Houston Astros vs. St. Louis Cardinals Preview and Pick

Houston Astros (11-12) Shawn Chacon +116, 9 O/U at St. Louis
Cardinals (14-9) Braden Looper -126, 9 O/U, Busch Stadium, 8:15 PM
EST, Friday

by Badger of Predictem.com

The St. Louis Cardinals return home Friday to start a three-game
series against their National League Central rival and red-hot
Houston Astros, with Braden Looper and Shawn Chacon set to duel in
the opener.

The Astros come into Busch on a five-game roll, winning the finale of
a three-game series versus Colorado on Sunday and then sweeping back-
to-back two-game sets wit San Diego and Cincinnati. The Stros beat
Cincy 5-3 yesterday when minor-league call-up Jack Cassel held the
Reds to three runs in his five innings of work, so just about every
move they are making is turning to gold during the win streak.

The Cardinals also won yesterday, a 6-2 victory in Pittsburgh, but
overall they return home off of an even 2-2, four-game road trip
through NL Central rival cities Milwaukee and Pitt.

A majority of Online Sportsbooks are listing this game with St. Louis as -126 favorites, while Houston is listed as +116 underdogs.
The over/under total opened at 9 and has remained steady on that number.

After starting the season with a 6-12 record, the Astros are starting
to put multiple phases of the game together at the same time to
produce winning baseball. Not only are they getting solid starting
pitching, but multiple players in the lineup are getting hot at the
same time to spark an offense that struggled to score early in the

The top of the Astros order, namely Lance Berkman and Hunter Pence,
are both starting to heat up at the plate. Berkman is hitting .533 (8-
for-15) with six walks, two homeruns and nine RBIs during the win
streak, while Pence is hitting .474 (9-for-19) in the leadoff spot.
The Astros have gone from averaging 3.7 runs per game and hitting .
228 as a team to 8.2 and .335 during the five-game ride.

If the Cardinals offense feeds off of its star Albert Pujols, then
look out. Pujols reached base in all five plate appearances Thursday
(2-for-2), but then again he has been doing that all season. Pujols
has reached safely in all of the Cards 23 games, and overall he leads
baseball with an unheard of .525 on-base percentage.

Looper is coming off of his worst start of the year, and possible his
career, giving up seven runs on 10 hits in just three innings in an
8-2 loss to San Francisco on Sunday. Prior to that though Looper
(3-1, 5.49) had been outstanding, winning four straight decision
including 5.2 innings pitched (5 H, 3 R) versus Houston on April 9th
in a 6-4 Cardinals victory.

Chacon has pitched well for the Astros this season, even though he
doesnt have a victory to show for it. Chacon (0-0, 2.77) has reached
the quality-start plateau in all four of his starts this season (6
IP, less than 3 runs is considered a quality start), including six
innings (4 hits, 3 ER) of a no-decision against the Astros back on
April 8th.

Speaking of that April 7th-thru-9th series earlier this season, the
Cardinals won two of the three in Houston. The Cardinals won the
season series versus the rival Astros (9-7 overall, 4-3 at Busch),
and have played well against Houston at home beating the Astros in 19
of their last 28 games in St. Louis.

With rain predicted in the forecast, this game could come down to bullpens, which would favor the Cardinals. The Astros have logged
more innings in the last three games (31.1 to St. Louis 28.1), and
new closer Jose Valverde is struggling out of the gate in 2008.

Badgers Pick: Keep an eye on the weather in this game, because if
Looper and Chacon take early exits due to long delays, this game gets
turned over to the bullpens. In which case, I like the over of 9. The
Astros are hot too, so the over offers good value here.