Things have not looked good for the defending champion Chicago Cubs, who have dropped six games in a row and limp into a huge NL Central series with the rival St. Louis Cardinals. Chicago’s offense is in dire straits at the moment, as this unit wasn’t even able to muster enough juice to get a win in a series with the San Diego Padres.
A team as talented as the Cubs is bound to figure it out eventually, but we need to ponder if their skid can reach seven games tonight. The Cubs give up some serious MLB betting value in this one, as they’re the clear favorite against a very capable rival. St. Louis enters in a far better spot, as the Cards are 1.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers for first place in the division and have won two straight.
Nobody is running away with an extremely tight NL Central right now, but every game matters and the Cardinals could have enough momentum to garner a real, hard look as a solid upset play tonight. Let’s take a closer look at the matchup and odds and see if that’s how we want to play it:
St. Louis Cardinals (+153) @ Chicago Cubs (-163) Total: 8
Lance Lynn (4-3, 2.93 ERA) vs. John Lackey (4-5, 5.18 ERA)
The knee-jerk reaction is obviously going to be to take advantage of the Cubs while they’re down. Chicago’s offense is simply not clicking right now and really hasn’t been all year. The defending champs have just the 25th best batting average in the majors and have had serious issues with putting runs on the board, failing to produce more than 5 runs in any of their last 10 contests.
Chicago’s offense has been especially bad during their six-game slide, but the team hasn’t looked great for even longer than that, with just a 3-7 mark over their last 10 contests. Things could get worse on Friday, as a solid Cardinals offense sees a positive park shift away from the conservative Busch Stadium and they also put a stable arm in Lance Lynn (4-3, 2.93 ERA) on the mound.
St. Louis doesn’t have as explosive of a lineup as the Cubs, but that may not matter with a solid pitching matchup and the way Chicago’s offense has been playing. It’s no given the Cubs suddenly bounce back at Wrigley Field against Lynn, either, as the Cardinals’ ace fared well against Chicago earlier this year (5 hits, 2 runs allowed in season debut) and doesn’t have awful numbers (2-2, 3.71 ERA) on the road. This isn’t an ideal setting for Lynn, but he’s done a great job managing games and limiting hard contact.
Lynn’s ability to control games could be magnified tonight by Chicago’s problems versus right-handed pitching. As stacked as the Cubs are, they rank just 28th in the league this year at connecting against righties, while their power is also lacking (20th) against right-handed hurlers, as well.
The advantage might be favorable for the Cardinals on the other end, too. The normally serviceable John Lackey has not been on point lately, as the 38-year old veteran has gotten knocked around to the tune of 13 hits and 10 runs over his last two starts. Lackey isn’t showing elite strikeout numbers and is having issues with the long ball (13 homers allowed this year), while he’s also had issues with his command (10 walks over his last four games). In addition, Lackey sports an ugly 5.27 ERA at home in 2017 and has given up a ridiculous 9 home runs at Wrigley Field alone.
Lackey wasn’t amazing in his first showdown with these Cardinals earlier this year, either, as he gave up six hits and three runs. Lackey does have a solid history against his rival, but his recent form and this matchup doesn’t bode well for him or the Cubs. St. Louis happens to rake right-handed pitching (10th in batting average in 2017) and is the 7th best team in MLB at avoiding Ks versus righties.
Can the Cubs find a way to get out of their funk at home against a hated rival? Sure. But this team is really down in the dumps right now and all of the value lies with the visiting Cardinals. St. Louis seems to be in a slightly better spot and may be one of the best upset picks to chase on tonight’s loaded MLB slate.