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Series Preview #4: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. St. Louis Cardinals

After defeating the Reds in their first series at Chase Field, the Diamondbacks face yet another NL Central team from a medium-sized, Midwestern city with red uniforms and an MVP caliber first basemen.  But when the St. Louis Cardinals roll in for three games, they will be doing so without two of their best players.  Before Spring Training, the team announced that co-ace Adam Wainwright would have to undergo Tommy John surgery, forcing him to miss the entire 2011 season.  Therefore, what appeared to be a very formidable rotation now looks somewhat less intimidating with Kyle McClellan starting in place of a dude with a 161 ERA+.  To make matters worse, Matt Holliday, the primary protection in the lineup for Albert Pujols (insomuch as anyone other than a reincarnation of Adonis who can handle off-speed pitches can provide lineup protection for Albert Pujols), may miss this series following an emergency appendectomy.  These huge losses might spell doom for the Cardinals in what should be a very competitive NL Central.  If nothing else, these injuries point to a massive amount of bad karma toward a higher power.  Some possibilities for why this may be the case include:

  • Albert Pujols' Deal with the Devil for god-like powers on the baseball diamond expired this year
  • Yadier Molina makes the other Molina brothers cry at the dinner table despite being the youngest
  • Colby Rasmus kicks puppies and sends all of his friends "Mafia Wars" requests while on Facebook
  • The higher power in question discovered the team's secret stash of Brandon Philips voodoo dolls
  • Said higher power was angry that the team traded Brendan Ryan because he (or she) enjoyed his Play Like a Cardinal ad.
  • It's a random series of coincidences with no connection to karma at all IMPOSSIBLE

Join me after the jump for actual stats, rather than unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.

What the Stats Say:

                              Arizona (4-4)                                St. Louis (3-6)                                   Edge

Hitting (wOBA):    .347                                                 .267                                           Arizona

Pitching (FIP):      3.84                                                 3.82                                          St. Louis

Fielding (UZR):     N/A                                                  N/A                                               N/A

The beginning of the 2011 season has not been all that kind to the Cardinals, as they've lost all three of their series so far this season, falling to the the Padres, the Giants and the Pirates.  Wait, the Pirates?!  As you can see from the chart above, most of the blame lies with their offense, which ranks 28th in baseball by wOBA.  Although both teams that are behind them (the Twins and the Rays) made the playoffs in 2010, so, hey, small sample sizes and stuff.  Luckily, their pitching staff has been somewhat more effective, led by Jaime Garcia, who has allowed 1 run in his first two starts (15 innings).  

Starting Lineups:

Arizona Diamondbacks

Stephen Drew, SS
Kelly Johnson, 2B
Justin Upton, RF
Miguel Montero, C
Chris Young, CF
Juan Miranda, 1B
Melvin Mora, 3B
Gerardo Parra, LF

St. Louis Cardinals

Ryan Theriot, SS
Colby Rasmus, CF
Albert Pujols, 1B
Matt Holliday (if healthy) LF
Lance Berkman, RF
David Freese, 3B
Yadier Molina, C
Skip Schumaker, 2B

The upside to Kevin Towers' emphasis on improving the bench is that it means that the team can mix and match players depending on the situation and the opposing pitcher.  The downside is it makes projecting a "starting lineup" almost impossible for humble bloggers like myself.  I know there are about seven players (Miranda, Branyan, Nady, Mora, Roberts, Bloomquist and Parra) that will occupy 1B, 3B, and LF in some combination during this series.  I tried to map this out in the starting lineup, but after my head exploded I decided it wasn't worth the effort.  Don't like it?  Write your own damn preview.

Oh right, the Cardinals.  Well, they have this guy named Albert Pujols, see.  And he's so staggeringly good that I won't even bother to go into it here, because I know that I will inevitably not praise him enough, due to lack of space/strong enough adjectives, and he will kill me with his mind from three states away.  I'm not even going to mention that he has an OPS+ of 44 in 35 plate appearances so far this season, because doing so will enrage Pujols and ruin any chance we have of him sparing our puny, mortal team.  Seriously, do not insult Albert Pujols.  But the good news is that the rest of non-Pujols lineup is not really all that impressive, and becomes downright weak if Holliday doesn't play.  If Holliday does play, then his career line of .318/.388/.544 makes him easily the second-best hitter on the team.  Colby Rasmus put up an OPS+ of 132 as a 23 year old last season and appears to be a rising star.  Lance Berkman was brought in to solidify the final spot in the outfield, in a way that only a 35 year old first baseman can do.  Berkman's OPS+ dropped below 100 (91) for the first time since 1999, and his best days are behind him.  I pictured Yadier Molina as being a good offense catcher, but Baseball-Reference pictures him as a catcher with a career OPS+ of 81, so I'll cede this one to the statistics.  The left side of the infield (David Freese, Ryan Theriot, and Skip Schumaker) has a combined 11 HRs in 1,439 PAs last season.  But they're scrappy, so I'm sure Tony LaRussa loves them.

Pitching Matchups:

Monday: Kyle McClellan vs. Barry Enright

Insightful Commentary: In some sort of weird alternate universe, this would be a matchup between Brandon Webb and Adam Wainwright, and everyone would be hyping it as a battle between aces.  But alas, we live in a world where both of those starters got injured, so we get a game between their replacements instead.  Kyle McClellan is something of an enigma.  He has been a dependable reliever for the last three years for St. Louis, but he has only made one start in his career, earlier this season when he went six innings and gave up two runs.  According to Fangraphs, he has a starter's repertoire of four pitches, but it isn't clear whether he can hold up over the course of the season.  Barry Enright should keep sacrificing goats at the alter of BABIP, because whatever he's been doing is working.

Tuesday: Chris Carpenter vs. Armando Galarraga

Insightful Commentary: Chris Carpenter had a down year by his standards in 2010, as his ERA, FIP and xFIP all rose from 2009.  Of course, "by his standards" is the operative phrase, as all three stats remained comfortably under four.  Carpenter's K% is pretty average, but he makes up for it by not walking many batters and keeping the ball in the park.  Armando Galarraga wishes he could have a down year like Carpenter, since in his best season, where everything went just about perfect (2008), he still put an FIP of over a run higher than Carpenter did in 2010. 

Wednesday: Jake Westbrook vs. Ian Kennedy

Insightful Commentary: Friday's start showed what Kennedy can do when he's on: throw strikes, keep the ball in the ballpark, and generate enough swings and misses with his off-speed stuff to keep him out of trouble and compensate for his lack of a dominating fastball.  Jake Westbrook is 33, and we pretty much know what he is at this point: a middle of the rotation starter who generates a ton of ground balls.  He doesn't strike many guys out, but he eats up innings when he's healthy and is a good guy to have in the middle or back of a rotation.  It will be interesting to see whether the Dbacks can use their newfound aggressiveness on the basepaths to stay out of double plays against such a heavily groundball pitcher. 

Final Verdict: I'm 0-3 on these predictions, so I'm beginning to believe I'm not all that good at this.  The Cardinals have had a rough start to the season, but they have their (remaining) ace going in this series, and they still have Pujols, which works in their favor.  Overall, their lineup doesn't scare me if Holliday is out, and I think the Diamondbacks have a slight advantage in the pitching department for this series.  Thus I'm tempted to pick the home team.  But since I'm a Diamondbacks fan, and the Diamondbacks have won or tied both series that I picked them to lose, I'm going to keep picking against them until they lose a series they're expected to lose.  Cardinals two games to one.

For the Cardinal take on the upcoming series, be sure to visit Viva El Birdos, which I'm told translates to "Long Live the, uh, birdos."

And of course, GO DBACKS!

Current Series

3 game series vs Cardinals @ Chase Field

St. Louis Cardinals
@ Arizona Diamondbacks

Monday, Apr 11, 2011, 9:40 PM EDT
Chase Field

Kyle McClellan vs Barry Enright

Clear. Winds blowing in from right field at 5-10 m.p.h. Game time temperature around 80.

Complete Coverage >

Tue 04/12 9:40 PM EDT
Wed 04/13 9:40 PM EDT