Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:56 AM

Wednesday's Best Bet

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NLCS - Game 4 Betting Preview
St. Louis at Washington (TBS, 8:05 p.m. ET)

The term 'must win' game for a team in any sport gets thrown around way too much these days, when in reality, the only situation it applies to is the one the St Louis Cardinals are facing tonight. Down 3-0 in the NLCS to Washington, the Cardinals must win tonight to keep their 2019 season alive. A victory would be the first step in a serious uphill climb of trying to come back from down 0-3, as it looks like it's simply a matter of time before the Cardinals bow out.

And while that's tough news for one fan base, for a Nationals fan base that has endured so much playoff heartbreak over the years, it looks as though it may be all worth it with a World Series appearance on the horizon. After watching Bryce Harper walk this past spring, this Nationals team was not expected to be in this situation at all, but here they are, on the backs of tremendous pitching, timely hitting, and a unified clubhouse that has had so much fun being around each other all year long.

The Nats still need one more win tonight before the celebration can truly get going though, so is tonight the night?

Opening Odds: Washington -165, St. Louis +155, Total 7.5

Line Movements | Expert Picks

The Cardinals really have no one to blame but themselves for the situation they are in, as the offense has gone polar vortex cold in this series. Obviously, the Nationals pitching staff plays a role in that with the likes of Scherzer and Strasburg collecting wins already, but to put up just two measly runs in 27 innings of play with a trip to the World Series on the line is just brutal – in both production and timing. St Louis still has a pulse though, and while the climb back to keep that World Series dream alive seems daunting, thanks to the 2004 Boston Red Sox, it's not like it's never been done before.

It's all about taking it one game at a time now for St Louis, and perhaps maybe finding a way to scratch across an early run or two to play with the lead and let the entire dugout loosen up from there. Yet, the eye test from the first three games of this series would tell you that's an impossible task for St Louis, especially with the third of Washington's three aces starting tonight.

Patrick Corbin bounced back in a relief role in Game 5 of the NLDS after blowing up in Game 3 of that series in a similar role, and now he's tasked with closing this series out in Washington tonight. He was one of the first free agents to go off the board last winter, taking the money before the standoff between free agents and teams went on throughout the rest of the winter, and there was even talk of Washington overpaying him at the time. But Washington got their guy, and now he's in line to pick up the win to send his team to the World Series. Pretty incredible story right?

However, while the eye test suggests that Washington should be able to wrap things up tonight, history doesn't see it coming so easily. Since the start of the 2016 MLB playoffs, teams that were in a position to sweep away a foe are just 6-6 SU in those “sweep games”, with the Yankees sweep over Minnesota last week being the most recent occurrence pushing that mark to .500. You can see that the betting market today has already pushed the Nats line up from its opener of -155 likely because they've been so dominant in this series, but from a side perspective I'm looking to pass completely on tonight's game.

You just don't really know if the Cardinals are going to rise up to the challenge of trying to overcome this 0-3 hole, or simply pack it in and get ready for their winter vacations with their families. You also don't know if a gust of overconfidence has swept through the Nationals locker room, figuring they are World Series bound for sure without securing their invite first. Even in a relief role, Corbin has shown he's not immune to getting lit up with the pressures of October baseball swirling around him, and recent history suggests a Nationals win tonight is nothing more than a 50/50 proposition. Tonight's odds would suggest otherwise, but I'm not prepared to lay 60 cents to find out, nor am I willing to take 50 cents on the dollar with a potentially deflated Cardinals team. Instead, I'm turning to the total for tonight and using history during that same time span to hopefully find a winner.

MLB teams looking for a sweep may only be .500 since the start of 2016, but in those 12 games, the average runs scored clocks in at 8.08 per game. Considering that's where tonight's total opened, that's not a huge margin for error, but with the number seeing a drop to 7.5 for tonight's game, I do think there is some leeway to go 'over' this number now.

Nine of those 12 games finished with at least 6 runs scored – the only three that didn't all came in 2017 – and five times we've had 11+ runs tallied. In terms of painting out potential scenarios for the Cardinals, the 'over' does make sense in a few of them as well, considering if they are up to the task of trying to fight back, they'll need that ice cold offense of theirs to suddenly flip the script, and if they pack it in after falling behind early, we could see guys simply going through the motions out there, serving up meatballs to the heart of the plate and/or kicking the ball around in the field. Either way runs scored will be what's served on any of those menus.

At the same time, the Nationals would prefer to leave no doubt here and put the Cardinals out of their misery early with a crooked number or two themselves. Cardinals starter Dakota Hudson lasted just 4.2 innings in his other playoff start this October, and he hasn't pitched more than five innings in any of his past three starts. If the Cardinals bats find production early, this could easily be something like a 3-3 game after five innings – should it be a close game – and from there I think you can count on the two bullpens to combine to allow at least two runs.

Big picture-wise, last night's Game 3 was the first game in either LCS to cash an 'over' ticket so I understand the trepidation in going back to the well there. But what to the Cardinals have to lose by being ultra-aggressive offensively against a guy like Corbin who was tattooed against an aggressive Dodgers squad? You know the Nationals are going to aggressively pursue the sweep tonight and as long as both sides can make the most of that approach and capitalize on their opportunities, a total of 7.5 with both team's “4th starters” out there isn't a whole lot to ask. We've also got a home plate umpire back there in Phil Cuzzi who's seen 9.2 runs per game in his 30 games behind the dish tonight.

So give me the high side of this total tonight as this game has a chance to be another one of those potential playoff sweep games that sees 11+ runs scored.

Best Bet: Over 7.5

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