Key Trends Point to Cardinals and 'Under' in Opener vs. Phils

Rainman M.

Thursday, May 17, 2018 1:49 PM UTC

Thursday, May. 17, 2018 1:49 PM UTC

St. Louis opens a four-game home set tonight against Philadelphia, which has looked strong against a few slumping teams. Will St. Louis be their next victim?

MLB Thursday: Phillies (24-16) vs. Cardinals (23-17)Free MLB Pick: Cardinals 1H & FG ML & 'Under' 8.5Best Line Offered: Bookmaker

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The Phillies come into St. Louis having won six of seven, but will miss the benefit of playing at home or against last-place Baltimore. In seven series openers on the road, the Phillies' ML is 2-5. The two wins came against the Rays, who were 3-9 at the time, and the O’s, who were 13-28. In this scenario, the Phillies' 1H ML is 1-5-1 based on the MLB odds.

The Cardinals won 7-5 on Wednesday. But the kings of inconsistency and let-down have managed fewer than five runs five times out of six in the game after producing more than five runs, except against the Reds, who allowed over five runs in seven of their first 15 games.

Vince Velasquez (3-4, 5.05 ERA) starts for Philadelphia. Velasquez has surrendered one or two homers in each of his last five starts. In his last four starts, he allowed a fly ball rate over 10 percent higher than his career average, meaning his problem is preventing hitters from achieving unwanted elevation against his pitches. In April and May, his opponents are achieving a slugging percentage above .650 against his fastball. His fastball is his favorite pitch — he throws it 60% of the time. Velasquez is leaving his pitches more frequently in the dead middle part of the strike zone. He is leaving his favorite pitch there at a 2% higher frequency than he did before four starts ago on April 24. Before April 24, opponents slugged .000 against his fastball in the heart of the plate. Since April 24, they are slugging 1.333 against his fastball in that location.

Velasquez’s vulnerability to the home run ball is particularly important because the Cards rely on hitting homers. They rank 20th in runs scored per game but 10th in homers per game. Look out especially for Jedd Gyorko, who is slugging an insane 1.053 against the fastball. All he, and his teammates, need to do is wait for Velasquez to leave his fastball in a dangerous location.

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Luke Weaver (3-2, 4.91 ERA) counters for the Cards. His ERA masks his 3.28 FIP (like ERA, but factors out luck). He’s yielded an FIP under 3.00 in his last thee starts, in two of which he allowed an unluckily high BABIP (batting average of balls in play) that prevented him from winning. Weaver is primed to continue his pattern from last season, in which he corralled momentum in his second month of the season, allowing only four runs in four August starts.

Weaver has the benefit of facing Philly at home, where they’ve managed an OPS (on-base plus slugging; average is .720) below .610 in each of the past two seasons with a total of four home runs in seven games. For comparison, the Cards’ OPS is .671 at home.

The second-year pitcher relies primarily on a fastball-change-up combo. He throws the latter 8 mph slower to keep hitters off-balance with a change of pace. Occasionally, he likes to start hitters off with a curveball to freeze them if they try to sit on his lively fastball, which, with an average velocity of 94 mph, is enjoying an uptick this season.

The Cards’ bullpen possesses sundry options. Jordan Hicks (2-1, 0.92 ERA) is capable of pitching consecutive games. Sam Tuivailala (0-0, 3.00 ERA) has allowed one run in his last 10 innings at home dating to 2017. Bud Norris (1-0, 2.14 ERA) is 9-for-9 in saves.

The trends, supported by matchup analysis, indicate that the Cards will win a low-scoring affair. Lean that way with your MLB picks.

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