Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:57 AM

Friday's Diamond Notes

Hottest team: Cardinals (8-2 last 10)

St. Louis has pulled into a first-place tie with Chicago atop the NL Central as the Cardinals have won 11 of 14 games since the All-Star break. The Redbirds lost their first game following the break to the Diamondbacks to slip to 44-45, but St. Louis has moved to 55-47 with the hot stretch, capped off by a four-game road sweep of the Pirates. The Cardinals have won all four series in the second half, but the next four opponents will be a major test for St. Louis as it faces the Astros, Cubs, Athletics, and Dodgers.

The lone interleague series this weekend takes place at Busch Stadium as the Cardinals welcome in the Astros in a matchup of former NL Central rivals. Houston has won seven its past eight games, but the Astros are 3-6 the last nine interleague contests. Jack Flaherty has allowed one run in each of his past three starts, but St. Louis owns a 1-5 record in his previous six outings, including an 0-3 mark at home.

Coldest team: Padres (3-9 last 12)

San Diego travels back home after a 3-6 road swing, punctuated by a 4-0 setback to the Mets on Thursday. The Padres were blanked for the first time since May 29, which also came in New York to the Yankees in a 7-0 defeat. The first half ended on a high note for the Padres, who won the final three games against the NL West-leading Dodgers on the road, but San Diego has dropped all four series since the All-Star break, including series losses to the Marlins and Mets.

The Padres return to Petco Park playing with revenge against the red-hot Giants as San Francisco pulled off a three-game sweep of San Diego in early July. Joey Lucchesi tries to get the Padres on track as the southpaw despite failing to win in his last two home starts. Lucchesi shut down the Giants at home back in late March, but lost in each of his two road matchups with San Francisco, while allowing 10 runs in 10 innings of those two defeats at Oracle Park.

Hottest pitcher: Dario Agrazal, Pirates (2-0, 2.25 ERA)

Pittsburgh has fallen apart of late by losing 11 of 13 games since the All-Star break, as the Pirates hit the road to face the Mets. The only consistent pitcher in the Pirates’ rotation of late is Agrazal, who has tossed six innings in each of his last four starts, while yielding five earned runs in this span. Pittsburgh had won three consecutive starts by Agrazal against Houston, Milwaukee, and St. Louis in the underdog role, but the Pirates dropped a 2-1 decision to the Phillies as a home favorite his last time out. The Mets have won consecutive home games only once since June 13, as New York is fresh off a shutout of San Diego.

Coldest pitcher: Sandy Alcantara, Marlins (4-9, 4.25 ERA)

The Miami right-hander tossed a gem at Philadelphia on June 21 as a +225 underdog in a 2-1 victory as he allowed one run in 7.2 innings of work. Since then, the Marlins have lost his past four starts, each coming by two runs or more. Alcantara was tagged for six runs in five innings of work in a 10-6 defeat at Los Angeles as a heavy underdog last Saturday, while the Marlins are riding an 0-5 skid in his past five home starts. Things don’t get easier for Alcantara as he opposes former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke and the Diamondbacks at home on Friday night.

Biggest OVER run: Twins (5-0 last five)

Minnesota’s offense remained on fire in Thursday’s blowout of Chicago as Nelson Cruz went deep three times in a 10-3 rout. The game easily went OVER the total of 8 ½, the first total for Minnesota that was not in double-digits since July 14 at Cleveland, a span of 10 games. The Twins have scored at least seven runs during each game of this stretch, while finally limiting an opponent to less than five runs for the first time in seven contests. Michael Pineda takes the mound for the Twins as the right-hander has seen the OVER hit in three of his last four starts, including in a 10-3 pounding of the White Sox back on June 29.

Biggest UNDER run: Phillies (9-3 last 12)

Philadelphia had high expectations placed on them before the season, but has not lived up to them yet. However, the Phillies have played better of late by winning seven of their past 10 games, while allowing two runs or fewer in four of the previous five contests. Granted, the offense hasn’t blown up in this span by scoring 10 runs in the last four games, but the Phillies grabbed road series wins against Pittsburgh and Detroit. The Phillies welcome in the division-leading Braves this weekend for a pivotal series as Jake Arrieta is coming off back-to-back starts in which he yielded one run apiece in wins over the Nationals and Pirates.

Matchup to watch: Cubs vs. Brewers

The NL Central race has tightened up between Chicago, St. Louis, and Milwaukee, who are separated by two games heading into the weekend. The Cubs visit Miller Park for the first time since early April as Chicago snapped a three-game skid in Wednesday’s 4-1 triumph at San Francisco. Chicago tries to end a dreadful 1-7 stretch in road series openers since late May, while seeking consecutive away victories for only the second time since May 1.

The Brewers also avoided a sweep in their last series by edging the Reds, 5-4 as heavy -160 favorites on Wednesday behind Yasmani Grandal’s two-run single in a three-run fifth inning to put Milwaukee up for good. Since a 2-8 slump in early July, the Crew has won six of their last nine games, but Milwaukee will be looking to improve on a 1-9 record in its past 10 home series openers.

Kyle Hendricks (7-8, 3.41 ERA) is winless in his past five starts for Chicago in spite of yielding two runs in each of his previous four outings. The latest defeat came as a -180 home favorite against the Padres last Sunday, but the blame doesn’t fall on Hendricks, who allowed four hits and two runs in seven innings of a 5-1 loss as the Cubs scored their only run in the first inning. Hendricks lost at Milwaukee on April 7 in a 4-2 setback as the right-hander tossed four innings and the Cubs couldn’t overcome an early 4-0 deficit.

The Brewers send out veteran southpaw Gio Gonzalez (2-1, 3.60 ERA), who is coming off his first start in nearly two months in an 8-3 victory at Arizona last Saturday. Gonzalez received a no-decision after pitching four innings as the Brewers rallied late for six runs to help Milwaukee to improve to 5-1 in his past six outings. The last time Gonzalez faced the Cubs at Wrigley Field on May 10, he posted 5.2 scoreless innings in a 7-0 shutout as a +115 underdog.

Betcha didn’t know: Andrew Cashner was money in the bank with the Orioles before getting dealt to the Red Sox in mid-July. The Orioles won six of his final seven starts, including four victories as an underdog of +150 or higher. Following the trade to Boston, Cashner flipped to a heavy favorite against Toronto and Baltimore and promptly lost to each of those squads, while allowing 10 runs. Cashner hasn’t had much luck with the Yankees as Boston and New York square off on Friday following the Red Sox rout of the Bronx Bombers, 19-3 on Thursday. The Orioles lost all three starts by Cashner against New York this season, while the righty last beat the Yankees as a +210 underdog in July 2018, but Baltimore picked up a walk-off win, 6-5.

You can reach Kevin Rogers via e-mail at [email protected]

Kevin Rogers can be followed on Twitter at virogers.

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