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MLB • Thursday Service Plays • 4/21/16

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    Five to Follow MLB Betting: Thursday, April 21, 2016, Opening Line Report
    by Alan Matthews

    If the Cincinnati Reds have a lead in the top of the ninth inning of Thursday’s home series opener against the Chicago Cubs, it’s not clear who might close things out. Cincy’s closer has been J.J. Hoover, but he nearly blew a lead in the ninth inning Tuesday against Colorado, allowing a two-run home run to inflate his ERA to 15.19. Hoover has a WHIP of 2.25 and is giving up five home runs per nine innings. He has walked as many as he’s struck out. So Manager Bryan Price has admitted he’s thinking about a change. If so, it’s likely to be a combination of right-hander Caleb Cotham or lefty Tony Cingrani. The Reds had no such closer worries the past few years with Aroldis Chapman around. Of course he was traded to the Yankees this offseason.

    Dodgers at Braves (+233, 6.5)

    On the MLB Network. I’m obviously not in the business of predicting no-hitters because that’s nearly impossible to do. But I will say that it wouldn’t surprise me even a little if Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw throws one here against a very non-descript Atlanta offense. And it’s a getaway early start of 12:10 p.m. ET, so Atlanta might not even start the few guys you have heard of like Freddie Freeman. Kershaw (2-0, 1.64) has yet to allow more than two earned runs in his three starts and just 10 total hits in 22 innings. Kershaw threw seven scoreless innings vs. Atlanta in 2015. Freeman is 2-for-9 off him with a homer and five strikeouts. Erick Aybar is 3-for-21 with four strikeouts. It’s Matt Wisler (0-1, 4.61) for Atlanta. He was originally to pitch Tuesday but had to be used in relief on Sunday. Wisler allowed four runs over six innings in his lone start vs. the Dodgers last year. Adrian Gonzalez is 1-for-3 with a homer and two RBIs off him.

    Key trends:
    The Dodgers are 5-0 in Kershaw’s past five on the road. The Braves are 3-7 in Wisler’s past 10 vs. teams with a winning record. The “over/under” has gone under in 11 of Kershaw’s past 12 vs. the NL East.

    Early lean:
    Dodgers and under.

    Nationals at Marlins (+166, 7)

    Washington leads the majors in ERA, and that figures to drop a bit here with Max Scherzer (2-0, 3.15) on the mound in a 1:10 p.m. ET getaway game. Scherzer allowed a run and five hits over seven innings last time out against the Phillies. Scherzer faced the Marlins more than any team in 2015, going 3-1 with a 2.75 ERA in five starts. He struck out 36 in 36 innings, allowing 29 hits. Only three current Marlins are hitting over .250 in their careers: Martin Prado, Christian Yelich and Dee Gordon. Prado is 9-for-19 off him. It’s Tom Koehler (0-2, 6.30) for Miami. He pitched in Washington to open the season and allowed two runs in 6.1 innings. But he was hit hard last time out vs. Atlanta. Bryce Harper, off to a red-hot start, is 8-for-26 off Koehler with five homers and 10 RBIs. Ryan Zimmerman is 6-for-20 against him with two homers. The Nats hit four seventh-inning homers vs. the Marlins on Tuesday, going back-to-back twice. The last time Washington went deep four times in an inning was as Montreal in 1986.

    Key trends:
    The Nats are 6-0 in Scherzer’s past six vs. the NL East. The Marlins are 2-6 in Koehler’s past eight vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 4-1 in Scherzer’s past five road starts vs. teams with a losing record.

    Early lean:
    Nationals and under.

    Rays at Red Sox (-165, 8)

    Another getaway game at 1:35 p.m. ET. Will the real David Price (2-0, 4.50) stand up? The lefty and former Tampa Bay pitcher hasn’t been terrible but hasn’t certainly lived up to his massive free-agent contract yet. The Red Sox need him to because the rest of their rotation is very shaky. Price pitched well last time out against another former team, Toronto, allowing two runs over seven innings and striking out nine. Price has made three career starts against the Rays, going 1-2 with a 4.26 ERA. Evan Longoria is 0-for-9 off him. Curt Casali is 3-for-6 with two homers. Tampa’s Jake Odorizzi (0-1, 2.41) shut out the White Sox over seven innings on four hits last time out but took a no decision. Odorizzi retired the final 11 batters he faced. He was 1-0 with a 2.29 ERA in three starts vs. Boston in 2015. Big Papi is 3-for-18 off him with five strikeouts. Xander Bogaerts is 5-for-14 with two RBIs.

    Key trends:
    The Rays are 4-1 in their past five vs. a lefty. The under is 4-0 in Tampa’s past four on Thursday and 12-2 in Boston’s past 14 at home.

    Early lean:
    Red Sox and under.

    Diamondbacks at Giants (-172, 7)

    Another getaway game at 3:45 p.m. ET. When Arizona was able to sign free-agent Zack Greinke this past offseason, the Giants turned to Plan B and inked Johnny Cueto — he may well have been a Diamondback if Greinke signed elsewhere. Cueto (3-0, 3.38) has sandwiched two excellent starts around one bad one. He hasn’t allowed a homer in his 21.1 innings and only 19 hits. One more victory will give Cueto 100 for his career. He is 6-1 with a 2.54 ERA in eight career starts against Arizona. Paul Goldschmidt is 3-for-9 off him with a homer. Jean Segura is 3-for-20. It’s another new Diamondback on the mound in Shelby Miller (0-1, 8.53), and he has been flat-out lousy. Miller lasted only 1.2 innings last time out against the Padres, allowing two runs and leaving with a lacerated finger. He has allowed 17 hits and five homers in 12.2 innings. Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt are a combined 3-for-32 off him.

    Key trends:
    The Snakes are 1-4 in their past five Thursday games. The under is 13-3 in the past 16 meetings.

    Early lean:
    Giants and under.

    Cubs at Reds (+202, 7)

    This could be a bit of a letdown series for the Cubs off their potential sweep in St. Louis depending on what happened in Wednesday’s finale. Either way, really, that was an emotional series for the Cubs. I might expect a potential loss here if ace and reigning NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta (3-0, 1.23) wasn’t on the mound. He has had two starts this season where he has gone at least seven innings and not allowed a run. Arrieta, who has made a franchise-record 23 straight quality starts, was 1-1 with a 3.55 ERA in two starts last year vs. the Reds. Brandon Phillips is 4-for-11 off him with two doubles. Jay Bruce is 2-for-11 with six strikeouts. It’s lefty Brandon Finnegan (1-0, 2.04) for Cincinnati. He was roughed up for four runs over five innings last time out in St. Louis but no-hit the Cubs for 6.2 innings at Wrigley the start before that.

    Key trends:
    The Cubs are 9-0 in Arrieta’s past nine vs. the NL Central. The under is 5-2-1 in his past eight on the road. The Cubs have won four straight in Cincinnati.

    Early lean:
    Let’s complete the home/under sweep with Cubs and under.


    NEWSLETTER MLB Baseball Prediction From Robert Ferringo

    Take ‘Under’ 6.5 Pittsburgh at San Diego (9 p.m., Thursday, April 21)
    I’ve hit three of four free play winners in this newsletter and I really think that this one is a gem. My rated MLB plays have been all over the map to start the year and I have been tightening things up lately. But I plan on let loose on at least a couple big spots this weekend. In terms of this free play, I think we have two really good pitchers that are due to dominate. Gerrit Cole was awesome in 2015 for the Pirates with a 2.60 ERA and he’s been really, really good in his three full Big League seasons. He’s off to a bit of a slow start this season and allowed just four hits against a really good Detroit lineup his last time out. The same can be said for James Shields. This guy has been so good for so long and he should dominate here. Two of his three starts this year were quality starts. The one that wasn’t was in Coors Field and he gave up just four runs despite getting lit for three home runs. Four straight Shields starts have gone ‘under’ and the awkward start time here means that the hitters will have to battle the shadows as well as the two aces on the mound. It’s all pointing toward a 3-1 game for someone and I see this one going ‘under’.


    NEWSLETTER MLB Baseball Prediction From Vernon Croy

    Take Chicago Cubs (-1.5) over Cincinnati (7 p.m., Thursday, April 21)
    Take the Chicago Cubs on the run line over the Cincinnati Reds as your free pick winner for Thursday, April 21. This pick falls into one of my MLB systems and the Cubs are the superior team at this point in the season, with also the superior pitcher on the mound. Arrieta has been lights out so far again this season in pitching at least 7 innings in all 3 of his starts, with an ERA of just 1.23. The Reds have hit just .179 against Arrieta the last 3 seasons, and I expect another great start from him Thursday night. Finnegan lasted just 5 innings in his last start, where he had trouble finding the strike zone. Finnegan has issued 9 walks over his last 2 starts combined, which will be a disaster against this Cubs team who have had the most walks (64) in MLB this season. Play the Cubs RL with confidence.


    Preview: Mariners at Indians

    GAME: Seattle Mariners (6-8) at Cleveland Indians (6-6)
    DATE/TIME: Thursday, April 21 – 12:10 PM EST
    WHERE: Progressive Field, Cleveland, Ohio

    The Seattle Mariners are showing improvement on the mound this season and starter Nathan Karns hopes to continue that trend Thursday, when he takes on the host Cleveland Indians in the rubber match of their three-game series. Seattle owns a 2.35 ERA on the road this month after Taijuan Walker and three relievers gave up one unearned run and three hits to edge Cleveland 2-1 on Wednesday.

    The Mariners finished 22nd in the majors last year with an overall ERA of 4.16 and especially struggled on the road (4.63), but they have allowed just 13 runs while winning four of their last six contests. The Indians came into the season with a highly regarded pitching staff but have yet to string together more than two victories and Thursday starter Cody Anderson must rebound from a rough start last time out. Cleveland managed only a sacrifice fly from Jason Kipnis on Wednesday as it went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position. The Indians are just 3-4 at home to open the season and take off for a nine-game road trip that begins Friday.

    TV: 12:10 p.m. ET, ROOT (Seattle), SportsTime Ohio (Cleveland)

    PITCHING MATCHUP: Mariners RH Nathan Karns (1-1, 4.50 ERA) vs. Indians RH Cody Anderson (0-1, 5.91)

    Karns held the New York Yankees to one run and five hits on Friday for his first victory with the Mariners but lasted only five frames after issuing four walks. The 28-year-old Texas Tech product has struck out 13 in 10 innings this season and went 3-1 with a 3.05 ERA on the road in 2015 with Tampa Bay. Kipnis is 4-for-6 with a pair of doubles versus Karns, who was 1-1 with a 2.38 ERA against Cleveland last year.

    Anderson struggled last time out against the New York Mets, allowing five runs and nine hits over 4 2/3 innings to take the loss after a strong season debut. The 25-year-old Californian limited the Chicago White Sox to two runs in six frames on April 9, but his first two opponents have batted a combined .319 against him. Adam Lind is 2-for-4 with a homer versus Anderson, who faces Seattle for the first time.


    1. Cleveland OF Lonnie Chisenhall, who has been out with a wrist injury, went 0-for-3 Wednesday in his first game of the season.

    2. Seattle 3B Kyle Seager has two hits in the series and is 48-for-129 (.372) lifetime against the Indians.

    3. Indians 3B Juan Uribe is 6-for-14 in his last five games after going 1-for-19 in his first six of the campaign.

    PREDICTION: Indians 5, Mariners 4


    Preview: Dodgers at Braves

    GAME: Los Angeles Dodgers (9-6) at Atlanta Braves (4-10)
    DATE/TIME: Thursday, April 21 – 12:10 PM EST
    WHERE: Turner Field, Atlanta, Georgia

    The Los Angeles Dodgers wrap up a three-game road series against the Atlanta Braves on Thursday, and Adrian Gonzalez once again will look to continue his strong work away from home. Los Angeles’ first baseman slugged a game-tying two-run homer in the sixth inning of Wednesday’s 5-3 victory in 10 frames, and is 15-for-35 with eight RBIs in nine road contests this season.

    Thriving on the road is nothing new for the 33-year-old Gonzalez, who ranks 10th among active players with 1,500-plus plate appearances in away batting average (.301), and the Dodgers enter the series finale looking to win for the sixth time in eight games overall. Atlanta’s four-game winning streak ended Wednesday and the Braves need a good effort from starter Matt Wisler in the finale after using seven relievers in Wednesday’s loss. Daniel Castro, who got a spot start at third base when Adonis Garcia was a late scratch with a knee bruise, went 2-for-5 with two RBIs. First baseman Freddie Freeman struck out four times in five at-bats, dropping his average to .156.

    TV: 12:10 p.m. ET, MLB Network, SportsNet Los Angeles, FSN South (Atlanta)

    PITCHING MATCHUP: Dodgers LH Clayton Kershaw (2-0, 1.64 ERA) vs. Braves RH Matt Wisler (0-1, 4.61)

    Kershaw is off to a fantastic start as the three-time National League Cy Young award winner enters his fourth start of the season with just two walks and 20 strikeouts in 22 innings. He beat San Francisco on Friday, giving up three runs (two earned) on five hits in seven innings just six days after limiting the Giants to two runs on four hits in a no-decision. Kershaw has dominated the Braves in six career starts, posting a 1.79 ERA and a 5.4 strikeouts-to-walks ratio while going 2-0.

    With Atlanta’s bullpen stretched heading into extra innings Sunday in Miami, Wisler came on in relief to record his first career save — and even though he only needed six pitches, he was pushed back from his scheduled rotation turn Tuesday. Wisler gave up two homers in an otherwise strong performance in his last start April 13 at Washington, giving up three runs on four hits in six innings. Wisler started the season by allowing four runs on seven hits in a no-decision against the St. Louis Cardinals.


    1. Atlanta C A.J. Pierzynski collected two hits Wednesday, moving within four of 2,000 for his career.

    2. Dodgers 2B Chase Utley stole his 144th career base in the 10th inning Wednesday and he has been caught stealing 18 times, a percentage of 88.9 percent.

    3. Braves SS Erick Aybar snapped a 1-for-28 slump with a fourth-inning double Wednesday.

    PREDICTION: Dodgers 4, Braves 1


    Preview: Nationals at Marlins

    GAME: Washington Nationals (11-3) at Miami Marlins (4-9)
    DATE/TIME: Thursday, April 21 – 1:10 PM EST
    WHERE: Marlins Park, Miami, Florida

    The Washington Nationals entered play Wednesday with a major league-leading 1.98 ERA from their starting rotation, but a stellar performance from their bullpen has them in position to make it three straight victories over the Miami Marlins. Ace Max Scherzer takes the mound for Washington on Thursday afternoon in the finale of a four-game set at Marlins Park.

    Scherzer turned in a pair of dominant outings in Miami last year, picking up a pair of victories with 15 scoreless innings. The Nationals could use a strong performance from Scherzer after Joe Ross exited Wednesday’s game with a blister, forcing the bullpen to pick up the slack with seven innings of one-run ball. Tom Koehler will oppose Scherzer for the Marlins, who are 1-7 at home and have dropped six of their last seven overall. Koehler must contend with a red-hot Bryce Harper, who is 8-for-26 with five home runs and 10 RBIs against him and has knocked in 16 runs during his current seven-game RBI streak.

    TV: 1:10 p.m. ET, MASN (Washington), FSN Florida (Miami)

    PITCHING MATCHUP: Nationals RH Max Scherzer (2-0, 3.15 ERA) vs. Marlins RH Tom Koehler (0-2, 6.30)

    Staked to a three-run lead before he even took the mound, Scherzer dominated Philadelphia with seven innings of one run ball, striking out seven and allowing a solo homer among five hits on Saturday. He struggled in his previous turn versus Atlanta but still notched the victory despite permitting four runs on six hits over six innings. Scherzer was 3-1 with a 2.75 ERA in five starts against Miami last season, although he must be wary of Dee Gordon (8-for-26).

    Koehler struggled with his control against the Nationals in his season debut, walking four batters while being charged with two runs and eight hits over 6 1/3 innings. The 29-year-old New Yorker was shelled in his next outing against Atlanta, lasting only 3 2/3 innings while giving up six runs (five earned) on nine hits. He has labored in 10 starts against Washington, logging a 3-7 mark and 4.45 ERA while surrendering 12 homers in 60 2/3 innings.


    1. Nationals 2B Daniel Murphy is riding a 12-game hitting streak to lift his batting average to .429.

    2. Marlins LF Christian Yelich has reached safely in all 13 games and has multiple hits in five of his last nine contests.

    3. Nationals LF Jayson Werth left Wednesday’s game in the fifth inning due to tightness in his hamstring.

    PREDICTION: Nationals 6, Marlins 2


    Preview: Rays at Red Sox

    GAME: Tampa Bay Rays (6-8) at Boston Red Sox (7-7)
    DATE/TIME: Thursday, April 21 – 1:35 PM EST
    WHERE: Fenway Park, Boston, Massachusetts

    Rick Porcello did his part to save the bullpen on Wednesday and set the Boston Red Sox up for a series win. The Red Sox will try to take the rubber match of the three-game series when they send David Price to the mound against the visiting Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday.

    Boston’s bullpen was forced to log 9 1/3 innings in Tuesday’s 3-0 series-opening loss after starter Joe Kelly was pulled in the first inning with a shoulder injury. Porcello saved the relievers with seven solid innings and the Red Sox found their offense again in Wednesday’s 7-3 victory after totaling six runs during a three-game slide. The Rays are still searching for a consistent offensive attack and have scored three or fewer runs in 11 of their 14 games. Steven Souza Jr. (.256) was the only batter in the Tampa Bay lineup to finish Wednesday’s game with a batting average above .250.

    TV: 1:35 p.m. ET, FSN Sun (Tampa Bay), NESN (Boston)

    PITCHING MATCHUP: Rays RH Jake Odorizzi (0-1, 2.41 ERA) vs. Red Sox LH David Price (2-0, 4.50)

    Odorizzi is still looking for his first win despite going seven scoreless innings while allowing four hits and striking out six against the Chicago White Sox last week. The 26-year-old struck out 10 over 5 2/3 innings in his first start on April 5 and suffered his lone loss in his only road start at Baltimore on April 10. Odorizzi is 2-2 with a 3.43 ERA in eight career starts against Boston, including four quality starts in 2015.

    Price is making his first start against his original franchise since moving to the former rival Red Sox in the offseason and is going for his second straight win against a former team. The No. 1 overall pick of the Rays in 2007, Price was traded to Detroit at the deadline in 2014 and moved to Toronto at last season’s deadline before landing a seven-year, $217 deal with Boston. Price struck out nine and allowed two runs in seven innings against Toronto to earn a win on Saturday and is 1-2 with a 4.26 ERA in three starts against Tampa Bay.


    1. Red Sox SS Xander Bogaerts was removed from Wednesday’s game with a tight left quad and is day-to-day.

    2. Rays 1B Logan Morrison is 0-for-8 in the series and 2-for-40 on the season.

    3. Kelly had an MRI on his right shoulder come back showing no structural damage, but there is no timetable for his return.

    PREDICTION: Red Sox 4, Rays 1


    Preview: Twins at Brewers

    GAME: Minnesota Twins (4-11) at Milwaukee Brewers (7-8)
    DATE/TIME: Thursday, April 21 – 1:40 PM EST
    WHERE: Miller Park, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

    The familiar confines of Miller Park put a jolt in the offense of the Milwaukee Brewers, who wrap up a four-game, home-and-home interleague series against the visiting Minnesota Twins on Thursday afternoon. Milwaukee rolled up a season-high run total in a 10-5 victory over the Twins on Wednesday after returning from an eight-game road trip.

    The middle of Brewers’ lineup did the bulk of the damage in their second straight win over Minnesota, with the Nos. 3-6 hitters accounting for eight hits, six runs and seven RBIs. Ryan Braun is 6-for-9 with four RBIs, four runs and four walks in the three games against the Twins while Chris Carter has recorded five RBIs in the last two contests. Oswaldo Arcia is heating up for Minnesota, going 8-for-20 with two homers and five RBIs over his last five games, while Eddie Rosario has gone deep in back-to-back contests. Ricky Nolasco looks to salvage a split for the Twins when he opposes struggling Milwaukee right-hander Taylor Jungmann.

    TV: 1:40 p.m. ET, FSN North (Minnesota), FSN Wisconsin (Milwaukee)

    PITCHING MATCHUP: Twins RH Ricky Nolasco (0-0, 3.21 ERA) vs. Brewers RH Taylor Jungmann (0-2, 9.00)

    Although he was not as sharp as in his impressive season debut, Nolasco managed to go seven innings while giving four runs — all in the second frame – and nine hits in a no-decision against the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday. The 33-year-old Californian also worked seven frames on the road versus reigning World Series champion Kansas City on April 10, permitting only one run and five hits. Nolasco is 3-3 with a brutal 7.20 ERA and .328 batting average against in nine career starts versus the Brewers.

    Following a decent season debut against San Francisco in which he did not factor in the decision, Jungmann has been knocked around in consecutive road losses to National League Central rivals St. Louis and Pittsburgh. The 26-year-old native of Texas was tagged for four runs and eight hits over six innings versus the Pirates last time out after getting shelled for eight runs over two-plus frames in his previous turn. Jungmann was superb at home as a rookie in 2015, posting a 5-2 record and 2.21 ERA in nine starts.


    1. Twins DH Joe Mauer has reach base in all 15 games this season.

    2. Carter is making the most of his 12 hits on the season – four have left the park and five have gone for doubles.

    3. Minnesota OF Danny Santana (hamstring) will begin a rehab assignment Friday and is eligible to come off the disabled list three days later.

    PREDICTION: Twins 7, Brewers 5


    Preview: Angels at White Sox

    GAME: Los Angeles Angels (6-9) at Chicago White Sox (10-5)
    DATE/TIME: Thursday, April 21 – 2:10 PM EST
    WHERE: U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago, Illinois

    The Chicago White Sox are off to their best 15-game start since they opened the 2006 season with a 10-5 record. The current White Sox contingent also boasts a 10-5 mark and will vie for its third straight victory to conclude a four-game series against the visiting Los Angeles Angels on Thursday afternoon.

    Starting pitching has been the calling card for Chicago, which saw ace Chris Sale become the majors’ first four-game winner in Wednesday’s 2-1 triumph. John Danks is singing a vastly different tune as the left-hander has been blitzed in his first two outings this season and boasts a 1-9 mark with a gaudy 5.06 ERA in his past 12 turns dating to 2015. The Angels have struggled to find their offense of late, scoring just 18 runs en route to losing five of their last six. Mike Trout collected three of his team’s four hits on Wednesday, but is 0-for-8 with four strikeouts against Danks.

    TV: 2:10 p.m. ET, FSN West (Los Angeles), CSN Chicago

    PITCHING MATCHUP: Angels RH Jered Weaver (1-0, 4.35 ERA) vs. White Sox LH John Danks (0-2, 7.94)

    Weaver has dominated Chicago in his career, winning his last six starts en route to posting a 10-2 mark with a 1.99 ERA while limiting the club to batting .207 against him. The 33-year-old scattered five hits over 6 1/3 scoreless frames in his last encounter with the White Sox. Weaver could use a feel-good performance after being touched for four runs on eight hits in 4 1/3 innings of a no-decision versus Minnesota on Saturday.

    Danks hasn’t just stumbled out of the blocks this season, he’s nearly fallen on his face after yielding 12 runs on 14 hits to take the loss in his first two starts. The 31-year-old allowed five runs and was taken deep twice in a 7-2 setback to Tampa Bay on Saturday, matching the totals of his last performance against Los Angeles on Aug. 18. Veteran slugger Albert Pujols is mired in an 0-for-11 stretch in the series, but is 3-for-10 with a homer in his career versus Danks.


    1. Chicago is winning its close encounters this season, posting a 5-2 mark in contests decided by two or fewer runs.

    2. Angels LHP Andrew Heaney (strained flexor) will not rejoin the team this weekend despite being eligible to come off the disabled list on Friday, manager Mike Scioscia told reporters.

    3. White Sox RHP David Robertson is 6-for-6 in save opportunities.

    PREDICTION: Angels 3, White Sox 2


    Preview: Diamondbacks at Giants

    GAME: Arizona Diamondbacks (8-8) at San Francisco Giants (7-9)
    DATE/TIME: Thursday, April 21 – 3:45 PM EST
    WHERE: AT&T Park, San Francisco, California

    The Arizona Diamondbacks begin a 10-game homestand following Thursday’s series finale against the San Francisco Giants, but they might not be in a hurry to leave the Bay Area. Arizona has won 11 of its last 13 games at AT&T Park, including the first three games of the series.

    Third baseman Jake Lamb is 8-for-22 with five extra-base hits over the last six games for Arizona, which has climbed back to .500 with four straight wins. The Diamondbacks’ bullpen was a concern last season but appears to be much improved with new arrival Tyler Clippard serving as the primary setup man for closer Brad Ziegler, who has recorded a team-record 32 consecutive saves. The Giants looked like they would have one of the majors’ deepest lineups during the season’s first week, but their recent struggles continued in Wednesday’s 2-1 loss as the middle of the order — catcher Buster Posey, first baseman Brandon Belt and shortstop Brandon Crawford — went a combined 0-for-12 with six strikeouts. Right fielder Hunter Pence rested Wednesday for the first time this season but is expected to return to the lineup for the series finale.

    TV: 3:45 p.m. ET, FSN Arizona, CSN Bay Area (San Francisco)

    PITCHING MATCHUP: Diamondbacks RH Shelby Miller (0-1, 8.53 ERA) vs. Giants RH Johnny Cueto (3-0, 3.38)

    Miller has been cleared to start after leaving Saturday’s game against San Diego with two outs in the second inning with cuts on both knuckles of his right index finger. The Texas native has had a rough start to his Diamondbacks career while yielding 12 runs and 23 baserunners over 12 2/3 innings. Posey and Pence are a combined 2-for-21 against the 25-year-old, who is 2-1 with a 1.71 ERA in four career starts against San Francisco.

    Cueto has made a strong impression with his new team with three straight victories, including a quality start against the Dodgers on Saturday when he allowed one run and struck out seven over 7 1/3 innings. “Johnny was outstanding,” manager Bruce Bochy told reporters. “He had good command, good stuff, he really located everything.” Jean Segura has three hits in 20 at-bats against Cueto, who owns a 6-1 record and 2.54 ERA in eight career starts against Arizona.


    1. Arizona starting pitchers have recorded a 1.71 ERA in their last 13 games at AT&T Park.

    2. The Giants have been held scoreless in the first inning in 13 of their first 16 games.

    3. Diamondbacks 1B Paul Goldschmidt has reached base safely in 21 of his last 22 games against the Giants.

    PREDICTION: Giants 6, Diamondbacks 4


    Preview: Blue Jays at Orioles

    GAME: Toronto Blue Jays (8-8) at Baltimore Orioles (9-4)
    DATE/TIME: Thursday, April 21 – 7:05 PM EST
    WHERE: Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, Maryland

    The Baltimore Orioles and the Toronto Blue Jays own two of the most powerful lineups in baseball, but Wednesday’s meeting was decided by a ball that didn’t even travel 50 feet. The Blue Jays will try to get over the sting of losing on a walk-off passed ball when they visit the Orioles for the rubber match of the three-game series on Thursday.

    Baltimore put up three runs in the first inning on Wednesday and went the next eight without scoring before Caleb Joseph crossed on the bases-loaded passed ball in the 10th. The Orioles picked up their second win in the last six games with the victory and managed to get into the win column without the benefit of a home run, marking the first time since Opening Day the lineup failed to leave the yard. Baltimore did get another extra-base hit from Manny Machado, who doubled in a run and has hit safely in each of the first 13 games. Toronto will try to slow Machado with right-hander Marco Estrada, who has held the young star to 1-for-9 with a solo home run in his career.

    TV: 7:05 p.m. ET, Sportsnet One (Toronto), MASN (Baltimore)

    PITCHING MATCHUP: Blue Jays RH Marco Estrada (1-1, 2.77 ERA) vs. Orioles RH Chris Tillman (1-1, 5.11)

    Estrada dominated Boston at home over seven scoreless innings in his first start on April 10 but could not muster the same effort at the Red Sox on Saturday. The California native was reached for four runs on eight hits over six frames to suffer the loss. Estrada is getting his first look at a different lineup and was strong in six games – four starts – against Baltimore last season, going 2-1 with a 3.42 ERA and a .152 batting average against.

    Tillman was limited to seven innings in his first two starts and allowed a total of one run and four hits in that span while striking out 10. The 28-year-old surrendered one run in the first five innings at Texas last week before managing one out in the sixth and yielding five runs in the frame. Tillman is 4-10 with a 5.79 ERA in 20 career starts against Toronto after getting hammered for 33 runs in 25 1/3 innings over six starts against the Blue Jays last season.


    1. Orioles LHP Brian Matusz (ribs) could be activated off the DL on Saturday while RHP Kevin Gausman (shoulder) is expected to follow next week.

    2. Blue Jays RF Jose Bautista reached base safely in each of the first 15 games.

    3. Baltimore CF Adam Jones (stomach virus) started Wednesday after leaving Tuesday’s opener and went 0-for-3.

    PREDICTION: Blue Jays 7, Orioles 3


    Preview: Athletics at Yankees

    GAME: Oakland Athletics (8-7) at New York Yankees (5-8)
    DATE/TIME: Thursday, April 21 – 7:05 PM EST
    WHERE: Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York

    The roller-coaster ride that has been the Oakland Athletics’ season currently is on the upswing with victories in four straight following a four-game skid. The Athletics look to continue their dominance of the New York Yankees on Thursday as they vie for a three-game sweep in the Bronx and their 21st win in 29 encounters with the club.

    Speedy Billy Burns has kicked it into another gear of late, collecting a pair of doubles to highlight his three-hit performance in Wednesday’s 5-2 triumph. Burns, who is riding a four-game hitting streak and has three runs scored in that span, is 16-for-42 (.381) in his career versus the Yankees, but has yet to face Thursday starter Luis Severino. New York’s offense continues to provide negative news for the tabloids as the team is 4-for-58 with runners in scoring position in its last seven games (1-6) – mustering just 15 runs total in that stretch. Mark Teixeira is 0-for-7 in the series and just 1-for-15 in his last five outings while Brian McCann (1-for-18) and Jacoby Ellsbury (2-for-18) are also struggling at the plate.

    TV: 7:05 p.m. ET, CSN California (Oakland), YES (New York)

    PITCHING MATCHUP: Athletics LH Rich Hill (1-2, 4.15 ERA) vs. Yankees RH Luis Severino (0-2, 5.91)

    After striking out 10 over six strong innings on April 9, Hill allowed three runs on nine hits in 4 1/3 frames six days later en route to a 4-2 setback to Kansas City. The 36-year-old looks to bounce back versus New York, against which he permitted two runs on four hits in six innings in a hard-luck setback in his last encounter. Carlos Beltran launched a solo homer on Wednesday to extend his hitting streak to seven games and is 3-for-8 with a blast in his career versus Hill.

    Severino suffered his second loss in as many outings on Friday as he yielded four runs on eight hits in 5 2/3 innings of a 7-1 setback to Seattle. The 22-year-old Dominican hasn’t received much in the way of offensive support, as the Yankees have scored just one run for him this season. Severino will be making his 14th career start overall and first versus Oakland.


    1. At 5-0, Oakland is the majors’ lone remaining undefeated team on the road this season.

    2. New York DH Alex Rodriguez and SS Didi Gregorius have combined to record six of the team’s 14 hits in the series.

    3. Athletics LF Chris Coghlan followed an 0-for-19 stretch with a hit in each of his last three contests.

    PREDICTION: Athletics 4, Yankees 2


    Preview: Cubs at Reds

    GAME: Chicago Cubs (11-4) at Cincinnati Reds (8-7)
    DATE/TIME: Thursday, April 21 – 7:10 PM EST
    WHERE: Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati, Ohio

    The Chicago Cubs swept three games from the Cincinnati Reds last week at Wrigley Field and hope to pick up where they left off when the National League Central rivals begin a four-game series Thursday at Great American Ball Park. The Cubs outscored the Reds 22-6 last week and have won six straight against the Reds dating to last season.

    Chicago looks to continue its strong play within the division after taking two of three in St. Louis, though the Cubs dropped the series finale 5-3 on Wednesday. The three losses in Chicago started a stretch of six defeats in seven contests for the Reds, but they rebounded to take the final two games of their three-game series against visiting Colorado. Cincinnati was fortunate to miss Cubs ace Jake Arrieta last week but won’t be as lucky this time, as the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner takes the ball in the series opener. Arrieta has posted a franchise-record 23 consecutive quality starts in the regular season and won his last 14 decisions.

    TV: 7:10 p.m. ET, CSN Chicago Plus, FSN Ohio (Cincinnati)

    PITCHING MATCHUP: Cubs RH Jake Arrieta (3-0, 1.23 ERA) vs. Reds LH Brandon Finnegan (1-0, 2.04)

    Arrieta has been dominant in two of his three starts to begin the season. The 30-year-old blanked Colorado over eight innings last time out, allowing five hits and a walk with a season-high eight strikeouts. Arrieta is 3-2 with a 3.58 ERA in five career starts against the Reds, including a one-hitter in 2014 in which he struck out 13.

    Finnegan took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the Cubs on April 11, but five walks drove up his pitch count and the bullpen couldn’t hold the lead. The 23-year-old has not allowed more than four hits in any of his three starts this season, but he has issued nine walks over his last two outings. Finnegan is making only his second start at Great American Ball Park, where he held the Phillies to two runs and three hits over six innings in his season debut April 6.


    1. Cubs CF Dexter Fowler went 2-for-3 with a walk Wednesday and has reached base an MLB-best 34 times this season.

    2. Reds RF Jay Bruce has hit 124 career home runs at Great American Ball Park, two behind all-time leader Adam Dunn.

    3. Cincinnati SS Zack Cozart is hitting .432 during a 10-game hitting streak and is 4-for-12 with a double against Arrieta.

    PREDICTION: Cubs 4, Reds 1


    Preview: Tigers at Royals

    GAME: Detroit Tigers (8-5) at Kansas City Royals (9-5)
    DATE/TIME: Thursday, April 21 – 7:15 PM EST
    WHERE: Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri

    The Detroit Tigers have traditionally struggled at the back of the bullpen, and this season appears to be no different. The Tigers will try to put enough runs on the board to avoid handing the ball off to the closer when they visit the Kansas City Royals for the rubber match of a three-game series on Thursday.

    Detroit thought it had solved its closer problems by signing veteran Francisco Rodriguez to a two-year, $13 million contract in the offseason but is enduring the same issues it had with Joakim Soria, Joe Nathan, Joaquin Benoit and others at the back of the bullpen. Rodriguez came on with a 3-0 lead on Wednesday and surrendered a pair of solo home runs to raise his ERA to 7.11 before getting the third out and earning a shaky save in the 3-2 victory. The Royals have no such issues at the end of the bullpen with Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis but need to get the ball to them with a lead. Kansas City managed 10 hits on Wednesday but went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position and left nine men on base.

    TV: 7:15 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1, FSN Detroit

    PITCHING MATCHUP: Tigers RH Mike Pelfrey (0-2, 2.79 ERA) vs. Royals RH Edinson Volquez (2-0, 2.04)

    Pelfrey was ripped for six runs – two earned – on seven hits in 3 2/3 innings in his team debut on April 9 and worked into and out of trouble at Houston last week. The 32-year-old limited the Astros to one run in six innings despite walking six and surrendering five hits but could not come up with a win in the 1-0 final. Pelfrey is 1-2 with a 5.34 ERA in six career starts against Kansas City.

    Volquez struggles with his control occasionally as well and issued four walks at Oakland on Friday but limited the damage to two runs over six innings to pick up the win. The Dominican Republic native struck out 10 over 5 2/3 innings against Minnesota in his previous start after holding the New York Mets scoreless on opening night. Volquez has never had much success against Detroit, owning a 1-4 record with a 6.21 ERA in seven career starts.


    1. Tigers C Jarrod Saltalamacchia is 7-for-15 with three home runs, six RBIs and five runs scored in the last four games.

    2. Detroit DH Victor Martinez recorded his 1,000th career RBI on Wednesday.

    3. Kansas City 1B Eric Hosmer has hit safely in 10 straight games and reached base in each of the first 14.

    PREDICTION: Royals 6, Tigers 4


    Preview: Astros at Rangers

    GAME: Houston Astros (5-10) at Texas Rangers (9-6)
    DATE/TIME: Thursday, April 21 – 8:05 PM EST
    WHERE: Globe Life Park in Arlington, Arlington, Texas

    Houston ace Dallas Keuchel flashed off last season’s Cy Young Award-winning form in his last turn and attempts to produce another stellar performance when the Astros conclude their three-game series against the host Texas Rangers on Thursday. Keuchel pitched eight scoreless innings while defeating Detroit on Friday and will try to prevent Texas from sweeping the set.

    Houston is 6-15 against the Rangers since the start of the 2015 campaign and has been unable to get timely hits during the first two meetings this season. The Astros are 3-for-24 with runners in scoring position, including a 1-for-12 showing in Wednesday’s 2-1 loss. Rougned Odor hit a two-run homer for Texas and is 8-for-20 with seven RBIs during his five-game hitting streak. Rangers rookie Nomar Mazara is 0-for-6 in the series after entering with a .444 average in 27 at-bats.

    TV: 8:05 p.m. ET, MLB Network, ROOT Plus (Houston), FSN Southwest (Texas)

    PITCHING MATCHUP: Astros LH Dallas Keuchel (2-1, 2.18 ERA) vs. Rangers RH A.J. Griffin (1-0, 3.27)

    Keuchel gave up five hits and one walk in his outing against the Tigers as he had improved command after issuing a total of 10 free passes in his first two turns. He has experienced mixed results against the Rangers, going 4-4 with a 3.88 ERA in 14 career starts. Keuchel has experienced success against Mitch Moreland (1-for-13), Elvis Andrus (9-for-41) and Adrian Beltre (9-for-40).

    Griffin is looking for a bounce-back season after missing the previous two with elbow and shoulder injuries. He defeated the Los Angeles Angels in his first outing before taking a no-decision against Seattle his second time out. Griffin is 3-0 with a 4.88 ERA in four career starts against the Astros and has struggled to retire Jason Castro (4-for-12, two home runs) and Jose Altuve (4-for-11, one).


    1. Andrus has recorded three hits in the series and is 11-for-24 during his seven-game hitting streak.

    2. Castro is hitless with four strikeouts in eight at-bats over his last three contests.

    3. Texas OF Josh Hamilton (knee) headed to Arizona for extended spring training and is expected to begin a rehab assignment on April 30.

    PREDICTION: Astros 4, Rangers 1

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