The St. Louis Cardinals Slide Under The Radar

The St. Louis Cardinals are one of baseball’s perennial success stories. Even in 2016, a down year for the franchise, they still won 86 games and competed for a playoff spot to the final day of the regular season. They did so in spite of dealing with off-years and injuries throughout the starting pitching rotation. On the surface, that would seem to make them a natural choice for a bounceback year. But the betting market disagrees.

St. Louis was priced with an Over/Under win prop of 84.5. While it’s too late to bet those props per se, it’s not too late to exploit the underlying mentality that drove the number to begin with—namely, that the market may be overlooking a number of factors that could propel the Cardinals back to the postseason.

The Cards have four starting pitchers of whom it’s reasonable to expect improvement…

*Adam Wainwright had a 4.62 ERA in 33 starts. Wainwright is 35-years-old, so this can’t be completely dismissed as a fluke. But it was so much more than a standard decline—it was not only Wainwright’s worst year, but his worst by a lot—that a move back toward career norms is entirely plausible.

*Mike Leake had his worst season in the last five, with a 4.69 ERA in 30 starts. Leake is only 29-years-old, so betting on a bounceback is not only plausible, but a good percentage move.

*Michael Wacha suffered a big regression, with a 5.09 ERA at the age of 25. Wacha’s star has faded since October of 2013 when he was a postseason hero in St. Louis and beat Clayton Kershaw twice in the playoffs. Similar to Wainwright, Wacha’s revival is not assured. But it’s unlikely he’ll pitch this poorly again.

*Lance Lynn missed all of last season, so his mere presence is going to be a boost and as an innings-eater, he’ll have a positive ripple effect on the bullpen.

That’s 80 percent of the starting rotation that can all have comeback years. If even one or two of them come through, the Cardinals are going to be better, back in the playoffs and likely a moneymaker on a night-to-night basis. If you’re ready to bet on all four of them to enjoy a revival, then you can take a serious look at the betting odds for the NL Central title—in a division where the Cubs are a top-heavy favorite, the Cards draw a juicy 11-2 price.

This is a team with a tremendous amount going for it. They have a legitimate rotation ace in Carlos Martinez. The everyday lineup has only one offensive weakness, second baseman Kolten Wong. They have outstanding all-around hitters in Matt Carpenter, Aledmys Diaz and Stephen Piscotty. And in signing Cubs’ centerfielder Dexter Fowler, they not only gave themselves a hitter who sets the table, they weakened their archrival.

The presence of the Cubs has overshadowed the rest of the NL Central and the result is a well-run franchise with a tradition of excellence and a lot of players primed for comeback years being made available to baseball bettors at good prices.

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