The battle for the NL Central crown is not much of one with the Cardinals taking the first two games from the Pirates, and we now look for more runs in the series finale Thursday.
There could be a higher scoring game than the posted total suggests Thursday night when southpaw Francisco Liriano and the Pittsburgh Pirates (65-46, 26-28 away) pay a visit to right-hander Lance Lynn and the St. Louis Cardinals (73-40, 42-16 home) in the final game of a three-game series from Busch Stadium in St. Louis, MO at 7:15 ET in a game televised nationally on MLB Network.
The posted total at Pinnacle Sports is 6½ for this contest with the current odds on the ‘over’ set at -119.
Two Best Records in National League
Although these teams both reside in the National League Central, these clubs actually own the two best records in the National League, and in fact the division boasts the three best MLB picks in the league this year with even the third place Chicago Cubs owning a better record than either of the other two division leaders! Of course that is bad news for the Pirates and Cubs, as despite their great records they are on course to meet in the single-elimination Wild Card Game.
The Pirates had a chance to close the gap between themselves and the team with the best record in all of baseball in the Cardinals in this series, but the St. Louis would have none of that to this point taking the first two games, pushing Pittsburgh seven games back. The prospects of catching the Cardinals appear bleak in any case, but a series sweep here would almost certainly have the Pirates wild card bound.
Roughed Up by Pirates Last Time
One bit of good news for the Pirates is that Lynn did not exactly fool Pittsburgh hitters the last time he faced them July 10th, as he was roughed up for five earned runs on nine hits while lasting just four innings. Lynn has not had too many outings that bad while going 9-6 with a spiffy 2.76 ERA for the season, but the reality is that he has not really pitched quite as well as the ERA suggests.
Besides the more ordinary 1.27 WHIP suggesting that Lynn has been pitching around men on base, Lynn has benefitted from an abnormally high 80.7 percent strand rate that does not figure to go on much longer, and while he does have a good strikeout rate with 136 punch-outs in 127.1 innings, he is also responsible for the mediocre WHIP with his 3.11 walks per nine innings, all helping lead to a 3.46 xFIP, which while still good, is well above the ERA.
And Lynn’s last start vs. the Pirates was not really out of the ordinary as he has a career 4.74 ERA and 1.44 WHIP against them over 17 appearances.
High Walk Rate for Liriano Too
Now, Liriano is a deceptive 7-6 when considering his 3.13 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and excellent 144 strikeouts in 129.1 innings, but he has been in bad form over his last two starts, first allowing 10 hits in 5.2 innings vs. the Twins in Minnesota and then lasting only three innings vs. the Dodgers on Saturday, surrendering four earned runs on seven hits plus two walks.
Liriano is not outperforming his peripherals to the extent that Lynn is, but there is still some room for regression. The most obvious red flags for Liriano are his 3.06 walks per nine innings and his fairly low .275 BABIP allowed. His aforementioned recent struggles are also a concern, and the Cardinals are one team you do not want to help along by issuing walks.
Also, the Pittsburgh infield defense leaves a lot to be desired these days as they had Pedro Alvarez at first base, Aramis Ramirez at third base and Jung Ho Kang at shortstop last night, and that could offset the fact that Liriano has an excellent groundball rate of 53.4 percent.
Trending the ‘over’
Finally, the ‘over’ is 7-2 in Lynn’s last nine home starts vs. Pirates. Additionally, the ‘over’ is 20-8-3 in the Pirates’ last 31 games vs. teams with winning records, as well as 5-2 in the Cardinals’ last seven games with the total set at 6½ or lower.
Look for those ‘over’ patterns to continue with both starting pitchers outperforming their peripherals when Pittsburgh visits St. Louis on Thursday.
MLB Pick: Pirates, Cardinals ‘over’ 6½ (-119)