MLB Regular Season

Matchup: St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates

Date/Time: July 9, 7:05 p.m. ET

Pitching Matchup: Carlos Martinez (9-3, 2.70) vs. Jeff Locke (5-4, 4.15)

MLB Betting Odds From BetDSI Sportsbook

Moneyline: St. Louis -110

Total: 7

The biggest series of the final weekend of the first half of the Major League Baseball season begins on Thursday night when the Pittsburgh Pirates host the St. Louis Cardinals. The first two teams to 50 victories are these NL Central rivals and the Pirates have cut the gap in the division down to 4.5 games. Since starting the season 1-2, the Cardinals are 26 games over .500. The Pirates got off to a slow start with an 18-22 mark after their first 40 games. Since then, they are 32-12 and ride a five-game winning streak into this series.

The Cardinals have taken four of the first six this season, but they have have all been close. The Cardinals swept the Pirates at Busch Stadium to start the month of May with three straight walk-off wins in extra innings. The Pirates took two of three at PNC Park the following week. St. Louis had a nine-game lead in the NL Central after their June 28 win over the Cubs, but they have since given back 4.5 games in the standings to the Pirates.

Both of these teams have had some offensive problems throughout the season. Including pitchers, the Cardinals rank 15th in wOBA at .312 and rate a couple ticks below league average offensively with a 98 wRC+. The Pirates have a .305 wOBA and a 94 wRC+. Keep in mind that wRC+ is adjusted for park factor and PNC Park is not a very good hitter’s park. The Pirates have played, and won, a lot of close games this season. Both teams enter this game with an 18-13 record in one-run games and with great home records and decent road marks. The Cardinals are 31-11 at home and 24-19 on the road. The Pirates are 29-15 at home and 21-19 on the road.

Carlos Martinez will take the mound for the visiting Cardinals in this one. Questions about his durability and ability to withstand 200 innings still remain, but there are no questions about the caliber of his stuff. In 16 starts and one relief outing, Martinez has struck out over 25 percent of opposing batters en route to a 2.70 ERA with a 3.57 FIP and a 3.17 xFIP. Like most of the Cardinals starters, Martinez has benefitted greatly from one of the league’s elite defensive teams. That has allowed Martinez to strand 85 percent of his baserunners, a number that should probably come down throughout the remainder of the season. Martinez was shelled by the Pirates back on May 9 when he allowed seven earned on seven hits in just 5.1 innings. He walked four and struck out seven. Including his previous start against the Cubs, in which he also gave up seven runs, Martinez allowed 14 of the 30 earned runs he has allowed this season in a two-start span.

There isn’t a whole lot of confidence in Jeff Locke in the betting market, which is why this line is very interesting. Over 16 starts, Locke has a 4.15 ERA with a 3.76 FIP and a 3.82 xFIP. His strikeout rate is up a little bit this season, but so is his walk rate. The best improvement from 2014 to 2015 for Locke is that he has lowered his home run rate. An increase in velocity and an increase in pitching from ahead in the count have both been contributing factors. On the other hand, Locke’s fastball command is down this season. After allowing a .252/.354/.380 slash on his two-seamer last season, hitters are batting .305/.390/.440 this season. The increased velocity has taken away some of the movement and hitters have centered on it more often.

Pick: Pittsburgh Pirates

This line feels like a bit of a trap because Carlos Martinez is clearly the better pitcher. The Cardinals rank 25th in wOBA at .291 against left-handers this season, a problem that has plagued them for a few years now. This is undoubtedly a big series for both teams and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Cardinals remind everybody of their dominance in this division, but the odd line seems to be telling us something in this one.