An important series inside the NL Central gets underway Friday night when the St. Louis Cardinals visit the Pittsburgh Pirates. The two teams are separated by just 1.5 games inside a crowded NL Central. The St. Louis Cardinals are -136 on Friday.
St. Louis heads to the Steel City with a fair amount of momentum. The Cards are coming off a 13-inning comeback win over the might Mets on Thursday, giving them 10 wins in their last 12 games. Of course, seven of those 10 wins came against the lowly Reds.
The Pirates, meanwhile, have lost seven of their last 10 games, despite taking the last two games of their series against the Tigers. Outside of scoring 18 runs during Wednesday’s doubleheader with the Tigers, the Pirates have been inept offensively during that 10-game span.
Friday’s starter for the Cardinals, Miles Mikolas, has been one of the team’s biggest surprises early in the year. After spending three years in Japan, Mikolas has returned to the big leagues and gone 3-0 with a 3.46 ERA in his first four starts of the season. That being said, two of those wins came against the Reds. In two starts against the Brewers, he allowed eight runs over 12 innings, which is far less impressive.
Facing the Pirates will certainly be more difficult than the Reds for Mikolas. Despite Pittsburgh’s struggles over the last 10 days, the Pirates have scored the second-most runs in the National League this season. The likes of Starling Marte, Corey Dickerson, Colin Moran, and most surprisingly, Francisco Cervelli have all had impressive starts to the season. Pittsburgh doesn’t have the deepest lineup, but they have enough guys to challenge Mikolas more than the Reds have in his last two starts.
Give Me the Lefty
The Pirates will send the only lefty in their rotation, Steven Brault, to the mound to face the Cardinals Friday night. He’s been inconsistent from one start to the next this season, going 2-1 with a 4.44 ERA. But while his overall numbers are mediocre, opposing batters are hitting just .221 against him this year. Brault’s biggest problem has been hurting himself with walks. If he can fix that problem, he should be more consistent and able to get deeper into games.
Offensively, a slew of Cardinals has disappointed this season, most notably Dexter Fowler, Matt Carpenter, and Kolten Wong. However, the Cardinals could end up sitting a couple of those against Brault in favor of right-hand hitters. St. Louis is also getting a ton of production out of Tommy Pham, Paul DeJong, and others.
Red Birds Staying Red Hot
The Cardinals have found a groove, and a trip to Pittsburgh this weekend isn’t going to change that. Neither starter in this matchup is likely to deliver an ace-like performance, so Mikolas and Brault should balance each other out. Meanwhile, St. Louis has the better bullpen and a lineup that’s starting to put it together. Take the STL Cardinals -136 on Friday.