The Chicago Cubs are playing for their postseason chances as they line up to host the St. Louis Cardinals Thursday night.  They’re quest makes them a fine play on a limited slate.

St. Louis Cardinals -105 | Jack Flaherty (10-8, 3.05 ERA) at Chicago Cubs -105 | Kyle Hendricks (11-9, 3.62), 7:15 p.m. ET

This is the first of a four-game tilt for the Cubs and Cardinals which could make or break Chicago’s postseason chances. The Cardinals hold a three-game lead over the Cubs for the top spot in the National League Central Division with just 10 games left to play in the regular season.

On the flip side, the Chicago Cubs are locked in a race with the Milwaukee Brewers for the National League’s second Wild Card berth.  If the season ended tonight, these two teams would be facing off against one another in the Wild Card game.

But a whole lot can happen before the season actually ends.  The Cubs and Cardinals actually square off seven times over the next 10 games.  This means the Cubs could emerge with a one-game lead in the division or find themselves seven games out, depends on how the next few days go around the league. These two teams have already played a dozen games this season with Chicago coming out on top 7-5, including a perfect 6-0 record at Wrigley Field.

The Cardinals hand the ball off to their best and brightest pitcher right now, right-hander Jack Flaherty (10-8, 3.05 ERA).  Flaherty is set to make his 31st start of the season and has seen an uptick in quality starts since early July, going 6-3 with a 1.07 ERA in his last 13 starts overall.  During that stretch, opponents have a paltry .152 batting average against Flaherty.

Over his eight career starts versus the Cubs, Flaherty is 2-2 with a 3.60 ERA, including a 1-1 record vs Chicago this year. His last trip to the mound, Flaherty tossed his 10th quality start in a row, despite taking a loss to the Brewers as heavy favorites.  The young righty tossed six innings of three-run ball, with two of those runs coming off a Mike Moustakas home run, just the third home run was given up by Flaherty since July.

He has dropped both of his starts so far in Chicago, combining to pitch 9.1 innings and giving up seven earned runs along the way. Despite some iffy numbers, Flaherty has been playing at a very high level so far in the second half of the season and has been a big reason for the Cardinals ascension to the top of the division.

The Cubs will look to counter with their steady hand, right-hander Kyle Hendricks (11-9, 3.26 ERA).  Hendricks enters thig game on a three-game win streak, including a solid performance last time out versus Pittsburgh where he gave up just one run in six innings of work. Hendricks is 8-2 with a 3.27 ERA in 17 games versus the Cardinals over the course of his career.  As far as 2019 goes, he is 3-0 with a fantastic 0.39 ERA vs the Cardinals this year, allowing just a single run to cross the plate in 23 innings.

Hendricks beat Flaherty and the Cardinals back in May, pitching a complete game four-hit shutout at Wrigley.  That was his first of three wins on the year for Hendricks vs St. Louis and the only hitter on the team who saw any success is Marcell Ozuna who is 12-for-29 lifetime against him.

The Cubs will be without a pair of their best hitters with both Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo on the shelf due to injury.  As bad as things have gotten for the Cubs recently, they still are just three games back from the Cardinals in the National League Central race.  This means that a four-game sweep would put the Cubs in the driver’s seat of the division.

As mentioned above, the Cubs have won all six matchups in this series at Wrigley Field in 2019 and winning 21 of their last 26 games overall.  Prior to losing yesterday, the Cubs had reeled off five wins in a row to keep them locked into the NL Wild Card race.  Their offense rattled off 47 total runs over the weekend against the Pittsburgh Pirates and eight more on Tuesday night in game one of this series. They are unlikely to find that level of offensive success against the hot-handed Flaherty tonight, but it’s still an encouraging sign for a team that’s struggled so far in September.

Against teams with a winning record, Flaherty has struggled a bit with a 2-5 record in his last seven starts and 1-5 in his last six road starts.  Chicago is 5-1 SU in their last siv games and a strong 47-22 record at home in their last 69 games.  The Cubs have a slight edge here, both on the mound and at the plate and therefore are my best bet in this game. The fact is they need the win and I’m betting on them to do just that.

Best Bet: Chicago Cubs -105

Los Angeles Angels +210 | Andrew Heaney (4-5, 4.76) vs New York Yankees -230 | Masahiro Tanaka (10-8, 4.60 ERA), 6:35 p.m.

The New York Yankees look to lock in their first American League East division title for the first time since 2012 with a win against the Angels tonight.  Tampa Bay spoiled their fun last night after rallying in the ninth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers, winning 8-7 and keeping the Yankees from clinching. They will try again tonight in this finale of the Yankees and Angels three-game series at Yankee Stadium.

The Bronx Bombers (99-54) enter this game with a magic number of just one to secure the division they have led since way back on June 15th.  Not only are the Yankees trying to lock in their postseason appearance, but also vying for the best record in baseball with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros.  Winning the best record in the league ensures home-field advantage in each round of the postseason, including the World Series.  The Astros maintain a single game lead on New York and are two games ahead of Los Angeles.

New York is giving themselves a great shot to win with Masahiro Tanaka taking the mound today in the Bronx.  Tanaka is 10-8 with a 4.60 ERA on the season, including an unimpressive 0-1 record with a 6.00 ERA in his previous three starts.  Last time out, he coughed up four runs on eight hits in just five innings of work last week in a 6-5 loss in Toronto. He has done well over the course of his career vs the Angels, posting a lifetime 3-1 record with a 2.38 ERA in seven starts against the Halos.  He last saw them on the road on April 25th, taking the loss after giving up six runs in 5 ⅔ short innings on the hill.

Despite his recent struggles, if you take a look deeper, his issues have come primarily on the road with four of his last five games taking place away from Yankee Stadium.  That lines up pretty well with his September struggles and bodes well for his start today at home. At home, Tanaka has a 3.24 ERA and 1.13 WHIP on the season and has allowed two runs or fewer in each of his last three starts.

The Yankees have come out on top of seven of Tanaka’s last eight starts at home, with six of those wins covering the spread for backers.  He is up +1 unit on the season when playing at home.  Tanaka is also in a favorable spot due large in part to him coming off five full days of rest and is poised for a strong performance tonight.

Tanaka might be in for a smooth night based solely on the Angel’s lack of offensive numbers lately. Tanaka doesn’t have to worry about mega-star Mike Trout tonight, whose recent injury will offer some reprieve from his usual strong performance against Masahiro.

Looking to keep the Yankees off the board is L.A.’s starter tonight, Andrew Heaney, who is 4-5 on the season with a 4.76 ERA.  He has been very hittable lately having coughed up four runs or more in each of his previous three trips to the mound.  Trouble is that Heaney is a fly-ball pitcher, but one who is having trouble keeping those fly-balls in the ballpark.

He has given up five home runs over his past three games and the Yankees are not the team to be playing against when you are having home run issues.  They Yankees slug .505 against fly-ball pitchers and currently rank first in total home runs per game in 2019.  In Heaney’s last start, he labored through 3 ⅓ innings against Tampa Bay on Friday, giving up six runs on 10 total hits.  He is 1-1 with a 1.47 ERA in three appearances versus the Yankees, none of which have come this season. The Yankees are hitting .294 against Heaney in those starts.

This is a perfect spot for the Yankees tonight.  They are coming off a loss and have won eight straight games after losing the day before.  Those wins came with a combined winning margin of 50 runs or about 4+ runs per game.  Expect this trend to continue and for the Yankees to bounce back and win this game en route to clinching the American League pennant along the way.

Best Bet: New York Yankees -1.5 (-120)