July 31 MLB Preview — Chicago Cubs (56-50) at St. Louis Cardinals (57-49)

(Paul Goldschmidt photo courtesy Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports)

This is the full preview(s) as seen on the Winners and Whiners and Stat Salt websites. The confidence rating for all picks on a scale from 1 to 5 is in parentheses.

Note: The 5/5 does NOT represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick(s) from each individual game.

When and Where: Wednesday, July 31, Busch Stadium, St. Louis, Mo., 8:15 p.m. EDT.

Two of the few instances run support, or lack thereof was not a factor for Kyle Hendricks this season was when he faced the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Chicago Cubs right-hander seeks a third win in as many starts and eighth straight victory overall against his NL Central rivals Wednesday night when their showdown for the division lead continues at Busch Stadium.

Hendricks looks to end funk, get some help offensively

Hendricks (7-8, 3.26) has the seventh-lowest run support average in the National League at 3.89 runs per start, ranking directly behind Wednesday’s scheduled Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas.

The Cubs did not go above and beyond for the right-hander in his two starts against St. Louis this year, plating four runs in both. It proved to be more than enough on both occasions as Hendricks has limited the Cardinals to one run and 12 hits over 16 innings and fired a four-hitter on May 3 for his third career shutout.

Hendricks is looking to end a personal four-game losing streak that spans six starts since his most recent win over the Cardinals on June 9. He has a 3.99 ERA during his winless spell, and Chicago’s offense has backed him with only nine runs.

Hendricks did his part Friday night in Milwaukee, scattering two hits and two walks in five innings, and the Cubs gave him a chance for a victory with two runs in the sixth. The bullpen, however, let him down as Chicago absorbed a 3-2 defeat.

The two victories earlier this season gave Hendricks a four-start winning streak against the Cardinals, and the righty is 7-0 with a 2.33 ERA in his last 11 starts versus St. Louis. That includes a 3-0 mark and 2.08 ERA in four outings at Busch Stadium, with five of the six runs scored in those games coming on home runs.

Hendricks will not miss facing Marcell Ozuna, who began a rehab assignment this week after being sidelined a month with a fractured finger. Ozuna is 12 for 29 (.414) with two homers in their matchups.

Chicago added another bullpen arm Tuesday ahead of the trade deadline, acquiring right-hander David Phelps from the Toronto Blue Jays for minor league pitching prospect Thomas Hatch. Phelps had no record and a 3.63 ERA in 17 appearances for the Blue Jays after missing all of 2018 following Tommy John surgery.

Over the weekend, the Cubs acquired veteran lefty Derek Holland from the San Francisco Giants.

Mikolas aiming for back-to-back winning starts for only second time

It has been a trying season for Mikolas (7-10, 4.19) after he stunned the majors with 18 wins in 2018 following his return from Japan. The right-hander, though, has won two of his three starts since the All-Star break and pitched at least six innings in all of them.

Mikolas beat Pittsburgh on Thursday night, yielding three runs in six innings of a 6-3 victory. Manager Mike Shildt let him work his way through sixth-inning trouble, but the right-hander still finished with an efficient performance on 81 pitches.

That has not been the case against the Cubs this year — Mikolas is 0-1 with a 3.27 ERA in two starts, giving up four runs in 11 innings. The Cardinals also gave him just one run to work within those outings.

Mikolas fared much better against the Cubs last year, going 3-0 with a 1.38 ERA in four starts. Javy Baez has taken Mikolas deep twice while going 4 for 15, and catcher Victor Caratini is 4 for 9 with a pair of doubles.

Notable Trends

The Cardinals are:

  • 8-2 in Mikolas’ last 10 home starts vs. above-.500 teams.
  • 13-5 in Mikolas’ last 18 home starts.
  • 12-3 in Mikolas’ last 15 starts vs. above-.500 teams.

The Cubs are:

  • 1-4 in Hendricks’ last five starts vs. NL Central teams.
  • 0-4 in Hendricks’ last four road starts.
  • 8-20 in their last 28 road games.

*****5-Star Pick*****

Cubs UNDER 4 runs (-121)

Tuesday night’s loss marked the seventh time in eight games the Cubs have been held to four or fewer runs, and in 13 of their last 16 road games. Mikolas’ strong track record at home and improved pitching since the All-Star break offers plenty of confidence, as well as a bullpen that has yielded just five runs in 21 innings over the last five games.

****4-Star Pick****

UNDER 4 runs first 5 innings (-105)

The flat number makes this a pick with some bravado, but the five-inning under is 7-1-1 in Hendricks’ last nine starts and hit in both his starts versus St. Louis. The under is 7-3-1 in Mikolas’ last 11 starts overall and also delivered in both of the righty’s matchups versus the Cubs.

The under is also 3-1-1 in Chicago’s last five games and 3-1 in St. Louis’ last four, but this is more about the expectation of a pitchers’ duel and low-scoring contest taking place in this contest.

***3-Star Picks***

Cardinals ML (Even)

While the head-to-head trend clearly favors Hendricks when it comes to facing the Cardinals, the Cubs’ year-long struggles on the road makes this closer to a toss-up pick. Additionally, the Cardinals appear to be hitting their stride while turning the NL Central into a three-team race.

Mikolas is only 5-4 at home, but he is sporting a 2.15 ERA at Busch Stadium and has recorded seven straight quality starts there. He also has conceded only two runs in 27 innings over his last four outings in St. Louis.

This has the feel of a game that could be decided by the bullpens, and with Cardinals relievers going 6-1 with a 3.41 ERA and 10 saves in their last 16 games, the home team gets the nod.

UNDER 8 runs (-105)

Both teams and both pitchers are trending solidly with the under. Despite Chicago’s road struggles, the under is 6-2-1 in its last nine outside Wrigley Field and was 10-2-1 in its last 13 overall.

Hendricks has helped deliver the under in four of his last five road starts and has pitched well enough that the under is 7-2 in his last nine road starts against above-.500 teams. The under is also 22-7 in his last 29 outings versus NL Central foes.

The under improved to 7-1 in the last eight meetings after Monday’s low-scoring tilt and also hit in Mikolas’ last four starts versus the Cubs. The under is 6-1 during Mikolas’ stellar run at home and is 21-6 in St. Louis’ last 27 home games.

Watch this line carefully since it opened at 8.5 runs before ticking down. The hook makes a huge difference in the confidence rating for this pick, so if you can find this over/under at 8.5 runs, that is a far stronger play than going back and forth at 8-flat.

Cardinals -0.5 runs first 5 innings (+130)

Fun fact: Not only has the road team failed to win any of the 10 meetings between the teams, the road team has yet to lead at the midway point in any of those contests as well. The home team is 6-0-4 after five innings thus far, and with the Cubs 0-3-1 at that juncture in Hendricks’ last four road starts, the alternate run line offered courtesy PointsBet.com is worth a play here.

UNDER 0.5 runs/NO 1st inning run (-110)

Both pitchers have been sold in the first inning their respective home and away roles of late. Hendricks has conceded just one run in the opening frame of his last seven road starts, while Mikolas has been nicked just once in his previous nine at Busch Stadium.

While Javy Baez did hit a two-run homer off Mikolas in the bottom of the first at Wrigley, the home pitcher has recorded goose eggs in all three corresponding starts in the head-to-head matchups.

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