Cubs-Cards rivalry has playoff feel

By Jeff Fogle  ( 

It’s rare to get a true playoff vibe from Major League games played in early May. But two of the hottest teams on the diamond will square off this week on Sunday Night Baseball (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET). And, they happen to be hated divisional rivals.

It’s the St. Louis Cardinals visiting the Chicago Cubs to close out their weekend set. Both entered the series on fire. St. Louis has been the best team in the National League since starting 3-5. Among the highlights…

  • Sweeping a four-game series from the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are still market favorites to win the National League pennant again in October. 
  • Sweeping a three-game series vs. Milwaukee, last year’s NL Central champions.
  • Humbling the Washington Nationals in a four-game road series just before visiting the Cubs. At the time, that made St. Louis the biggest money makers for bettors in the senior circuit this season…second-best in the Majors behind Minnesota.

The Cubs heard all through preseason that “analytics” sites were projecting a fade to irrelevance. Betting markets closed their Regular Season Win Total in the high 80s rather than the recently customary 90s. Rumblings only grew louder after an early six-game losing streak. As late as mid-April, the Cubs were only 5-9. 

That was followed by…

  • A three-game road sweep at Miami where the Cubs won scoreboard 17-2.
  • Four wins in six games against Arizona, who’s been playing well all season.
  • Two wins in three games against the Dodgers, who might be playing .700 ball this season if not for the Cards and Cubs!
  • A short two-game series sweep at Seattle, highlighted by an 11-0 slaughter to close out the road trip. After sweeping struggling Miami, the Cubs went 8-3 against teams with winning records. That’s a great betting indicator for quality play. 

What’s been working for both? 

Mostly offense. Particularly the ability to get on base. Both the Cards and the Cubs entered the weekend in the top three of the National League. They were the top two teams in runs scored per game. 

Pitching has been acceptable, but not stellar. Both are slightly better than average in NL team ERA. Chicago’s had the better starting rotation, St. Louis the superior bullpen. 

Looking ahead with 80% of the season remaining, betting markets still see a three-team race for the NL Central crown. These two plus Milwaukee typically return in the area of 14-1 to 16-1 to win the World Series depending on the store. The Dodgers are NL favorites at 11/2 or 6/1 to win it all. 

Clearly the Cards and Cubs aren’t afraid of the Dodgers. St. Louis will need better starting pitching to survive a postseason gauntlet. The Cubs are already playing like the franchise isn’t ready to go back into hibernation just yet. 

For day-to-day betting tactics…look to back either offense in good hitting environments, monitor market pricing to see if it reflects the won-lost records you see in the standings, and check for continued success against other quality opponents. 

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