A rematch of last year's NLCS gets underway Monday in St. Louis, and we're following the series between the Cardinals and Giants with previews and free MLB picks.
Tight races in all but one division have given baseball a postseason feel in August, and a playoff atmosphere will definitely be surrounding tonight's game in St. Louis where the Cardinals host the San Francisco Giants in the opener of a 3-game set. ESPN turns its cameras on the matchup starting at 8:00 PM (ET), Michael Wacha taking the mound shortly after that for the Cardinals while the Giants turn to rookie Chris Heston.
It's the first meeting of 2015 between these two, their rivalry beginning in 1892 and played in 16 different stadiums over the years. The latest rendition of Busch Stadium in St. Louis is the sixth park where the Cardinals have hosted the Giants, and San Francisco is 19-17 on this diamond since it opened in 2006. That record includes the clubs splitting six playoffs games in the 2012 NLCS and 2014 NLCS. The Giants have won four of the last five regular season contests at Busch III, three of the four played here a year ago going 'over' the totals.
Walks Plaguing Heston In Last 2 Outings
San Francisco (64-53, +5.2 units) hits the road after a successful 5-1 homestand that ended with sweeping four from the sinking Washington Nationals. Except for one shutout loss to the Houston Astros last week, Giants hitters were doing their jobs overall by scoring 31 runs in the five victories, 25 of those in the final three games of the broom job against the Nats.
The lineup has been doing pretty well all season, the little weekend burst pushing them up near the Rockies for 2nd-most runs per game in the Senior Circuit (4.41). Manager Bruce Bochy is hopeful of getting a couple of key members to the lineup back in the next week, outfielder Nori Aoki and second baseman Joe Panik, plus the Giants are expected to have starting pitcher Mike Leake back on the mound for Tuesday's start in this series.
Heston has dropped his last two assignments after the Giants won four in a row prior to that. Walks were an issue in the setbacks at the Cubs and home vs. the Astros, the former East Carolina University standout issuing six free passes in just over 10 combined innings. He just moved above the 140 IP plateau in his first full MLB season, and is averaging a little better than six innings per start on nearly 93 pitches. Monday will be his first-ever look at the Cardinals, and the Giants are 8-3 in his road outings despite Heston's away ERA running almost two runs higher than at home where they're 6-6.
Wacha Looking For 15th Win Of Campaign
St. Louis (75-42, +23.9 units) wraps up a 9-game homestand with this visit from the Giants, the Cardinals taking two of three in the first two series against the Pirates and Marlins. Errors cost them in a Sunday setback to Miami, the Fish scoring four unearned runs in a 6-4 decision that saw the Redbirds close as -235 favorites on Sunday
With a string of three consecutive wins, Wacha trails only teammate Carlos Martinez -- Sunday's losing pitcher -- in Return On Investment among major league pitchers. The 3rd-year hurler has churned out 9.8 units against the MLB odds to Martinez's 12.1, that pair also combining for a 15-25-4 O/U/P mark vs. the totals. Wacha's latest dubya came last Wednesday against the Pirates, the lanky righthander working around nine hits and three walks over six frames to allow just two runs.
He'd like to make up for the last time he faced the Giants, a relief outing in Game 5 of the 2014 NLCS in which he took the loss after serving up Travis Ishikawa's pennant-winning 3-run homer. Wacha beat the Giants in his only regular season start against them.
Muggy in the low-80s without much breeze is the forecast for first pitch. My forecast is a free MLB pick on the 'over' in this one.
MLB Pick: Giants-Cardinals Over 7 (-115) @ 5Dimes
Season: 72-65-2 (+9.65)