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Series Preview #28: D-backs vs. Cardinals

St. Louis make their annual visit to Chase Field.

NLCS: Astros v Cardinals Game 7 Photo By Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Series overview

The Cardinals organization has, historically, been one of the best run in baseball. Since Arizona entered the league in 1998, no National League team has more wins than St. Louis. They have two losing seasons, in 1999 and 2007, and haven’t missed the playoffs more than twice in a row. However, that record is under serious threat. After falling short in 2016/2017, the Cardinals currently sit two games over .500, third in the highly-competitive Central. With high expectations standard in St. Louis, fans appear increasingly disenchanted with manager Mike Matheny, and the team was eviscerated in an article over the weekend: “I’ll assure you this: the Cardinals will be pretenders with Matheny at the helm.”

Another local writer wrote, “I think it’s time for a major overhaul. There just aren’t enough pieces there to compete.” Even neutrals are doubtful if the team can turn things around in the second half and reach the post-season. ESPN’s David Schoenfield saying, “There are definitely troubling signs,“ pointing in particular to the Cardinals’ offense. While a wRC+ of 93 isn’t bad in itself - it sits middle of the pack in the National League - it would be the lowest figure for any St. Louis team in close to two decades, since the 1999 Cardinals posted a 92. Five and a half games back in the division, and with the 9th-best record in the league, Fangraphs gives them only a 28.3% post-season chance, a season-low.

The Cardinals were in first on May 11, but are 20-26 since. Things have been especially bad of late, with the Nats and Mets the sole NL teams to have lost more over the last 20 games. St. Louis has managed one win in the last six series: they beat the Indians at home, and split a four-game set with the Brewers, but lost to the Padres, Cubs, Phillies and, most recently, were swept at home by the Braves, being outscored 22-10 over the three games. So both teams will be looking to rebound from unimpressive home series, with the D-backs also wanting to improve on the underwhelming sweep they suffered at the hands of the San Francisco Giants over the weekend.

This is a very tough stretch of the schedule for the Cardinals, a bit reminiscent of the D-backs’ May, or possibly even tougher. For St. Louis are in the middle of playing twenty-three consecutive games against opponents above .500. With these three against Arizona plus four in San Francisco to go, they have been found wanting so far, going 6-10. They have been remarkably even in most other categories, however: for example, they are one game above .500 both in their home park and on the road. 12-12 in one-run games. 5-6 in extra innings. The D-backs took two of three when they visited St. Louis early in the season, despite scraping together just 10 runs over the three games.

Players to watch

There are only a pair of Cardinals worth even two bWAR to this point - as a yardstick, the D-backs have five such. So this is less “players to watch”, more “players requiring slightly less indifference than the rest of the roster.” Veteran Matt Carpenter, in his eighth season with the Cardinals, leads the position player side at 2.5 bWAR, starting mostly at third, but also at first and second. His 15 home-runs leads the team, and his .866 OPS just edges out, by three points, 1B Jose Martinez. And does this sound familiar? Carpenter was batting .194 on May 20, but surged in June, hitting .313 with eight home-runs and a 1.040 OPS. Though not quite sure I’d call him “the NL’s hottest hitter” coughGoldschmidtcough.

The pitching has been beset by injuries, with seven players who pitched for them this season now on the DL. They include Michael Wacha, Adam Wainwright and this series’s “Hey, didn’t he used to play for us?” award winner, Dominic Leone. As a result, the highest bWAR figure belongs to Miles Mikolas, who is nicknamed “The Lizard King.” This was the result of him eating a live lizard during an Arizona Fall League game in 2011 (video, probably NSFL). Despite this, Mikolas also has a wife, whom he presumably kisses with that mouth. He spent the last three seasons in Japan with the Yomiuri Giants, before signing a two-year, $15.5 million contract with St. Louis in December.

Pitching match-ups

Monday, 6:40pm: Carlos Martinez (26, RHP, 4-4, 3.22) vs. Robbie Ray (26, LHP, 3-0, 4.01)

Martinez’s overall numbers have been solid, but he has been rather Greinke-like, in that he pitches much better at home (2.38 ERA) than on the road (4.61). In particular, he has struggled with control there, walking 21 batters in only 27.1 innings, even if he has also struck out 34. He hasn’t gone more than four innings on the road since mid-April, though missed four weeks in June with a lat strain. Ray’s return against the Marlins was near-perfect, allowing two hits over six shutout innings, despite being on a pitch-count limit. Those wheels should be off for this contest. Edge: D-backs

Tuesday, 6:40pm: Jack Flaherty (22, RHP, 3-3, 2.92) vs. Zack Greinke (34, RHP, 8-5, 3.41)

Conversely Flaherty has been better on the road (ERA 2.20 vs. 3.50), in particular a very impressive last road outing against the Brewers, where he took a no-hitter into the seventh, settling for a one-hitter over seven innings with 13 K’s. If he can harness that kind of performance tomorrow night, the Diamondbacks could be in trouble. Greinke has been on a roll himself, not allowing a run or a walk in either of his last two outings, in Pittsburgh and Miami, only the third D-back to do that in consecutive outings. Trivia: can you name the other two Arizona pitchers? Since 1998, only Clayton Kershaw and Greg Maddux have gone three straight in the NL, so Greinke has a shot at joining them. Edge: even

Wednesday, 7:10pm: Miles Mikolas (29, RHP, 8-3, 2.61) vs. Patrick Corbin (28, LHP, 6-3, 3.14)

Note the slightly later start for this one, presumably for post-game fireworks-related purposes. We’ll get to take a look at the Lizard King on the Independence Day game: just be sure to keep your fingers away from his mouth, and make sure you’re up to date on your shots. He’s not a huge K guy: over his last seven starts, his high is five strikeouts, but he has also only walked 13 all year, in 109.1 innings. Seems a bit Matt Koch-like to me? Corbin has deserved better than a pair of no-decisions over his last couple of outings. After a rough patch in early June, he has allowed one run over 13 innings, with a K:BB of 17:1. More like that will be hard to beat. Edge: D-backs

Trivia answer: the other two D-backs besides Greinke to throw consecutive starts without an earned run or a walk are Robbie Ray in May 2017, and Josh Collmenter in May 2011

Poll

How many wins for the D-backs this series? [Independence Day themed!]

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    0 [Battle of Fort Washington]
    (2 votes)
  • 10%
    1 [Battle of Long Island]
    (3 votes)
  • 53%
    2 [Battle of Ticonderoga]
    (15 votes)
  • 28%
    3 [Battle of Saratoga]
    (8 votes)
28 votes total Vote Now