See You In October?
Certainly everyone had projected St. Louis as a potential World Series team this spring. The Cardinals have disappointed so far, but still are not far behind the Brewers in the NL Central. Sportsbooks still favor St. Louis to win that division, again, as its MLB odds are -150, and the Brewers are at +150.
The Cardinals rotation has been very good, but the lineup has disappointed, ranking 21st in runs after finishing third a season ago on the way to the NL pennant. Matt Adams, Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina are largely doing their parts, but Matt Holliday has struggled in the power department and Allen Craig, the majors' leading hitter in 2013 with runners in scoring position, is batting only .246.
To give the lineup a spark, the Cardinals recently recalled outfielder Oscar Taveras from Triple-A when Adams had to go on the 15-day DL with a left calf strain. Taveras is considered the No. 2 overall position player prospect in baseball behind Minnesota's Byron Buxton. Taveras is off to a bit of a slow start, but likely is up to stay. St. Louis gets to add a bat for this series with the designated hitter in play.
The Blue Jays were the long shots to win the AL East this spring, but might run away with the division, which has four other mediocre-to-bad teams, with the Red Sox and Rays vastly underachieving. Toronto is now the -110 division favorite at sportsbooks with the Orioles No. 2 at +250.
Toronto hasn't won the AL East since 1993, the year it repeated as World Series champions, and the most recent playoff visit for the franchise. Toronto, which enters off an impressive sweep in Detroit, and on a five-game winning streak overall, is one of the best offensive teams in baseball, led by Jose Bautista (.320, 14 HRs, 43 RBIs), Edwin Encarnacion (.273, 19 HRs, 50 RBIs) and Melky Cabrera (.307, 10 HRs, 33 RBIs). Encarnacion was the AL Player of the Month for May, when he hit 16 home runs with 33 RBIs. Those 16 dingers tied Mickey Mantle's AL record for the most in the month (most in any month overall is Sammy Sosa with 20 in June 1998). Encarnacion is looking for his first dinger in June. He left Wednesday's game early with back stiffness, and sat out Thursday. He is likely back in the lineup Friday.
A Cardinals-Blue Jays World Series matchup is +3500 at sportsbooks.
St. Louis starts right-hander Lance Lynn (6-3, 3.48). Two starts ago, he pitched the first complete-game shutout of his career, holding the Yankees to five hits on May 27. Perhaps throwing a season-high 126 pitches took a lot out of Lynn, because in his last start, he lasted just 3.1 innings, and allowed eight runs, and seven hits, walking four, in a loss to San Francisco. It was Lynn's shortest outing since August 2012. The Cardinals were concerned enough that they did some tests on his knee the next day, but Lynn checked out fine, and should be good to go. This will be Lynn's first start away from St. Louis in nearly a month. He is 3-2 with a 3.00 ERA in six road starts in 2014. Batters are hitting just .229 off him, compared to .278 at home. Lynn hasn't faced Toronto since pitching three scoreless innings in his 2011 rookie season.
The Jays' two sluggers, Encarnacion and Bautista, have combined for two hitless at-bats off Lynn. The Blue Jays counter with rookie right-hander Marcus Stroman (2-0, 7.30), one of the team's top pitching prospects. He had pitched largely ineffectively out of the bullpen for the Blue Jays early in May, then was sent back to Triple-A. Now he's the fifth starter, taking the spot of Liam Hendriks.
Stroman's starting debut was excellent last Saturday as he held the Royals to one run, and five hits over six innings, striking out 12. In seven Triple-A starts this season, he had a 3.03 ERA with 45 strikeouts, and only nine walks in 35.2 innings.
Free MLB picks: Blue Jays -129 on MLB odds and 'under' 9.5 runs as your MLB pick tonight. St. Louis has lost four straight series openers. The Blue Jays are 6-1 in their past seven series openers. They have won seven straight against teams with a winning record, and five straight interleague games. The 'under' is 4-0-1 in Lynn's past five interleague starts.