Chicago Cubs vs. Tampa Bay Rays Preview and Pick

Chicago Cubs (45-27) +140, 8 at Tampa Bay Rays (42-29), 7:10 pm Eastern Thursday
by Zman of

The Tampa Bay Rays go in search of a series sweep when they host the Chicago Cubs at Tropicana Field Thursday night.

Baseball bookies are listing Tampa and starting pitcher James Shields (4-5, 3.91) as 150 home chalk for Thursday’s series finale, with a total of 8 1/2, while Chicago and Sean Gallagher (3-3, 4.54) are getting +140 as road dogs.

Tampa took the opener of this series Tuesday 3-2, then beat the Cubs Wednesday 5-4. So going into Thursday’s game, the Rays sit in second place in the AL East, just two games behind the division-leading Boston Red Sox, while Chicago’s lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central sits at 3 games.

Chicago, which hasn’t lost three games in a row yet this year and owns the best record in the majors, is 16-19 on the road this year, 7-10 as underdogs, and 39-33 vs. the run line.

Tampa is 28-11 at Tropicana Field this season, and has won nine series in a row at home. The Rays are also 26-12 as favorites, and 39-32 vs. the run line.

Before this series, these two teams hadn’t met since 2003.

Over his last three starts, including a mediocre outing vs. Toronto last Saturday, Gallagher has allowed eight ER and 21 baserunners (hits + walks) in 15 2/3 IP. The Cubs are 43 in Gallagher’s starts this season, the totals 2-5.

Gallagher has never started during the regular season vs. the Rays. But he’s had troubles on the road, going 0-3 with a 6.14 ERA away from Wrigley Field this year.

Over his last three starts, including a complete-game loss to the Angles last Thursday, Shields has allowed 11 ER and 21 BR in 15 IP. Tampa is 86 in Shields’ starts this season, the totals 6-8.

Shields has been great at home this year, with a 1.72 ERA and a .86 WHIP in seven starts at Tropicana Field. He has never started a regular-season game vs. the Cubs.

On the offensive side of this match-up, Chicago leads the Major Leagues in team batting average and team OBP this year at .282 and .360, ranks 5th in team slugging at .440, and is averaging a healthy 5.5 runs per game.

Tampa ranks 11th in both batting at .262 and OBP at .335, 15th in slugging at .408, and is averaging 4.5 RPG.

On the injury front, Chicago LF Alfonso Soriano is on the DL with a broken hand. On the other side, Tampa got OF Carl Crawford back after a four-game suspension.

The Cubs bullpen has given up seven ER and 22 BR in its last five games, covering 12 1/3 IP.

The Rays pen has allowed three ER and 15 BR over its last five games, covering 18 innings of work.

The totals are 3235 in Cubs games this year, and four of their last seven games have stayed under their totals, as Chicago pitching has allowed just 21 runs over that span. The totals are 29-41 in Rays games, and 13-26 in games played at Tropicana Field, which are averaging just 7.6 total runs this year.

Zman’s Pick: I like the OVER 8.5 tonight.