MLB – Arizona Diamondbacks @ Kansas City Royals

Let’s just look at the pitching matchup here:

Ian Kennedy, 7-2 with a 2.98 ERA. He should have had the win last week, but ended up with a no decision, so technically 7-2.

Jeff Francis: 3-7, 4.83 ERA.

Ian Kennedy: one ugly game with nine earned runs back in April, but in his 15 starts, 12 games with three or less earned runs.

Jeff Francis: In his 15 starts, nine games with three or less earned runs.

Ian Kennedy: Strikeouts: 85

Jeff Francis: Strikeouts: 43

Ian Kennedy: One of the 15 starts, pitched four innings or less (April 13 vs. St. Louis)

Jeff Francis: Three of the 15 starts, pitched four innings or less (April 22 at Texas, April 27 at Cleveland and June 16 at Oakland).

Ian Kennedy: History against KC: no decision in September, 2007. Pitched five innings, allowed seven hits, two earned runs, walked three and struck out two.

Jeff Francis: Started against Arizona six times, is 0-5 with a no-decision. Last start against the Diamondbacks: September 23, 2010, pitched 3.2 innings, allowed six hits, including a home run, three earned runs, three walks and four strikeouts in the loss. The pitcher that started for Arizona? Ian Kennedy.

This is the second game of a three-game series in Kansas City. The Diamondbacks took the first game last night, 7-2. Don’t be shocked if they take this game, too.

Pick: Arizona Diamondbacks

MLB – Detroit Tigers @ Los Angeles Dodgers

The Tigers haven’t been swept since May (they lost a two-game series at Boston May 18-19); the last three game series they lost was April 29-May 1 at Cleveland. They have now lost two against the Dodgers (as many who picked the late game the past two nights know) and are trying to avoid being swept.

During interleague in May, the Tigers lost the first two at Pittsburgh. Over the weekend, they lost the first two at Colorado. Perhaps a trend is in place?

Rick Porcello had a terrible outing on Friday against Colorado, only pitching through three innings, allowing nine hits and eight earned runs, including a home run. He had zero strikeouts and his ERA ballooned to 4.18 (from 3.61). Porcello is 6-5 on the season, and he has lost his past two starts. He does allow a lot of hits – in his 13 starts, he only has two games where he has allowed three or fewer hits. However, in eight of those starts, he’s allowed only two earned runs or less. The danger with Porcello is he has given up nine home runs this season.

Porcello did face the Dodgers as a rookie, on May 23 last year. He pitched six innings, allowed nine hits, two earned runs, had two walks and two strikeouts in the win.

The Dodgers, meanwhile are looking to win four in a row for the first time this season. Ted Lilly will take the mound. Regardless of whether or not Lilly got the win or the loss, the Dodgers have alternated wins and losses each time Lilly starts, dating back to April 2 this season. He last pitched against Houston and took the loss. In that game, he gave up eight hits and five earned runs in 5.1 innings. He’s 5-6 on the season with a 4.26 ERA.

Lilly last faced the Tigers in June 2009, where he took the loss, after allowing ten hits, including two home runs and six earned runs in six innings.

Detroit is the better team here and the Dodgers have not swept a team at all this season.

Pick: Detroit Tigers

MLB – Tampa Bay Rays @ Milwaukee Brewers

The Milwaukee Brewers returned home after getting embarrassed by the Red Sox on Sunday with a 12-3 loss. They then lost to Tampa Bay last night, 8-4. Zach Greinke looks to turn things around for the Brew Crew. He’s 6-2 on the year, but has a high 5.23 ERA (his career average is 3.88). His ERA rose after his last outing, where he only was able to pitch through 5.1 innings and allowed six earned runs (plus two unearned due to errors) in the loss against the Cubs.

Prior to that, however, he had won his previous four starts and in those four games, hadn’t allowed more than three earned runs. He does have 70 strikeouts on the year and has been consistently posting good numbers in that category. He has faced B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria before, and kept them to a .188 and .154 batting average, respectively (in 16 and 13 at-bats).

Tampa Bay is on a four-game winning streak (sweeping the struggling Marlins and winning the first game in Milwaukee). Rookie Jeremy Hellickson is 7-5 on the year with a 3.09 ERA. He is coming off two losses, at Baltimore and vs. Boston. Against Baltimore, he allowed a season-high five earned runs on seven hits, including two home runs. He also only struck out two in both of those losses.

Matt Joyce sat out the first game of this three game series, but he should be back tonight. In June, he is only batting .143 with one home run. As the Rays’ leader in batting average, homeruns and OPS, he needs to turn the offense around if the team wants to keep winning, especially against good pitchers such as Greinke. Maybe the day off will help, but the Brew Crew hasn’t lost more than two in a row since their seven-game losing streak April 30-May 6. Go with the Brewers tonight.

Pick: Milwaukee Brewers

MLB – Toronto Blue Jays @ Atlanta Braves

This is game two of a three-game series where the Braves won 2-0, however, since neither team managed to generate any offense, it makes this a tough call for tonight. Atlanta’s only offense came in the form of a two-run home run in the seventh inning from pitcher Tim Hudson.

So we have two young pitchers with little major league experience. Neither has recorded a win this season and neither has started more than five games (Minor has five starts, Stewart has one). What makes this pick difficult is that either pitcher could lose his stride at any point and the opposing team could put a lot of runs on the board.

Mike Minor has only pitched through six innings twice in his five starts and has not allowed fewer than four hits. He did only allow one earned run against Pittsburgh, but his ERA is 5.47. Minor does have two losses, but in his three no-decisions, the Braves have gone on to win. Opposing batters are hitting .308 against Minor, and once the injured Brandon Beachy returns from the DL, Minor will no longer be starting for the Braves.

The positive for Minor is that the Blue Jays haven’t been able to provide any offense in recent games. In the past six games, the Blue Jays are 3-3, but have not scored more than four runs even in the games they won. They only had two hits last night, thanks to Yunel Escobar and J.P. Arencibia. The offense from Jose Bautista was non-existent as he went 0-4 with two strikeouts.

And now the Blue Jays put rookie Zach Stewart on the mound for his second big-league start. He pitched against Baltimore last week and earned a no-decision (although Toronto ended up losing, 4-3), allowing seven hits, two earned runs, one walk and four strikeouts. Stewart did make it through seven innings, however, and he didn’t allow any runs in the first five innings. However, if Toronto can’t get hits and runs, no matter how well Stewart pitches, they can’t win. If the Blue Jays can get their offense together, they can easily take apart Minor, but given their offensive struggles lately, go with the Braves.

Pick: Atlanta Braves

MLB – Toronto Blue Jays @ Atlanta Braves

The Braves have three more games at home before heading out to the West coast, although playing at home recently hasn’t been that much of an advantage. In their past six games, the Braves lost the first two games of a three game series to the Mets at home and then had the same result against the Rangers. During interleague in May, the Braves visited the Angels and lost the first and last game of a three-game series.

Tim Hudson pitched in one of those losses, as well, only getting through 3.2 innings and allowing eight earned runs on seven hits, with three walks and two strikeouts. Since then, he’s recorded two losses against the Mets and a win against Houston, bringing his record to 5-6 with a 4.08 ERA. Atlanta’s pitching as a team is among the best in the league, ranking first in WHIP and batting average allowed and second in ERA. Unfortunately, Hudson’s figures aren’t helping those figures.

Hudson last faced Toronto three years ago and got the loss. The Blue Jays last came to Turner Field two years ago and were swept by the Braves.

Toronto has Ricky Romero on the mound to try to get the win. Romero is 6-6 with a 3.01 ERA and has seemed to settle in so far this month. In two games against Baltimore and one at Kansas City, he is 1-2, but has nine earned runs and 21 strikeouts. He had a career-high 12 strikeouts in his last outing and had a shutout going into the ninth inning. Romero has gone for at least seven innings in his last seven starts and is 4-2 over that span.

In his six interleague starts, Romero is 3-1 with a 2.03 ERA. Toronto has better run support than Atlanta, so if they can best Hudson, the edge for this game goes to Toronto.

Pick: Toronto Blue Jays

MLB – New York Yankees @ Cincinnati Reds

The Yankees have been playing good ball of late winning their fifth game in six contests, after beating the Cubs last night 10-4 at Wrigley.  The Yanks bats have been off the past few games, but the pitching has been very solid of late.  After being called up in 2010 for a limited number of appearances Ivan Nova has been a regular in the Yankees rotation. He has been a mix of good, bad and mediocre on the mound which is not completely unexpected given this is his rookie campaign to me.
Cincinnati finally solved Toronto in the series final’ by taking a 2-1 decision over the Blue Jays. The win gave the Reds a much needed boost as the team has won four of six overall to keep them in the mix with Milwaukee and St Louis in the National League Central race. One area of concern is that the Cincinnati offense which is one of the best in the game hasn’t been nearly as fearsome as advertised with only three games in the last ten where they’ve plated more than three runs which belies their reputation as a potent offensive squad. However, the less heralded pitching staff has actually risen to the occasion and kept the team competitive allowing four runs or less in ten consecutive contests. Just like their counterparts in tonight’s match up, the Reds are a handful when they get quality pitching with a high powered offense backing them. The Reds hand the ball to Johnny Cueto who despite just eight starts in 2011 has been the undisputed ace allowing no earned runs in four of his outings and comes in giving up an unearned run in 14 frames over two starts.
The Yankees are a scary offense that can hit the long ball and put runs on the board in bunches at any time. The Reds are almost a mirror reflection at the plate although New York has been the better hitting club coming in. Oddly both teams have been getting solid pitching which has almost been overshadowed by each team’s offense. Neither pitcher can relax in this one or they won’t be around long but I think Cincinnati has the edge on the mound and will need it. The Reds offense must get Cueto some support because as good as he’s been, stopping the Yanks bats is a tall order. I hate going against New York but I’m looking at Cueto to keep the score manageable and hoping Cincinnati scores some runs tonight.

Pick: Cincinnati Reds

MLB – Pittsburgh Pirates @ Cleveland Indians

This is a battle of two teams that can’t provide any offense or run support to their pitchers. Expect a low-scoring game that is going to be decided on which offense can get going today. Cleveland won yesterday, 5-1, mostly thanks to Carlos Santana who finally got off the schneid. He went 3-for-4 with a home run. Prior to yesterday, he had one hit in his previous 30 at-bats. Historically he should be performing significantly better than that, so if he can turn it around, it will only help the Indians.

Righty Carlos Carrasco takes the mound for the Indians, and he has never faced the Pirates. He’s 6-3 on the year with a 4.09 ERA. In the previous interleague play, Carrasco got the win against Cincinnati on May 22. He has also won his last two starts, with the Indians’ only win against the Yankees in a four-game series (1-0) and their only win against Minnesota in a three-game series (also with a score of 1-0). Carrasco also struck out 13 batters in those two games.

Trying to stay about .500 are the Pittsburgh Pirates. They won all three against Houston and the last three-game interleague series they beat Detroit twice. However, Pittsburghs’ offense is worse than Cleveland’s. They rank in the bottom five of the entire league for runs scored, batting average and slugging percentage. They have scored five runs total in their last four losses and have been shut out eight times already this season.

Paul Maholm takes the mound for his third time ever against Cleveland. He’s 0-1 against the Indians with a 3.75 ERA. On the season, he’s 3-7 with a 3.12 ERA. He took the loss to Detroit in the last interleague series, but has earned two wins and two no-decisions since. In his last start June 13 against the Mets, he didn’t allow any runs, but allowed three hits, struck out four and walked two.

Pittsburgh has lost 11 consecutive interleague games on the road in the past two years. That streak may continue today.

Pick: Cleveland Indians