Before the season started, if you told a Cardinals fan that in mid-June, the World Series champion Cubs would be defending their title by sitting just shy of a .500 record, they would have felt pretty good. With St. Louis seeming like the only other competitive team in the NL Central, surely the division must have looked like theirs for the taking if the Cubs stumbled.
It’s not that easy. While the Cubs surely have stumbled, so have the Cardinals, and the Cardinals have fallen even harder. After losing their last three games in a row heading into this series, St. Louis is just 30-35 on the season. On the other hand, they’re still lucky, because despite that record, they’re just 4.5 games back of the surprising Brewers.
What’s the deal there? The Cardinals, perhaps more nearly every other MLB team, have been perennially competitive. They last won fewer than 86 games a decade ago and they have been above .500 all but one year since we entered the 21st century.
There’s a lot to make the Orioles envious in how the Cardinals roster looks, too. They have two starting pitchers with an ERA under 3 - granted, it’s the NL Central - and a third with an ERA of 3.14. Even their worst starter by ERA, Adam Wainwright, “only” has a 4.73 ERA and is at least averaging more than five innings per start.
When you look at the hitters, six of the eight position players are above league average for OPS and even their worst hitter, Yadier Molina, isn’t THAT bad with an 81 OPS+. Not great, but that’s a whole lot better than the 45 OPS+ belonging to J.J. Hardy. These OPS numbers don’t include Thursday’s games.
One big problem for the Cardinals is that their bullpen kind of sucks. Of the five relievers who have pitched at least 20 innings, the best has an ERA of 3.48, and that’s their closer, “The Final Boss” Seung-hwan Oh.
Three of the five regular relievers have ERAs above 4.50, including $30 million man Brett Cecil, who the Cardinals signed to that contract even though he was bad last year. The Maryland-born Cecil is worse this year.
Add in serious struggles from since-banished Jonathan Broxton and Miguel Socolovich and no wonder the Cardinals have had 14 losses chalked up to their relievers so far. The Cardinals have also struggled on the road, with a 12-17 record out of St. Louis. Maybe the Orioles can take advantage of that in this series.
Game 1 - Friday, 7:05
Starters: Carlos Martinez (5-5, 2.93 ERA) vs. Kevin Gausman (3-5, 6.49 ERA)
Martinez and Gausman were both born in 1991 and are in their fifth big league seasons. In his first two years, the Cardinals used Martinez out of the bullpen a lot. Starting two years ago, they put him in the rotation. He’s been great ever since, and this year might be his best yet, although his team isn’t scoring any runs for him.
A 1.042 WHIP while averaging nearly seven innings per game started is impressive even considering it’s the National League.
Martinez has struck out 99 batters in 88.1 innings. He’s worth more Wins Above Replacement on his own than the entire Orioles starting rotation put together. Teams have only scored more than three runs against him in three of his 13 starts and he’s coming off a complete game shutout against the Phillies in his last time out.
Gausman... ugh. You know? Just ugh. He has just three quality starts in 14 starts this season. The Yankees blistered him for seven runs in 3.1 innings in his last outing.
Game 2 - Saturday, 4:05
Starters: Adam Wainwright (7-4, 4.73 ERA) vs. Wade Miley (2-4, 3.97 ERA)
Seven wins with an ERA closer to 5 than to 4? Dang, dude. That’s some nice run support. The 35-year-old Wainwright appears to have gotten old last season and things aren’t any better this year. The $97.5 million contract he signed in March of 2013, covering 2014-18, surely felt good to the Cardinals at the time but they’ve gotten one good year out of four so far.
Maybe it’s been bad luck for Wainwright, whose career BABIP is .298, while last year it was .330 and this year it’s .353. But maybe he’s just hurling hittable stuff up there.
Miley... ugh. You know? Just ugh. He is barely averaging five innings per start. He is walking people like it’s going out of style. In all, he has a 1.599 WHIP. His ERA “deserves” to be higher and I’m sure it soon will be.
One bit of good news is that the Cardinals are among the worst-hitting teams against lefties in all of MLB, with a powerless .234/.316/.356 batting line. Let’s hope that continues.
Game 3 - Sunday, 1:35
Starters: Lance Lynn (5-3, 2.69 ERA) vs. Alec Asher (2-5, 5.05 ERA)
Unlike the Orioles, who are 6-12 in day games, the Cardinals, at 13-10, do not appear to have any particular problem with playing under the light of the Sun. That’s what’s on my mind as I consider this matchup - well, that and Lynn having the fourth-best ERA among NL starters.
Lynn is a guy who looks like he is due for regression. Whether that will come from the Orioles is another story. Lynn has held batters to just a .207 BABIP, when his career mark is .301. He has even kept such a low ERA despite serving up 12 home runs in 73.2 innings so far. His FIP is 4.74. That’s about as big of a gap as you will see a successful pitcher have and this is not a problem he has had throughout his career.
Asher... ugh. You know? Just ugh.
The Orioles will not have to face a lefty starter in this series, so maybe that means Hyun Soo Kim will get a little playing time. It’s looking like Seth Smith might be headed towards the disabled list, which would be even more of a nudge to get Kim some playing time.
Not that Kim playing too little is the reason why the Orioles are where they are. A whole lot of people aren’t pitching well and a whole lot of people aren’t hitting well either. It’s been a team-wide failure to sink into a tie for last place in the AL East. Maybe if we’re lucky, they can reverse that just a bit this weekend.