Sept. 22 MLB Picks and Preview — St. Louis Cardinals (88-67) at Chicago Cubs (82-73)

(Paul DeJong photo courtesy Jon Durr/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: Sunday, Sept. 22, Wrigley Field, Chicago, Ill., 2:20 p.m. EDT.

It may not be a kill shot, but the St. Louis Cardinals can eliminate the Chicago Cubs from contention for the NL Central title and deal them another crippling blow to their wild-card chances Sunday if they complete a four-game sweep at the Friendly Confines.

Mikolas hoping for any type of run support versus Cubs

The Cardinals (88-67) lead the Cubs by six games with seven to play heading into this contest after a wild 9-8 victory Saturday for their fourth straight win. Yadier Molina and Paul DeJong hit back-to-back homers on back-to-back pitches off closer Craig Kimbrel to start the ninth inning in a back-and-forth contest that featured six lead changes.

“We’ve seen resilience all year,” manager Mike Shildt told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Can’t be surprised by it but we proved it yet again. That’s how we play the game — play the game the whole way. We were down three times kept fighting back. This team cares and it fights.”

Miles Mikolas (9-14, 4.29 ERA) will not try to help St. Louis complete the sweep and end Chicago’s division hopes. That may be difficult, though, because the Cardinals have given the right-hander exactly one run of support in three previous matchups this season.

Mikolas is 0-2 in those starts despite a 2.16 ERA and yielding four earned runs in 16 1-3 innings. He was a tough-luck loser at home to the Cubs on July 31, conceding only an unearned run in 5 2-3 innings of a 2-0 defeat. Since returning to the U.S. last year, Mikolas is 3-2 with a 1.69 ERA in seven starts versus Chicago, including 1-1 with a 2.65 ERA in three at Wrigley Field.

Victor Caratini is 4 for 9 with a pair of doubles versus Mikolas, but Kyle Schwarber is 1 for 12 with four strikeouts. Javy Baez, who has been restricted to pinch-running and pinch-hitting duties in this series since his surprising return despite a fractured thumb, has taken Mikolas deep twice while going 4 for 18.

Second baseman Kolten Wong is likely to miss a third straight game with a strained hamstring suffered in Thursday night’s 5-4 win.

Darvish tries to salvage series finale for Cubs

The Cubs (82-73) have dropped five straight after winning the first four games on this 10-game homestand. They have fallen three games behind the Milwaukee Brewers for the second wild-card spot with seven games left and close their season with three-game series at Pittsburgh and St. Louis next week.

“I felt like I made two competitive pitches like I wanted to, and they went out,” Kimbrel told the Chicago Sun-Times. “It’s just frustrating. That’s the only thing I can say.”

The Cubs now turn to Yu Darvish (6-7, 4.02) to keep their division hopes alive while trying to gain ground on the Brewers. The right-hander’s outing Tuesday night against Cincinnati typified his season — stretches of lights-out pitching with just enough mistakes to prove costly.

Darvish set a franchise record with eight consecutive strikeouts and finished with 13 in seven innings, but he was unable to overcome a three-run first inning in which he allowed a two-run homer to Aristides Aquino in Chicago’s 4-2 loss to the Reds.

“Yu’s on quite a run right now,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon told the club’s official website, referring to Darvish’s 27 Ks in his last two starts. “I don’t even know if some of that stuff’s been done before. But, unfortunately, their guy is really good, too. In spite of us really swinging the bats well lately, Sonny (Gray) did a nice job also.”

The righty has also lacked run support in this matchup, getting two runs in his last two matchups and seven in three overall while going 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA. Darvish allowed a sixth-inning homer to Paul Goldschmidt in his last matchup July 30, and that proved decisive in Chicago’s 2-1 defeat.

Goldschmidt is 3 for 15 with eight strikeouts versus Darvish, while Saturday heroes DeJong and Molina are a combined 0 for 8.

Notable Trends

The Cubs are:

  • 0-6 in their last six games vs. above-.500 teams.
  • 2-5 in Darvish’s last seven starts vs. above-.500 teams.
  • 1-4 in Darvish’s last five starts vs. NL Central teams.

The Cardinals are:

  • 5-1 in Mikolas’ last six Sunday starts.
  • 28-10 in their last 38 games vs. NL Central teams.
  • 5-2 in Mikolas’ last seven road starts vs. above-.500 teams.

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

Darvish OVER 7.5 strikeouts (-109)

There are very few times a player prop bet warrants an all-in proposition, but Darvish’s ability to mow down hitters for stretches justifies an all-in pick here. He is averaging 10.29 strikeouts per nine innings since the All-Star break and also fanned nine in six innings in his last matchup versus the Cardinals.

St. Louis hitters have racked up eight or more strikeouts in 10 consecutive games, reaching double figures eight times in that span, and the stretches Darvish has been on over his last two strikeouts have bordered on ridiculous because he turns virtually unhittable.

****4-Star Picks****

Cardinals ML (+155)

This series has been a microcosm of these teams’ respective seasons — the Cardinals figuring out how to scrape out wins while the Cubs come just close enough to fall short. While Mikolas has not often shown the form of his 18-win 2018, he has been plenty tough on the Cubs since returning stateside.

Darvish is a conundrum all by himself because there are stretches where he makes hitters look absolutely foolish, and within the same game, there will be a run of three or four batters where he will be wild in the strike zone and pay dearly for it. For this game, it is just difficult to envision Chicago bouncing back after how it lost Saturday, which makes the Cardinals the pick to complete the sweep.

UNDER 7 runs first 5 innings (-115)

Once more tempting fate with taking the under and the wind blowing out, especially since one of Darvish’s starts versus the Cardinals at Wrigley was a 5-all stalemate after five, but otherwise, the under has dominated the other five outings he and Mikolas have been involved. In those other five outings, the teams combined for all of nine runs over the first five innings.

***3-Star Picks***

UNDER 12.5 runs (-115)

Taking the under when the wind is blowing out at Wrigley is equal parts brave and foolish, but both pitchers have done well to deliver the under of late.

The under is 9-2-1 in Mikolas’ last 12 starts against NL Central foes, 10-1-2 in his last 13 versus teams with a winning record, and hit in each of his last five starts against Chicago.

The under has hit in Darvish’s last four starts and gone 6-1 in his last seven versus division rivals.

Cardinals +0.5 runs 1st 5 innings (-105)

This pick is as close to a toss-up as you can get — the Cardinals were 0-1-2 at the midway point in Mikolas’ three starts versus the Cubs, and Chicago was tied with St. Louis in all three of Darvish’s matchups. So that makes momentum the tiebreaker, helped by a reasonable return in addition to the Cardinals getting the half-run.

Cardinals OVER 2.5 runs first 5 innings (-121)

This pick is a concession to the wind blowing out as well as Darvish’s tendency to occasionally flip off for a couple of batters at points during games. Darvish has given up 22 home runs in the first four innings and a combined 4.76 ERA in the fourth and fifth innings, so the Cardinals are worth a flyer here.


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