Hottest team: Pirates (11-1 last 12, 13-2 +1370 last 15)
Even though their 11-game run was snapped by Trevor Bauer and Cleveland in a 4-0 loss on Wednesday afternoon, the Pirates still deserve respect as the league’s hottest team despite no longer owning baseball’s longest winning streak. The A’s have won seven of eight, including five straight, but we’ll discuss their exploits below. Although Oakland’s comebacks have been impressive, the Bucs have outscored opponents 84-37 over the last 15 contests, a stretch in which the team’s starting pitchers have compiled an ERA of under 2.50.
Offensively, Pittsburgh’s 31 homers are tied with the Yankees for most in July. Leadoff hitter Corey Dickerson, the left fielder, missed yesterday’s game due to a hamstring tweak. Standout center fielder Starling Marte exited Wednesday after being drilled by Trevor Bauer pitch in the first inning. Both may miss this series opener. Mets lefty Steven Matz has surrendered just two homers in four starts this month but has nonetheless lost in his last three appearances. The Pirates haven’t dropped two straight since July 6-7 and send rookie Nick Kingham to the mound for his first career encounter with the Mets. He’s given up seven homers over 21.2 innings this month but is 3-1 with a 2.90 ERA at PNC Park. Pittsburgh is heavily favored (-160) at home against New York.
Coldest team: Rangers (4-15, -1195 last 19)
After blowing a 10-2 lead that it took into the seventh inning on Tuesday by giving up 11 unanswered runs, Texas managed to top itself in adding to its misery when Jose Leclerc surrendering a go-ahead two-run HR to Khris Davis on Wednesday with victory only one strike away. Davis won Tuesday’s game with a 3-run blast off in the 10th after closer Keone Kela surrendered a Stephen Piscotty homer to lead off the ninth to blow the save.
Kela should be available again after being asked to get five outs on Tuesday, so the Rangers will likely have their closer in the mix if they’re in position to avoid a sweep. Oakland is now a season-high 17 games over .500 after a 26-7 run since June 16 and have rallied from behind 17 times per the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser. Davis has homered in four consecutive contests and six straight games against Texas. He’s up to 27 HRs and is batting .333 over nine career at-bats against Rangers starter Bartolo Colon (5-8, 4.85), connecting on one dinger. Texas has lost five of its last six series and is an underdog (+125) here. Most books list the A’s at -135.
Hottest pitcher: Dereck Rodriguez, Giants (5-1, 2.72 ERA)
The Giants rookie, son of Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez, has wasted no time getting comfortable in the bigs. The 26-year-old has looked poised beyond his years and has helped San Francisco win eight of his 10 starts, including seven consecutively. In that span, he’s 5-0, surrendering just two homers and nine earned runs over 41 innings. He hasn’t faced any Brewers hitters in the majors but is hoping to remain perfect at AT&T Park, where he’s 3-0 with a 2.28 ERA over five career games. Counterpart Wade Miley (1-1, 1.56) shut out the Dodgers threw six innings in his last start, but the Brewers are an underdog here (+105). The Giants are slightly favored (-115) as they open a four-game set against Milwaukee before venturing back out on the road for six games against NL West opponents.
Coldest pitcher: Jake Junis, Royals (5-10, 5.03 ERA)
The second-year righty had won 13 of his first 18 decisions after improving to 4-2 with a strong performance against the Tigers on May 6 but is just 1-8 since. His only victory came on May 18 vs. the same Yankees team he’ll square off against tonight. Junis’ ERA has climbed over 1.5 runs since he saw the Bronx Bombers last, which includes opening July by giving up nine runs (eight earned) at home against the Rangers. He immediately went on the disabled list due to a sore back and surfaced again last Saturday, giving up one run over four innings against the Twins.
Junis was limited by a pitch count but didn’t let up a homer after allowing 12 over a five-start span from June 8-July 2, suffering a loss each time out. Kansas City is counting on him rebounding over the final few months so this is a big start for him and counterpart Sonny Gray, who has put together wins in consecutive starts for the first time since joining the Yanks last August. New York is heavily favored (-250) in the Bronx, where Junis was touched up for six runs over 5.2 innings in an 11-3 loss last Sept. 25. The Royals are Thursday’s biggest underdog (+240)
Biggest OVER run: Twins (10-5 last 15)
After scoring six runs in the 11th inning to sweep the Blue Jays in Toronto, the Twins will wrap up a 10-game road trip at Fenway, opening a four-game set. The 12 runs Minnesota scored on Wednesday were a season-best as Mitch Garver came up with a career-high five RBI, banging out four hits. The Twins won two of three in Minneapolis when the teams met from June 19-21 and the ‘over’ hit in two of the contests. Kyle Gibson (4-7, 3.57) has been decent for the past few months and squares off against Boston lefty Brian Johnson, who will be moving back into the bullpen to make way for the newly acquired Nathan Eovaldi following this start. Boston had a 5-0 lead through two innings in Baltimore but ended up rained out. The total has been set at 10.
Biggest UNDER run: Diamondbacks (10-3 last 13)
The Diamondbacks have allowed just five runs over the last four games. Despite failing to sweep the Cubs after a 2-1 loss on Wednesday, Robbie Ray pitched seven innings and allowed a single run, becoming the fourth straight Snakes starter to come through with a quality start. Zack Greinke got the run started, Patrick Corbin followed it up Monday and Clay Buchholz pitched into the seventh on Tuesday so the bullpen is in fantastic shape as they send Zack Godley (11-6, 4.65) to the mound to oppose Tyler Chatwood (4-5, 4.84), the major-league leader in walks.
Matchup to watch: Dodgers vs. Braves
The National League race is tightly-packed, featuring 11 teams that have picked up 50 or more wins. The Dodgers lead the NL West by a half-game while the Braves trail the Phillies by 1.5 in the NL East, so the fact they’re basically even illustrates why all eyes will be on this four-game set all weekend.
L.A. won two of three when these teams met at Dodger Stadium from June 8-10 and is wrapping up a 10-game road trip, closing a stretch that has seen them play 17 of 20 outside Chavez Ravine. They’re 7-6 away from home in July so far and need at least a split to post their third consecutive winning month on the road. Atlanta is opening up a seven-game homestand and is just 2-3 at SunTrust Park in July as it sends Anibal Sanchez (5-2, 2.76) to the mound. He’s 1-1 with a 1.99 ERA at home since joining the Braves and unexpected rescuing his career. Both Manny Machado (.500, 2 HR, 4 RBI) and Logan Forsythe (.556, 1 HR, 5 RBI) have hit him extremely well in limited career matchups.
The Dodgers counter with lefty Rich Hill (3-4, 4.26), who nearly came out of the bullpen in Philly on Tuesday night and will look to continue an excellent stretch that has seen him surrender two or fewer runs in four of his last five starts, striking out 33 hitters in 25.2 innings. Hill’s form is one factor in L.A. being favored (-125) for the 30th time in 31 games. The total for this series opener has been set at 9.