The St. Louis Cardinals, the top overall seed in the National League, and wild-card Pittsburgh Pirates, making their first playoff appearance in 20 years, hook up in a best-of-five National League Divisional Series, starting Thursday night at Busch Stadium.
St. Louis won the division this year, but Pittsburgh won the season series.
Who should we back with our MLB picks in this NLDS?
NLDS Betting Odds
Most MLB betting outlets were listing St. Louis at around – to win this NLDS, with Pittsburgh, which hasn't won a playoff series since beating Baltimore in the 1979 World Series, getting + as the underdog.
Pirates-Cardinals NLDS Set-Up
St. Louis won the NL Central this season by three games over second-place Pittsburgh, ending the season on a six-game winning streak that also gave the Cardinals the best record in the National League at 97-65.
So St. Louis is in the playoffs for the third season in a row.
The Pirates, meanwhile, won the NL wild-card game Tuesday night, beating Cincinnati 6-2 at PNC Park. So Pittsburgh has won four games in a row and six of its last seven.
The Arms Battle
St. Louis went 23-11 in games started by Adam Wainwright this season, 21-10 for Shelby Miller, 19-14 for Lance Lynn, 11-4 for Joe Kelly but only 3-6 for Michael Wacha.
The Pirates went 17-9 for Francisco Liriano this year, 12-7 for Gerrit Cole, 12-8 for Charlie Morton, 15-15 for Jeff Locke but only 14-16 for AJ Burnett, who will start Thursday's series opener.
In the bullpen match-up Pittsburgh ranked third in the Majors this season with an ERA of 2.89 and went 55-for-70 on save opportunities, while St. Louis ranked 12th with a 3.45 ERA and converted 44-of-64 save opps.
Pirates-Cardinals With the Sticks
St. Louis ranked third in team OBP this season at .332, just 27th in homers with 125 and 29th in stolen bases with 45 but third in scoring at 4.8 runs per game.
Pittsburgh ranked 19th in team OBP this year at .313, 13th in homers with 161, 13th in stolen bases with 94 and 20th in scoring at 3.9 RPG.
The Season Series
The Pirates took the season series from the Cardinals this year 10 games to nine, with the totals leaning toward the OVERS by a 12-6-1 margin. Pittsburgh won seven of 10 games on its home field, while St. Louis took six of nine games played on its home diamond.
Most recently the Cardinals swept three games from the Pirates at Busch Stadium one month ago.
Pirates-Cardinals Betting Trends
St. Louis went 54-27 at home this season, 43-38 on the road.
Pittsburgh went 44-37 on the road this year, 50-31 at home.
The Pirates went 71-85 on the OVER/UNDERS this season.
The Cardinals went 79-75 on the totals.
The O/Us went 34-42 in games played at Busch Stadium this season.
The totals went 32-45 in games played at PNC Park.
Pirates-Cardinals Injury Update
St. Louis is playing without IF Allen Craig (.315, 97 RBI), who is out indefinitely with a sprained foot, and OF Carlos Beltran is questionable for Thursday with a sore wrist.
Games 1 and 2 of this NLDS will be played Thursday and Friday at Busch Stadium; the teams then move to Pittsburgh for Games 3 and, if necessary, 4 Sunday and Monday. A deciding Game 5 would then be played next Wednesday back at Busch Stadium.
Our Take on This Series
Sentimentally we lean toward the Pirates for this series, and we can make a decent case that they'll pull it off. Liriano started Tuesday's wild-card game, and Burnett will go Thursday, but Pittsburgh could still get two and possibly three starts from lefties in this series, with Locke. And that could be interesting, considering that while the Cardinals finished 32 games over .500 this season, they went just 19-23 vs. left-handed starters. Also, the Pirates won the season series, so they shouldn't have any fear of St. Louis, they've got a little momentum from Tuesday's victory and they're the betting underdogs. So we'll back the Pittsburgh Pirates with our sports picks to win this NLDS.