Dodgers vs. Cubs MLB Preview and Free Pick

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Walker Buehler #21 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches. Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images/AFP

Top Sportsbooks have released their odds for tonight’s series opener between the Dodgers and Cubs in Wrigley Field. For reasons that I will explain, you’ll want to play the run-line in this game.

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Chicago Cubs

Monday, May 03, 2021 – 07:40 PM EDT at Wrigley Field

Discussing Kyle Hendricks 

By any statistical measure, Cub starter Kyle Hendricks is suffering by far the worst season of his career. Currently, he’s 1-3 with a 7.54 ERA.

He’s suffering a tremendous uptick in walk and opposing home run rates. Opponents are meeting his pitches with the barrel of their bat at a similarly higher rate. But the reality is more complicated than just looking at Hendricks’ ERA and deciding to fade the Cubs. Hendricks has not gotten blown away in every start.

He has actually produced two outings in which he lasted six innings while surrendering two runs and zero runs in the two respective starts. So we have to ask ourselves: which version of Hendricks should we expect tonight: the one giving up a lot of home runs and runs in general or the one producing quality outings?

This question leads to another question. Hendricks is currently following a pattern where he’s alternating successful starts with unsuccessful starts. On April 7, he yielded zero runs over six innings. Then he got pummeled in his next outing. In the outing after that one, he had another successful start. In his last outing he was atrocious again. Could it be the case that Hendricks is inhabiting a mental state where he needs to give up a lot of runs in order to respond with a desirable outing?

With a view to sports betting, i’m going to argue that this is not the case. Instead, match-up details explain why Hendricks is alternating between successful and unsuccessful performances. Other factors explain why the distinction between success and failure is so drastic in his case.

Braves and Brewers vs. Hendricks

Hendricks’ two successful starts came against the Brewers. Knowing Hendricks’ history, you should expect him to thrive against this team. In his career, he yields a 2.73 ERA in 25 starts against Milwaukee.

Whereas he knows how to succeed against Milwaukee, the same cannot be said for Atlanta. In six career starts, he yields a 6.03 ERA against the Braves.

Match-up details substantiate this distinction between Hendricks’ performance level against the two teams. He throws three pitches with over 20 percent frequency: a sinker, a change-up, and a 4-seam fastball. Whereas the Braves rank top-five in slugging against this pitch from righties, the Brewers rank outside the top 10 in the category.

I haven’t quite made my point though. Just the fact that Hendricks’ opponent is relevant to explaining his success in each outing doesn’t logically exclude the theory, posited above, that Hendricks needs to have a bad performance in order to respond with a successful one. But here’s the thing: in Hendricks’ last start against Milwaukee, his FIP (like ERA, but factors out fielding) was 6.43.

In that start, he yielded an appalling zero percent soft contact rate. He simply benefitted from a fortunately low opposing BABIP (batting average of balls in play). So he performed poorly and, statistically speaking, should have yielded a higher ERA against the Brewers, although he typically dominates this team.

Therefore, Hendricks is not actually alternating between good and bad starts. He is more likely to perform poorly in general, which is why his numbers are so bad this season. He is especially likely to perform atrociously against a team that he matches up poorly with.

In other words, Hendricks is absurdly bad this season despite getting to face the Brewers twice. Keep this fact in mind when considering your best bets.

Dodger Hitters vs. Hendricks

So, in terms of match-up potential, are the Dodgers more like the Brewers or the Braves? 

The Dodgers easily resemble the Braves. Whereas the latter rank fifth in slugging against Hendricks’ three favorite pitches from righties, the Dodgers rank fourth.

Moreover, Hendricks’ career ERA is nearly identically bad against the Dodgers, He yields a 6.03 ERA against Atlanta and a 6.00 ERA in five career starts against Los Angeles. Look out especially for Justin Turner tonight. He’s already 4-for-11 (.364) with two homers in his career against Hendricks.

Walker Buehler 

Dodger starter Walker Buehler is coming off a seemingly bad outing. But his 7.11 ERA in that one game belies his 2.94 FIP, which indicates that he performed well individually.

He has now yielded a sub-three FIP in two consecutive starts. Before that one seemingly bad outing, he had allowed two earned runs or fewer in every start while lasting at least six innings.

Buehler vs. Cub Batters

Buehler loves his fastball: he puts a lot of spin on it and it averages 95 mph. Opponents struggle yearly to hit this pitch because of this combo of spin and velocity, which makes the pitch both hard for batters to track and hard for them to keep up with.

Cub batters have seen plenty of fastballs, none of which were Buehler’s uniquely strong version of the pitch. Despite facing lesser competition, the Cubs rank dead-last in slugging .327 against the fastball from righties.

So Buehler will ride his favorite pitch — which he throws over half the time — against this Chicago lineup. Have trust in Buehler for your MLB Picks tonight.

The Verdict 

Kyle Hendricks is struggling to perform well individually even against teams that he normally dominates. Given L.A.  batters’ match-up edge, we should expect Hendricks to struggle especially hard tonight.

Buehler, in contrast, will be comfortable with his characteristically solid 4-seam fastball. With this edge in starting pitching, Los Angeles will win tonight by multiple runs.

For the above reasons, place a bet on the Dodgers run-line at a sports betting site.

Best Bet: Dodgers -1.5 (-115) at Bovada