Sunday Night ESPN Baseball Free MLB Picks, Tips and Odds: Chicago Cubs @ St Louis Cardinals Favorite, Moneyline, Total and Expert Predictions 7/31/11: Led by two passionate fan bases, the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals have had one of the better rivalries in baseball for decades. The Cardinals will be looking to sweep a three-game series Sunday night as they try to trim the 1.5-game deficit between themselves and the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers. Meanwhile, the Cubs – who aren’t contending for anything but last place – would be more than happy to spoil St. Louis’ run for the playoffs. Expect an intense matchup between two clubs that just plain don’t like each other.

The first two games of the series have been won easily by the Cardinals as their lineup has feasted on Cubs’ pitching to the tune of nine runs Friday and a 13-run outburst Saturday. With the St. Louis lineup on a tear and the home crowd on their side, it is no surprise to see the Cardinals favored by 1 ½ runs in Sunday night’s contest. However, it is a bit of a surprise to see the over/under at only 8 ½ runs. After all, the Cardinals have surpassed that total by themselves in the first two games, and the teams have combined to score 29 runs in the two games.

While the over looks like a pretty safe, it takes a closer look at Sunday’s pitching matchup before the same can be said about the spread. The Cardinals’ Jake Westbrook will face Chicago’s Ryan Dempster, and on reputation alone, Dempster is the bigger name. However, Westbrook has the better numbers in 2011, although neither is setting the world on fire. Westbrook enters Sunday’s game with a respectable 9-4 record despite a 4.86 ERA. Meanwhile, Dempster is sitting on a 7-8 record with a 4.98 ERA. Expect a lot of baserunners for both sides as Westbrook and Dempster boast below average WHIPs of 1.50 and 1.42, respectively.

Neither pitcher performed well in their only start against the opposition. Dempster got rocked for six runs in five innings in a June start against the Cardinals, while Westbrook didn’t even make it out of the third inning in an early-season start against the Cubs. Westbrook has been the better of the two pitchers as of late, giving up two runs or less in his last three starts. During the same stretch, Dempster has been a rollercoaster as he has been all year, throwing eight innings of shutout baseball in one start and getting shelled for six runs in his most recent outing.

In terms of matchups, Westbrook would appear to have the edge. The Cubs are an aggressive, free-swinging lineup and are just one of seven teams to have struck out more than 800 times as a team. Westbrook’s sinker should induce plenty of ground balls as the Chicago hitters swing for the fences rather than forcing the St. Louis starter to elevate the ball and throw strikes.

Dempster is the complete opposite on the mound, relying on a power fastball and slider. Although he strikes out nearly a batter an inning, the Cardinals are just one of seven teams to have less than 700 strikeouts in 2011. They are a good fastball hitting lineup led by Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, and Dempster will likely find it difficult to overpower this St. Louis lineup. An X-factor could be third baseman David Freese. He is hitting over .400 his last nine games, collecting 10 RBIs during the stretch. If Dempster decides to pitch around Pujols and Holliday, Freese and his hot bat could blow the game open.

In the end, the Cardinals are simply the much better team. As mediocre as Westbrook is, he won’t have to be dominant to pick up the victory in Sunday’s contest. Expect Dempster to give up a big homerun at some point as the Cardinals blow the game open with a big inning as they have in the first two games of the series. St. Louis brings one of the more disciplined lineups against a Cubs’ pitching staff that has been terrible. There is a reason the first two games of the series have been blowouts in favor of the Cardinals.

Free Sunday Night ESPN Baseball Tips and Prediction: St Louis Cardinals (-1 ½) Cover the Spread

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Chicago Cubs @ St Louis Cardinals
Date: 7/31/2011
Time: 8:05 PM EST on ESPN
Vegas Odds -
Favorite: St Louis Cardinals -155(moneyline) Total: Over/Under 8 Runs
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