MLB Odds, Preview, Prediction for Pirates vs. Cubs: Bullpen Action Could Be Decisive at Wrigley Field

MLB Odds, Preview, Prediction for Pirates vs. Cubs: Bullpen Action Could Be Decisive at Wrigley Field article feature image
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Justin K. Aller/Getty Images. Pictured: Kevin Newman

  • Pittsburgh and Chicago begin a four-game series Thursday at Wrigley Field.
  • Mitch Keller gets the nod for the Pirates, and he'll oppose Keegan Thompson for the Cubs.
  • Mike Ianniello explains below why the bullpen could be the decisive factor.

Pirates vs. Cubs Odds

Pirates Odds +116
Cubs Odds -130
Over/Under 8 (-115/-105)
Time 8:10 p.m. ET
TV MLB.TV
Odds as of 10 a.m. ET and via Parx.

Since dismantling their core at the trade deadline, the Cubs have struggled to just a 9-21 record, the worst in the National League. Pittsburgh has not been much better at 10-21.

These two teams sit at the bottom of the NL Central standings and likely cannot wait for this season to be over. Luckily for the fine people of Pittsburgh and Chicago, football season is almost here.

Thursday will kick-off a four game series between these two squads. Chicago is 8-4 against the Pirates this season, but all 12 of those meetings came for a wildly different Cubs team. Do they still have the advantage in this matchup?

Keller Still Struggling for Pirates

Former second-round pick Mitch Keller (RHP) is still just 25-years old and struggling to settle in at the Major League level. He has made 17 starts this season, going just 4-10 with a 6.75 ERA. Teams are hitting .315 against Keller this season.

Teams have been teeing off on him this year, he ranks in the bottom 1% of the league in HardHit% and average exit velocity given up. His xERA, xBA and xwOBA all rank in the bottom 5% of the league. His curveball has been crushed to a .409 batting average against this year.

There is no argument that Buccos have the worst offense in the league. They rank last in the league in wOBA and wRC+ and have hit the fewest home runs and scored the fewest runs.

Once considered one of the Pirates top prospects and core pieces, Pittsburgh released outfielder Gregory Polanco on Saturday after eight seasons. Bryan Reynolds and Colin Moran are really the only dangerous bats in this lineup, plus rookie Ke’Bryan Hayes, who injured his hand after slamming his helmet.


Cubs Going With Opener

Rookie Keegan Thompson (RHP) will be on the hill for Chicago. After starting the season in Triple-A Iowa, Thompson was recalled and added to the bullpen. He has been largely effective in relief, pitching to a 2.43 ERA in 26 appearances, with teams batting .206 against him.

This will be the fourth time Thompson is serving as the starter/opener for the Cubs and he has not been as good when getting the ball first. In his three starts, Thompson has a 5.59 ERA with teams hitting .300 against him. He has averaged just over three innings per start. Thompson has also been hit really hard, ranking in the bottom 10% in HardHit%.

Since shipping off the majority of their core at the trade deadline, the Cubs offense ranks 20th and 21st in wRC+. Chicago has struck out more than any other team over that stretch at 30.9%.

The surprising star since the deadline has been first baseman Frank Schwindel, who was called up from the minors to replace Anthony Rizzo. Schwindel is batting .344 with a 1.030 OPS in the last month.

Pirates-Cubs Pick

This is a disgusting game between two of the worst teams in the league over the last month. Both of these offenses struggle and neither of these pitchers inspires much confidence.

I am always a believer that the longer a bullpen is asked to pitch in a game, the more chance there is for disaster to strike.

That is where I give Keller a slight advantage. Thompson has averaged just over three innings per start and has not pitched more than four innings in his career. Keller is averaging 4.2 innings per start and has pitched at least five innings in all five of his starts since returning from a stint in Triple-A.

When this game goes to the bullpens, the Pirates again have a slight advantage, as shocking as that sounds. The Pittsburgh bullpen is by no means good, and ranks 24th in the league with a 4.56 ERA over the last month.

But the Cubs relievers have been horrific, ranking 29th with a 7.04 ERA. They have allowed a .272 batting average and 2.02 HR/9 rate, both the worst in the league in the last month since they were dismantled at the deadline.

In a game between two bad teams, I’ll back the underdog Pirates and would play the Buccos at +115 or better to Raise the Jolly Roger on Thursday.

Pick: Pittsburgh Pirates ML +116 (only play at +115 or better

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