MLB Odds, Preview, Prediction for Cubs vs. Cardinals: How to Bet NL Central Rivalry (Friday, May 21)

MLB Odds, Preview, Prediction for Cubs vs. Cardinals: How to Bet NL Central Rivalry (Friday, May 21) article feature image
Credit:

Jeff Curry/Getty Images. Pictured: Carlos Martinez #18 of the St. Louis Cardinals.

  • The NL Central rivalry between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals resumes on Friday with Carlos Martinez and Kyle Hendricks on the hill.
  • St. Louis sits at the top of the NL Central division standings with a three-game lead over Chicago, which adds more fuel to stoke the flames for one of MLB's historic rivalry series.
  • Below, you'll find our MLB betting preview for Cubs vs. Cardinals, including updated odds, in-depth analysis, plus our betting recommendation for Friday's matchup.

Cubs vs. Cardinals Odds

Cubs Odds -122
Cardinals Odds +106
Over/Under 8.5 (-106 / -115)
Time 8:15 p.m. ET
TV MLB.TV
Odds as of Friday afternoon and via DraftKings.

One of the best rivalries in baseball gets underway on Friday night as the St. Louis Cardinals host the Chicago Cubs for a three-game set. Both teams occupy the first two positions in the NL Central, with the Cubs trailing the division-leading Cardinals by three games.

Carlos Martinez will get the start for St. Louis, and Chicago Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks will oppose him.

Hendricks (9-3, 2.88 ERA) boasts impressive career numbers against the Cardinals. Nonetheless, Friday’s game is an interesting spot because Hendricks has yet to string together good starts in back-to-back outings.

Furthermore, with the Chicago right-hander coming off a quality start in his last outing, this might be the right time to fade him following a good performance.

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Chicago Cubs

It’s been a very uneven year for Kyle Hendricks. The California native enters Friday’s game with a 3-4 record, 5.27 ERA and 1.55 WHIP. If the season ended today, his ERA would be the highest of his career by almost two full runs.

I performed a deep dive to assess why this year is so different for Hendricks, and I emerged with some interesting findings.

First, let’s begin with Hendricks’s pitch arsenal, which includes a sinker (40.1%), changeup (24.9%), four-seam fastball (20.3%), and a curveball (14.6%). He’s basically had the same mix of pitches for the last four years since he abandoned his cutter in 2017. His sinker is always his most-thrown pitch at around 40%, so there hasn’t been any change there.

However, it’s when you get to his two other most-used pitches that you notice a drop in performance.

This season, batters are hitting .364 with a .413 wOBA against his changeup and hitting .481 with a .649 wOBA against his four-seamer. The velocity of his four-seamer has dipped slightly from an average of 87.4 mph in 2020 to 86.7 mph this season. That difference creates less separation (in terms of speed differential) between the four-seamer and the changeup, which seems to have rendered both pitches less effective.

To get an idea of how different this season has been for Hendricks, hitters have a 10.4% barrel rate against him. That’s double his previous season high of 5.2% in 2018.

St. Louis Cardinals

Carlos Martinez makes his return following a brief stint on the IL with an ankle injury. The right-hander got off to an 0-4 start, but he’s rebounded to win his last three outings. Martinez carries a 4.35 ERA, but his 4.01 FIP points to some improvement, and I think we already see that manifesting given his recent form.

Martinez has been successful at limiting the home run ball this season. His 0.44 HR/9 ratio is quite an improvement from last season’s mark (2.70 HR/9).

In contrast, one area that he would like to improve on is pitching with men on base. His batting average against jumps from .177 to .288 in this spot, and opposing hitters have a .508 slugging percentage with men on vs. .229 when the bases are empty. However, when runners are in scoring position, the hitters’ average actually drops to .229.

That suggests that he’s been more vulnerable when there’s just one runner on first base than in a scoring position. Usually, it works the other way around, so it would appear to be more of a mental challenge than anything physical or mechanical in his throwing.

Martinez will be fairly familiar with the Cubs lineup, considering that both teams are in the same division. Chicago has 168 at-bats against him with a .226 / .325 / .399 line. If Martinez can limit Chicago’s on-base percentage (OBP) to around .300 or lower, St. Louis should find itself in a position to win the ballgame. In order to avert that outcome, Martinez must cut down on the walks that have contributed to the .325 OBP.

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Cubs-Cardinals Pick

In sports wagering, you often have to set aside your biases and do things you normally wouldn’t do under normal circumstances. For me, backing Carlos Martinez is one of those things I wouldn’t normally do. Let’s take a quick look at his history.

In 2013, he burst onto the scene as a 21-year-old with the Cardinals and later went 14-7 in his third season in the majors. The following year he went 16-9. However, shoulder injuries combined with a vacancy for the Cardinals’ ninth-inning role led to a brief stint as the Cardinals’ closer.

That didn’t pan out well, and so back he went into the starting rotation.

While there have clearly been mixed reviews on his progression as a major league pitcher, I still think he’s a better option in this spot than Hendricks for the following reasons:

  • Martinez is in better form after winning his last three starts.
  • Hendricks has a 5.62 FIP, making him a candidate for further regression, whereas Martinez’s 4.01 FIP would suggest more upside.
  • Hendricks has not put together two consecutive starts the entire season, and the fact he’s coming off a good start is a concern for this game.
  • Martinez is 7-3 with a 31.3% ROI when he’s at home and facing the Cubs.

Going by the numbers for both pitchers this season, my model would actually make the Cardinals a slight favorite, so I like their value in this spot as a +108 underdog.

You can find that price readily available at multiple sportsbooks, including DraftKings.

Pick: Cardinals ML (+108)

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