At the July 30 trade deadline, the St. Louis Cardinals were 51-51, 9½ games behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central and 7½ games behind the San Diego Padres who were holding the second Wild-Card spot. When the Cardinals declined to make any big moves — only trading for veteran starting pitchers Jon Lester and J.A. Happ — it felt like an admission by the front office that the season wasn’t going anywhere.
Fast forward 45 days or so, and the Cardinals are in sole possession of the second Wild-Card spot and a full game ahead of those Padres. St. Louis, at 75-69 after a crazy extra inning win over the New York Mets on Tuesday night in Queens, has won six of its last seven games while San Diego keeps losing. The Cardinals gained a game on every team in the Wild-Card race on Tuesday, with the Padres, Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, and (of course) Mets all suffering defeats.
St. Louis has torched the Mets’ bullpen and looks to continue raking with Lester on the mound against New York’s impressive rookie righty Tylor Megill. First pitch from Citi Field is at 7:10 p.m. ET. The BetUS Sportsbook has the Mets as -165 moneyline favorites and +125 favorites on the runline. Current MLB lines have the over/under at 8½ runs.
Lester Looks Good
The Cardinals traded only fringe outfielder Lane Thomas to the Washington Nationals for Lester, so it’s clear that the 36-year-old’s league-wide value wasn’t particularly high at the deadline. Lester didn’t pitch that well with Washington and was giving up a ton of baserunners, so St. Louis was able to get him on the cheap. Overall, he hasn’t been much better with the Cardinals — he’s pitching to a 4.30 ERA with St. Louis compared to a 5.02 ERA with Washington — but has looked a lot more like his old self as of late.
Lester has given up two runs or less in each of his last four starts, with a 1.90 ERA and .207 opponent batting average over that span. He has done that against pretty good lineups, shutting down the Reds twice and Brewers once. Lester isn’t striking many batters out anymore — just 4.3 strikeouts per nine innings with the Cardinals — but has induced 12 ground ball double plays which have helped him escape further trouble.
Considering that the Mets have been one of baseball’s worst offenses this season — especially when they’re at home — Lester (and the Cardinals’ bullpen) should be able to get by just fine. New York just can’t piece together multi-run rallies which is why they play (and lose) so many close games. The Mets lead baseball in one-run games (59) and one-run losses (31), which is what Tuesday’s game was and what Wednesday’s game might be. If you’re betting online, back the veteran Lester.
Rookie Megill Is Shaky
The Mets have probably had to dig deeper into their starting pitching depth than any other team in baseball this season because of the sheer numbers of long-term injuries they’ve suffered. Were it not for those injuries, Megill likely would still be in Triple-A right now where he has only made three career starts due to his rushed callup to the big-league club.
Despite the Mets having to rely on him earlier than they expected or wanted to, Megill has been great and has helped keep New York afloat. He has a 4.06 ERA in 15 starts with a solid 88 strikeouts in 77 innings. Megill is also coming off one of his stronger MLB outings, a seven-inning gem against the New York Yankees in which he struck out 10 and only gave up two runs.
As to be expected, there are some cracks in Megill’s stellar season. He has given up 15 home runs in his 77 innings — 1.7 home runs per nine innings — and, because of his propensity to give up long balls, he can be touched up quickly. Basically, when Megill gives up home runs, he’s beatable but when he doesn’t, it’s tough to get to him.
St. Louis is a pretty mediocre home run hitting team. However, as the Mets have seen firsthand this series, the core of the Cardinals’ lineup — Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, and Tyler O’Neill — is as powerful as it gets so it could be really difficult for Megill to prevent those three guys from taking him deep. And, if they do so with runners on base, the Cardinals could piece together big innings and knock Megill out of the game. The MLB odds are giving Megill a little too much credit against a tough lineup, which you can take advantage of.
New York ‘Pen Issues
A major consequence of suffering so many starter injuries is that the Mets’ bullpen is overworked and, as the regular season winds down, might be showing signs of wear and tear. For much of the 2021 campaign, New York’s relievers were as close to automatic as it gets. Even while the starters (and their replacements) were getting hit hard and failing to go deep into games, the bullpen held strong and kept the Mets alive even when they didn’t have many leads to hold because of the offense’s similar struggles.
But, that tide seems to have turned lately. Of the Mets’ last seven losses, five have featured the bullpen either blowing a lead or losing the game outright. The ‘pen has even been an issue in some wins, giving up leads only for the offense to bail it out with a late score.
Guys like Edwin Díaz, Jeurys Familia, and Trevor May — who, for months, were getting the job done when called upon earlier in the season — have been getting hit hard. With the Mets’ persistent inability to score runs, the bullpen has essentially no margin for error so when a lead is blown, it usually leads to a crushing loss. That’s just how the season has gone for them, and the Cardinals have taken full advantage of that in this series. St. Louis doesn’t have the same problems so, as far as MLB picks go, the Cardinals are a great one.