With the excitement of the All-Star game behind us, it is now time to focus on the home stretch of baseball. Every team is trying to decide whether they are a contender or a pretender prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Thursday’s game features a for sure contender, and another that is trying to figure out what they are, as the St. Louis Cardinals (48-46) will travel to Wrigley Field to take on the Chicago Cubs (55-38). After firing Mike Matheny, new manager Mike Shildt takes the helm of the Cardinals. He will be sending out ace Carlos Martinez (6-5, 3.08 ERA) to take on Cubs’ righty Kyle Hendricks (6-8, 3.92 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 pm ET.
The moneyline for Friday’s game is set at the St. Louis Cardinals +138 and the Chicago Cubs -148.
Cardinals Start New Era Post-Mike Matheny
After starting out the month of July 6-7, the Cardinals now find themselves 7.5 games behind the first place Cubs in the NL Central and 4 games back in the wild card race. The season is not over yet, but with 7 of their first 10 games after the break being against the Chicago Cubs, this will really be the make or break point of the season.
Hoping to get off to a good start, Carlos Martinez will be taking the ball on Thursday. On the season, he is 6-5 with a 3.08 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and opponents are hitting .231 against him. In 90.2 innings, he has 87 strikeouts, but has also allowed 47 walks. If he hopes to compete against the tough lineup of the Cubs, he is going to have to limit the free bases.
Offensively, the Cardinals really need to get Marcell Ozuna going. On the season, he is hitting .268/.309/.385 with a .693 OPS. He has 10 home runs, 49 runs batted in, and 38 runs scored. After acquiring him in the offseason to be a middle of the order threat, Ozuna has not delivered on his breakout season from last year. One player who has seen his early season funk turn around is Matt Carpenter. In the last 30 days, he is hitting .346/.480/.765 with a 1.246 OPS. In that time he has 8 home runs, 16 runs batted in and 24 runs scored.
Now That They Have Lead, Cubs Hope To Runaway With NL Central
It is amazing what one weekend can do. After looking up at the Milwaukee Brewers in the standings for most of the season, the Cubs have catapulted themselves into first place, currently holding a 2.5 game lead. This is all in thanks to them sweeping the Padres last weekend and the Brewers losing six straight games, including a five game sweep by the Pirates. Now that they have the lead, the Cubs hope to never give it up again.
To start the second half, the Cubs will send out Kyle Hendricks to the bump. On the season, Hendricks is 6-8 with a 3.92 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and opponents are hitting .245 against him. He has 83 strikeouts in 110.1 innings pitched and has allowed 31 walks. What has hurt him this season is the long ball. On the season he has allowed 17 home runs. Even though he did not have a great start to the season, Hendricks has looked much better as of late. In his last three starts, he has gone a combined 18.1 innings and has allowed just 5 earned runs. With a starting staff that has been inconsistent thus far this season, getting Hendricks back on track could be a huge plus for the Cubs down the stretch.
Offensively, it has been pretty impressive what Javy Baez has been able to do. On the season, he is hitting .292/.326/.566 with a .892 OPS. He has 19 home runs and 72 runs batted in (both lead the team). With Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo having struggles throughout the season, he has been a big lift for the Cubs.
Cubs Take Game One
Both Carlos Martinez and Kyle Hendricks have seen plenty of the opposition over their careers. With that in mind, there are a handful of players on both sides that have had success against the pitchers. For the Cubs, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Ian Happ, Addison Russell and Anthony Rizzo have taken Martinez deep. For Rizzo, he has actually homered three times off the righty. For the Cardinals, Carpenter has homered twice and Jedd Gyorko and Marcell Ozuna have each gotten Hendricks once.
There isn’t going to be much in the way of mystery here. Each team knows what the other has and both teams are familiar with the opposing pitchers. For that reason, I have to go with the team that has been playing better as of late and that is the Cubs. I will say Carlos Martinez has the ability to dominate a game, but he also has the ability to be out after just four or five innings, especially with the command issues he has had this season. For that reason, when betting, the smart play is with the Cubs. Take them -148.