After a 2-1 start to the week, we're champing at the bit to bet on this weekend's MLB slate. Here are our favorite bets heading into the weekend. Astros (-115) @ Mariners (-105)April 16, 10:10 p.m. ETStarting pitchers: Jose Urquidy (0-1, 5.23 ERA) vs. Yusei Kikuchi (2-0, 3.27)These two pitchers aren't exactly the ones you'd expect to garner a total (eight) this low, but that's what happens when the injury report is as lengthy as it is for this game.Five Astros hitters - Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Martin Maldonado, and Robel Garcia - were all placed on the injured list as a result of health and safety protocols, which leaves Houston with a shell of the lineup that has gotten off to such a hot start in 2021.The Mariners are also without top hitter Kyle Lewis, who's on the 10-day IL with a knee injury, though Seattle's lineup wasn't exactly menacing with him, anyway. Take the under between these two beleaguered squads.Pick: Under 8 Pirates @ Brewers (N/A)April 17, 7:10 p.m.Starting pitchers: Trevor Cahill (0-1, 8.00) vs. Brett Anderson (1-1, 4.50)Which Cahill will we see on the mound Saturday? Will it be the one who allowed seven runs to a pedestrian Reds lineup on April 6 or the one who held the Padres to one run on three hits through five frames Monday?The peripherals suggest it'll be the former. Cahill has upped his K% the last two years but has struggled to keep the ball in the yard, which is exactly the type of matchup that this talented but inconsistent Brewers lineup needs.Anderson has been tagged on a few hard-hit balls, too, which is an anomaly for the longtime ground-ball pitcher. The Pirates have the lowest hard-hit rate (32.3%) in the majors and pounded most batted balls into the ground thus far, which should play right into Anderson's strengths.Pick: Brewers (TBD) Diamondbacks @ Nationals (N/A)April 18, 4:05 p.m.Starting pitchers: Madison Bumgarner (0-2, 11.20) vs. Stephen Strasburg (0-1, 6.30)If this matchup were in 2016, I'd be pounding the table for the under. Instead, five years later, this pitching matchup sets up one of the easiest over plays on the board.Bumgarner isn't the pitcher he was a few years ago, and he's struggled to reinvent himself. His fastball is still a tick below 90 mph, and his cutter has been absolutely blasted thus far, allowing a 1.000 slugging percentage on 110 pitches. Fittingly, only five teams have generated more weighted runs off cutters than the Nationals.On the other side, Strasburg was a mess in his last start, allowing seven runs on eight hits - including three home runs - with five walks and only three strikeouts. The 32-year-old's velocity was down, which he attributed to faulty mechanics that led to poor command. Does that sound like a pitcher worth betting right now?Pick: Over (TBD)C Jackson Cowart is a betting writer for theScore. He's an award-winning journalist with stops at The Charlotte Observer, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Times Herald-Record, and BetChicago. He's also a proud graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, and his love of sweet tea is rivaled only by that of a juicy prop bet. Find him on Twitter @CJacksonCowart.Copyright © 2021 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.
AL West AL East AL Central NL West NL EastThe NL Central isn't getting a lot of attention heading into the 2021 campaign after a forgettable offseason. But the division should be highly competitive as no team is head and shoulders above the rest. Here's a breakdown of all five clubs as the new season approaches:Chicago Cubs Adam Glanzman / Major League Baseball / Getty2020 record: 34-26 (1st in NL Central)Payroll: $170.7MO/U win total: 85World Series odds: +40003-year trend: 2018 (2nd); 2019 (3rd); 2020 (1st)Highest projected WAR: Kris Bryant (3.3)X-factor: Javier BaezProspect to watch: Brailyn Marquez (MLB.com: No. 60)Key injuries: Rowan WickWinter report card: FProjected Lineup ORDER PLAYER POS. PROJ. WAR 1 Ian Happ (S) CF 2.4 2 Willson Contreras C 1.9 3 Anthony Rizzo (L) 1B 3.2 4 Kris Bryant 3B 3.3 5 Joc Pederson (L) LF 2.0 6 Javier Baez SS 2.3 7 Jason Heyward (L) RF 1.2 8 David Bote 2B 0.4 Bench PLAYER POS. PROJ. WAR Austin Romine C 0.2 Eric Sogard (L) IF/OF 0.1 Matt Duffy IF 0.0 Jake Marisnick OF 0.1 The winds of change are blowing through the North Side. The Cubs' lineup features plenty of proven stars, but questions swirl about the futures of Bryant, Rizzo, and Baez, who will all become free agents after the season. Chicago doesn't appear motivated to spend money after dealing Yu Darvish to the Padres during the offseason, so it could end up trading some major names if the team struggles. Pederson, who joined the Cubs over the winter, looks like a cheaper version of Kyle Schwarber, who signed with the Nationals after Chicago non-tendered him.Projected Rotation PITCHER PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Kyle Hendricks 178 4.14 Jake Arrieta 136 4.69 Zach Davies 152 4.64 Trevor Williams 135 4.82 Adbert Alzolay 88 4.53 Bullpen PITCHER PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Craig Kimbrel 65 3.56 Brandon Workman 58 3.97 Andrew Chafin (L) 62 3.87 Jason Adam 56 4.60 Ryan Tepera 54 4.28 Dan Winkler 44 4.74 Dillon Maples 28 3.96 Rex Brothers (L) 38 3.97 Alec Mills 110 4.94 The Cubs' rotation isn't going to intimidate anybody. Hendricks is solid, but the rest of the starters don't meet the standards of a potential playoff team. Arrieta, who won the 2015 NL Cy Young Award while with Chicago, returns after an underwhelming three-year stint with the Phillies. The 35-year-old could be a nice addition if he turns back the clock, but injuries have limited him to only 33 starts over the last two years. In the bullpen, the pressure is on Kimbrel to perform after Chicago signed Workman. Kimbrel owns a 6.00 ERA in 41 appearances with the Cubs after earning seven All-Star nods in nine years before joining the club.Cincinnati Reds Michael Hickey / Getty Images Sport / Getty2020 record: 31-29 (3rd)Payroll: $126.4MO/U win total: 79World Series odds: +35003-year trend: 2018 (5th); 2019 (4th); 2020 (3rd)Highest projected WAR: Luis Castillo (4.5)X-factor: Nick SenzelProspect to watch: Nick Lodolo (MLB.com: No. 59)Key injuries: Sonny Gray, Shogo Akiyama, Michael LorenzenWinter report card: DProjected Lineup ORDER PLAYER POS. PROJ. WAR 1 Jesse Winker (L) LF 1.7 2 Nick Castellanos RF 0.7 3 Joey Votto (L) 1B 1.4 4 Eugenio Suarez SS 2.5 5 Mike Moustakas (L) 3B 2.1 6 Nick Senzel CF 1.0 7 Tucker Barnhart (L) C 1.1 8 Jonathan India 2B 0.0 Bench PLAYER POS. PROJ. WAR Tyler Stephenson C 0.6 Kyle Farmer SS -0.3 Mike Freeman (L) IF/OF -0.1 Aristides Aquino OF 0.0 Mark Payton (L) OF 0.0 It's too bad the Reds play in the National League because they're built like an American League club. The team would greatly benefit from having a designated hitter due to a glut of outfielders. Senzel is projected to start in center field because of an injury to Akiyama, and Cincinnati should do everything in its power to get the former top prospect playing time and at-bats. The Reds experimented with Suarez at shortstop during the spring, a move that had ripple effects throughout the infield - including India landing on the Opening Day roster as Cincinnati's starting second baseman.Projected Rotation PITCHER PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Luis Castillo 183 3.58 Tyler Mahle 138 4.49 Wade Miley (L) 131 4.76 Jeff Hoffman 62 4.71 Jose De Leon 72 4.98 Bullpen PITCHER PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Amir Garrett (L) 63 3.99 Lucas Sims 63 4.40 Sean Doolittle (L) 55 4.48 Tejay Antone 96 4.49 Cam Bedrosian 50 4.35 Cionel Perez (L) 38 3.89 Sal Romano 36 4.65 Carson Fulmer 14 5.24 The most glaring absences on the pitching staff are those of Gray, who won't be ready to start the season because of a back issue, and Trevor Bauer, who bolted to the Dodgers after capturing the Reds' first-ever Cy Young. Cincinnati's depth will be tested without those two hurlers, as its starting pitching has taken a step back to begin the season. Garrett will likely get the first shot at the closer's job with Raisel Iglesias now a member of the Angels. Doolittle also has plenty of closing experience, so he could take over ninth-inning duties if Garrett falters.Milwaukee Brewers Steph Chambers / Getty Images Sport / Getty2020 record: 29-31 (4th)Payroll: $125.1MO/U win total: 89World Series odds: +50003-year trend: 2018 (1st); 2019 (2nd); 2020 (4th)Highest projected WAR: Brandon Woodruff (4.4)X-factor: Keston HiuraProspect to watch: Garrett Mitchell (MLB.com: No. 65)Key injuries: NoneWinter report card: D+Projected Lineup ORDER PLAYER POS. PROJ. WAR 1 Kolten Wong (L) 2B 1.6 2 Lorenzo Cain CF 1.6 3 Christian Yelich (L) LF 4.3 4 Keston Hiura 1B 1.3 5 Travis Shaw (L) 3B 0.8 6 Jackie Bradley Jr. (L) RF 0.8 7 Orlando Arcia SS 1.1 8 Omar Narvaez (L) C 0.6 Bench PLAYER POS. PROJ. WAR Manny Pina C 0.9 Luis Urias IF 1.1 Daniel Vogelbach (L) 1B 0.2 Avisail Garcia OF 0.2 Billy McKinney (L) OF/1B 0.0 The Brewers improved their defense significantly by signing Wong and Bradley, who have three Gold Gloves between them. The return of Cain also gives Milwaukee one of baseball's best defensive outfields. Preventing runs won't be an issue for this group, but scoring will be. Only four teams put up fewer runs than the Brewers in 2020. Milwaukee needs Yelich to perform like the perennial MVP candidate he's become and for Hiura to take another step in his development if this offense hopes to stay afloat.Projected Rotation PITCHER PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Brandon Woodruff 154 3.62 Corbin Burnes 118 3.76 Adrian Houser 99 4.31 Brett Anderson (L) 120 4.47 Freddy Peralta 98 4.12 Bullpen PITCHER PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Josh Hader (L) 66 2.93 Devin Williams 64 3.43 Brent Suter (L) 62 3.91 Eric Yardley 68 4.16 J.P. Feyereisen 44 4.40 Ray Black 42 3.95 Drew Rasmussen 65 4.04 Josh Lindblom 167 4.49 Woodruff and Burnes are two of the most underrated hurlers in the majors. The former accrued a 3.05 ERA with 11.1 K/9 in 2020, while the latter amassed a 2.03 FIP with 88 strikeouts over 59 2/3 innings. The Brewers employee a similarly dynamic duo in their bullpen: Hader and Williams struck out a combined 86 hitters in 46 innings last season, a feat that helped Williams earn 2020 NL Rookie of the Year honors. Milwaukee has a chance to compete in this division thanks to its top starters and relievers.Pittsburgh Pirates Douglas P. DeFelice / Getty Images Sport / Getty2020 record: 19-41 (5th)Payroll: $60.8MO/U win total: 61World Series odds: +300003-year trend: 2018 (4th); 2019 (5th); 2020 (5th)Highest projected WAR: Ke'Bryan Hayes (2.8)X-factor: Ke'Bryan HayesProspect to watch: Ke'Bryan Hayes (MLB.com: No. 9)Key injuries: Steven BraultWinter report card: D-Projected Lineup ORDER PLAYER POS. PROJ. WAR 1 Adam Frazier (L) 2B 1.3 2 Ke'Bryan Hayes 3B 2.8 3 Bryan Reynolds (S) LF 1.2 4 Colin Moran (L) 1B 0.4 5 Gregory Polanco (L) RF 1.0 6 Kevin Newman SS 0.5 7 Anthony Alford CF -0.4 8 Jacob Stallings C 1.4 Bench PLAYER POS. PROJ. WAR Michael Perez (L) C 0.2 Phillip Evans IF/OF 0.1 Erik Gonzalez IF/OF -0.1 Dustin Fowler (L) OF -0.1 There won't be many bright spots in what's expected to be a long season for the Pirates. General manager Ben Cherington shipped out veterans Josh Bell, Jameson Taillon, and Joe Musgrove during the offseason. Pittsburgh is now committed to a full rebuild, so the youngsters will have to learn on the fly. Hayes, one of the favorites to win NL Rookie of the Year, is one of those players. The 24-year-old slashed .375/.442/.682 with five round-trippers in 24 games last season.Projected Rotation PITCHER PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Tyler Anderson (L) 142 4.93 Chad Kuhl 130 4.74 Mitch Keller 116 4.48 JT Brubaker 110 4.31 Will Crowe 69 5.42 Bullpen PITCHER PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Richard Rodriguez 65 3.97 Chris Stratton 64 4.54 Michael Feliz 60 4.54 Kyle Crick 59 4.82 Chasen Shreve (L) 51 4.33 Duane Underwood Jr. 44 4.50 David Bednar 58 4.16 Trevor Cahill 77 4.62 Luis Oviedo 28 5.86 The Pirates are going to allow a lot of runs thanks to a rotation that's mediocre at best. The diamond in the rough could be Keller, who posted a 2.91 ERA in five starts last season. The former top prospect is just 24 years old, so there's plenty of room to grow. Pittsburgh also has the No. 1 pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, which means top college hurler Kumar Rocker will likely be joining the organization later this year. There's some light at the end of the tunnel.St. Louis Cardinals Eric Espada / Getty Images Sport / Getty2020 record: 30-28 (2nd)Payroll: $159.9MO/U win total: 81World Series odds: +18003-year trend: 2018 (3rd); 2019 (1st); 2020 (2nd)Highest projected WAR: Nolan Arenado (4.0)X-factor: Carlos MartinezProspect to watch: Dylan Carlson (MLB.com: No. 13)Key injuries: Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson, Harrison Bader, Kwang Hyun KimWinter report card: B+Projected Lineup ORDER PLAYER POS. PROJ. WAR 1 Tommy Edman (S) 2B 1.2 2 Paul Goldschmidt 1B 2.6 3 Nolan Arenado 3B 4.0 4 Paul DeJong SS 3.1 5 Yadier Molina C 1.5 6 Tyler O'Neill LF 0.9 7 Dylan Carlson (S) CF 1.6 8 Justin Williams (L) RF 0.0 Bench PLAYER POS. PROJ. WAR Andrew Knizner C 0.5 Josh Nogowski 1B/OF 0.0 Matt Carpenter (L) IF 0.5 Edmundo Sosa IF 0.0 Austin Dean 1B/OF 0.1 The acquisition of Arenado is a game-changer for the Cardinals. The 29-year-old owns four Silver Sluggers after putting up a career .890 OPS with 235 homers with the Rockies, and he's also picked up eight Gold Gloves and four Platinum Gloves for his work at the hot corner. Another significant benefit is the protection the five-time All-Star will provide for Goldschmidt, who owns an .837 OPS in two seasons with St. Louis after accruing a .930 OPS in eight years with the Diamondbacks.Projected Rotation PITCHER PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Jack Flaherty 176 3.47 Adam Wainwright 151 4.53 Carlos Martinez 133 4.45 Daniel Ponce de Leon 82 4.48 John Gant 67 4.27 Bullpen PITCHER PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Alex Reyes 62 3.84 Giovanny Gallegos 63 3.47 Andrew Miller (L) 63 4.02 Jordan Hicks 56 3.44 Ryan Helsley 58 4.26 Tyler Webb (L) 55 4.18 Genesis Cabrera (L) 35 3.77 Jake Woodford 35 5.09 With Mikolas injured to start the season and Hudson out for the year due to Tommy John surgery, the Cardinals will need Martinez to find his All-Star form. The Dominican pitcher has a career 3.51 ERA but struggled in 2020, posting a 9.90 ERA across five starts. Kim will be another important arm for the team after the lefty put up a 3.88 FIP with 1.02 WHIP in 39 innings last season. St. Louis' bullpen has a chance to be very good with Reyes, Gallegos, Miller, and Hicks working high-leverage innings, but previous injuries mean questions remain about durability.Copyright © 2021 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.