By: Willie Bee
Thanks to a strong performance by Adam Wainwright, first place in the NL Central is back in the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals. They now turn to a rookie to hold serve in Sunday's finale vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates.
A half-game lead over the Pirates, and only 1.5-games ahead of the charging Cincinnati Reds, rests on the shoulders of Michael Wacha when the Cardinals take the field for the matinee (2:15 PM ET). St. Louis is priced in the -140 to -145 range according to SBR's live MLB odds as the Pirates send Charlie Morton to the mound.
Baseball bettors also have the option of an 8 run total (U-125).
Morton In Search Of Third Consecutive Win
Tommy John surgery shelved Morton for a full year, but he has slowly become a crucial cog in Pittsburgh's rotation since making his season debut in mid-June. He has a string of three straight winning starts, the last two against the Brewers, and the Pirates have won four of his last six assignments with Morton pitching to a 1.74 ERA in that span.
A 3rd-round pick by Atlanta in 2002, Morton has not fared well against the Cardinals over the years, to put it mildly. Pittsburgh has dropped his last six starts vs. St. Louis, dating to August 2011, including both tries in 2013 with his ERA at 5.25 in those 12 IP.
Wacha is making his second consecutive start for the Cardinals after spending most of August pitching out of the bullpen. The1st-round draft pick out of Texas A&M just a little more than year ago held the Reds to three hits and no runs in an eventual 1-0 Cardinals loss last Tuesday, getting through six innings on just 67 pitches. St. Louis is expected to let him stretch it out to the 90-100 pitch range this time. Wacha saw the Pirates once before, tossing two perfect innings and striking our four in relief on Aug. 14.
Behind The Plate, Mother Nature & A Pick
In just his second full season at the MLB level, Manny Gonzalez should be behind the plate for Sunday's finale. The 33-year-old Venezuelan stands 14-13 O/U on the year, home favorites cashing 13 times in 22 tilts.
The weatherman is calling for a 30% shot at a passing thunderstorm this afternoon in St. Louis. That forecast also includes the thermometer climbing into the low-90s along with an 8-10 mph southerly wind (out to LF).
This is an incredible burden to place on a rookie hurler, even one as good as Wacha, and my gut says the Bucs' 3-game skid ends today. Pittsburgh as the road 'dog for my free MLB play.
My pick: Pirates +134 at Bet365
By: Willie Bee
So much for the St. Louis Cardinals being in an offensive slump, the Redbirds put a 12-spot on the board in Friday's series opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the eventual 12-7 victory for the Cards left the two teams just a half-game apart at the top of the NL Central.
St. Louis is chalked up around the -165 level on the MLB odds to move ahead of the Pirates behind Adam Wainwright. Pittsburgh counters with Jeff Locke in a game that is carrying a 7.5 run total.
Friday's triumph was St. Louis' eighth straight with Joe Kelly on the mound, the Cards averaging more than 7.5 runs per game for the righty in that span. Matt Carpenter and Jon Jay combined for five hits and each scored three times to boost what had been a sagging Cardinals attack.
Locke & Wainwright Both In Rebound Mode
A key part of the Pirates' success early on, Locke has struggled the past five weeks or so and is searching for his first victory since July 21. The little lefty has posted an ERA in excess of 8.00 in his last six assignments, failing to work six full innings in any of them though the Pirates have managed to split those games in the W-L columns.
Locke only made it through four innings on July 31 when he faced off against Wainwright and the Cards, but Pittsburgh rallied to take him off the hook with a 5-4 victory. He threw a dandy here in St. Louis in late-April, tossing seven shutout frames and allowing only three hits in a 9-0 Pirates win.
Wainwright has to be happy about not seeing the Reds in the batter's box following his last two trips to the mound. Cincinnati pasted him in back-to-back starts, including this past Monday in the series opener with a 6-IP, 6 ER linescore. He had helped the Cardinals to three straight wins before the recent two outings vs. Cincy, one of those a 4-3 decision over the Pirates that went 14 innings. St. Louis has split his last four starts vs. Pittsburgh while Wainwright pitched to a 6.23 ERA.
Behind The Plate, Mother Nature & A Pick
A quick check of Larry Vanover's record reveals a 12-12 O/U mark, but looking a little deeper we find the 20-year veteran umpire has seen his last five plate assignments go past the total. Home chalk is also running in the red at 7-12.
There is a slight chance of rain this evening in Arch City, but it's expected to hold off until after the game. First pitch should find the thermometer in the mid-to-upper 80s with a light SSW breeze (out to left-center).
I anticipate seeing the Adam Wainwright we've come to know in this one, and offer up my free pick on the St. Louis run line.
My pick: Cardinals -1.5 (+135) at Bet365
By: Willie Bee
Mike Matheny and the St. Louis Cardinals are hoping a little home cooking helps break them out of a recent slide. Fresh off a 2-5 road trip, and having dropped six of their last eight to division rivals, the Cardinals begin a 9-game homestand tonight with a chance to tighten up the NL Central race against the 1st-place Pittsburgh Pirates.
Friday's opener pits old against young as veteran AJ Burnett is up next for the Bucs opposite Joe Kelly of the Cards. Only 1.5 games divide the two clubs in the standings, and the MLB odds for Game 1 are equally close with St. Louis -110 for a consensus moneyline after opening a bit higher. At least one MLB betting shop has swung the odds around ever-so-slightly in favor of Pittsburgh, and the duel is carrying a 7.5 run total (O-115).
It's the final series between the teams on the regular season schedule, and quite possibly the last chance for them to prove who deserves the 2013 division flag. Pittsburgh definitely has the tougher schedule the rest of the way, stopping in Texas early next week to complete this trip plus two more series vs. the Reds, third in the NL Central just three behind the Pirates. St. Louis has just one more team with a winning record on its slate once the Bucs leave town, a home series with the Nationals.
Kelly Looks To Stay Hot Against Hard-Luck Burnett
By all rights, Burnett should be sporting better than the 7-9 record he brings into Friday's tilt, and the Bucs should most certainly own a better mark than 11-14 with the righty on the hill. Burnett's 3.09 ERA ranks in the top 25 of all MLB hurlers, his 172 K's are tied for 16th-most and he leads the Pittsburgh staff with 15 quality efforts.
But while the Pirates haven't taken advantage of Burnett overall this year, they have done so when he takes the mound against St. Louis. Burnett picked up the dubya last Saturday in a 7-1 triumph over the Cardinals, tossing seven frames and allowing one run, leaving the Bucs 4-1 in his five assignments vs. St. Louis while he has posted a 2.59 ERA. No Cardinal hitter has taken him deep yet in 2013, and they've managed to bat just .188 against Burnett.
As good as Burnett has been when facing the Redbirds, Kelly has been even more impressive since moving into the St. Louis rotation prior to the all-star break. The Cardinals are 9-1 behind him in that stretch, the lone defeat a 2-0 setback in Atlanta where Kelly didn't allow a run in his 6.1 IP. The Anaheim native followed that up with six shutout innings against the Pirates on Aug. 1, a 13-0 St. Louis shellacking to keep the Cards from being swept in a long 5-game set.
Kelly also got the win over the Bucs last Sunday to avoid another broom job. Including three relief appearances against the Pirates earlier this season, Kelly owns a 2.93 ERA vs. Pittsburgh with just one long ball in more than 15 innings.
Pirates Hope To Continue Recent Dominance Of Cards
The season series belongs to the Pirates, 10-6, and they've now won 17 of the last 26 meetings with the Cardinals. Remarkably, four of Pittsburgh's wins this year have come at the expense of St. Louis rookie Shelby Miller who pitched Wednesday night in Cincinnati and won't be appearing in this set.
The clubs have halved the previous six games at Busch Stadium III, the OVER cashing four of the games with another pushing the total. Pittsburgh is 61-73-5 O/U/P on the campaign, six of the last 10 road tilts never reaching the mark; St. Louis stands 70-65-5 with the totals splitting the last eight at home.
Except for a slight chance of a t-storm or two on Sunday, the weather looks fine for the weekend. Friday evening should find it a warm and muggy 83º at first pitch, but under clear skies with a 6-9 mph breeze from the SSE (out to left).
The Cardinals have watched their offense fall off the last week, in part due to playing the Pirates and Reds. With their bats in a slump, and facing a pitcher who has helped beat them in four of five starts already, I'm going to go with the Pirates as small road 'dogs for my Friday free baseball pick.
My pick: Pirates +101 at Bet365