The Jays hope to continue their late-season surge when they open a three-game weekend set at Wrigley Field with a matinee contest against the defending World Series champion Cubs.
Toronto defeated the Rays 5-3 Thursday at Rogers Centre as Justin Smoak broke a 3-3 eighth-inning tie with a two-run blast. The victory was the Jays’ fifth in six games as they pulled even with Tampa in the American League standings and moved within three games of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for the second AL wild card spot.
The Cubs continue to spin their wheels a bit (at least considering what was expected of them after snapping their World Series curse last fall), falling 13-10 to the visiting Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley. Chicago has lost 9 of its last 15 games, though it still holds a 1-game lead over the Brewers in the NL Central.
Let’s see what betting angle offers the most value in today’s matchup. All odds referenced are from Pinnacle.com, our top recommended sportsbook for baseball betting due to its reduced juice betting lines.
Blue Jays (+158) at Cubs (-172), O/U N/A
Pitching Matchup: J.A. Happ (6-8, 3.63 ERA) versus Jake Arrieta (12-8, 3.73 ERA)
The immediate value that jumps off the page to me here is the nice plus-price available on the Blue Jays. Toronto has won just four games less than the Cubbies all year, and the Jays’ starting pitcher has better numbers (wins aside) than former Cy Young winner Arrieta, who still commands inflated lines despite going through a subpar 2017.
— CBC Sports (@cbcsports) August 3, 2017
Happ has also had a disappointing year, but it was going to be hard to live up to the lofty standard he set last season when he posted a 20-4 record and 3.18 ERA. He hasn’t really been that much worse this season, actually striking out more hitters while his walk rate has risen marginally. What’s hurt Happ the most has been a lack of run support, resulting in his 6-8 win-loss record, and the home run ball (1.4 per 9 innings pitched.)
His numbers are also skewed a bit by a rough start to the season, when Happ failed to go six innings in four of his first five starts. He has turned things around bigtime of late, going 6-plus in four of his last five appearances and allowing just three earned runs in his last 18.2 innings.
— Brett Taylor (@BleacherNation) August 8, 2017
However, Arrieta is actually fairly similar to Happ in that he’s been much better lately after struggling to start the season. In fact, Arrieta has allowed two runs or less in six straight starts and nine of his last 11, helping him post a second-half ERA of a much more Arrieta-like 2.09. He’s also done a good job of keeping the ball in the yard (hasn’t allowed more than one home run in a start since May 26).
I’m a bit concerned about how the Blue Jays might fare against Arrieta, since their offence is so home run dependent (which team in MLB doesn’t rely on the long ball these days?) Josh Donaldson is red hot, hitting five home runs over his last five games, but he’s never faced the Cubs righty. Justin Smoak, Toronto’s other big power bat right now, is 0-for-3 lifetime versus Arrieta with two strikeouts and three walks. Collectively, the Blue Jays have a .175 average off Arrieta in 63 combined at-bats, including an 0-for-13 from Jose Bautista.
Bookmakers always wait as long as possible before hanging an Over/Under on afternoon games at Wrigley Field, since the wind can be such a factor. Early forecasts suggest a 12 mile-per-hour wind blowing out to right field, good news for lefty hitters but not as good for righthanded sticks since their drives up the left-center alley could drift to the deeper dimensions in center. Smoak and Morales are Toronto’s two lefthanded bats that could take advantage, but any Cubs power from the left side (Anthony Rizzo, Alex Avila, Ian Happ) should be neutralized by the Jays southpaw on the mound.
It’s tough to make a betting prediction this morning without a concrete Over/Under to work with. But if the total is around 9 or higher, I recommend a play on the Under, based on today’s starting pitching matchups and the lineups that both teams are likely to field.
I’ve also got a strong early lean on the Blue Jays +1.5 runs, which we should be able to get at close to even odds at Pinnacle. The Jays are playing with a lot more enthusiasm these days now that they feel they might actually be back in the wild card race (with so many teams still ahead of them, I’m skeptical), and the Cubs are one of the league’s worst run-line teams this year, going 48-72 against the MLB point spread. Toronto’s bullpen has been pitching tremendously over the past week and should give Happ plenty of late-inning support.
In a game where the Jays have a pretty nice shot at the win (and I don’t blame you if you go the +160 moneyline route instead), I’ll take the cushion of being able to still win this bet if the Blue Jays lose by a run.
Pick: Under 9.5 -105 or Blue Jays +1.5 -135