Should the Boston Red Sox be concerned about ace Chris Sale? He had one of the worst Opening Day sat starts of his career last week in a loss in Seattle. Even more worrying: Sale’s velocity was down, just like it was at the end of last year and in the playoffs. Remember, Boston gave Sale a five-year, $145 million extension less than a week before opening day. Here’s a look at two intriguing MLB matchups early this week. Check back for MLB odds.
Top MLB Betting Picks of the Week – April 1st Edition
Philadelphia Phillies at Washington Nationals
- When: Tuesday, 7:05 PM ET (MLB Network)
This game is all about Bryce Harper’s return to Washington – he’s surely going to be booed heavily by is former fans for leaving for a hated division rival. Harper got a 13-year, $330 million deal from the Phillies, which is less per year than Washington offered him at 10 years and $300 million. However, some of that was deferred.
Harper hit .279 with 184 home runs, 521 RBIs and a .900 OPS over his seven-year career with the Nationals. He won the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year Award, then the NL Most Valuable Player Award unanimously in 2015, when he hit .330 with an NL-high 42 home runs, also pacing the majors with a .460 on-base percentage, .649 slugging percentage, 1.109 OPS and 198 OPS+.
He has made six NL All-Star teams. He’s off to a bit of a slow start with the Phillies but did hit a monster homer on Saturday in a win over Atlanta. Harper obliterated a Jesse Biddle offering in the seventh inning into the right-field bleachers to extend the Phillies’ lead to 8-6.
Starting pitcher-wise, it’s Zach Eflin for Philly and ace Max Scherzer for Washington. Eflin went 11-8 with a 4.36 ERA in 24 starts last season, but the Phillies believe he will be better in 2019 because they believe in the predictive power of Fielding Independent Pitching. Eflin posted a 3.80 FIP last year.
The Nationals toggled their rotation to set up the showdown with Philadelphia on Tuesday by pushing Scherzer up a day to remain on his normal five-day schedule and pushing Anibal Sanchez back to Wednesday afternoon. The idea was to keep Scherzer on regular rest at the start of the season, which puts him on target to start three of the Nats’ first eight games, all against the Mets and Phillies.
Scherzer struck out 12 batters while allowing two runs over 7 2/3 innings in a season-opening loss to the Mets on Thursday. Scherzer allowed just two hits, but Robinson Cano took him deep for a solo shot in the first inning and the veteran second baseman later provided a single for insurance in the eighth after the Nats’ ace was pulled from the game. The 12 strikeouts were Scherzer’s most for an Opening Day assignment as well as the most in Nationals/Expos history to begin a season.
Chicago Cubs at Atlanta Braves
- When: Wednesday, 7:20 PM ET (ESPN)
This is the finale of a three-game set between playoff teams from last season. In each of the last four seasons, at least one Cub has finished in the top NL’s top five in RBI: Javier Baez topped the NL with 111 last season. Baez hit two homers and knocked in four runs in the opening win over Texas.
Expected to be ace Jon Lester for the Cubs. Lester pitched Opening Day in Texas and got the win. He allowed four hits and two walks while striking out three. The only dent in his stat line was a two-run dinger by Elvis Andrus in the third inning. The 35-year-old left-hander went 18-6 with a 3.32 ERA and 1.31 WHIP last year in 32 starts.
Atlanta remains without All-Star ace Mike Foltynewicz (elbow), who will make a rehab start with Triple-A Gwinnett on Thursday and could make his season debut with the Braves as soon as April 9. Foltynewicz is beginning the season on the injured list due to right elbow soreness. He threw 63 pitches on Friday in an intrasquad scrimmage and reported feeling good afterward. He missed most of the spring training due to the elbow but appears to have dodged a major injury. The right-hander had a breakout campaign last year, going 13-10 with a 2.85 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 31 starts. He ranked 16th in the majors with 202 strikeouts in 183 innings.
Also on the DL are fellow pitchers Kevin Gausman, AJ Minter, and Darren O’Day. Minter also showed flashes of greatness for the Braves, following up his brief first season with a respectable 3.23 ERA while allowing just 0.4 HR/9. Minter also saved 15 games for the Braves last season, proving that he can be a valuable arm whenever called upon from the pen. The Braves acquired Gausman from the Baltimore Orioles at the trade deadline last season for four minor-league prospects. Upon putting on the Braves uniform, Gausman quickly transformed into the teams 2nd best starter, posting a 2.87 ERA and 1.14 WHIP.
Likely to be lefty Max Fried here. Fried worked out of the bullpen during the first series and hasn’t completed more than two innings since going five on March 19 in spring training. The Braves will likely try to get him through the lineup two times.