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Cardinals, Reds clash

If the St Louis Cardinals are going to win the NL Central, it will be because they have strung together more wins than losses over the next couple of weeks.

The Cardinals head into tonight’s game tied for 1st with the Pirates for the division crown with both teams sitting 2.5 games ahead of Cincinnati. But it’s St Louis that has a hell of a schedule in that their next four series (13 games) are all against either Cincinnati or Pittsburgh and it’s this stretch that will define their year. A strong 10-3-type run will have them well ahead of the pack while a 3-10-type run will have then possibly out of it. So you can expect to get the Cardinals best baseball over the next two weeks.

However, it is surprising that the red birds are going with a spot starter in Tyler Lyons tonight. Lyons has only started seven games all year and none since July 30th vs. Pittsburgh. The Cardinals have lost his last five starts as he’s allowed at least four runs in all of them. With them starting a critical series with the Reds tonight – a team that’s beaten Lyons in one of those past five losses – you just wonder if the Cardinals are fine with taking their chances with him tonight in order to set up their rotation beautifully for the next 12 contests.

Looking a little deeper though and you’ll see that it was supposed to be Jake Westbrook’s turn to go but he landed on the DL four days ago. Westbrook had been struggling prior to that and having him healthy for the stretch run is what the Cardinals prefer more. It is almost assured that the two teams in this division who don’t win the division will be headed to the Wildcard game showdown, and having Westbrook healthy and ready to go in that one-game playoff isn’t a bad backup plan for St Louis.

Getting back to tonight though, you can’t help but think there will be runs scored. Lyons struggles this year likely haven’t gotten any better during his month away from starting and Cincinnati’s Mike Leake isn’t exactly a world-beater. In fact, Leake’s last start vs. St Louis was on the fourth of this month and he was on the wrong end of a 15-2 beating. He allowed 7 runs on eight hits in five innings of work and that means that control was an issue and the Cardinals were just slugging him around the field.

Cincinnati is 7-2 O/U in Leake’s last nine as an underdog and they are 4-0 O/U in his last four against another winning team. His stuff isn’t overpowering so if he’s not painting the edges with his pitches he’s either walking guys or leaving them over the heart of the plate; either way it’s not a formula for success.

Lyons will give up his fair share of hits tonight too vs. a Reds team that is frustrated with themselves after dropping two of three vs. Milwaukee over the weekend. The Cardinals bats tend to wake up vs. division rivals as they are 11-5-1 O/U in their last 17 vs. NL Central opponents and are also 5-1-1 O/U in their last seven at home vs. a righty. Asking for a run an inning tonight isn’t too much to expect in my opinion, making the ‘over 8.5’ the only way to go with this game.

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