Pirates vs. Cardinals Odds, Pick & Preview: Can Pittsburgh Pull Off Opening Day Upset? (April 7)

Pirates vs. Cardinals Odds, Pick & Preview: Can Pittsburgh Pull Off Opening Day Upset? (April 7) article feature image

Eric Espada/Getty Images. Pictured: Ke’Bryan Hayes

  • The Cardinals are hefty home favorites in their Opening Day matchup with the Pirates.
  • Pittsburgh is once again projected to finish at the bottom of the division, but is there value on the Buccos to pull off the upset in the opener?
  • Continue reading for a full breakdown of this matchup, including a betting pick.

Pirates vs. Cardinals Odds

Pirates Odds+185
Cardinals Odds-215
Time4:15 p.m. ET
Odds via Caesars. Get up-to-the-minute MLB odds here.

A rollercoaster of an offseason where baseball once seemed destined for a long lockout is in the rearview mirror and Opening Day is finally here.

While we already have a few games postponed due to forecasted rain, two NL Central rivals will be squaring off Thursday afternoon to kick off the 2022 season, as the Pittsburgh Pirates head to St. Louis to take on the Cardinals.

The Pirates look to start the season hot after a disastrous 2021 where the Buccos finished among one of the worst records in baseball. The Cardinals, on the other hand, rode a 17-game win streak in late September to sneak into the playoffs in an eventual Wild Card Game exit.

The line has opened with the Cardinals sitting as heavy favorites, but are they a bit overvalued in this season opener? They hand the ball to 40-year-old Adam Wainwright for his sixth Opening Day start while the Pirates choose to roll with JT Brubaker in his third big league season.

Let's dig into both sides and see if the Pirates stand a chance to hang around and potentially hand the Cardinals a surprising loss to begin the season.

Pirates Leaning on Youngsters

The Pittsburgh Pirates finished with the second-worst record in the National League last season and should struggle yet again in 2022. Rather than making any big offseason splashes, the Pirates turn toward their youth in an era of rebuilding. 

All eyes will be on third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, who burst onto the big league scene in 2020 and hit .376 with five home runs in 24 games. He battled injuries last year and saw his production diminish (.257 average, .316 OBP in 96 games), and will be looked upon to carry the Pirates offense alongside Bryan Reynolds. 

Reynolds has been in potential trade talks and who knows if he’ll be in Pittsburgh in a few months, but the 27-year-old All-Star enters off a career year. He hit .302 with 24 home runs and a .390 on-base percentage in a lineup that had little-to-no help around him.

One storyline to note from Spring Training: prospect Diego Castillo made the big-league roster and should immediately be inserted into the starting lineup. He hit .371 with six home runs and 12 RBI in 35 at-bats. 

He’s outside the Top 20 in MLB’s top Pirates prospects, but his offensive production in the Grapefruit League should not go unnoticed, especially for a Pirates team that ranked 25th in batting average and 29th in wRC+ per FanGraphs in 2021. 

Last season, the Buccos ranked 28th in xFIP (4.70), per FanGraphs, unable to find reliable starting pitching. Though the Pirates' bullpen was slightly better — 23rd in bullpen ERA — Derek Shelton didn’t have many opportunities to use his best arms. 

JT Brubaker is tagged with the Opening Day start for Pittsburgh. The 28-year-old is the best arm in the rotation and when looking at advanced metrics, should see an improvement in his third big league season. 

From an outsider’s perspective, Brubaker struggled (5.36 ERA, 2.03 HR/9). Yes, he is prone to blowups at times because of his struggles with the long ball. But his xERA (4.67) and xFIP (4.00) show that Brubaker has been a bit misfortunate and his numbers are a bit inflated.  

He should see positive regression in 2022 and provide stability for a weak Pirates rotation. 

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Cardinals Mostly Running it Back

The Cardinals strung together one of the most impressive finishes to a regular season in 2021, highlighted by a 17-game win streak in September and a playoff berth. 

They nearly took down the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Wild Card Game, too, but a Chris Taylor walk-off home run put all hope to rest. After exceeding expectations, St. Louis is projected to finish second in a mediocre NL Central division in 2022. 

The Cardinals made minimal roster changes in the offseason. They return the exact same defensive setup in 2021, and their only change comes with the reunion of Albert Pujols, who is expected to DH in the season opener. 

The middle of the St. Louis batting order is one to not take lightly. Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and Tyler O’Neill all cleared 30 home runs last season. Few players took a larger leap last season than O’Neill. 

The 27-year-old not only led the Cardinals in wRC+ (144), but he hit 34 home runs with a .286 average and .352 on-base percentage.

Despite being an average team in most metrics like on-base percentage, wRC+ and ERA, the Cardinals’ bread and butter is their defense. This is the No. 2 team in defensive runs saved, per FanGraphs, and it’s a big reason toward its success in tight games.

The Cardinals ranked 12th in ERA last season but when looking at xFIP, they sit all the way down at 27th, per FanGraphs. All this to say that the Cardinals pitchers were quite fortunate last season. 

While they should see a boost because the defense remains the same in 2022, a pitcher who encapsulates this and screams inbound negative regression is Wainwright.

The 40-year-old righty is not only getting up there in age — production is surely to gradually diminish — but his xERA (3.84) was nearly a run higher than his actual ERA (3.05) in 2021, per Baseball Savant. The year before in a COVID-shortened season? It was 1.3 runs higher.

You’re asking a lot out of Wainwright to not only anchor the Cardinals rotation, but to do it in his age-40 season. He’s more hittable than one would think at a quick glance of his stats. 

Pirates-Cardinals Pick

What's better than backing an underdog on Opening Day?!

To me, this number is too high considering the pitching matchup. Yes, the Pirates' offense isn't pretty. Outside of Reynolds and Hayes, production will be often times limited.

But Wainwright is 40 and due for negative regression. His advanced metrics are not as appealing as the base numbers, and his age is also a cause for concern. It's hard to be consistent at 40.

If this were against any other Pittsburgh starter, I'd likely shy away from the Pirates. But Brubaker is an underrated arm who I think will be able to keep this game close.

This number is way too high and the market is giving Wainwright and the Cardinals too much respect. Hold your nose and back the Pirates.

Pick: Pirates +185 (bet to +170)

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