Now that we are almost a full week past the Major League Baseball trade deadline and have gotten a chance to see most of these traded players on their new teams, the playoff picture is really starting to come into focus. In the American League, it looked like the wild card race was going to be one with little drama as the Toronto Blue Jays safely had the last place spot locked up. But the Detroit Tigers are managing to still hang around, and both the Seattle Mariners and the Los Angels have won seven out of their last ten games as well, tightening that race up significantly.
In the National League, the wild card race is wide open, as all but three teams are within two games of the postseason. It is looking increasingly likely that a team with a losing record will qualify for the playoffs in the NL, and when you glance at the last ten games for that big group of teams fighting for the final wild-card spot, they are all either 5-5 or 4-6, with no team taking charge and putting any distance between themselves and the rest of the field.
It is sure to be a wild and unforgettable finish to the season this year, and we will see a playoff chase that is more crowded than ever before with the greatly expanded playoffs. Today we have several games on the schedule that have major playoff implications as the Dodgers and Rockies play in LA, the Tigers and Twins square off in Minneapolis, and Padres and Athletics meet up in Oakland. For today’s free daily betting pick, we will take a look at the game between the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals.
St. Louis Cardinals (16-15) at Chicago Cubs (23-17)
The Chicago Cubs host the St. Louis Cardinals in game three of a jumbo five-game series between National League Central Division rivals. The Cubs took game one of the series 4-1 on Friday, as Yu Darvish continued his remarkable season, tossing seven innings of one-hit ball in the win for Chicago. St. Louis battled back yesterday to take both sides of a scheduled doubleheader, holding the Cubs to just three total runs in the two games combined. The two wins yesterday for St. Louis, has the Cards back on the right side of .500 on the year, at 16-15.
For Chicago, the Cubs have now lost three out of their last four games and have seen their lead in the NL Central shrink to just two and a half games. The Cubs had a hot start to the season but finished August by losing eleven out of their last eighteen games, and the Cubbies are just 3-3 here in September. This series is the final time this year that the Cubs and Cards will play in the regular season, and whichever team is able to take care of business today and tomorrow will have a major foot up in the NL Central Division title race.
Starting tonight for the Cubs is Jon Lester (2-1 5.11 ERA), and for the Cardinals, it is Dakota Hudson (1-2 2.77 ERA). The game total over under is set at 12.5 runs. The game is currently an even pick ‘em, with both teams laying -105. First pitch is scheduled for 4:08 PM PST from Wrigley Field in Chicago.
St. Louis Cardinals
When the St. Louis Cardinals missed over a week of action to a Corona Virus outbreak earlier this season, we knew that it was going to take some creativity to get them caught back up to the rest of the league in terms of games played. The Cardinals have played a brutal stretch of games, including a couple of “home” games in Chicago, against the Cubs. But despite the heavy workload, the Cardinals are finding ways to stay competitive and win games.
The Cardinals weren’t able to do much off of Yu Darvish on Friday, but in the last week, with the exception of Friday’s game against Darvish, who is pitching out of his mind this year, the Cardinals have started to find their grove at the plate, scoring 42 runs in their last six games. St. Louis is manufacturing runs the old-fashioned way, by getting a bunch of runners on base and moving them over and driving them in. The Cardinals are 3rd in the Major League in on-base percentage at .340.
Dakota Hudson (1-2 2.77 ERA)
We just talked about the St. Louis Cardinals finally starting to figure things out at the plate in the last week or so, but one area that they have been great all season long has been on the mound. The Cardinals lead all of baseball in batting average against, holding teams to an anemic .198, and they are top three in MLB in both ERA and WHIP. This team can flat out pitch.
One of the guys that is helping drive a lot of that success is tonight’s starter, Dakota Hudson. Hudson has been elite since the Cardinals returned from their long layoff, as he has made four starts and has a 1.66 ERA to show for it. After getting him back up to speed slowly in his first two starts, the Cardinals have taken off the handcuffs in his two outings, and he has pitched a combined thirteen innings and has allowed just three earned runs, on only seven hits.
When you look at the star power in this Chicago Cubs lineup, it is hard to imagine this wrecking crew of hitters struggling so much. I keep thinking that any day the Cubs bevy of All-Star hitters are going to break out and get back on track. But that just isn’t happening right now for Chicago.
Kris Bryant is hitting .173, and after missing two weeks to injury, is just 3-19 with one extra-base hit and no RBI in his four games since returning to play. Javier Baez has played all year long but just hasn’t been able to produce at the plate, as he is hitting only .195 with 54 Ks. Anthony Rizzo has been a little better than Bryant and Baez, as he is slashing .222 and is second on the team in homers with eight.
You would have to think that at some point, these established stars are going to start hitting the baseball, but I’m not so sure that is going to happen in this series, against the Cardinals stellar pitching staff.
Jon Lester (2-1 5.11 ERA)
Similar to the rest of this Cubs team, Jon Lester started out the season on fire but has struggled since. After his first three starts of the year, Lester was an early-season NL Cy Young candidate with a 2-0 record and 1.06 ERA, and the Cubs won all three of his outings. But since then, in his last four starts, he has gotten lit up in three of them, and Chicago has lost three out of four.
Lester has really struggled with allowing baserunners in his last four starts as he has given up a combined 34 hits and 3 walks in 20 innings worked. That has led to him giving up 19 earned runs. The low point came against the crosstown rival White Sox, where Lester got pummeled for eight runs, all earned, in just three and two-thirds of an inning worked.
Who Do I Like?
The Cardinals pitching staff has done a great job of holding the Cubs in check in this series. And when these two teams played a five-game set in August, the Cardinals managed to slow the Cubs bats down then as well.
In eight games against St. Louis this season, the Cubs have scored a total of just 26 runs. Three runs a game just isn’t going to get the job done, and if the Cubs can’t find a way to score more runs tonight, than they have been averaging all season against the Cardinals, they are going to lose this game.
I think Dakota Hudson continues his run of recent success and takes advantage of a Cubs team that just isn’t hitting right now. Hudson has seen his pitch count increase in each of his last four starts, and I would expect the Cardinals to have him available for as long as he is pitching well tonight. And when I look at Jon Lester, it is impossible to trust this guy right now.
After that fluky hot start, he is just getting squared up on far too often. Even in his one start where he didn’t allow many runs against the Detroit Tigers, he gave up eight hits and a walk and played with fire the entire game. The Cardinals pride themselves on getting on base, and I would expect base runners all over the basepaths tonight against Jon Lester.
I expect Lester to be in and out of jams all game long, and at some point, St. Luis is going to take advantage of it and hang a crooked number up on the scoreboard. Dakota Hudson should get us six or seven quality innings of work, and when he does eventually leave the game, he turns things over to the more than capable Cardinals bullpen.
Hey, even if everything goes wrong, and we are losing heading into the late innings, maybe Chicago will put Craig Kimbrel into the game, and he will give it away and bail us out! Give me the St. Louis Cardinals at even money tonight in Chicago, as they lock up a much-needed series win against the North Siders!