One year removed from being huge offseason spenders, the Padres are still hoping to compete in their big ballpark with loads of right-handed power.

Beginning today, the Cardinals take to the road to begin a three game series against NL West foe San Diego Padres (6-10, 5th in NL West). The Padres began last season with high hopes after an offseason spending spree that netted them Wil Meyers, Justin Upton, and Matt Kemp. After a borderline disastrous first half, many expected the team to be sellers at the trading deadline, but instead GM A.J. Prefer held on to all of his pieces en route to a 74-88 finish.

This year, the Padres are off to a slow start, but just took two out of three from the Pirates. The Cardinals are coming off of a tough series against the Cubs, but were able to salvage the finale of the three game set with a strong effort from the battery of Yadier Molina (2 for 3, 2B) and Carlos Martinez (7 IP, 1 R, 5K).

Tonight’s game features the marquee pitching matchup of the series, featuring Adam Wainwright up against Andrew Cashner. Wainwright has looked shaky to start off the season, going 0-2 with a 8.27 ERA over his last three starts. Wainwright is said to be working through some mechanical issues that have caused his struggles, so look for him to rebound. Cashner also didn’t quite look himself in his first two starts of the season, but he bounced back his last time out, holding the Diamondbacks to one run in six innings pitched. Look for Ruben Tejada to get some at bats today, as he holds a lifetime .400 batting average against Cashner.

The Cards will trot out Michael Wacha for the middle game of the three-game set, and the Padres have not officially announced who their starter will be for Saturday’s game after placing Robbie Erlin on the Disabled List yesterday. Wacha has been impressive in his last two starts after putting up a clunker in the opening series. On the other hand, the Padres, who have been plagued by the injury bug early in the season, are going to have to dig deep into their pitching depth to compete this weekend.

In the series finale on what should be a gorgeous day game at Petco Park, the Cards will send offseason acquisition Mike Leake to the hill to be opposed by Colin Rea, perhaps better known amongst baseball fans as the subject in question from the twice overturned balk call earlier this week. Leake spent last summer with the Giants in the NL West, and he looks to have pretty good numbers against most of the Padres lineup.

Rea will be making just his seventh career start after getting a cup of coffee with the big club last September. He got off to a fast start this season, winning his first two decisions before dropping his last two. Watch for Rea to struggle with pitch count, allowing the Cards to get deep into the Padres bullpen after what should be a long series.

With other NL Central contenders facing off against some middling teams this weekend (CHC vs. CIN & PIT vs. ARI), the Cardinals are going to need to at least grab a series win in San Diego to keep pace in the division race. Look for Mike Matheny to lean on his pitchers to really empty the tank the fourth time through the rotation while pitching in the spacey Petco Park.

Photo Captured by Jake Roth – USA TODAY Sports