The Cincinnati Reds have a chance to improve their prospects in the NL Central and playoff chase as they begin to host a four-game series with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday.
This showdown is a great opportunity for Cincinnati (8-10) to ascend to second in the division, as the competition for that postseason berth is rather weak. The Pirates are MLB's worst team, and need positivity from this series before their season is totally lost.
Read on for a betting preview from abe Insights, which provides you with key data and stats, the best odds available across the major sportsbooks and analysis of how the wagers should trend, along with other important information.
Date: Thursday, August 13
Time: 5:10 p.m. ET
TV: MLB Network
Implied Probabilities: Pirates 38%; Reds 64%
Spread: PIT +1.5 (-125); CIN -1.5 (+105)
Moneyline: PIT +165; CIN -178
Per ESPN, Pedro Strop was the third reliever to go on the injured list earlier this week, as he's dealing with a strained right groin. The Reds' thinning bullpen is something to keep an eye on for Thursday and beyond. Cincinnati second baseman Mike Moustakas is dealing with a quadriceps injury and won't be in action against Pittsburgh.
A bit of good news for the Pirates' relievers is veteran Keone Kela will be activated from the IL and could make his 2020 debut tonight. He was once the Texas Rangers' closer and is a key arm in the visitors' pen, with a 3.23 ERA in 228 career appearances.
.247 vs. .233: It's not saying much, considering they're the third-worst in baseball, but the Pirates do have the Reds beat in batting average on balls in play. Cincinnati has MLB's lowest total in this category, so we could be in for a low-scoring affair on Thursday.
31.2 vs. 24.9: Pittsburgh is the 12th-most aggressive team in terms of percentage of pitches its batters swing at that are outside the strike zone, per FanGraphs' data. Meanwhile, Cincinnati is more disciplined in this regard, with the third-lowest chase percentage.
4.88 vs. 3.03: The Reds' starting pitchers have the lowest (aka best) total in MLB for Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP). This is an area where Pittsburgh struggles mightily, placing in the league's bottom-five.
As for who's starting on the mound for Thursday's meeting, Cincinnati gets to send out Anthony DeSclafani, who's off to a phenomenal start this year. The 30-year-old has yielded only five hits across 11 innings of shutout ball in two starts.
DeSclafani will face Trevor Williams, who's actually posted a respectable 3.52 ERA in 2020, yet is 0-3 in his three starts. Williams obviously isn't enjoying any semblance of good run support, which one would suspect anyway in light of the fact that the Pirates have a .209 team batting average.
But there is some reason for hope for the maligned Bucs. What's crazy is, the Reds are actually a point worse in batting average at .208. Pittsburgh also has had a bit of a break, unfortunately due to the St. Louis Cardinals' COVID-19 outbreak, which postponed their scheduled series that was meant to happen over the prior three days. So the Pirates haven't played since Sunday's 2-1 loss to Detroit.
In addition to perhaps being refreshed after a brief hiatus, Pittsburgh is getting some production at the plate from Erik Gonzalez and Phillip Evans. Manager Derek Shelton has shuffled around the infield and batting order, with Gonzalez and Evans batting .333 and .359 respectively in 11 games apiece.
If gifted young outfielder Bryan Reynolds — who batted .314 as a rookie in 2019 and is at just .189 now — can shake out of his season-long slump and Gonzalez and Evans keep picking up the slack, perhaps the Pirates are on to something. The concern is, it may already be too late to salvage a 3-13 start, even with an expanded, 16-team playoff field.
It's quite a stretch to build a case for Pittsburgh with its woeful record and all, yet having five games in a row on the road against the Cubs and Twins doesn't exactly make life easier. The Pirates lost all those games against the current division leaders.
With all that said, wagers are likely to side with the Reds' spread and moneyline, simply because they've been the better team and have the hot hand on the mound in DeSclafani.
Given that neither of these teams hit well and that DeSclafani and Williams have been strong this season, the betting public is likely to send more action on the Under run total.
Note: Odds current as of 2:05 p.m. ET on Thursday, August 13.
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