind a starting pitching staff that finished in the top 10 in ERA, FIP and WHIP. However, with Yu Darvish, Jon Lester and Tyler Chatwood all gone, the starting lineup may lack the necessary depth to repeat as division champs.

It’ll be up to former Pirate Trevor Williams and Sunday’s starter, Zach Davies, to make up that production in the Cubs’ pitching staff in 2021.

Starting Pitcher: Zach Davies

Davies was a stud last season pitching for the Padres.

He finished top 10 in the majors in wins, ERA, BA against and WHIP. He also started 12 games and pitched almost 70 total innings, providing a lot of value for San Diego in the abbreviated 2020 season.

Davies also posted the highest strikeout rate and lowest walk rate of his career in 2020. His expected numbers in 2020 weren’t excellent, so perhaps he’s due for some regression in a longer 2021 campaign. However, if he could continue to produce like he did last season, he would be invaluable to a Cubs team begging for quality starters.

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Pirates-Cubs Pick

I can’t conclude much from Mitch Keller’s last two seasons, but I do know he’s a fastball pitcher.

Keller throws his fastball more than 55% of the time. He averages between 94-95 mph on his 4-seam with a whiff percentage around 18%. His putaway pitch is the slider, where his putaway percentage on the slider was 17.6% in 2020 and 29.5% in 2019, by far the highest among any pitch in his arsenal.

The Cubs have performed poorly against both the fastball and the slider. In 2020, Chicago was 25th in both wFB and wCB, per FanGraphs.

Davies, however, relies more on off-speed. He threw either a sinker or a changeup on more than 80% of his pitches over the past two seasons.

The Pirates don’t hit either pitch well, but that’s mostly because the Pirates don’t hit anything well. As mentioned, the Pirates offense is anemic.

However, the Pirates lineup performs worse both against right-handed pitching and on the road. Against righties on the road in 2020, the Pirates posted a .581 OPS and a 55 wRC+ — both pf which were last in the league by a considerable margin.

Taking into account Hayes’ injury, it’s hard to imagine the Pirates being able to hit at all today. And considering the Cubs match up poorly with Keller’s arsenal, I think we’re in for a low-scoring affair at Wrigley field today.

Including spring training, the Pirates are 4-1 to the under in their last five. I’m expecting more of the same today.

Pick: Under 8 (-110)

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