Monday Night ESPN Baseball Free MLB Picks, Tips and Odds: Pittsburgh Pirates Atlanta Braves Favorite, Moneyline, Total and Expert Predictions 7/25/11: If the season ended today, both the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Atlanta Braves would make the playoffs. Monday night, the two playoff-contending clubs will open a four-game series in Atlanta with plenty of postseason implications on the line. The Braves are looking to pad their lead in the National League wildcard race as well as run down the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East, while the Pirates are trying to extend their cushion atop the Central Division. However, only one club is going to be smiling at the end of the night.
The Braves enter Monday night’s contest as 1 ½ run favorites, and based on the record of both teams, it isn’t a big surprise. Atlanta is four games up on the Pittsburgh in the loss column and have the second-best record in the National League. In addition, the Braves are 30-19 at home, which is the fourth-best mark in the NL. Granted, the Pirates are above .500 on the road, but the Braves have been the more consistent club in 2011 and are very comfortable playing in front of their home crowd.
On the mound, the advantage also appears to go to the Braves as veteran Tim Hudson will face the Pirates’ James McDonald. Hudson is 9-6 in 2011 with a 3.39 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP, while McDonald is 6-4 with a 4.15 ERA and an ugly 1.54 WHIP. Hudson has been even better at home this season, posting a 2.73 ERA and a .209 opponent batting average. The opposite can be said about McDonald on the road. His already mediocre numbers balloon when he leaves Pittsburgh. He has a 5.79 ERA on the road and is allowing opponents to hit .306.
In terms of offensive production, neither club sets the world on fire. Both Atlanta and Pittsburgh are hitting below .250 as a team and both rank among the worst 10 teams in terms of batting average. The difference between the teams has been Atlanta’s ability to take advantage of scoring opportunities. The Pirates have scored just 382 runs this season, which ranks as the sixth worst total in baseball. Meanwhile, the Braves are in the middle of the pack with 419 runs scored despite a team average below .240.
For Pittsburgh, the performance of sluggers Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen will go a long way to determining the outcome of Monday’s game. The two have combined to drive in 121 runs this year and have been the only two consistent bats in the lineup for the Pirates. The two have been at the center of almost everything offensively for Pittsburgh, and that isn’t like to change for the remainder of the year. Unfortunately for the Pirates, the two are just 1-9 combined against Hudson. The sample size isn’t big, but the numbers aren’t exactly encouraging either.
The Braves offense is dealing with an injury to third baseman Chipper Jones and an ongoing slump from Jason Heyward, but catcher Brian McCann has more than picked up the slack. Rookie first baseman Freddie Freeman has been on a tear the last two months as well, and Martin Prado has been a steady bat at the top of the lineup all season. Freeman and McCann could be particularly big Monday with a righty on the mound. Both players are hitting above .300 on the season against right-handed pitching, and the two have combined to hit 22 of their 33 home runs against righties.
With more options on offense and the better arm on the mound, the Braves should have no trouble pulling out a win in this one. McDonald has been borderline awful on the road this year, and Atlanta should be able to get to him early. Meanwhile, expect seven strong innings from Hudson before he turns it over to the dominant duo of Johnny Venters and closer Craig Kimbrel to seal the deal.
Free Monday Night ESPN Baseball Tips and Prediction: Atlanta Braves (-1 ½) Cover the Spread
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|Pittsburgh Pirates @ Atlanta Braves
Time: 7:10 PM EST on ESPN
Vegas Odds –
Favorite: Atlanta Braves -190(moneyline) Total: Over/Under 7 Runs
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