July 29 MLB Preview — Pittsburgh Pirates (46-59) at Cincinnati Reds (48-55)

Writer’s Note — This preview was updated at 4 pm EDT following the Pirates trade of Jordan Lyles to the Milwaukee Brewers

(Eugenio Suarez photo courtesy Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports)

This is the full preview(s) as seen on the Winners and Whiners and Stat Salt websites. The confidence rating for all picks on a scale from 1 to 5 is in parentheses.

Note: The 5/5 does NOT represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick(s) from each individual game.

When and Where: Monday, July 29, Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati, Ohio, 7:10 p.m. EDT.

Sonny Gray looks to continue his fine run of pitching and be rewarded for it this time as the right-hander leads the Cincinnati Reds into the opener of their three-game series against the struggling Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday night.

Bucs deal scheduled starter Lyles to Brewers

The Pirates were scheduled to start Jordan Lyles (5-7, 5.36 ERA) for this series opener, but they dealt him earlier Monday afternoon within the division to the Milwaukee Brewers for minor league pitching prospect Cody Ponce.

For this game at least, that could be addition by subtraction given Lyles had gone 0-6 with 9.58 ERA in his last eight starts and was winless dating back to May 23. Opponents have drilled him for 12 homers and a .350 batting average in 31 innings during his current slump.

After all the upheaval, it appears Pirates manager Clint Hurdle will be going with a bullpen day, led by rookie Alex McRae (0-2, 7.71 ERA). This will be the right-hander’s first major league start after seven career relief appearances, including five this season.

McRae’s lone effective outing came in his most recent appearance versus St. Louis on Thursday when he pitched a 1 2-3 scoreless innings. In his other four games, he yielded at least two runs in each outing and has served up six home runs in 14 innings.

The Pirates (46-59) are attempting to end a season high-tying eight-game losing streak following a three-game sweep at the hands of the New York Mets.

Pittsburgh, which also dropped eight straight from April 21-28, fell behind 6-0 in the first inning, and a ninth-inning rally fell short in Sunday’s 8-7 defeat.

Gray tries again to extend winning streak to four games

Sonny Gray (5-6, 3.29) has recorded quality starts in each of his three outings — all on the road — holding opponents to four runs in 19 innings while striking out 24, but he went 0-1 in that span due to a lack of run support and a leaky bullpen.

Gray limited Milwaukee to one run in six innings last Monday and left the game with a 2-1 lead. The Reds even increased that margin to three runs before the bullpen came undone in the eighth. Cincinnati, though, did recover to win the game 6-5.

The good news for the right-hander is those problems have not taken place at home, where the righty has gone 2-0 with a 2.33 ERA in his last three starts while getting 20 runs of support. Gray is making his fourth start versus Pittsburgh this year and broke through for his first win in the most recent matchup May 27, limiting the Pirates to one run in six innings of an 8-1 home win.

Gray has a 2.35 ERA in his three starts against his NL Central rival in 2019, and Cincinnati failed to score in the previous two games. The May victory was also his first in four career starts versus the Pirates.

The Reds (48-55) took two of three from Colorado to begin this homestand and posted a 3-2 victory Sunday as Tucker Barnhart went 3 for 3 with two RBIs.

Notable Trends

The Reds are:

  • 5-1 in Gray’s last six home starts.
  • 7-1 in Gray’s last eight starts vs. NL Central opponents.
  • 4-0 in Gray’s last four starts on six days of rest.

The Pirates are:

  • 0-8 in Lyles’ last eight starts.
  • 7-15 in their last 22 games vs. starters with a sub-1.15 WHIP.
  • 1-6 in their last seven road games vs. right-handed starters.

*****5-Star Pick*****

Reds -1.5 runs RL (-110)

The trends are the play in taking the Reds and the run line, with Gray’s solid pitching of late coupled the Pirates both severely struggling and opting for a short-term pitching fix for this game after dealing away Lyles.

Pittsburgh has dropped eight of nine on the road and 14 of 16 overall since the All-Star break, and the trend does not look like it is going to end any time soon. Additionally, Gray’s home form adds to the confidence in the Reds extending the Bucs’ woes.

****4-Star Pick****

Reds 3-way ML first 5 innings (-140)

The 3-way money line is offering a far better return than laying the half-run with the Reds (-171), and Gray’s form should be enough to carry this pick. Cincinnati is 4-1-2 at the midway point in his last seven starts, and the right-hander has yielded three runs combined in the first five innings of his last five starts.

Pittsburgh has not led after five innings at any point during its eight-game skid (0-5-3), but has been tied with Cincinnati in four of its 10 matchups this year, which rules out the possibility of taking an alternate run line pick.

***3-Star Picks***

UNDER 10 runs (-105)

This pick is jumping on the Gray bandwagon, as the under has gone 4-1 in his last five starts and 3-1-1 in his last five at home. The under has also gone 7-3-1 in his last 11 starts versus division rivals as well as 9-4 in Cincinnati’s last 13 such games.

The under is also 7-1 in Pittsburgh’s last eight games versus right-handed starters and 7-0-1 in its last eight contests when allowing five or more runs in its previous game.

The line has ticked back to 10 runs, and the under remains the pick with belief in Gray to pitch well, coupled with the fact the Reds are coming off a series in which they scored eight runs against a struggling Rockies team.

Reds’ Suarez to hit HR (+210)

Despite going 0 for 4 in Sunday’s win, Suarez still has 11 home runs in 79 at-bats this month, including five in 45 at Great America Ball Park. While some of the steam has gone out of this pick with Lyles being dealt — Suarez was 3 for 5 with two doubles against him — Suarez has homered at least once in every series since the All-Star break and could be primed to take advantage of McRae as Pittsburgh’s replacement starter.

UNDER 5.5 runs first 5 innings (-110)

Fun fact: The Reds have not scored in the first five innings in any of Gray’s three starts versus the Pirates, which helped carry the under in two of them.

Again, Gray’s recent form should help carry the pick — the five-inning under has hit in his last four starts and gone 9-4 in Cincinnati’s last 13 overall. The hook also helps in this case — the under is 4-2 with the Pirates when the line has been 5.5 runs over higher.

With McRae named starter, there is less confidence in this pick delivering, but the hook makes it closer to a toss-up given Cincinnati has been held to two or fewer runs in the first five innings in five of its last eight games.

Reds OVER 1.5 runs first 3 innings (-110)

Though this pick was originally supported with Lyles’ awful numbers early in games, the Reds have shown enough in the first three innings of games recently — scoring two or more in five straight contests — to stick with this pick versus McRae, who served up a pair of homers in a mop-up role against the Reds on May 27.

Additionally, the Pirates have yielded two or more runs in the first three innings in five of their last six games, so their early struggles were not confined to just Lyles in this instance.


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