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Orioles-Cardinals series preview: Battle of the birds in Birdland

Struggling St. Louis comes to town as the last opponent before the O’s pivotal series with Tampa. Can Baltimore add to the Cardinals woes or will they take them too lightly?

Baltimore Orioles v St. Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

After winning this past weekend’s series in Boston, the O’s return home where they’ll replace the Red Sox with some Red Birds. The Orioles and the Cardinals are both in the midst of historic seasons—but for opposite reasons. While Baltimore is on pace for its first 100-win season since 1980, St. Louis is headed for its first losing season since 1999. While the Cardinals have been the gold standard among baseball’s bird teams—and the Orioles the bottom feeders—2023 has seen those roles reversed.

While the O’s have not always been as successful as the Cardinals overall, they’ve often gotten the better of their National League opponents in their brief history. Since the beginning of interleague play in 1997, Baltimore and St. Louis squared off five times—and the Orioles have come out the victor in the last three series. Last season, the Orioles took two out of three in St. Louis in an early-May interleague showdown. The highlight of that three game set was the opener where Kyle Bradish, in his third career start, twirled seven innings of two run ball while striking out 11 Red Birds.

This series will be the third time since the All-Star Break that the Orioles welcome an under-.500 team to Camden Yards. The first time the O’s completed a three-game sweep against the New York Mets. The second time, Baltimore took the first two against Colorado but couldn’t complete the sweep, losing the series finale.

After Sunday’s loss to Boston, the Orioles’ lead in the AL East is down to three games. With a weekend series against Tampa Bay looming on the horizon, this series against the Cardinals doesn’t just feel like a must win—but a must sweep. While the Orioles are doing battle with the Cards, the Rays head to Minnesota to face a hot Twins team. The Twinkies have won four of their last five series and seem like a safe bet to take at least one off Tampa in Minneapolis. If the Orioles can take all three games from St. Louis, it seems likely that the O’s welcome the Rays to Baltimore with at least a four-game lead in the division. However, let’s break down the matchup before getting ahead of ourselves.

Game 1: Monday, September 11th, 6:35pm ET, MASN

Probable pitchers: Dean Kremer (12-5, 4.07 ERA, 139 Ks 1.29 WHIP) vs. Dakota Hudson (6-1, 4.43 ERA, 35 Ks, 1.36 WHIP)

Kremer wasn’t one of the starters who pitched in St. Louis last season, so he doesn’t have a history against the Cardinals. However, Kremer does have a sparkling record against the National League this season. In 10 starts against the senior circuit in 2023, Kremer is 5-2 with a 3.43 ERA and is holding opponents .204 batting average. The 27-year-old righty is also in the midst of a second-half renaissance when it comes to his home form. If you look at Kremer’s splits for this season you’ll see a pitcher whose ERA is about a run higher in Camden Yards than on the road. However, in seven home starts in the second half, Kremer has put up a 3.23 ERA and the O’s are 7-0 in those starts.

This St. Louis lineup presents an interesting challenge against a fastball-heavy pitcher like Kremer. Lineup mainstays like Paul Goldschmidt, Tommy Edman and Tyler O’Neill have all struggled against four-seamers this years, each producing a negative Run Value against opposing heaters. However, those underperformers are balanced out with bats like Nolan Arenado and Nolan Gorman, who are both among baseball’s best hitters against four-seamers. The Cards’ heavy-hitters are much less effective against cutters, so Kremer may look to his secondary offering more often against the Red Birds.

While Kremer is in the middle of a hot streak, his opposing starter for St. Louis is going through a rough patch. In each of Hudson’s last two road starts he’s allowed five runs, first against the Phillies and then the Braves. The 28-year-old right-hander relies heavily on a sinker/slider combination to produce one of the highest ground ball rates in all of baseball. Hudson’s pitching repertoire should make this a favorable matchup for veterans Ramón Urías and Anthony Santander. Against sinkers the pair is hitting .383 and .357 respectively, with both slugging about .500. The pair is equally adept at hitting sliders, Urías hitting for contact with a .309 average and Santander hitting for power with a .559 slugging percentage on sliders.

Game 2: Tuesday, September 12th, 6:35pm ET, MASN

Probable pitchers: John Means (season debut) vs. Adam Wainwright (3-11, 8.19 ERA, 49 Ks, 1.98 WHIP)

Game 2 sees the triumphant return of former Orioles ace John Means, and he’ll be greeted with a matchup against former Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright. In many way the two returns are on completely opposite paths in this 2023 season. Means has spent all of this year rehabbing and trying to get back from the UCL injury that sidelined him for most of 2022 and all of 2023 until now. The left-hander is trying to resume a promising career with an ascending Orioles team. Meanwhile, Wainwright is trying to find a way to gracefully get across the finish line and into retirement after a disastrous 2023. His season ERA may come as a surprise for those who associate Waino with being the model of consistency for St. Louis. It hasn’t been any better as of late for the Cardinals’ righty who continues to struggle down the stretch. In six starts in August and September, Waino is boasting a 10.59 ERA and an opponent batting average of .372, and he’s given up 19 extra-base hits.

Means suffered his injury last season before the trip to St. Louis and because of that, this will be his first ever start against the Red Birds. Throughout his career, the Orioles former All-Star has a respectable record against National League opposition. In 12 career interleague starts, Means has put up a 3.86 ERA while limiting opponents to a .241 average and .696 OPS. It is somewhat poetic that Meansy makes his return against an NL Central opponent, as his last start before his injury was an outing against Milwaukee last April. Wainwright has only slightly more experience against the Orioles than Means does against the Cardinals. In his only start against Baltimore—back in 2017 at Camden Yards—the Cardinals’ former ace didn’t make it out of the second inning as he gave up 9 runs on seven hits in 1.2 innings.

In six rehab starts split between Bowie and Norfolk, Means seemed to get stronger as the Orioles ramped up his workload. After three shorter outings in Bowie, Means posted a 2.51 ERA over 14.1 innings across three starts for the Tides. In those games, opponents hit only .216 off the left-hander and Means allowed only three total extra-base hits against Triple-A opposition. Another encouraging sign from Means’ time in the minors was his success against right-handers. In 59 plate appearances against righties, Means limited opposing batters to a .208 average and a measly .609 OPS. If he can come close to those numbers in his return to the majors, Means should find success against a predominantly right-handed lineup for St. Louis.

Game 3: Wednesday, September 13th, 6:35pm ET, MASN

Probable pitchers: Kyle Gibson (14-8, 5.12 ERA, 140 Ks, 1.34 WHIP) vs. Drew Rom (0-2, 7.79 ERA, 11 Ks, 2.02 WHIP)

It would have been a super poetic finale to this series if former Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty faced off against Rom, one of the pitchers traded to bring Flaherty to Baltimore. Instead, Birdland gets a slightly better matchup as veteran Kyle Gibson takes the ball to close out the series. I say only slightly better because Gibson has struggled as of later for the O’s. In six starts in August and September, Gibby has a 7.32 ERA, opponents are hitting .319 against him and opponents have knocked him around to the tune of nine HRs and 13 doubles. Hopefully, Gibby can reverse that trend against this mediocre Cardinals team.

Despite this being his 12th season in the big leagues, Gibson has relatively little experience against St. Louis. Two of his three starts against the Red Birds came last season when Gibson was pitching for the Phillies. In the first outing, in Philadelphia, Gibby struggled through four innings, allowing six runs on seven hits. The next start, this time in St. Louis, the veteran shined, throwing seven shutout innings while limiting the Cardinals to two hits.

If he’s going to repeat the success of that second start, Gibson may look to adopt a more Bradish-esque, breaking-ball-heavy approach against the Cardinals. While none of Gibson’s pitches have been particularly reliable as of late, the best pitch for Gibson all season has been his sweeper. Opponents are hitting only .155 on the breaking ball, so while Gibson has primarily used it as an out pitch, look for him to throw more early count sweepers against the Cards. The sweeper also isn’t a pitch that the Cardinals’ lineup has seen a lot—and when they do see it, they tend to struggle. Only catcher Willson Contreras has a positive Run Value hitting against sweepers this season and it could prove an effective weapon to run away from the Cardinals’ heavily right-handed lineup. The highest sweeper usage rate Gibson’s posted this season was 31.5% in April against the A’s, but don’t be surprised if he rivals that number against St. Louis.

As for Gibson’s opponent, there isn’t much to say about the Orioles’ former farmhand and his brief time in the major leagues. Rom’s first career start was pretty disastrous as he allowed eight runs (six earned) over 3.2 innings against the Pirates. In the three starts since, the 23-year-old has been better—to the tune of a 5.93 ERA and .309 BAA—but still a below-average major league starter. The left-hander will have the benefit of pitching with the Great Wall of Baltimore in LF, but that may only be a very small saving grace. The Orioles are still one of the best hitting teams in the league against left-handed starters—posting a .265 average and .782 OPS as a team—so don’t expect a pleasant Baltimore debut for the former O’s prospect.

**

In past seasons, a matchup with the Cardinals may have been viewed as a good chance for a young Orioles team to test their mettle against a perennial playoff power from the National League. This year, the Red Birds come to Birdland as merely a stepping stone on the Orioles’ path to their ultimate goals of an AL East title and home field advantage in October. While no series in baseball is truly a must sweep due to the volatile nature of the sport, this come as close as it gets to that “must sweep” status. The only question that remains is whether Baltimore can build a new winning streak before taking on Tampa or if this showdown with St. Louis will catch them looking too far ahead.

Poll

How many games will the Orioles win in this series against the Cardinals?

This poll is closed

  • 37%
    Three (clearly the better birds)
    (167 votes)
  • 57%
    Two
    (257 votes)
  • 4%
    One
    (20 votes)
  • 1%
    Zero (doomsday scenario)
    (5 votes)
449 votes total Vote Now