Some may be surprised that books have this NLDS between the team with the best record in baseball the Cardinals and the wild card Cubs close to Pick’em, but we are not.
Some people may find this series price between the team with the best record in baseball in the 100-win National League Central Champion St. Louis Cardinals and the Wild Card Playoff Game winning Chicago Cubs rather odd at close to a Pick’em, with some even having the Cubs as small favorites, but we are not surprised in the least with Game 1 of this best three-of-five NLDS from Busch Stadium in St. Louis, MO set for Friday evening at 6:45 ET on TBS.
The posted series price at 5 Dimes has this NLDS as a true Pick’em with both teams set at current odds of -110.
Only Finished Three Games Back After All
Now, the Cardinals should always be respected and they certainly deserve credit for being the only team in the Major Leagues to be the winning MLB pick 100 times this season at 100-62. However, this does not have the same feel as the great St. Louis teams of recent years as this one seems to have greatly overachieved when looking at the peripheral stats, especially just about the entire pitching staff!
And besides, do not forget that that the Cubs may have finished in third place behind the Cardinals, but they finished only three games back as the first third-place team in history to win 97 games and they certainly come in with great momentum, as the 4-0 shutout of the second place Pirates in the National League Wild Card Game made it nine straight wins for Chicago after nearly catching Pittsburgh by winning the last eight regular season games.
Cubs Could Have Pitching Edge Every Game
For those perplexed by his series line, just look no further than the expected pitching matchups in this series as the Cubs should have the pitching advantage in every game. Sure the Cardinals dodged probable Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta in Game 1 after his Wild Card Game shutout, but the Cubs still have the pitcher that was supposed to be their ace before the season in Jon Lester starting the opener, who showed ace-type form the second half of the season.
The southpaw Lester was off to a slow start in his first year in the National League that left him with an ERA over 4.00 at the end of June. However, he turned things around nicely and you could now disregard his final 11-12 record as he finished with a 3.34 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 207 strikeouts in 205 innings vs. only 47 walks. Remember too that the Cardinals struggle vs. lefties and Lester has a 2.56 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in six career starts against them.
The Game 2 starter for the Cubs will be Kyle Hendricks, who pitched better than his 8-7 record and 3.95 ERA this year given his 1.16 WHIP and 167 strikeouts vs. 43 walks. His sabremetric numbers are more representative of his talent as Hendricks finished the season with a 3.36 FIP and 3.25 xFIP.
Game 3 should then be the biggest mismatch of the series with Arrieta, who is in the midst of perhaps the greatest 21-start run in Major League history, on the mound for Chicago. And if the Cubs use a fourth starter, they have a very solid one in Jason Hammel who went 10-7 with 3.68 FIP, 3.47 xFIP and 172 strikeouts in 170.2 innings vs. just 40 walks.
And all that is not to mention an offense that got progressively better as the season went on thanks to the occasional call-ups of prized prospects like All-Star Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber, as well as a fine steady bullpen.
Overachieving St. Louis Starters
Now, the Cardinals led the Major Leagues this season with a 2.94 ERA, but a look at their peripheral stats reveals that each of the four expected starters in this series John Lackey, Jaime Garcia, Lance Lynn and Michael Wacha had an ERA that outperformed those sabremetric numbers! Granted it is not uncommon to find one or two starters like that on a staff, but could this be the first time in history that it is true of an entire four-man playoff rotation?
In fact, if we line up these pitchers side-by-side looking only at sabre stats, the Cardinals “ace” Lackey grades out just slightly better than the Cubs fourth starter Hammel! So unless Lackey faces Hammel head-to-head, which could possibly happen in Game 4 if the Cubs are up 2-1 and St. Louis brings back Lackey on three days rest, Chicago would have the pitching edge in all the other games and usually by a wide margin.
As for the offense, the Cardinals have severe splits as their annual struggles vs. left-handed pitchers continued this season with their poor .227 batting average and 3.63 runs per game against southpaws. St. Louis was obviously much better vs. right-handers, but the Cards were not as good against them as in past years at a rather modest .257 and 4.18 runs per game. And they did not face righties like Arrieta very often either.
While the casual observer that feels that ERA is important may think that the pitching in this series is close with the Cardinals having the edge (the Cubs were third in team ERA at 3.36), the reality is that nothing is further from the truth.
With that in mind, we are electing to go out on a limb a bit here by calling for a three-game sweep by the Chicago Cubs over the St. Louis Cardinals in their NLDS.
Cubs in 3
MLB Pick: Cubs -110 (series)