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This week’s edition of Sunday Night Baseball features a showdown between two National League powerhouses. The defending World Series champion Braves are in St. Louis to take on the Cardinals, who are looking to make their fourth straight trip to the postseason.
The Braves and Cardinals have been among the best teams in baseball recently. The Cardinals have gone 23-10 in the second half of the year, while the Braves are 23-11. That has allowed both squads to virtually cement themselves into playoff positioning, with FanGraphs giving both squads at least a 96 percent chance to make the postseason.
Atlanta took the first game of this series, but St. Louis bounced back with a comeback win on Saturday. Can the Cards win the rubber match? Let’s break down five of my favorite wagers for Sunday Night Baseball on DraftKings Sportsbook.
Both of these teams are known for their offensive production. The Braves average 4.98 runs per game, which ranks third in the Majors, while the Cardinals’ mark of 4.87 ranks fourth. Both teams will be sending right-handed pitchers to the mound on Sunday -- and both squads rank in the top nine in wRC+ against right-handers.
Still, the starting pitching could have the upper hand in this contest. The Cardinals will turn to Adam Wainwright, who has been befuddling hitters for nearly two decades. He remains extremely effective at 40 years old, pitching to a 3.11 ERA across 25 starts this season.
Jake Odorizzi doesn’t have the same reputation, but he has been nearly as effective. His traditional ERA is slightly worse than Wainwright’s, but his 4.01 xERA is slightly better.
When both starters ultimately depart, they’ll turn the ball over to quality bullpens. The Braves rank sixth in bullpen ERA -- and while the Cardinals haven’t been quite as good as a whole, they still have some outstanding relievers at the back of their bullpen. Closer Ryan Helsley has been particularly nasty, posting a 0.89 ERA across 50 2/3 innings.
This total ultimately feels a smidge too high and there has been some sharp activity on the under. I’ll take a shot at under 8.5 runs.
While I expect this game to be low scoring, I do like the Cardinals’ chances of getting on the board early. Odorizzi has been at his worst early in ballgames. He owns a 6.89 ERA in the first inning, which is his worst mark in any inning this season. Opposing batters have managed a .339 average and a .411 on-base percentage against him in that frame and he’s posted just a 2.5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Navigating the top of the St. Louis lineup is also extremely daunting. Likely NL MVP and potential Triple Crown winner Paul Goldschmidt looms in the No. 3 spot, while Nolan Arenado has had a monster season as the cleanup hitter. If not for Goldschmidt, Arenado would likely be the MVP favorite.
Unsurprisingly, the Cardinals have been elite at putting runs on the board in the first inning. They score in the first 34.65 percent of the time, which is the third-highest frequency in the Majors. That number increases to 41.27 percent at home and +200 translates to an implied probability of just 33.3 percent. That makes this wager a solid value.
First-hit props are a relatively new offering on DraftKings Sportsbook and the lineups are incredibly important. The leadoff hitter for the away team has the first opportunity to get the first hit, followed by the No. 2 and No. 3 hitters. If any of those batters get a hit, no one on the home side will even have a chance to win this prop. That’s why the top three hitters for the away team have the lowest odds, followed by the top hitters for the home squad. Ultimately, the vast majority of the players in this contest will come to bat without a chance to record the first hit of the game.
Wainwright has been pretty stingy in the first inning. He’s allowed opposing batters to post a .238 average, which is one of his lowest marks in any frame. The Braves’ offense also tends to start slow, ranking merely 18th in first-inning run percentage.
If I’m betting on the Cardinals to score a run in the first inning, it would certainly help if they got their leadoff runner on base. Nootbaar is expected to bat first for the Red Birds and he has quietly had an excellent offensive season. He has worn out right-handed pitchers, posting a 150 wRC+. If Wainwright can keep the Braves out of the hit column, I like Nootbaar’s chances of getting the job done.
The first-homer prop isn’t nearly as lineup-spot dependent as the first-hit prop. The first homer can come in any inning, so you can simply focus on the players you think are providing the most value.
For me, that person is Arenado. Both of these teams have plenty of power, but Odorizzi allows far more fly balls than Wainwright. Odorizzi’s 45.1 percent fly-ball rate would be tied for the fifth-highest mark in the league if he had enough innings pitched to qualify.
Arenado is also in the midst of his best offensive season -- which is saying something, considering the monster numbers he posted at Coors. His 162 wRC+ is easily the best mark of his career and he’s launched 27 homers in 496 plate appearances. Arenado’s power numbers are better against left-handed pitchers, but his .233 ISO against right-handers is nothing to scoff at.
This bet is the culmination of everything I’ve talked about so far. If this game goes under 8.5 runs but the Cardinals generate most of the offense, there are plenty of scenarios where they score four runs or fewer in a win. This bet just adds a sprinkle of upside if everything breaks right.
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is mlamarca) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and do not constitute a representation that any particular strategy will guarantee success. All customers should use their own skill and judgment in building lineups. I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.
All odds provided by DraftKings Sportsbook and all odds subject to change.
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