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Nationals vs Cardinals NLCS Game 1 betting picks and predictions: Too early for a must-win?

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Anibal Sanchez faces off against Miles Mikolas in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium on Friday. Just like we all wrote it up. But that doesn’t matter anymore because this is where we are now.

The Nationals come in flying high after taking down the 106-win Dodgers in five games, while the Cardinals might have even more confidence after their 13-1 beat down of the Braves in the deciding game of their division matchup. Now, the Nationals will attempt to advance to their first Fall Classic in franchise history against the team with more World Series titles than anyone in the NL. From the opening pitch to the final out, we break down the best way to wager the odds for Game 1 of the NLCS.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS AT ST. LOUIS CARDINALS (-130, 8 @ BETAMERICA)

QUICK HITTER

Mikolas taking the ball for the Cardinals in Game 1 isn’t much of a surprise with the way the rotation innings have worked out and for the fact, that the right-hander has been much better pitching at Busch Stadium. He owns a 2.98 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP in 16 starts at home this season.

And while the Cards have definitely been able to but up some crooked numbers during this run, their lineup is arguably the most inconsistent of all the teams that made the postseason. In their three wins in the ALDS they averaged 8.3 runs per game and in the two losses they plated just one run. St. Louis also ranked 23rd in the Bigs when it came to scoring runs in the bottom of the first at just 0.51 per contest.

Sanchez is the type of pitcher that can give this lineup problems. Take the opening frame to be scoreless.

Pick: Run in 1st Inning – No (-120)

FIRST FIVE INNINGS

Sanchez can give the Cardinals problems by using an effective change up and locating his fastball. Sanchez pitched to a 2.42 ERA and a 0.85 WHIP in his final four starts of the regular season and followed that up with a solid performance in Game 3 of the NLDS where he allowed just one run on four hits with nine strikeouts over five innings. Teams are also hitting below .200 against Sanchez over that five game stretch. And while the Nationals have the better lineup on paper, they’ve done most of their damage after the fifth inning, averaging just 1.5 runs in the first five innings over six postseason games.

Pick: Under 4 First Five Innings (+100)

TEAM/PLAYER PROP

Mikolas did make two starts against the Nationals this season, and while he only gave up four runs, Washington got to him for 15 hits in 12 innings pitched. Here are the career stats for some of the Nats against Mikolas. Juan Soto is 3-8 (.375), Anthony Rendon is 4-9 (.444) and Howie Kendrick is a ridiculous 8-11 (.727). We’re not sure if Washington can steal game one or not, but we do like them to have more hits in the final box score.

Pick: Most Hits – Nationals (-105)

FULL GAME TOTAL

While we think this one may be low-scoring early on, that could turn around come the later innings. Washington was the third best team in the Bigs when it came to scoring in the sixth inning or later at 2.40 per contest. And if you’re name isn’t Andrew Miller the Cardinals bullpen has shown some blemishes during the postseason.

And everyone knows the issues surrounding the Nats’ pen. The only team with a worse bullpen ERA this season was the Baltimore Orioles. Let that sink in. The postseason hasn’t been much better as they currently have a 6.63 ERA and are allowing opponents to hit .273 against them thus far. With none of their starters expected to come out of the pen in this one, the only reliever that looks reliable right now is Daniel Hudson. This one goes Over late.

Pick: Over 8

FULL GAME SIDE

That is the exact reason we like the Cardinals in Game 1. The advantage in bullpens is clear right now, and while the Nationals starters may give them the edge by series end, in this one the Cardinals will have a leg up. While it seems overblown to call a Game 1 must-win, with the gauntlet of Nationals starters staring them in the face in the next three games, it would be a big problem if they dropped this one. The Cardinals are also 21-9 in their last 30 games at Busch Stadium. Those angles give St. Louis the edge in Game 1.

Pick: Cardinals -130

Longshots to consider when betting the Shoemaker Mile

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Monday’s Shoemaker Miles Stakes at Santa Anita Park is a great race for a number of reasons. For starters, the Shoemaker Mile is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” race that offers the winner a guaranteed spot in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Keeneland.

Watch the Shoemaker Mile on Monday, May 25 from 6-8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

The race also features last year’s Preakness Stakes winner, War of Will, making his season debut. Despite his triumphs on the dirt in 2019, War of Will started his career on the turf and his pedigree suggests that he’s very likely to be just as successful on the grass. That said, the Shoemaker Mile will be his first start off of a six-month break, and I’m going to try to take a swing or two with some horses who could upset the apple cart at longer odds.

Let’s start out with the horse on the rail, Without Parole. He won the Group 1 St. James’s Palace Stakes going a mile at Ascot back in 2018. His three other career wins have all came at this mile distance as well. Granted, he hasn’t won in six races since the St. James’s Palace but he did finish a fast-closing third two starts ago in a much tougher U.S. debut in the TVG Breeders’ Cup MileIrad Ortiz Jr. rode Without Parole in that race and he will reclaim the mount on him again on Monday.

Without Parole has only had one race this year and it was in the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational in which he finished second to last. However, he had several excuses right from the start of that race when he got squeezed coming out of the gate. He also raced in traffic throughout and got cut off several times in the stretch before Frankie Dettori — who had come from Europe to ride him at Gulfstream — finally just wrapped up on him. The Pegasus World Cup Turf also was a race that didn’t allow him to run on Lasix (furosemide) after he’d shown significant improvement racing on Lasix for the first time at the Breeders’ Cup.

Stream the 2020 Shoemaker Mile live here

How much of a factor might Lasix be for some horses? Well, let’s next look at the horse who finished last in the Pegasus World Cup Turf: Next Shares. In his following start (back on Lasix) in the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile Stakes, Next Shares finished third (beaten just a neck) to River Boyne. Both Next Shares and River Boyne return in the Shoemaker Mile and I prefer the former as a pace play who has plenty of back-class. If you rewatch the Kilroe Mile, Next Shares covered a lot more ground than River Boyne. With a similar effort, Next Shares could certainly turn the tables.

The other thing to like about Next Shares is that his trainer, Richard Baltas, has entered speedster Neptune’s Storm in the Shoemaker Mile. That horse, along with Voodoo Song, should ensure a very brisk pace up front — they’ll also be kept honest by Blitzkrieg and War of Will, both of whom usually race on or near the lead. All of that speed adds up to good news for Next Shares. He’s a Grade 1 winner who has always done his best running when he’s had some pace to run into. The other two keys for him (like all stalking or closing-type runners) is clear running room late, and hopefully he’ll get that with Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez taking the mount.

Lastly, we should take a look at True Valour. It’s hard to make much of an excuse for his flat finish in the Kilroe last out, but he’s truly performed better than what his results on paper might indicate. In the Thunder Road Stakes in February, he looked pretty keen early and it took him a few strides to settle down without throwing his head around and fighting his rider. Turning for home, it was clear that jockey Andrea Atzeni had plenty of horse under him but was just waiting for some running room. It ended up coming too late because River Boyne was in a better spot and had already taken command. True Valour did split horses nicely in the closing stages and was half a jump away from finishing second.

If you go back to the Breeders’ Cup Mile, True Valour had excuses there, too. He was up on heels early and he again took a little bit of time to settle down into a comfortable stride. Then, turning for him, he was just waiting for running room but instead got stuck behind a wall of horses. True Valour ended up steadying pretty badly and lost all chance at that point. I’m a little worried about how headstrong he tends to be early in races, but there’s a scenario here that could have at least two horses battling for the lead early and opening up some daylight on the rest of the field. That means he’ll be less likely to be running up on anyone’s heels and it also ensures that he’ll have a nice setup. Whether he can navigate clear passage late in the race is a separate matter.

Longshot Selections

#1 Without Parole

#3 Next Shares

#2 True Valour

Watch the Shoemaker Mile on Monday, May 25 from 6-8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

How to bet an exacta on a horse race

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Betting an exacta can present a challenge on several levels.

There is, of course, the primary need to analyze past performances and decide which horses are going to finish first and second.

Yet because of the inherently lower payoffs as opposed to what you’ll find in a Pick 3 or Pick 4, you’ll need to structure your wagers effectively in order to turn your selections into a profitable wager.

For starters, an exacta can be a simple wager. If you like two horses equally, you can just box them in the exacta and collect so long as they finish 1-2 in any order. If you like one of them a little more, you can then bet more on the one you prefer, say $10 on a 1-2 exacta and $5 on 2-1.

If you’re a little more uncertain, make sure you structure your bet around the size of the field and the probable payoffs.

If you like a longshot, the higher probable payoffs give you the cushion you need to wager on more combinations and still turn a nice profit.

But if you’re dealing with favorites or horses at relatively low odds, you have to wager more efficiently to preserve your profit.

In a field of six or less, you’re best to either focus on one horse or box two of them instead of boxing three or more horses because of the small payouts the bet will most likely generate.

In a field of seven, a wise strategy would be to box your top two choices and then, if you are worried about other horses, play them top and/or bottom other the other horses. For example, box 1-2, then bet 1-2 over 3-4 and 3-4 over 1-2. This way you are getting coverage on four horses without having to box them.

Once you get an eight-horse field, as long as there is not an overwhelming favorite, you can expand the number of horses you box since the payoffs will typically be higher, giving you a better opportunity to offset the inevitable array of losing tickets in a boxed wager.