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National League Battle: Cardinals Host Pittsburgh in Divisional Affair

National League betting preview, National League sports picks, National League betting odds

After losing three straight games and nine of their last 11 overall, the Cardinals got back on track with a much-needed 2-1 win over Pittsburgh on Monday.  St. Louis right-hander Mike Leake toes the rubber in excellent form, posting a 0.60 ERA and 0.73 WHIP in his first two starts of 2017.

Leake is a control artist who has induced sixteen outs on the ground in 15 innings of work, and his career 50.7% ground ball rate suggests that more groundouts will be in his future.

The 29-year-old is coming off a disappointing 2016 campaign where he finished with a 4.69 ERA, but his underlying peripherals were much better than his surface statistics.  Leake finished with a 3.83 FIP, 3.76 xFIP and 3.92 SIERA last season, together with an elite 4.0% walk rate.

However, the command specialist suffered bad luck with battled balls in play (.318) and finished with an uncharacteristic strand rate (65.6%).  Leake owns a career .292 BABIP and a 73.4% strand rate so he is poised for a bounce back year in 2017.

Pittsburgh enters Game 2 of this series with a struggling offense that is averaging just 3.6 runs per game this season (.294 OBP; .639 OPS), including garnering just 2.0 runs per game at night (.244 OBP; .470 OPS).

The concern, of course, is the Cardinals’ underperforming bullpen that owns a 7.18 ERA and 1.73 WHIP, including a 6.51 ERA and 1.55 WHIP at home and an 8.14 ERAS and 1.85 WHIP at night. Leake may also get very little run support from a St. Louis lineup that’s averaging just 3.0 runs per game at home, 2.7 runs per game at night and 3.0 runs per game versus National League Central foes.

Pittsburgh sends right-hander Chad Kuhl to the mound, who owns a 2.38 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in 11 1/3 innings pitched.  Despite having a solid ERA, Kuhl’s peripherals tell a different story: 4.92 xFIP, 4.43 SIERA, 12.2% walk rate and a 48.4% fly ball rate (compared to a 36.1% FB% in 2016).

Kuhl is also 0-1 with a 6.43 ERA and 2.28 WHIP in two career starts against the Cardinals, both of which came last year.  Technically speaking, the Pirates are a money-burning 1-4 in Kuhl’s last five starts against National League Central opponents and 1-5 in Kuhl’s last six starts following a team loss.

Pittsburgh is just 2-6 in its last eight road games versus right-handed starters, 3-8 in its last 11 road affairs, 4-10 in its last 14 games versus divisional rivals, 8-20 in its last 28 games following a loss and 1-7 in its last eight games after scoring two runs or less in its previous game.

St. Louis owns a perfect 5-0 mark at home in this series and gets an assist from umpire Gary Cederstrom, who is 24-8 in favor of the home team in his last 32 games behind home plate.  The Cardinals are an 80% winning proposition at home with Cederstrom calling balls and strikes.

Finally, St. Louis applies to a very good 70-20 system of mine that invests on certain starting pitchers with elite command versus opponents with below-average on base percentages.

Take the St. Louis Cardinals in this National League affair as Oskeim Sports’ Free Pick for Tuesday, April 18.

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