MLB Picks: Back Nationals Behind Strasburg vs. Visiting Cardinals

Matthew Jordan

Saturday, May 28, 2016 5:51 PM GMT

I previewed Game 1 of this weekend's series between the Nationals and Cardinals in D.C. and recommended Washington and 'under' -- both hit. Let's finish the series off in style Sunday.

What You Need To Know
Sunday is the final  meeting of the season between the clubs, but both are playoff-caliber and they could meet against in October. The teams are opposites in one regard. The Cardinals entered the weekend as the second-highest scoring team in baseball but have had some issues on the mound. The Nationals entered the weekend No. 2 in team ERA but have been inconsistent at the plate at times. Washington has been rumored to be looking for an outfielder in the trade market. It also could use an offensive upgrade at shortstop over Danny Espinosa, but the Nats could simply call up Trea Turner from the minors as he's one of the top prospects in baseball. He'll be up sooner rather than later.  

The Cardinals' offense could get that much better as early as Monday in Milwaukee as shortstop Jhonny Peralta could be activated off the disabled list. He has yet to play in the majors this season due to a thumb injury but is finishing off his injury rehab in the minors. He hit .275 with 17 homers and 71 RBIs last year. St. Louis will have to decide what to do with stellar rookie Aledmys Diaz, who has been playing short in Peralta's absence and leads the team in hitting.

We could have four award winners for the 2016 season in this game: the NL Rookie of the Year in Diaz, the NL MVP in Washington's Bryce Harper (he won it last year), the NL batting champion in the Nats' Daniel Murphy (he leads the league in hitting) and the Cy Young winner in Washington's Stephen Strasburg. 

Because this is a day game after a night game and both teams have to travel and play Monday night, you could see a regular or two sit this out on each side. Harper won't be one of them as he got a day off  from the starting lineup Wednesday because he was struggling. The Cards expect back leadoff hitter and third baseman  Matt Carpenter back by this game from paternity leave.

Probable Pitchers
Speaking of Strasburg, he's certainly pitching like a top Cy Young candidate with an 8-0 record, 2.79 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 67.2 innings. The only problem is he pitches in the National League and has to battle reigning Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta of the Cubs and three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers for that award.

But it's looking rather smart right now that the Nationals were able to sign Strasburg to a seven-year, $175 million extension earlier this season rather than see him hit free agency this winter. Strasburg has only raised his potential value. Washington has even won the two starts this year where he didn't get a decision. Going back to last season, Washington has won 14 straight games in which Strasburg was the starting pitcher. That’s a franchise record. In his past two starts, both against the Mets, Strasburg has allowed three earned runs and 10 hits over 12.2 innings and struck out 21. He has five double-digit strikeouts games already. The Nationals are 13-3 on MLB odds in Strasburg's past 16 at home.

Strasburg pitched in St. Louis on April 29 and got the victory, allowing two runs and eight hits over seven innings, striking out nine and walking one. Strasburg struck out seven of eight to begin his third time through the order. The Cards' Matt Holliday has had career success off Strasburg, going 6-for-12 with two doubles and  an RBI. Diaz is 0-for-3. Yadier Molina is 2-for-9 with two RBIs. Carpenter is 4-for-13 with two doubles.

The Cardinals  go with struggling right-hander Michael Wacha (2-5, 5.04). This guy didn't have an ERA above 3.38 in any of his first three seasons or a WHIP above 1.21, but that WHIP is  at 1.57 in 2016. It's baffling because Wacha has such good stuff. He has allowed at least four runs in four straight starts. He was crushed by the Cubs on Tuesday, giving up eight runs and eight hits in just four innings -- his third start in a row lasting only four. The Cardinals are 2-10 on MLB picks in Wacha's past 12 vs. teams with a winning record.

Wacha didn't face Washington earlier in the season but beat the Nats in his lone 2015 outing against them, allowing one run and five hits in seven innings. Harper  is 2-for-9 career off him with three strikeouts. Murphy is 3-for-11 with a homer and two RBIs. Anthony Rendon is 1-for-6 with a homer. Jayson Werth is 0-for-6.

Nationals and 'under.' Wacha's struggles can't last forever, but this 'under' pick is all about Strasburg. Since last June 23, the Nats are 21-2 in his starts, so how can you go against him? The Cardinals are 1-6 in Wacha's past seven road starts. The 'under' is 4-1 in Strasburg's past five against St. Louis.

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Free MLB Pick: Under 8.5 (-105)
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