While the Brewers, Cubs, and Reds battle it out for the NL Central crown, the Pirates and Cardinals are in a battle to avoid last place in the division. With the two teams meeting tonight in St. Louis to start a three-game weekend series, we’ll preview the opening game before going over my play for the first five innings.
Heading into this week, the Cardinals had not won a series since August 14-16th, but they were able to change that on Wednesday by taking the rubber game of a three-game series with the Padres. In order to win 5-4 and take the series, the Cardinals' offense needed to come up with some late-inning magic, and they were able to do just that. Down 4-3 entering the bottom of the 9th, Tommy Edman would drive a ball opposite field for the game-winning two-run home run off Josh Hader.
Following their off day, the Cardinals open this divisional series tonight with Dakota Hudson on the bump. In his most recent outing, Hudson was roughed up by the Phillies lineup, allowing five earned runs on six hits in 5.2 innings of work. That outing ended a streak of four straight wins for the Cardinals right-hander, bringing his ERA to 4.41 in 49 innings of work.
Hudson will face a Pirates team tonight that not only beat the Cardinals in a series recently but is fresh off a three-game sweep over the Royals. With a 4-1 win on Wednesday, Pittsburgh won their third straight, and it was powered by the bats of Bryan Reynolds and Jack Suwinski, who both left the yard. Pittsburgh would also get a strong start from Andre Jackson, who went 5.2 innings with one earned run allowed and seven strikeouts.
As the team looks to extend their win streak, Mitch Keller will take the ball to open the series. After hitting a rough stretch, Keller has responded with three straight impressive outings. The last time he took the mound against the Cubs, the right-hander racked up six strikeouts in eight shutout innings.
Pittsburgh’s F5 moneyline is priced at (-110), and I’ll be backing them for my play. Having the edge in terms of starting pitching is key in F5 bets, and Pittsburgh has it today with Keller going for them. Offensively, while the Pirates are not the first team that comes to mind when it comes to scoring potential, but their advanced numbers on the road as of late have been promising and could challenge a struggling starter in Dakota Hudson.
The Pirates are hitting .232 over the past month against righties on the road, but if you look deeper than just batting average, they rank 12th in SLG, 10th in hard hit percentage, and 9th in wRC+, wOBA, and OPS. That production can certainly challenge Hudson since he is in the 20th percentile in expected batting average, 13th percentile in xERA, and has a 5.20 FIP during the second half of the season.
St. Louis doesn’t have terrible numbers against right-handed pitching at home over the past month, ranking 14th in OPS and wOBA, but Mitch Keller is much more suited to take them on than Hudson is the Pirates lineup. Keller enters tonight in the 82nd percentile in hard hit percentage, 62nd percentile in xERA, and has a 3.48 xFIP on the road.
Pittsburgh Pirates F5 (-110)