A full slate of Major League Baseball action is on tap for Tuesday, with a couple of NL East vs. NL Central clashes as the featured matchups on the card.
A quick check of the NL East standings notes that Atlanta (22-13) and Miami (18-16) have gone into a full gallop over the past couple of weeks. Both will be seeking to continue their recent upswings on Tuesday night against Central Division foes before they run into each other in a quick but important two-game set at Turner Field beginning Wednesday night.
For the Marlins, their current homestand concludes Tuesday when hosting the underdog Pittsburgh Pirates at the new Marlins Stadium. First pitch will be at 7:10 p.m. (ET), with the scheduled pitching matchup pitting the Bucs’ Kevin Correia against Miami’s Josh Johnson.
Early prices as noted on the Don Best odds screen have the Marlins at -180 at most Las Vegas outlets, with a Pirate win available at +170 or thereabouts. The early total was seven shaded to the ‘under’ at -110. On the Run Line, Miami was +120 when laying an extra run, Pittsburgh an early -140 receiving an extra run.
For the Marlins, it has hardly been an uneventful first six weeks of the season, but things finally seem to be on track in South Florida as Miami enters this early-week series having won 10 of its last 12 games, which follows a slump that saw the Marlins drop eight of nine between April 20-30. But Miami has rallied despite the distractions involving manager Ozzie Guillen and the implosion of high-priced closer Heath Bell, whose performances have been nothing short of a disaster in the early going this season.
To wit: Bell, who has been temporarily removed as the frontline closer by Guillen, had another chance to redeem himself on Sunday vs. the Mets when entering the game with the score tied at 2-2 in the top of the ninth inning, but proceeded to allow a pair of runs that ballooned his ERA to a whopping 10.03. Only when the Marlins scored six runs in the bottom of the ninth, the last four courtesy a grand slam by Giancarlo Stanton, was Bell bailed out and awarded with an undeserving win.
Still, Bell has been one of the few concerns in recent weeks for the Marlins. Power hitting outfielder Stanton has certainly not been a problem, hitting safely in 14 of his last 15 games entering Monday’s series-opening clash and batting a robust .351 over that span. The starting rotation continues to deliver quality efforts as well, with a 3.16 ERA as proof heading into this series.
Yet for Tuesday starter Johnson, his efforts continue to be surprisingly erratic, although he is off one of his best showings of the young season when holding the Astros to just two runs and four hits over seven innings of work in last Wednesday’s 5-3 win at Minute Maid Park. Previously, Johnson had been rocked in two starts, and his early-season numbers (5.87 ERA, 1.70 WHIP, .329 OBA) indicate his inconsistencies.
Johnson, however, has dominated the Bucs in the past, posting a 1.64 ERA and 0.73 WHIP in three starts vs. Pittsburgh. The Pirates’ popgun offense, scoring fewer than three runs per game (only 97 in the first 34 games, at 2.85 rpg), should offer a chance for Johnson to get well.
Despite their ongoing offensive woes in the first six weeks of the campaign, the Bucs have compensated with superb pitching, as their staff entered this series with a stellar 3.18 ERA, ranking behind only Washington. Tuesday’s starter Correia is also notorious for pitching better on the road than at home, posting a 2.20 ERA in three starts away from PNC Park. This is consistent with his performance pattern from a year ago when recording a solid 2.64 ERA in 14 starts as a visitor (compared to a 7.71 ERA in 12 home starts).
A couple of other trends to note in this matchup include the Pirates’ 23-8 ‘under’ mark (with three pushes) entering this midweek set, and recent Marlins dominance, having won eight straight vs. the Bucs and outscoring them 48-12 prior to this brief series commencing on Monday night.
The Marlins have needed to be hot to keep pace with the surging Braves, playing host to the Reds in a truncated two-game set before hosting the Marlins on Wednesday and Thursday. The Tuesday pitching matchup vs. Cincy is a good one, as Johnny Cueto goes for the visitors against Atlanta’s Tim Hudson. First pitch in Georgia will be at 7:10 p.m. (ET).
A check of the Don Best odds screen notes early prices with Atlanta slightly favored at -115 on the win, and the take-back on the Reds at +105. The 7-run total is shaded to the ‘under’ at -120, On the Run Line, Hudson fetches a +185 price minus the run, while Cueto backers will be laying -215 plus the extra run.
The Braves, home for a brief four-game stint before taking to the road in interleague play at St. Pete vs. the Rays this weekend, entered this homestand off a highly-successful road trip in which they won seven of nine, including an impressive three-game sweep over the Cardinals this past weekend.
After losing their first four games this season, the Braves have been scorching, winning 22 of their next 31 entering this two-game set vs. the Redlegs. On the just-completed nine-game road road trip, the Braves batted .286 while belting 11 homers and scoring a healthy 6.2 runs per game. Center fielder Michael Bourn continues to be an effective catalyst, hitting .336 with 11 stolen bases and 24 runs scored.
Especially encouraging for manager Fredi Gonzalez, however, is the quick return to form of Hudson, who underwent offseason back surgery. Hudson has made three starts since returning to active duty and looked as sharp as ever in his most-recent outing when limiting the Cubs to just one run and five hits through seven innings of work last Wednesday at Wrigley Field.
Hudson is 3-1 lifetime vs. the Reds, although he has not faced them since the 2009 season.
Hudson will need to be at his best, however, to outpitch Cincy’s Cueto (4-0), whose 1.12 ERA ranks behind only Chicago’s Ryan Dempster among NL starters. Cueto has been almost untouchable in his last four starts, all Reds wins, allowing just two earned runs and 22 hits over 29 1/3 IP. Cueto has also struck out 19 batters and walked just four over that span.
Cueto has not seen much of the Braves in his career, posting a 1-1 record and 3.10 ERA in four previous starts. He pitched effectively in his lone start vs. Atlanta a year ago in a May 29 game at Turner Field, allowing just two runs and five hits in eight innings of work, although he was outdueled by Jair Jurrjens in a 2-1 Braves win.
The Reds, who entered this series having won 13 of their last 21, are encouraged by the recent eruption of former MVP first baseman Joey Votto, who had the second three-homer game of his career on Sunday vs. the Nats when also knocking in a personal-best six RBIs in the dramatic 9-6 win, sealed by Votto’s walk-off grand slam.
For all of the Braves’ recent success, however, they still haven’t been a big money-winner at home this season, entering this series at only +107 units on the Money Line at Turner Field. It’s been on the road (+580 units) where Atlanta has offered its best value thus far in 2012.
Cueto, if available at a plus price, would be a tempting recommendation