Two teams from the top and bottom of the NL Central last season will meet on Opening Day as the Pittsburgh Pirates visit the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday. Naturally, the Cardinals are substantial favorites with a moneyline of -200. On the contrary, the Pirates have a moneyline of +170 if they can get the win on Opening Day.
The Pirates may not want to use the word publicly, but they are starting a rebuild. Over the winter, the Pirates hired a new president, general manager and manager, signaling a new era for the franchise. Pittsburgh also traded away longtime outfielder Starling Marte, making it clear that they are more or less starting over from scratch.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals are trying to build off last year’s trip to the National League Championship Series. St. Louis emerged in a competitive NL Central and surprised many by beating the Braves in the NLDS before getting swept by the Nationals. As a result, the Cardinals are being looked at as more serious contenders in 2020 than they were at the start of the 2019 campaign.
First Crack with Jack
Jack Flaherty will get the nod for St. Louis on Opening Day. He has emerged as the team’s ace over the past two seasons. Flaherty pitched to a 3.34 ERA in 2018, lowering it to 2.75 last season.
If he continues to pitch at that level, he could find himself in the Cy Young conversation at season’s end. In any event, it was a no-brainer for the Cardinals to give him the start on Opening Day for the second straight season.
In 2019, Flaherty faced the Pirates twice, dominating in both outings. Over those two starts, Flaherty threw 15 innings, allowing just one run on eight hits.
Some of Pittsburgh’s most experienced hitters, Josh Bell, Colin Moran, and Adam Frazier, are a combined 6 for 41 (.146) in their careers against Flaherty. To make things worse for the Pirates, Gregory Polanco is currently unavailable after testing positive for COVID-19, weakening Pittsburgh’s lineup even more ahead of Opening Day.
Let’s Go Joe
The Pirates will look to Joe Musgrove to give them a chance against St. Louis on Opening Day. With Chris Archer missing the season because of thoracic outlet surgery, Musgrove was almost the de facto choice for Opening Day.
In 2019, he was 11-12 with a solid but unspectacular 4.44 ERA. Nevertheless, he’s considered the leader of Pittsburgh’s rotation and is under a lot of pressure to set a good tone for the season.
The good news is that the St. Louis lineup isn’t considered one of the more vaunted in the National League. However, Musgrove started four games against the Cardinals in 2019 and lost all four starts.
Paul Goldschmidt and Dexter Fowler, in particular, have gotten the best of Musgrove, combining to go 12 for 25 (.480) with six extra-base hits. Harrison Bader, Tyler O’Neill, and Kolten Wong have also homered against Musgrove.
Based on Musgrove’s history against the Cardinals, the higher payout for a Pittsburgh win isn’t worth the risk in this game. Flaherty has outstanding stuff and is facing a watered-down lineup that he dominated on multiple occasions last season.
It’s a no-brainer to bet on the Cardinals to beat the Pirates on Opening Day.
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