After dropping their respective Game 163s on Monday, the Colorado Rockies (91-72) and the Chicago Cubs (95-68) will meet at Wrigley Field on Tuesday night for a winner-take-all Wild Card game (8 p.m., ESPN). Per the Denver Post’s Kyle Newman, Colorado has tabbed Kyle Freeland (17-7, 2.85 ERA) with the start, while Chicago turns to Jon Lester (18-6, 3.32 ERA). The Cubs have been set as -130 favorites, while the Rockies are available at +120. The run line is 7.5.
Colorado is facing an uphill battle, as they will have traveled from Denver to Los Angeles to Chicago in less than 48 hours. And starter Freeland will be pitching on three days’ rest. The second-year hurler has started only one time on short rest, and it was not a great outing, as he allowed two runs on five hits and a walk in three innings of work. His opposite number, Lester, isn’t much better, as he has a 4.91 ERA in two starts on short rest. However, he has Freeland over a barrel in terms of playoff experience.
Over the span of eight postseason appearances (25 games pitched, 21 starts), Lester is 9-7 with a 2.55 ERA. He’s also riding a hot streak coming into this game, as he’s pitched to a 1.71 ERA in his last eight starts; the Cubs are 7-1 in that span. Chicago has a decided edge in the all-important starting pitching battle. Relief pitching, however, is a different story.
The Cubs’ bullpen limps into the postseason off a dreadful September, as Carl Edwards Jr., Justin Wilson and Steve Cishek all struggled to get outs. Pedro Strop has been missing since Sept. 13 due to a hamstring injury. Joe Maddon will probably ride with starters-turned-relievers Jorge De La Rosa and Jaime Garcia, hopefully for him after Lester turns in seven quality innings.
The Rockies’ bullpen is going much better at the moment, with Wade Davis, Scott Oberg and Seung-Hwan Oh all pitching well, but it may not matter if they can’t put up runs.
Colorado has been a notoriously bad road team for most of their history, and while they’re 44-38 away from Coors Field this year, their batting average drops from .287 to .226 as the visiting team. Even All-Star slugger Nolan Arenado hasn’t been immune to the Rockies’ road woes; his average away from home is just .248, compared to .347 at Coors Field.
The Cubs still have plenty of pieces from their 2016 World Series roster, and they added the clutch Daniel Murphy (.323 in postseason play), who’s batted .299 since coming over from Washington. Expect Chicago to jump out to an early lead and never look back.
Prediction: Cubs win, 5-3
The play: Cubs -130
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