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Cardinals vs. Brewers Odds, Preview, Prediction: A First-Five Inning Bet Fading A Former Ace (Sept. 5)

Cardinals vs. Brewers Odds, Preview, Prediction: A First-Five Inning Bet Fading A Former Ace (Sept. 5) article feature image

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images. Pictured: Jon Lester

Cardinals vs. Brewers Odds

Cardinals Odds+215
Brewers Odds-265
Over/Under7.5 (-115/-105)
Time2:10 p.m. ET
Odds via DraftKings. Get up-to-the-minute MLB odds here.

After Saturday’s 4-0 loss to the Brewers, the Cardinals now have only a 6.4% chance to make the playoffs per FanGraphs. They also have the second-toughest remaining schedule among NL playoff contenders, with games against the Dodgers, Reds and Padres still to come. But first, the Cardinals will try to win this series against the division-leading Brewers and their ace, Corbin Burnes, on Sunday.

The Cardinals will counter with a former ace in Jon Lester. At 37, Lester’s better days are behind him, but he’s pitched well of late and has allowed only one run in three of his last four starts. His only poor outing over that span was against the Brewers, in which he gave up four runs in the fourth inning, though the Cardinals offense managed to erase the deficit.

Although Lester was already out of the game in the fifth inning by the time the St. Louis rally started, I’ll explain why that bit of information could be beneficial for this series finale.

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St. Louis Cardinals

The 2020 season was the first time in Lester’s career in which he finished with a five-plus ERA. After this year, it might be his second.

The Washington native is 5-6 with a 5.05 ERA and a 1.58 WHIP.  His 5.22 FIP is slightly higher than his ERA, so perhaps this is as good as it’ll get for Lester at this stage in his career. His 5.72 K/9 ratio is a career-low, and his 3.53 walks per nine innings are his highest in the last 10 seasons.

At this point, Lester is relying more on his guile to get through games. Opposing batters are hitting .291 against him and .313 when the ball is put into play.

For some reason, he’s shown a reluctance to pitch backward. His changeup and curveball are his best pitches, yet he throws them only a combined 26% of the time. He continues to use his four-seamer 32% of the time, and batters are teeing off on the pitch that now has the lowest velocity of his career at 89 mph. They’re hitting .369 against it with a .425 wOBA.

In fact, FanGraphs Pitch Values rates his four-seamer at 8.1 runs below average this season — another career-low. That could be problematic against a Brewers team that’s 21.2 runs above average against the pitch. Furthermore, in 127 at-bats, Milwaukee’s current lineup boasts a .331 / .375 / .433 line against Lester.

Milwaukee Brewers

When Burnes was announced as an All-Star this season, he was 4-4 with a 2.41 ERA. Nine starts later, and he’s 9-4 with a 2.27 ERA. To think that he hasn’t lost a decision since May 25 is impressive. It’s even harder to fathom that he’s pitched even better than his traditional numbers would suggest.

Burnes’ 1.58 FIP is roughly .70 points lower than his ERA. His 0.32 HR/9 ratio is of elite quality, and he’s only walking 1.68 batters per nine innings. He’s of a rare breed in that he throws hard, yet hitters only have an exit velocity of 85.8 mph against him. They struggle even to square his pitches up, as evidenced by a 2.8% barrel rate.

Hard throwers can at times be flyball pitchers because they often pitch up in the zone. However, Burnes shows that he’s much more than that when considering his 1.59 GB/FB ratio. He’s able to keep hitters off-balance predominantly with a five-pitch mix.

Unlike Lester, he’s more than willing to pitch backward. Burnes throws a cutter (51.8%), a curveball (17.4%), a changeup (9.8%), a slider (9.6%) and a sinker (9.6%). Since he throws each pitch almost at least 10% of the time, hitters have a tough time getting comfortable in the batter’s box in addition to eliminating certain pitches in different counts.

Burnes exploits that as good as any pitcher I’ve seen in recent memory, and it’s led to a breakout year in just his fourth season. He’ll face a Cardinals lineup that has 107 at-bats against him with a .242 / .299 / .444 line. They do five home runs off him, but have yet to take him deep in three meetings this season.

Cardinals-Brewers Pick

Milwaukee opened as a -227 favorite, but sharp bettors have come in to push that number as high as -275 at some books.

My initial thought was to isolate Lester by fading him on the run line for the first five innings. However, we’d have to pay -175 juice to back the Brewers -0.5, which is too rich for my liking.

That’s a shame because Burnes is 13-1 on the first five run line over his last 14 starts. If the juice were to fall to -150 or -155, I would certainly get involved at that price. As of now, though, this is only a lean unless the number comes back in my favor.

Lean: Brewers F5 -0.5 RL (-155 or better)

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