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Free NCAA Pick Friday

#622 Virginia Tech +7.5 over Duke 6:00 PM CT

As usual Duke looks like one of the most talented teams in the nation and the 8-1 record through nine games features a pair of very impressive wins at the bookends, beating Kansas in the opener and besting Michigan State on Tuesday with both of those games away from home. Going from Tuesday’s huge win in East Lansing vs. the preseason #1 to facing the ACC opener on the road will be a difficult turnaround for the young Blue Devils who have struggled with turnovers and free throw shooting. Virginia Tech also beat Michigan State and is already 1-0 in ACC play for new head coach Mike Young who took over after Buzz Williams left for Texas A&M. The longtime Wofford coach won 30 games last season including a NCAA Tournament win over Seton Hall last March. A 6-0 start with the Hokies has spoiled to 6-2 but the team has had a long layoff of more than a week to prepare for one of the biggest games of the season. The Hokies lost only twice at home last season including beating Duke 77-72 before ultimately ending its season with a two-point Sweet 16 loss to the Blue Devils as there will be no shortage of motivation even if the roster has turned over considerably. The Hokies are starting three freshman but Young’s impact has been instant with some of the best numbers in the nation shooting and taking care of the ball, including an over 43 percent 3-point shooting clip so far. Cassius Stanley is out of action for Duke to take out a possible matchup edge against a smaller Hokies team and at +7 one of the best shooting teams in the country is worth a look at home with Duke coming off a huge win on the national stage.

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Free NCAA Pick Tuesday

#655 North Dakota +6.5 over Milwaukee 7:00 PM CT

Milwaukee won just nine games last season including closing the season with 11 consecutive Horizon League defeats. That was a veteran team and only two starters have returned. Illinois transfer Te’Jon Lucas was a big addition for the program and the team has much more promise this season.

The 3-1 start has featured two non-division I wins however and also includes a home loss to Western Michigan. The only division I win came Friday vs. UMKC, a nine-point result despite a big rebounding and free throw shooting edge. North Dakota rates similarly to the two teams Milwaukee has split with but is 1-2 on the season having had to play road games with Gonzaga and Valparaiso.

The numbers are meaningless for the Fighting Hawks so far this season given the tough assignment with Gonzaga and this is a team in a coaching transition after a long run under Brian Jones as Paul Sather is leading the team this season. This squad has a mix of experience with two seniors and two freshmen in the starting five but this year’s team is less reliant on 3-point shooting and should have opportunities against the shaky defense for the Panthers.

The presence of Lucas has overvalued Milwaukee so far this season and he can’t do it all and the limited size and depth for the Panthers could be a problem in this matchup as another close game looks likely.

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Free MLB Pick Monday

#961/962 ‘UNDER 10.5’ Boston Red Sox (Rodriguez) at Cleveland Indians (Plesac) 6:10 PM CT

In his last 14 starts Eduardo Rodriguez is 9-2 with a 3.36 ERA, posting good strikeout numbers and pitching nearly as well on the road. Zach Plesac doesn’t have the strikeout potential of his rotation mates but he has been effective with a 3.13 ERA on the season. He pitched well against Boston in his MLB debut and while he has benefitted from weak opposition in many of his starts he has provided a capable path to the great Cleveland bullpen. Yesterday Cleveland won 7-3 but they were inches away from losing 4-3 and the game was 3-1 heading into the bottom of the ninth inning. The Indians are on a 43-18 run since the start of June but few of those results came vs. quality teams with the Indians 21-25 vs. above .500 squads on the season. Cleveland owns a great record vs. left-handed starters but only a .736 team OPS vs. southpaws as they have benefitted from several Detroit and Kansas City left-handers to boost that win count, ultimately going 22-7 vs. those teams this season. Rodriguez is an above average starter and the Boston bullpen has steadied with a 3.60 ERA the past 10 games. Cleveland home games have averaged 8.4 runs per game this season with a sharp lean to the ‘under’ in all Indians games and the ‘under’ is 5-1 in Cleveland home games with a total of 10.5 or higher.

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Free MLB Pick Wednesday

#905 Washington Nationals (Ross) -105 over San Francisco Giants (Anderson) 2:45 PM CT

Joe Ross looked like a future star for the Nationals making solid appearances in 2015 and 2016 but the 2011 1st round pick’s career has been derailed the past few years. He has worked his way back to the big leagues but holds an 8.10 ERA in 30 innings this season. Walks have been the big issue with 18 allowed but Ross can still generate strikeouts and he has had bad luck with runners on base scoring 40 percent of the time as well as a .376 BABIP. Ross has pitched well in his two starting efforts including allowing one hit in over five innings in his last start in Arizona last Friday. Pitching in a favorable ballpark against a light-hitting Giants team should be beneficial as Ross can deliver a steady outing. Washington has had bullpen issues all season but the team made several additions and currently is a deeper and stronger relief unit than the numbers suggest. San Francisco made a big run in July to get into wild card contention but dealt several relievers and signaled that the team wasn’t going after the playoffs this season. San Francisco has responded in kind going 4-8 the past 12 games. This team was lucky to get back to .500 with great fortune in one-run and extra-inning games and the bullpen no longer has the weapons to continue to win those games consistently. Rookie Shaun Anderson isn’t that much younger than Ross despite being drafted in 2016 and he has a K/9 below 6.0 and faces a Washington lineup that rarely strikes out today. His ERA has climbed to 5.08 and he has allowed at least three runs in six consecutive outings. While Washington is a stronger hitting team vs. left-handers, the Nationals have scored nearly 6.0 runs per nine vs. right-handers in the past 10 games compared to a 3.3 runs per nine average for the Giants. San Francisco is only 25-30 at Oracle Park while the Nationals are a winning road team and a team that continues to play for the postseason.

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Free MLB Pick Thursday

#913/914 ‘UNDER 9’ Cleveland Indians (Bieber) at Texas Rangers (Minor) 1:05 PM CT

After dazzling in several starts late last season Shane Bieber carried high expectations in 2019 and that weight has grown with the injuries in the rotation for the Indians. Bieber has a decent 3.92 ERA but with a 3.30 xFIP and an amazing 11.4 K/9 this is clearly one of the AL’s very best starting pitchers. Bieber has allowed five or more runs three times in his last seven starts but his home and road splits are similar and he has also had eight starts this season in which he has allowed two or fewer earned runs. Mike Minor has overachieved with a 2.63 ERA next to a 4.02 xFIP but the strikeout numbers are there and Minor continues to provide reliable outcomes for the surprising Rangers. In each of his last 10 starts he has pitched at least five innings with three or fewer runs allowed and he has allowed an average of barely over one home run per nine innings, no small feat in Arlington. Minor has thrived at home with a 2.18 ERA and he has equally impressive splits vs. right-handers and left-handers. Cleveland has put up big numbers the past two days in this series but they got 10 runs last night on only 12 hits, fortunate to earn seven two-out RBI. It will be warm in Arlington with conditions that can favor offense but these are two elite AL starters and on an early start getaway game the number could be kept in check.

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Free MLB Pick Friday

#961 Washington Nationals (Fedde) -100 over San Diego Padres (Margevicius) 9:10 PM CT

Nick Margevicius was a compelling early-season story making the jump from AA to the San Diego rotation. The early returns were promising but his ERA is 7.24 the past six starts and his last outing after getting sent down for a tune-up start was among his worst of the season. Washington has been a big disappointment but the Nationals have been very good against left-handed pitching with an .851 team OPS. The Nationals have averaged 6.0 runs per game the past two weeks and quietly this team has gone 9-3 the past 12 games, scoring at least three runs in 12 of the past 13 games. In a small sample Erick Fedde has suspicious numbers with a 2.55 ERA but a 5.23 xFIP. The strikeouts haven’t been there for Fedde but he is a high-end prospect as a 2014 1st rounder and he had a 8.2 K/9 in just over 50 innings last year with Washington while posting a 9.4 K/9 in AAA last season. Fedde has made just three starts but he has allowed only three earned runs in 14 innings as a starter. San Diego continues to compete well but the Padres remain one of baseball’s worst hitting teams with a season OPS of just .713. San Diego is just 4-7 the past 11 games, topping five runs in only two of those games. Despite being six games below .500 while San Diego is above .500 Washington has the superior scoring differential on the season and projects as the superior team in the long run, and San Diego has a losing record at Petco Park.

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Free MLB Pick Friday

#961 Arizona Diamondbacks (Ray) -125 over San Francisco Giants (Pomeranz) 9:15 PM CT

Arizona had a pair of tough-luck losses vs. lefties in San Diego earlier this week but the Diamondbacks have nine wins vs. southpaw starters this season, tying for the most in the NL while a season OPS of .825 vs. left-handed pitching is also an elite figure that trails only a few teams in baseball. Mired in five straight losses, yesterday’s off-day should help the team re-group while they get to face a demoralized Giants team that lost in 13 innings in a game the Giants led most of the way Thursday afternoon. A strong start from Madison Bumgarner and a lot of bullpen innings were wasted in a loss that will make this Friday night game a difficult turnaround contest.

The Giants are 9-10 in May but -26 in scoring as a short-term surge early in the month appears to have been a mirage. San Francisco has very poor offensive numbers vs. left-handed pitching with a season OPS of just .619, posting only 11 home runs in 626 plate appearances while the Giants are 6-10 vs. southpaw starters on the season. Robbie Ray remains one of the top strikeout producers in baseball and after an injury-plagued 2018, he appears to be back in his 2017 form, posting a 11.5 K/9 with a 3.25 ERA. Ray has allowed just four earned runs over his last four starts and he pitched well vs. the Giants last week.

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San Francisco has a great bullpen but six key relievers were used yesterday for double-digit pitch counts and Drew Pomeranz will be hard to count on for a long outing. Pomeranz owns a 5.66 ERA this season and once in eight starts has completed six innings. He has a 4.6 BB/9 and his numbers don’t improve much at AT&T Park. Right-handed batters have hit .292 vs. Pomeranz this season and Arizona can generally feature a lineup with eight right-handed hitters. These teams are only a few games apart in the standings but are 75 runs apart in scoring differential and the losing streak puts Arizona at a very reasonable price in a favorable matchup and situation Friday.

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Free MLB Pick Tuesday

#951 Chicago Cubs (Hendricks) -115 over Cincinnati Reds (Roark) 5:40 PM CT

With a pessimistic Pecota projection and some off-season uncertainty the Cubs started slowly in 2019 but now halfway through May, Chicago has the NL’s best record at 24-14, going 21-6 since April 11. The Cubs have won seven of the past eight road games and the lineup is crushing right-handed pitching with an .807 season OPS. Tanner Roark has posted good numbers for the Reds with a 3.27 ERA but a 4.80 xFIP hovers over his season line. While he has an 8.1 K/9 he also had a 4.1 BB/9 and Roark has benefitted from facing some of the NL’s lesser offensive teams this season.

Kyle Hendricks might be on pace to have a season that resembles his great 2016 campaign. While he has just two wins so far, his ERA is 3.19 and he has walked just eight batters in over 42 innings of work. He has an elevated BABIP and only a 65 percent strand rate as he is poised to improve his numbers in the coming weeks. His road splits present a great contrast to his 0.62 Wrigley Field ERA but his road starts have been exclusively against NL contenders and two of those outings were his first two starts of the season. Cincinnati has hit left-handed pitching quite well this season but with a .667 team OPS, this is one of the worst hitting teams in MLB vs. right-handed pitching. The Reds have outscored foes by 20 runs so far in May but are just 6-6, underscoring the recent issues of the bullpen with Cincinnati 1-4 in extra-innings games and 6-13 in one-run games this season.

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20-runs in season scoring differential came exclusively in  sweeping a three-game set with the lowly Marlins however and against two other elite NL squads the Reds have gone 0-6 facing the Dodgers and Brewers. On the road this season the Cubs have scored 7.0 runs per game while batting .283 vs. right-handers while the Reds have hit just .218 vs. right-handers at home this season. Even if Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist remain out this is a reasonable price to support the NL’s top team and a pitcher that is capable of being one of the best in the league.

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Free MLB Pick Monday

#965/966 ‘UNDER 9.5’ Minnesota Twins (Odorizzi) at Houston Astros (Peacock) 7:10 PM CT

There were 21 runs scored in Houston’s 11-10 loss to the Rangers but there were only 21 hits in that game for a bizarre scoring barrage led by seven home runs. Houston only had one hit with runners in scoring position in that game despite posting 10 runs and they only had five at-bats with runners in scoring position as the game proved to be an extreme outlier in scoring efficiency.

While Collin McHugh had a disastrous start Sunday he managed to record 10 outs and allowed Houston to only use three relievers with Will Harris and Ryan Pressly pitching minimally enough that they should still be available today with both of those relievers still clocking 0.00 ERAs on the season. The Houston bullpen has been outstanding this season but Brad Peacock has been very sharp in 16 innings of work for the Astros with a 3.40 FIP and a very low walk rate.

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Minnesota has great offensive numbers this season but they are coming off facing the Orioles to inflate the numbers over the weekend. With three games the past two days this could be a fatigued team in Houston but Jake Odorizzi has looked good so far this season with a 3.15 FIP and a 11.1 K/9. His walk rate has been high but he has also faced a tough set of four opponents.

This looks like an offensive showcase but Jose Altuve and Max Kepler could again be sitting out after both missed Sunday’s games and the oddsmakers have pushed this total to match the highest total in Houston this season despite the Athletics and Yankees visiting this season. Saturday’s 16-run outburst inflates the season numbers for the Twins who have scored four or fewer runs in nine of 19 games while Houston has scored four or fewer runs 13 times this season.

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Free MLB Pick Monday

#959 San Diego Padres (Lauer) +115 over San Francisco Giants (Bumgarner) 8:45 PM CT

Madison Bumgarner remains a popular big-name starter for the Giants but the 2014 World Series hero has a 10-18 record in his decisions since the start of the 2017 season. He owns a 1.38 ERA this season but with a 3.68 FIP and his FIP was well higher than his 3.26 ERA last season. There wasn’t a big difference between the Giants and the Padres last season at the bottom of the NL West with San Diego featuring a worse record but scoring 14 more runs in the 2018 season. The Giants appear to be headed for a similar fate in 2019 with a 3-7 start and only 25 runs scored in 10 games.

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San Diego had a splashy off-season and is going with young unproven arms in the rotation but the Padres are 6-4 to start the season including a series win in St. Louis last weekend. San Diego won three of four hosting the Giants to start the season and the underdog price late Monday night is appealing. Eric Lauer lacks Bumgarner’s career credentials but the left-hander is a former 1st round pick. His numbers have been marginal in two starts this season but he has allowed just four runs in 11 innings and has displayed excellent command. The Giants have also scored just 1.9 runs per nine vs. left-handers this season compared to 5.8 for the Padres.

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