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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, July 9, 2015 at 7:00 AM

The team with the best record in baseball this season (by a good bit) is will take on the hottest team in baseball (by a mile) when the St. Louis Cardinals visit the Pittsburgh Pirates this weekend for a huge four-game series. What a showdown!

Even though we just passed the halfway mark of the 2015 season…and even though these two teams play in the same division (meaning only one can get a bye into the NL brackets), fangraphs currently has St. Louis at 98% to make the playoffs, and Pittsburgh at 92%. They’re playing so well…with a track record suggesting that it’s going to continue…that you can virtually pencil these teams into October already.

St. Louis is on pace to win over 100 games. Pittsburgh was on a monstrous 31-12 run heading into Wednesday night’s game vs. San Diego (after an 18-22 start)…which means they may actually be the better team going forward! A great litmus test for both as MLB prepares for the upcoming All-Star Break.

Let’s see what JIM HURLEY’S key indicator stats have to say about this must-see series…



St. Louis: 3.96 runs per game, .323 on-base, .391 slugging

Pittsburgh: 4.01 runs per game, .317 on-base, .381 slugging

These teams are basically clones on offense. They grind out enough to get victories while their awesome pitching staffs shut down opponents. Both offenses are sub-par in terms of the league. That may be an issue in October when they run into other great pitchers and somebody’s going to have to manufacture runs. For now, these are “defense wins championships” teams in terms of classic “football” handicapping. Just enough offense to get the job done.



Carlos Martinez: 2.70 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 9.5 K-Rate, 6.1 IP-per-Start

Jeff Locke: 4.15 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 6.9 K-Rate, 5.7 IP-per-Start

Nine straight quality starts for Martinez, who’s knocked about 1.4 runs off his ERA during that span. It’s amazing how St. Louis can put pitchers on the mound and immediately turn them into aces! That’s the power of brains, scouting, and defense. Those three elements are almost enough on its own…but stick a high strikeout pitcher in front and you have gold. Maybe Adam Wainwright was just a product of the system! Locke just threw 8 scoreless innings vs. Cleveland to knock 0.4 runs off his ERA. But, he’s still less than 50/50 lately to throw a quality start. Edges across the board for the visiting pitcher in the series opener.



Lance Lynn: 2.53 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 9.5 K-Rate, 6.2 IP-per-Start

Gerrit Cole: 2.28 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 9.2 K-Rate, 6.5 IP-per-Start

Great pitcher’s duel. Lynn is in stellar form over the past two months. Cole got off to a strong start even before the Pirates gelled. With a 12-3 record…he has a legitimate shot to reach 20 wins if the Pirates keep playing at a high level. Vegas will post a low total. But, the Under may still deserve some thought given the caliber of these bullpens, and the lack of punch from these offenses.



John Lackey: 3.09 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 6.6 K-Rate, 6.5 IP-per-Start

A.J. Burnett: 1.99 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 7.5 K-Rate, 6.6 IP-per-Start

This will be a prime time regional telecast on FOX. Lackey just threw five strong outings in a row where he went 7+ innings and allowed 2 or fewer earned runs. THOSE are quality starts! That’s who the Cards were hoping they’d be getting. Never forget that former AL pitchers find it much easier to thrive in the inferior National League. For Burnett, if not for some run support issues, he’d be joining Cole in the race for 20 wins. Do you know how hard it is for a regular rotation pitcher to have an ERA below 2.00 near the All-Star Break? Either another 2-1 type game….or edge to Burnett off the full season numbers and Pittsburgh’s recent tear.



Tyler Lyons: 5.02 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, 9.7 K-Rate, 4.8 IP-per-Start

Francisco Liriano: 2.99 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 9.9 K-Rate, 6.4 IP-per-Start

This is the Sunday Night game on ESPN. Lyons has been consistently disappointing in six starts spread out over the first few months of action (two long layoffs haven’t helped yet). He’s been about the only negative of note on the Cardinals’ staff.  Liriano has thrown 8 of 9 quality starts of late, which knocked more than a run off his ERA. He’s been the pitcher most in flow with the overall team. When he settled in, the team became a juggernaut. Huge edge to Liriano, which might be helped more if the visitor decides to mentally start its All-Star Break a day early.

JIM HURLEY is likely to have at least one big play in this huge NL Central showdown this weekend. You can purchase the final word for all daily baseball right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about extended service, call us in the office at 1-888-777-4155 during normal business hours.

We’ll look at a great Interleague weekend showdown tomorrow. Then, it’s back to weekend football for our summer series of college conference previews. Here’s what’s on tap in the NOTEBOOK…

Friday: MLB Series Preview…Washington Nationals at Baltimore Orioles

Saturday: College Football Preview…Mid American “East”

Sunday: College Football Preview…Mid American “West”

Monday: College Football Preview…Sun Belt

Tuesday: MLB All-Star Break Report Card

Friday July 17: MLB Series Preview…LA Dodgers at Washington Nationals

The pennant races should give us a lot to write about all through the rest of July. Then, we’ll find a way to mix in NFL Preseason action and more college football preparation. You’ll always get helpful handicapping information here in the NOTEBOOK…and BIG, JUICY WINNERS from JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!


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Jim Hurley on twitter @vsm_hurley

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