Take the Road Favorite in Dodgers vs. Cardinals Matchup

Matthew Jordan

Sunday, July 20, 2014 12:30 PM GMT

Sunday night's matchup is the final time that the Dodgers and Cardinals will face off this season, but no one would be surprised if the two play October baseball against one another for the second straight year. L.A. is a -168 favorite on MLB odds.

Incomparable Kershaw
Sometimes the best athletes are the best because they are able to self-motivate themselves with perceived slights. Perhaps no athlete was better at this than Michael Jordan. I have a feeling that Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw might be a little more fired up than usual for Sunday night's start at Busch Stadium.

Why? The last two times he pitched there, he lost Game 2 and the clinching Game 6 of last year's NLCS. Game 2 you can't put on Kershaw as he allowed one unearned run over six innings, but L.A. was shut out. In Game 6, Kershaw was not himself. He was lit up for seven runs and 10 hits in four innings as the Dodgers' season ended in a 9-0 rout.

Kershaw is on a remarkable hot streak this season and has become the -250 favorite at sportsbooks for a third NL Cy Young Award as well as a legitimate NL MVP candidate at +900 on MLB odds with no one running away with that award in the Senior Circuit. Kershaw (11-2, 1.78) has won eight straight starts and has allowed more than one run just once. In some ways you can call his last start a disappointment and all he did was throw a complete-game three-hitter against San Diego, striking out 11. Alas, one of those hits was a sixth-inning solo homer by the Padres' Chase Headley. That ended Kershaw's scoreless innings streak at 41. It was the longest in baseball since 2007 and tied for fifth-longest in the expansion era (1961). Kershaw faced 19 batters with runners in scoring position during the streak and not one batter even got the ball out of the infield. Incredible. The Cardinals were part of the streak, getting blanked on five hits while striking out 13 times on June 29.

Kershaw has joined Sandy Koufax (1966) and Juan Marichal (1967) as the only pitchers in the modern era to win eight straight starts in one season and strike out at least seven in each. Randy Johnson did nine straight but it was at the end of the 1999 season and start of 2000.

The Cardinals' Allen Craig (5-for-19, home run, five RBIs) and Matt Carpenter (5-for-16, triple RBI) have had moderate career regular-season success off Kershaw.

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As For The Other Guy
It's highly-touted Carlos Martinez for the Cardinals. Dodgers fans might remember him from the NLCS when Martinez allowed one hit and struck out four in 4 2/3 innings in four appearances, holding Los Angeles hitters to a .077 batting average. Martinez made his first career start Aug. 8, 2013, against L.A., allowing four runs and seven hits over 4.2 innings in suffering his first big-league loss. Martinez (2-4, 4.43) didn't return to starting until mid-June this season. It was pretty much out of necessity with the injury suffered to Michael Wacha, whose return from a stress fracture in his shoulder is still TBA.

Martinez isn't very stretched out yet with a career high of six innings pitched. In his other five starts he hasn't gone more than five innings. Martinez has a 4.13 ERA in 28.1 innings as a starter. Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis is 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs against him. Dee Gordon is 3-for-5 with an RBI. Yasiel Puig has three singles in five at-bats against him.

It's a total shame that Cardinals manager Mike Matheny isn't going with Adam Wainwright, Kershaw's main competition for the Cy Young, in this game. It would make it perhaps the most "must-see" game of the season, at least until September. I wonder if ESPN higher-ups called the Cardinals brass and pleaded for Wainwright (not even kidding)? Of course Matheny started Wainwright over Kershaw in the All-Star Game and Wainwright gave up three runs in his one inning. He hasn't pitched otherwise since last Saturday so he's plenty rested. Matheny wants to give his horse extra rest, and that's his right. So basically he's screwing fans out of an incredible matchup. Sort of like what Spurs coach Gregg Popovich does at times when he randomly rests his Big 3.

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MLB Free Picks: It's generally ridiculous to take a road favorite at this price, especially at a good team, but how can you not with Kershaw? Also 'under' 6.5 runs at -105. I suppose you can point to the fact the Dodgers are 1-5 in Kershaw's past six against St. Louis, but I believe he's on a mission here.