Carlos Martinez is officially the ace of the Cardinals starting rotation, and he will face the Chicago Cubs on Opening Day.
Carlos Martinez will be Carlos Martinez
Not surprisingly, Carlos Martinez has been chosen as the Cardinals Opening Day Starter. He will be facing the defending world series champs, the Chicago Cubs. Given the volatility of the pitching staff, in general, this spring, it is comforting to see that Martinez will be reprising a crucial role in the rotation, and he has been rock solid as a starter for two full seasons now.
Pitchers usually win so press the advantage
Looking at the matchup, I can say that traditionally great pitching will beat great hitting 70% of the time. If Martinez pitches to for, it will be a competitive game. Against the Cubs in the past, he has allowed an opponent batting average of .252. In his MLB career, he has allowed an opponent batting average of .249, well within the margin of error.
There are not any meaningful conclusions to be taken from those numbers, but some interesting meaning can be drawn from his strikeout per walk numbers. His career SO/BB is 2.62, but his SO/BB against the Cubs is only 1.82.
Given the small sample size, I normally would be hesitant to make a definitive statement, but it is a roughly 30% decrease. What this translates to over the course of an average start, extrapolated to anywhere from 6 to 9 innings, Martinez will be throwing a lower percentage of strikes.
This also means that he is likely to throw more pitches overall and will limit his deep game effectiveness. The reason this is happening, and not affecting the number of hits he gives up, is that he is being much more careful around the strike zone rather than a dip in performance.
If Carlos Martinez pitches the Cubs exactly as he has in the past, he will likely have a quality start through 5 or 6 innings. This early in the season, I would like to see him push the pitcher’s advantage and pitch aggressively. This means establishing the fastball early to set up breaking balls in plus counts.
If he keeps his pitches on the black and out of the middle of the zone, he will have no problem carving up any batter in their lineup. If he “pitches with confidence” this will keep his pitch count low and hopefully produce a lot of swings and misses. By extension, he may be able to convert a quality start into an exceptional one.
The Bottom Line
The key for the Cardinals to beat a lineup like the Cubs comes down to two key elements. Eliminate the big hits and prevent them from stringing together hits. Individual hits and even home runs are not dangerous. The Cubs had their most success when they could hit consecutively in the same inning.
The team with a big inning is much more likely to win than the one that is only scoring one or two runs each inning. When the Cubs get on base, the key to preventing major is not as obvious as you might think.
The Cubs are a young athletic team, and they are capable of steals or hit-and-runs if you give them the opportunity. If you can play fundamental hustle defense, you can prevent many extra base hits, and crucially, after that the pitcher has can limit their ability to advance by holding the runner.
This cripples their ability to score, and we can see the significance of this idea in the importance that is placed in stats such as Runners in scoring position and RBI numbers.
The Cubs are not going to be hitting long balls against Martinez unless he makes a mistake. Managing counts and keeping control of the runners that do get on will neutralize the most dangerous characteristic of the Cubs, youth. They have energy and it is infectious in the dugout, so if you keep control of the pace of the game and prevent the hitting hive mentality to create an unmanageable string of hits.
Consistency in the strike zone and mistake minimization will take away the Cubs’ greatest weapons, and then it is up to the Cardinals offense to finish the job. Opening day can set the tone for the season so a great start could go a long way toward rebuilding the pitching staff and making back to the World Series.
Photo captured by Dennis Wierzbicki – USA Today Sports