No more than a week ago both the Texas Rangers and Pittsburgh Pirates sat atop their respective divisions with hot, quality teams right on their heels. Now both teams meet as the American League and National League Wildcard leaders after losing ground in the division. Pittsburgh travels to Texas after being swept in St. Louis over the weekend. The Bucs won’t have anything easy going against Yu Darvish but they counter with a young gun of their own with Gerrit Cole. Texas opens as big -160 favorites with a total of 8.0.
The Pirates have had a bit of a rough go of it lately but it doesn’t appear to me like they are necessarily playing poorly. After getting the better side of the play against St. Louis for most of the season, Pittsburgh lost three at Busch over the weekend going up against Joe Kelly, Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha. Not exactly at panic-level yet. The Bucs do miss young Starling Marte, who has been on the shelf with a tendon issue in his finger. Andrew McCutchen is still the most dynamic player in the Pirates’ lineup but Marte is closing the gap. Pittsburgh desperately misses his versatility at the top of the lineup setting the table for McCutchen, Alvarez, Byrd and Morneau.
The Pirates still have plenty of pop in their lineup but facing Yu Darvish is less than ideal. Darvish leads the league in strikeouts and it really isn’t very close. His 240 K’s give him a comfortable lead over Max Scherzer (209) and who knows how many the righty may get tonight between Byrd, Pedro Alvarez and Justin Morneau. Those boppers in the middle of the lineup can hit mediocre pitching but I still question Pittsburgh’s ability to produce against a strikeout pitcher with the command that Darvish has.
The good news for Pittsburgh is that I think Gerrit Cole comes out and competes with Darvish all night. Here’s the deal with Cole. The first overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft, Cole came up in mid-June and has posted a WHIP under 1.20 and a 3.74 ERA. Somehow, he has failed to live up to expectations, in the media at least. It might have something to do with his 6-7 record. At the end of the day I really do like what Cole brings to the table. A strike-thrower with great command, Cole still has some work to do on his secondary stuff but he’s a great competitor and I expect him to brave the Texas heat and pitch well. If Cole wants to make his mark that set the tone of being a “stopper” in his career this would be a great game to start.
Two teams that are struggling a bit with two very good pitchers on the mound. I love the matchup for Darvish and I like the spot for Cole. Both bullpens are great so there isn’t much concern there. There is some value with Pittsburgh as a pretty substantial ‘dog play but I like the under.
Free Pick: Pittsburgh/Texas Under 8 (-115)