Game Preview: Pirates at Cards (9/2/2014)

After winning three in a row, the Redbirds will try to keep the momentum going and hold on to first place in the NL Central.

The Pitching Matchup:  Adam Wainwright’s (15-9, 2.59 ERA) recent performances have been uncharacteristic of him. For the month of August, he has a 5.17 ERA and a 2-4 record in six outings. This contrasts with his 13-5 and 1.92 ERA he had before the month. He says he has “dead-arm”, basically meaning that he’s going through a slump for what could be any variety of reasons. Yet he approaches the coming month with optimism, saying he’s “ready for September.” Let’s hope that is the case as the Cards sure would like to see the first-half version of their ace again, very much still a Cy Young contender, as the playoffs approach

Taking the mound for Pittsburgh, Jeff Locke (6-3, 3.51 ERA) is looking for a repeat of his victory last Wednesday over Adam Wainwright. The 26-year old lefty, who went 4-0 with a 2.90 in August, limited the Cardinals to 6 hits and just 1 run in his most recent start.

The Skinny: Locke tries to continue his success streak while Wainwright tries to return to find his normal form. I suspect Wainwright will put up a better performance today than he did in August. This will be the first time he will have been united with batterymate Yadier Molina since Molina went on the disabled list for a thumb injury on July 9. Who knows? Maybe all Wainwright needs is his catcher.

Game Recap: Cardinals Alone in First Place After Late Rally

The Bottom Line: Lance Lynn got off to a slow start, throwing 52 pitches and giving up 3 runs in the first 2 innings. In the third inning, Matt Holliday hit a 2-RBI double, driving in Lance Lynn and Oscar Taveras bringing the score to 3-2. When Andrew McCutchen homered off of Cardinal reliever Kevin Siegrist in the top of the 7th, the Cardinals responded with a rally in the bottom half. Kolten Wong, making a pinch-hitting appearance, immediately made his presence known with a 2-run homer that tied the game up. Jon Jay followed with a triple that ricocheted away from Starling Marte, and was then promptly driven in by a Matt Holliday single for the winning run. Trevor Rosenthal picked up his 41st save.

St. Louis is now alone in first place in the NL central, a game ahead of the Brewers who lost to the Cubs today.

Matt Holliday on a Tear: After going 3-for-4, homering, driving in 4 runs, and fueling the Cards’ comeback against the Cubs on Sunday, Matt Holliday was again the driving force in the rally today, accounting for 3 of the Cards’ 5 runs. He has 6 hits and 7 RBIs in the past two games.

St. Louis Cardinals Matt Holliday

What’s Next?: Adam Wainwright (15-9, 2.59 ERA) will again face Jeff Locke (6-3, 3.51 ERA) and try to extend the Cards’ lead in the NL Central. Wainwright has been slow his last few starts but may find himself comfortable again with Yadier Molina back behind the plate.

Game Preview: Pirates at Cards (9/1/2014)

The Cards will host fellow NL Central competitors, the Pirates, this Labor Day afternoon at Busch.

The Pitching Matchup: Lance Lynn (14-8, 2.78) looks to have another solid outing against the Bucs after receiving a no decision in his last game.  Hopefully Lynn can keep his pitch count down after throwing 105 pitches in just 6 innings of work his last start.  Lynn looks to keep his earned run total low as he has only given up 13 earned runs in his last 10 starts combined.

The Cards will go up against Gerrit Cole (7-4, 3.65) who dominated the Cards last week in their meetup.  The Cards’ batters struck out 9 times and mustered only 3 hits in the 6 innings he was on the mound.  The Cards look to take advantage of Cole’s struggles on the road this season as he has a road ERA of 4.01 and a away opponent BA of .272.

Lance Lynn

The Skinny: The Cards need Lynn to continue his success on the mound as the season comes to it’s final month.  After finally catching up to the Brewers atop the NL Central, the Cards need to keep the momentum going after rallying to defeat the Cubs in yesterday’s game.  The Bucs are also looking for a playoff spot so this series is very critical for both teams.

Game Preview: Cards Look to Garner Split with Cubs

After snapping a four-game losing streak in explosive fashion yesterday, the Cards hope to earn a split in this four-game series with the upstart Cubs after losing the first two in blowouts. Last night, the Cards offense broke through with 13 runs, including nine in one inning, marking the team’s highest run total of the season. Now, the Cards offense will look to keep the good times going in today’s game at 1:15 CST at Busch Stadium.

The Pitching Matchup: John Lackey (13-8, 3.77 ERA) takes the mound looking to continue his exceptional pitching against NL Central opponents. In his last start, Lackey was stoud against the Pirates, going seven innings and giving up one run on seven hits. In his five starts with the Cards, Lackey has lasted at least six innings and allowed two runs or fewer in four of them. Lackey has not faced the Cubs this season, so he will get his first look at a Cubs lineup featuring many new, powerful hitters.

John Lackey

John Lackey

For the Cubs, Travis Wood (8-11, 4.72 ERA) comes in to today’s game after tossing six shutout innings against the Reds. But, Wood has not had much success against the Cards in three starts this season, as he has an ERA of 4.00 in averaging six innings per start. To make matters worse for the Cubs, Wood has a soaring 5.56 ERA on the road. Many Cards players have had great success against Wood, but look for Matt Holliday (11-for-34, 3 HR’s against Wood), who hit two homers yesterday, and Matt Carpenter (8-for-26, 2 HR’s) to have big games in particular.

The Skinny: If Lackey pitches as well as he has lately, then the Cards should have this one in the bag. While the offense won’t be able to match yesterday’s run total, a few runs should suffice as the Cards have the chance to move into a tie atop the NL Central with the Brewers with a win today.

Game Preview: Cubs at Cards (8/29/2014)

The Cubs roll into to Busch Stadium having lost two of three to the Reds over the past three days. Meanwhile, our Cards have not done any better, dropping the last two games of their three game set against the Pirates earlier in the week. As the standings sit currently, the Cards are 1.5 games back from the Brew Crew and are in charge of the Wild Card race. The Cubs are once again waiting for next year.

The Pitching Matchup: Shelby Miller (8-9, 4.26 ERA) is making his 26th start of the season tonight after taking a no decision in his last outing against the Phillies. So far, Miller has had a miserable month of August, posting a 4.88 ERA as the Cards have dropped three of the four games he has started. Overall, outside of a spectacular month of April, Miller has been average at best for the Cardinals, even being relegated to the bullpen for a time before the All-Star Break. Against the Cubs this year, Miller has made one start lasting 5 2/3 innings and earning a no decision. In that game, Miller gave up 2 earned runs on three hits, one of which was a homer.

From the other dugout is Cubs’ rookie Kyle Hendricks (5-1, 1.78 ERA). In limited innings pitched this year, Hendricks has dominated Major League hitting, giving up four earned runs in his debut but never more than two in the seven starts since. A huge part of Hendricks’ success has come from his ability to stifle opposing bats, posting a .217 opposing batting average in 2014. Hendricks made one previous start against the Cards this season, taking the loss in the 1-0 game. The only run scored in that game was off of a solo home run from the bat of Matt Holliday.

The Skinny: Hendricks is a young pitcher who has sustained a string of success to begin his short career, but his one loss has still come by the hand of this Cards’ team. In order to break their two game losing streak, the Cards will need to play long ball with Hendricks and hope that the good Shelby Miller shows up today.

Analysis and Prediction: The NL Central Contenders

Cardinals:

Remaining Schedule: The Cards (71-61) play all but two series against NL Central opponents. They play seven games against a dangerous, nothing-to-lose Cubs team,  seven more games against the Reds, three games versus the Pirates, and here’s the big one: seven games against the Brewers. In between all of those games, the Cards play a series against the cellar-dwelling Rockies and a series against the struggling Diamondbacks. Considering the fact that the Cards are 31-21 against NL Central opponents, this turns out to be a pretty favorable schedule.

Injury Report: At long last, Michael Wacha and Yadier Molina are set to return to the Cards around the middle of September, providing a much-needed boost to this team.

Prediction: With Wacha and Molina coming back, the Cards will finally chase the Brewers for good and take the NL Central crown. The Cards play a much easier schedule than the Brewers or Pirates, plus they have played well in the division this season.

Brewers:

Remaining Schedule: The Brewers (73-60) have a very similar schedule to the Cards, except their out of division games are against two contending Wild Card teams: the Giants and Marlins. A nine-game road trip to St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati from September 16-25 will likely decide their fate, but the Brew Crew can take comfort in the fact that they are better on the road (37-29 record) than at home (36-31). Nonetheless, Milwaukee is just 29-25 against NL Central opponents this season, so this heavy slate of divisional competition might not be a good thing for this team.

Injury Report: Starting pitcher Matt Garza is expected to return to the club very soon after suffering a left rib cage strain that placed him on the 15-day DL.

Prediction: The Brewers will slip out of first place and settle for the top Wild Card spot. They have tougher out of division series than the Cards, and they have not been great against divisional opponents, so I expect the Brewers to win as many games as they lose from here on out.

Pirates:

Remaining Schedule: The Pirates (69-64) have the hardest schedule out of the three NL Central contenders. First and foremost, the Buccos have to play 17 out of the remaining 29 games on the road, and they are significantly worse on the road (27-37 record) than at home (42-27). Pittsburgh also plays three series out of the division against the Phillies, Red Sox, and Braves. Combine all of this with the fact that the Pirates finish the season on a seven-game road trip, and you get the feeling that the odds are not in their favor.

Injury Report: The Pirates are a relatively healthy team, but starting pitcher Charlie Morton is expected to return for the stretch run. Additionally, Andrew McCutchen is back from his injury, but who knows if he can stay healthy for the final month.

Prediction: The Pirates will eventually fall out of contention for one of the Wild-Card spots and miss the playoffs entirely. This will be a disappointing end to the season considering how they made it to the playoffs a year ago, but the Buccos are faced with too many tough road games to overcome these challenges.

The Enigma of Oscar Taveras

As each new September rolls around, major league clubs find themselves staring down the barrel of another down season or a legitimate shot at a playoff berth. The ambiguity that exists at the trade deadline of if some teams will contend or not has disappeared by the time the dog days have passed a the end of August. So while the contenders are preparing for that final playoff push, everyone else is left with 15 new unoccupied roster spots to scout out some talent for the coming years. In years past, the September call-ups have often held only one true story of intrigue; when will Oscar Taveras finally be called up?

Oscar Taveras

Oscar Taveras

Coming in 2014, Oscar Taveras was the third highest ranked prospect in all of professional baseball, but he had not so much as sniffed a big league uniform. Over six minor league seasons at various levels, Taveras had posted an incredible .320 batting average and .516 slugging percentage. Cards’ fans awaited Taveras’ arrival like a dog at the door when his owner returns from work.

In 2014, Taveras finally arrived. And he hit a home run in his first at-bat. Since then? Not much else.

After his much ballyhooed debut homer, Taveras cratered and has only slightly recovered. As of today, Taveras is hitting .233/.272/.306 with an abysmal -0.7 WAR. Taveras has only hit one more homer since his debut and has made a return trip to the minors. His OPS+ currently sits at 61 which is worse than the Reds’ light hitting shortstop Zach Cozart. All of which brings us to the question: what the heck happened to Oscar Taveras?

According to Fangraphs, Taveras has been swinging at 34% of the pitches he sees outside of the strikezone and making contact with 84% of those swings. Both of those statistics explain Taveras’ heightened groundball rate of 52% and why he hasn’t been hitting for power all season long. Because Taveras his swinging at bad pitches, he’s making weak contact resulting in more outs.

So will he continue like this or return to form? Conventional wisdom says that as Taveras adjusts to Major League pitching, he will stop swinging at bad pitches and thus return to form. Fangraphs supports this assessment with their five year projection indicating Taveras to be a yearly 3.5 to 4 WAR player. Fear not Cards’ fans, the Taveras you’ve long awaited should be due to arrive next spring.

Game Recap: Cards’ Rally Falls Short in 5-2 Defeat

The Bottom Line: After the Pirates took a 2-0 lead in the middle innings, the Cards mounted a rally in the seventh inning when Jon Jay hit a sacrifice fly and rookie Randal Grichuk belted a pinch-hit RBI single to tie the game 2-2. Nonetheless, Ike Davis responded with the game-winning hit for the Pirates when he hit a three-run shot in the eighth inning to give the Buccos a crucial 5-2 victory at home.

Lynn Unrewarded for Quality Start: Starting pitcher Lance Lynn (14-8, 2.79 ERA) tossed six innings and conceded just two runs on six hits, but he came away without a decision as the Cards couldn’t provide enough run support for him. Coming into this start, Lynn had notched three consecutive victories while allowing only four earned runs total, but he was ultimately outdueled by Gerrit Cole.

Lance Lynn’s quality start wasn’t enough to lift the Cards to a win.

What’s Next: In the series finale, Adam Wainwright (15-8, 2.52 ERA) looks to get back on track and deliver a series victory when he faces left-handed pitcher Jeff Locke (5-3, 3.69 ERA) at 11:35 AM in Pittsburgh.

Game Preview: Cards at Bucs (8/26/2014)

After last night’s win, the Cards sit just 1.5 games back of the Brewers in the Central and are firmly in control of the wild card race. The Pirates, meanwhile, are still in the hunt for a wild card spot but are fading fast in terms of vying for the NL Central. Over their past 10 games, the Pirates are 3-7 while the Cards are 7-3.

Lance Lynn

The Pitching Matchup: Lance Lynn (14-8, 2.78 ERA) is pitching tonight for the Cards in his third appearance against the Pirates this season. In the previous two matchups, Lynn gave up six earned runs in 12 2/3 innings pitched and 15 hits. He took the loss in the first matchup but redeemed himself in the second to earn the win. So far this season, Lynn has been leagues better in night games as opposed to day games, posting a 2.o2 ERA in night games but a 5.56 ERA in day games. Against this current Pirates’ lineup, Starling Marte is 6 for 15 with two doubles and Neil Walker is 8 for 26 with two homers.

For the Pirates tonight is sophomore pitcher Gerrit Cole (7-4, 3.69 ERA). This will be Cole’s second start since his return from his second stint on the DL this season. In his first game back, Cole gave up only two earned runs in 7 innings to earn the win. Cole has faced the Cards twice before this season, giving up three earned runs in 14 innings pitched with seven strikeouts. Cole is primarily a groundball pitcher, so coupling that with the Pirates’ propensity to play the shift, this could be a long afternoon for the Cards.

The Skinny: Both pitchers throwing tonight are the up-and-comers on their respective teams. Lynn has truly proved himself this season as the Cards’ number two behind Wainwright and should carry the mantle for years to come. Gerrit Cole is also heralded as the next big thing in Pittsburgh despite his numerous arm injuries over the course of 2014. I expect today’s game to be a pitcher’s duel that could swing either way.

Game Recap: Cards Outlast Bucs 3-2

The Bottom Line: Matt Holliday singled home two runs in the top of the seventh to push the Cards past the Pirates in the opener of a three game set. John Lackey gave up an early solo home run to Pedro Alvarez but recovered to go 7 strong innings with three strikeouts.

Positives:

  • So far this season, the Cards are 4-1 in John Lackey’s starts. The veteran right hander has proven to be a quality deadline pick up going 7 innings in three of his five starts as a Cardinal.
  • Pat Neshek continued his dominate season tonight, throwing around inning of scoreless baseball. Neshek’s ERA sits at a miniscule 0.81.
  • Trevor Rosenthal picked up his 39th save despite giving up a run on a solo home run.
  • Jon Jay got the job done in his one pinch hit at-bat, knocking in a run and setting up Matt Holliday’s two-RBI single.

Negatives:

  • Peter Bourjos is batting .228 on the season and was hitting in the 2-hole tonight. That is simply unacceptable. I know he has to play, but at the very least bat him eighth.
  • Oscar Taveras went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. The rookie has had a pretty up and down year since his debut, but the promise for greatness is still there.

What’s Next: Lance Lynn (14-8, 2.78 ERA) goes against Gerritt Cole (7-4, 3.69 ERA) tomorrow evening at PNC Park.