The Rays are still looking to dig out of the hole they’ve put themselves in and get back atop the AL East. Meanwhile, the Cardinals are just looking for positives heading into next season but nonetheless, these two teams are deadlocked with a win apiece in this three-game weekday set, with the rubber match set for Thursday night. Let’s take a look at the odds for this matchup, where the prediction is for the Rays to cover a spread of -1.5 at +106 odds.
Cardinals Vs. Rays Prediction
It’s been an interesting series thus far, with both teams winning a game after an early home run from the opposition forced a modest comeback. Tampa opened things up with a win in a pretty solid pitcher’s duel before St. Louis struck back in a Rays pen game. Now the series is on the line on Thursday, with Tampa in danger of dropping a series to a losing team, and thus the modest momentum they’ve rebuilt as they make a final playoff push.
The starting pitching matchup for Thursday looks like it could be a pretty lopsided one. After a scoreless outing to start the season, St. Louis’s Matthew Liberatore was pretty dreadful by any measure before getting sent back to AAA ball. The former first-round pick threw better down in the minors, but got hit pretty hard in his first start back in the pros.
Tampa’s starter, Zack Littell, has had a pretty unorthodox arc to his season. He started in Boston, was traded in-division to Tampa after a couple of rough performances to start the year, and continued to struggle a bunch in a traditional bullpen role. Then, curiously, results began to improve as the Rays began to employ him as an opener.
Now they’re using him as a full-fledged starter; his last three starts have gone 3.1, 5.0, and 6.0 innings, and have featured a total of 3 earned runs, a very solid tally. The latter two of those were his most recent appearances, so it’s looking like he’s a full-time starter these days. Usually, a struggling starter will go to the ‘pen, rather than an embattled reliever entering the rotation, but after very solid early returns, it looks like Tampa have made a wise move.
The Rays have slid from their historically-strong start, but they’ve stabilized in a big way, especially against non-playoff competition. They’re 8-5 across their past 13 games, including series wins against the Tigers, Yankees, and Astros. This is a solid team, and St. Louis really is not, especially after ditching a metric ton of pitching at the deadline, so with a struggling starter on the bump for St. Louis, I’m taking the Rays to not only win, but cover a 1.5-run spread.
For the total, I like the under a lot. 9.5 is a pretty high number, and to a degree, that’s understandable with one side throwing a subpar starter and the other using a starter-turned-reliever. The concern in Liberatore is far from unfounded- there’s a reason I’m throwing on Tampa against the spread instead of moneyline- but Littell has been in good form, and neither offense is exactly crushing the ball right now.
Cardinals Vs. Rays Prediction: Rays -1.5 (+106), u9.5 runs (-118)
Cardinals Vs. Rays Odds
The Rays are favored at home with -184 odds, while the visiting Cardinals are set at +154. For a run total of 9.5, the over is -104 while the under is -118.
Cardinals Vs. Rays Key Matchups
Matthew Liberatore vs. On-Base Hitters
Despite his terrible overall numbers, Liberatore has mostly done fine in terms of giving up home runs. He struggles a lot with giving up base hits (11.7 per 9 innings of work) and walks (4.3 per 9), all of which has led to an awful WHIP of 1.779. He can get hurt by hitters who do well getting on base, of which Tampa has several, as the 8th-best team in the league by OBP.
Yandy Díaz is the team’s OBP leader, with a stellar number approaching .400. Right behind him are Randy Arozarena and Isaac Paredes, who are tied with both sitting at an OBP of exactly. 361. With Harold Ramirez, Luke Raley, and Wander Franco all sitting in the .340s, this Tampa lineup is deep and absolutely full of on-base threats. They should have absolutely no issue getting a few runs off of Liberatore, one of the reasons I am taking the Rays to cover the spread of -1.5 in my Cardinals vs. Rays prediction.
Zack Littell vs. Base Hit Hitters
This is a similar concept as the above, except Littell doesn’t really walk anyone at all, with just 0.8 per 9 innings of work since coming over to Tampa. He’s able to pick up some strikeouts as well, but he does give up over 10 hits per 9, so guys who can put the ball in play with solid contact are an achilles heel of sorts. He’s actually first-percentile in hard hit percentage and average exit velocity, but 96th in walk percentage, which shows the value of throwing strikes, but also that there’s a definitive way to get to him.
St. Louis is actually 7th in the majors in batting average, so they do have some guys who can pick up hits. Nolan Arenado is second on the team with a .281 mark, no surprise, but the eyebrow-raiser might be that he’s not behind Paul Goldschmidt, who is fourth as he is hitting .275. The team leader is Brendan Donovan, who has an impressive number at .284 in what has been a nice second season in the bigs. The other hitter ahead of Goldschmidt is World Baseball Classic fan favorite Lars Nootbaar, who is hitting .278, including a very impressive .342 over the past two weeks, and .326 over the past four.
Cardinals Vs. Rays Starting Lineups
Cardinals Starting Lineup
CF L. Nootbaar L
1B P. Goldschmidt R
3B N. Arenado R
2B N. Gorman L
C W. Contreras R
RF J. Walker R
LF A. Burleson L
CF D. Carlson S
SS T. Edman S
Rays Starting Lineup
1B Y. Diaz R
SS W. Franco S
2B B. Lowe L
LF R. Arozarena
3B I. Paredes R
RF L. Raley L
CF J. Siri R
DH J. Lowe L
C R. Pinto R