Although we’re just a month and change into the MLB betting season, the St. Louis Cardinals have dug themselves a hole. They’re six games back in their division while sitting in the cellar of the wild-card race to boot. That said, is there buy-low value on the defending NL Central champs — and the favorites entering the 2023 season?
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Appraising Cardinals’ Futures Odds
After a ninth-inning collapse in Game 1 of the 2022 Wild-Card Series led to a Phillies’ sweep, St. Louis’ woes carried into this season. It began with the newly-signed Willson Contreras representing the scapegoat for the Cardinals’ pitching concerns. For a week-plus, Andrew Knizner was named the full-time backstop before Contreras reclaimed his role out of thin air.
To date, they’re tied for the ninth-highest FIP among all major-league rotations. John Mozeliak, the club’s president of baseball operations, did them no favors by failing to add a single notable hurler in the offseason. Combine that variable with an aging Adam Wainwright, along with the inconsistent Jack Flaherty and Steven Matz (to put it lightly).
Therefore, there are only two reliable names in the mix: Jordan Montgomery and Miles Mikolas. So what is alluring about their prospects of theoretically overtaking the Brewers for the division lead?
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Bats Living Up To Their Billing (On The Scoreboard)
From the start of the campaign through May 6, St. Louis’ offense tallied the third-highest hard hit rate across the majors (per FanGraphs). That certainly played a role towards their 10th-ranked wRC+. But despite those impressive marks, they managed to generate the 13th-fewest total runs during that stretch.
For a lineup that boasts the reigning NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt, seven-time All-Star Nolan Arenado, the aforementioned Contreras, the up-and-coming Nolan Gorman, and a bevy of talented outfielders, its shortcomings were quite peculiar — at least on the surface.
But as Mo Nuwwarah and I have repeatedly stated on the Beat The Closing Number podcast (see above), up-and-down productivity from individual pieces is common in a given season. That doesn’t necessarily indicate that it will continue. It’s just a matter of when it happens.
In essence, that’s negative variance. Arenado dealt with his fair share of it — and then some — throughout the Cardinals’ collective offensive dry spell. The perennial Gold Glove winner amassed an absurdly-low .098 ISO and .277 wOBA. However, there was also speculation that he was dealing with an undisclosed injury.
Albeit a small sample size, Arenado showcases the sixth-highest ISO (.476) ever since. That unequivocally correlates with his six home-run output over the last seven games. And make no mistake, Arenado’s torrid stretch coincides with the Cardinals’ offensive “turnaround,” winning eight of their last 10 contests.
Keep in mind, Gorman has delivered the league’s highest ISO (.545) amid this span. The 23-year-old infielder is profiting from a finer pitch selection because of Arenado’s resurgence.
Relatively Dependable Bullpen At Hand
Generally speaking, St. Louis’ relief core represents the most stable aspect of its rocky start overall. Not only does it possess the seventh-lowest collective FIP among all bullpens, but it’s also yielded the eighth-highest BABIP. That’s usually a sign of negative luck.
Cardinals closer Ryan Helsley remains one of the premier arms in his role. Jordan Hicks has regained his form, gifting manager Olivier Marmol with an overpowering pitcher to employ in any high-leverage situation.
Couple those factors with 31-year-old Giovanny Gallegos due for positive regression, as well as southpaw Packy Naughton set to return from the 60-day IL in mid-June. Hence, there’s plenty of reason to continue to buy into this group.
Trade Deadline Help (Plus An Intriguing Prospect)
While the previously-noted rotation needs fixing, the front office will presumably add at least one starter near the trade deadline. The Cardinals have already been connected to Eduardo Rodriguez, who has notched a 2.06 ERA and 2.86 xERA to date after a shaky first season in Detroit.
But they may opt to acquire a right-hander instead — such as White Sox starter Dylan Cease, Lance Lynn, or Lucas Giolito — should Chicago opt to be sellers in July. That’s a result of already having the aforementioned Montgomery, a veteran lefty, in the rotation.
They’ll also likely aim to keep fellow southpaw Mike Liberatore, one of their pristine pitching prospects, on the mound every fifth day. The 23-year-old dazzled in his 2023 debut against the Brewers on Wednesday, manufacturing six strikeouts over five scoreless innings.
Liberatore even ramped up his fastball velocity as high as 98 mph during the outing. It was the focus of his offseason filtration after a brief major-league stint in September.
Brewers’ Injury Angst Continues
Don’t expect Milwaukee’s healthy division lead to carry on for much longer. Craig Counsell’s bunch is banged up across the board, with starting arms Brandon Woodruff, Wade Miley, and the seemingly defective Jason Alexander all on the injured list.
Corbin Burnes, the 2021 Cy Young winner, has also seen his once-elite command suffer a significant setback.
Moreover, promising outfielder Garrett Mitchell will miss the rest of 2023 after sustaining a torn labrum on April 19. Without sure-handed third baseman Luis Urias for the time being, who provides a bit of thump in the lineup as well, the Brewers’ bottom-10 wRC+ isn’t forecasted to receive a boost anytime soon.
MLB Betting Verdict For Cardinals’ Odds
Just two weeks ago, Mo and I noted that St. Louis’ +550 odds to win the division will likely be the best juncture of the season to invest. With the Cardinals beginning to reach their presumable performance level, those odds have shortened to as low as +260 on Friday. Nevertheless, anything at +300 or better is still worth betting.
If you’re considering St. Louis to be a worthy investment further into October, the best World Series odds available are . As of this publish, that’s the lone price tag near +4000. It was as low as +1800 to begin the campaign.
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