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Cardinals Judgment Week: Cubs, Giants Ready For Battle

Cardinals Judgment Week

The Cardinals are facing their biggest week of the season. Let’s see how they stack up.

There is no question about it: it is crunch time for the Cardinals. This upcoming week has the potential to be the deciding factor in the Cardinals’ Wild Card hopes, with three games at Busch Stadium against the MLB-best Cubs and four in the unfriendly confines of AT&T Park against the Wild Card leading San Francisco Giants. Let’s take a look at the match-ups.

Cardinals vs. Cubs (Sept. 12 – Sept. 14):

Season Series: 7-6 Cardinals (2-5 @ Busch Stadium)

Projected Pitching Match-Ups:

  • Monday: Mike Leake (9-9 4.61) vs. Kyle Hendricks (14-7, 2.07)

    • Hendricks has been one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball this year, but the Cardinals have been his poison thus far in 2016. In 2 starts, he is 0-1, with a 4.38 ERA. However, the Cardinals will be especially missing Matt Holliday, who is a career 7-15 with 3 HR off of Hendricks. Despite losing Holliday, the Cardinals will look towards Matt Carpenter (career 6-16, 1 HR) and Yadier Molina (career 4-11) to perform. Leake has not performed any better in this season’s series. He is 0-1 with a 4.15 ERA and has been hit hard by Chris Coghlan (11-19, 2 HR), Kris Bryant (6-14), and Anthony Rizzo (.343 AVG, 2 HR). Look for Leake to pitch carefully against the top of the Cubs’ lineup, as he has been very successful versus the rest of the order. He has put together a .174 BAA against all active Cubs hitters not named Coghlan, Bryant, or Rizzo.
  • Tuesday: Jason Hammel (14-8, 3.50) vs. Jaime Garcia (10-12, 4.58)

    • Garcia has compiled a 8.06 ERA over the last month (25.2 IP), including an abysmal performance against the Brewers in his last start. He’s going to need to turn it around, as the Cardinals have Alex Reyes at the ready to fill in a spot in the rotation. Hammel hasn’t been doing much better than Garcia, compiling a 6.66 ERA over his last month (24.1 IP). This game has the makings to be a battle of the bullpens, which as of now, would favor the Cubs.
  • Wednesday: Mike Montgomery (4-5, 2.74) vs. Martinez (14-7, 3.05)

    • The Cardinals avoid Lester. The Cubs have been utilizing a soft 6 man rotation, with Montgomery occasionally starting. For the Cardinals, Martinez is red hot. He has allowed only 16 ER over his last 45 IP, with 41 K’s. Montgomery was acquired from the Mariners midway through the season and has made 3 appearances against the Cardinals, throwing a total of 5.1 innings, allowing 0 runs and 9 K’s. This will be his first start against the Redbirds. However, he has yet to last longer than 5 IP in a start for the Cubs. If Martinez can go deep into this game, the Cardinals have a definite advantage.

Cardinals @ San Francisco (Sept. 15 – Sept. 18)

Season Series: 2-1 Cardinals Lead | Proj. Pitchers Unavailable.

Key Three for the Cardinals:

  • Brandon Moss: 3-5 vs. SF, 1 HR
  • Aldemys Diaz: 4-12 vs. SF, 1 HR, 4 RBI
  • Matt Carpenter: 40-88 vs. SF, 1.140 OPS

Key Three for the Giants:

  • Denard Span: .308 AVG vs. Cardinals
  • Joe Panik: .285 AVG at AT&T Park (vs. .211 elsewhere), .308 AVG vs. Cardinals
  • Hunter Pence: .320 AVG at AT&T Park

Significance – Do The Cardinals Want First Wild Card?

This could be a dry run for the Wild Card one-game-playoff. Think of this series as a litmus test of sorts for the Cardinals. If they can prove that they can play with the Giants at AT&T Park (where they boast a 38-30 record this year), Cardinals fans can be much more relaxed down the stretch. In fact, with the Cardinals underperforming at home (despite tremendous fans), we have to raise the question: do the Redbirds want to be the 1st place Wild Card winner? That argument could last forever, but it is at least important to see how the Cardinals can perform in San Fran. Check out the article by Tyler Brandt to see more about the stadium situation.

Wrap It Up: Things to Watch This Week

Bullpen Management

Mike Matheny has been berated for his bullpen management as of late. His decision making has definitely been controversial, but there are limited options at his disposal right now. Matt Bowman has collapsed, Jonathan Broxton has not been dominant, and we all know about Trevor Rosenthal. The lefties have stayed consistent, so it will be interesting to see if Matheny moves away from playing match-up, and lets Duke and Siegrist handle more late inning situations. Of course, Alex Reyes should start seeing more high-pressure situations. Also be on the lookout for the Giants bullpen to struggle. They’re having closer issues, big time. The Redbirds, as we saw in Pittsburgh, are never out of a game, which puts them in a great situation against San Francisco.

Young Arms

With the struggles of Jaime Garcia, it is more important than ever for Luke Weaver and Alex Reyes to step up. Weaver is averaging 5 IP per start, putting way too much strain on an unreliable bullpen. He will need to start extending deeper into games, and that needs to happen soon. Reyes hasn’t done much better, going 4.2 IP and 6.0 IP in his 2 opportunities. Whether the two should flip roles is handled in this great article by Matt Heiken: Either way, Weaver is going to need to extend his outings, and Reyes will need to be a reliable, clutch reliever this week if the Cardinals want to have success.

Aledmys Diaz

Diaz is getting healthy at the right time. With his return, Matheny has a great problem to have. Diaz will slot in at SS, leaving Gyorko, Peralta, Wong, and Carpenter to fill the rest of the infield. Mixing and matching these combinations could give the Cardinals’ lineup very different looks depending on match-ups.

Keep your eyes open for these plot lines, and be sure to fill up Busch Stadium against the Cubs.

Photo Credit – Jeff Curry USA TODAY Sports.