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St. Louis Cardinals Series Preview: The I-70 Series makes its pandemic debut

The most recent World Series winner from Missouri heads to St. Louis to play the team that blew a 3-1 lead in the 1985 World Series.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been one heck of a season for the St. Louis Cardinals as they started 2-3 before an outbreak on the team shut them down for 16 days while Major League Baseball allowed them far more opportunities than the less popular Marlins to get healthy and field a representative team. And since they’ve been back, they’ve gone 7-5 and currently occupy one of the eight playoff spots in the National League. Of course, they’ve already played three double headers and have eight more scheduled, so 22 of their games will be of the seven inning variety this year, which might bode well enough for them since their starting pitching is pretty solid. Their offense is a problem, currently led by Brad Miller. Yes, that Brad Miller. They’ve called up Dylan Carlson to man center fielder and while he looks like a future star, he’s struggled to start his big league career. That could change at any moment, but for now, he looks like a rookie. Their rotation, though, has been good even though they’ve had some issues building innings up with such a long layoff. The bullpen as a whole has also been pretty good. If they could just score some runs, they might have a big time run in them. I’m not sure that they can, though, which is a problem.

Royals vs. Cardinals Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Cardinals
Category Royals Cardinals
Winning % .393 .529
Team wRC+ 94 95
Team xFIP 4.61 4.51
Run Differential -12 9
Highest fWAR Whit Merrifield, 1.0 Paul Goldschmidt, 0.8

Cardinals Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Kolten Wong 2B 64 .255 .349 .309 10.9% 17.2% 91 0.3
Tommy Edman 3B 62 .214 .290 .339 4.8% 19.4% 77 0.2
Paul Goldschmidt 1B 68 .340 .485 .491 22.1% 16.2% 177 0.8
Matt Carpenter DH 63 .222 .333 .333 12.7% 31.7% 92 0.0
Tyler O'Neill LF 59 .154 .254 .365 8.5% 20.3% 71 0.0
Yadier Molina C 35 .314 .314 .314 0.0% 11.4% 75 0.2
Paul DeJong SS 23 .190 .261 .381 8.7% 34.8% 75 0.0
Dexter Fowler RF 46 .279 .326 .419 4.3% 28.3% 106 0.2
Dylan Carlson CF 41 .154 .195 .256 4.9% 24.4% 23 -0.2

Cardinals Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Andrew Knizner C 14 .154 .143 .231 0.0% 35.7% -8 -0.1
Max Schrock INF 10 .300 .300 .600 0.0% 40.0% 140 0.1
Brad Miller INF/OF 35 .308 .457 .615 20.0% 20.0% 187 0.5
Harrison Bader OF 36 .233 .361 .533 11.1% 27.8% 144 0.3

Cardinals Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Giovanny Gallegos 105 4.1 1 0 50.0% 0.0% 0.00 0.58 0.3
Andrew Miller 7 5.2 0 1 23.1% 7.7% 4.76 4.53 0.2
Alex Reyes 4 4.0 0 0 37.5% 31.3% 0.00 5.38 0.0

Probable Pitching Matchups

August 24, 7:15pm - Brad Keller vs. Jack Flaherty

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Brad Keller 3 17.2 3 0 22.7% 12.1% 0.00 4.32 0.5
Jack Flaherty 2 8.2 1 0 25.0% 5.6% 3.12 3.25 0.2

The Royals get the Cardinals ace, Jack Flaherty to start the series, and after the way he finished 2019, that would normally be a reason for worry. It still is, but he’s still in early season mode like we saw through the first couple weeks of the season. He pitched on July 24 and then not again until August 19. He threw just 41 pitchers over 1.2 innings, so I can’t imagine he’ll be ready to go too deep in this one, so even if he’s great, it probably isn’t going to be an issue. Of course, this is the guy who posted a 0.91 ERA in 15 starts after the break. There were seven shutout innings against the Royals stuffed in there. If there’s one weakness in Flaherty’s game, and this is a stretch, it’s that he’s slightly less amazing against left-handed hitters, or at least was last season. He did give up 14 home runs to them and his strikeout to walk ratio wasn’t quite as impressive. Of course, the issue with that is the Royals lefties aren’t what you’d call “good.” Alex Gordon has looked somewhat better of late and he does do well in St. Louis, so maybe he has a shot at a good game, but they’ll need their right-handed bats in this one.

Brad Keller has started his season with 17.2 innings without allowing a run. I believe he will have a shot to break Zack Greinke’s record to start a season if he can go 6.2 innings scoreless in this one. Keller has been really impressive, and is now starting to get a fair amount of attention for the way his year has started. This Cardinals offense may be a good matchup for him if he can maintain what he’s done with the slider. They just aren’t handling that pitch, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Royals and Keller try to exploit that. One area that the Cardinals can and probably will exploit is that he hasn’t been dominant against lefties. Against righties, he’s allowed two hits in 25 plate appearances and hasn’t walked anyone. Against lefties, he’s allowed just six hits in 41 plate appearances, but he has walked eight. One fun fact is that the next extra base hit he allows will be the first of 2020.

August 25, 7:15pm - Matt Harvey vs. Adam Wainwright

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Matt Harvey 1 3.0 0 1 26.7% 13.3% 9.00 7.09 -0.2
Adam Wainwright 3 18.0 2 0 16.9% 5.6% 2.00 4.41 0.4

From the new ace to the old one, the Royals catch Adam Wainwright in game two. It doesn’t matter how old or good he is, it feels like he always handles the Royals. Though he didn’t do well last year, giving up three runs in five innings. And in his previous outing against KC in 2016, he gave up six runs on 10 hits in five innings. Still, I expect nothing but greatness from him every time we see him pitch against the Royals. The sample is small, but his curve is still elite, and that’s the difference maker for him. He leads with that and the cutter and it’s gotten the job done for a long time for him. But now, he doesn’t really do anything with velocity, so he’s an adjustment after Flaherty and the type of pitcher who becomes a frustrating 0 for 4 instead of one you tip your cap to at the end. This season (sample size warning), he hasn’t been great the first time through the order, so that’s the time to jump on him. He’s also retired all 15 hitters he’s faced a third time. If we’re being honest, I’d bet on the Royals scoring on him more the third time through than the first, but the almost meaningless numbers are what they are.

Matt Harvey gets his second look for the Royals in this one, and as I said on Friday in Lesky’s Notes, I’m more than fine giving him a second chance. He looked really good until he basically hit a wall after 35 to 40 pitches, which makes total sense given that he probably wasn’t terribly built up. Now, I look for him to remain effective up to 50 or so and hopefully beyond, but the slider and the life on his fastball before that wall came was enough that I found myself way more intrigued than I expected. It could be that the wall he hit is one for the whole season and he continues to struggle, but as I mentioned with Keller, the slider can be his best friend as he continues his comeback. And I don’t want to get too far ahead but if he can put together, say, five solid innings and show similar stuff to that first outing, maybe some team would give up a PTBNL for him, which would make the signing a success.

Wednesday, 7:15pm - Danny Duffy vs. Dakota Hudson

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Danny Duffy 6 29.1 2 2 28.3% 7.5% 3.99 4.18 0.6
Dakota Hudson 3 13.0 0 2 25.0% 7.7% 3.46 4.13 0.2

Dakota Hudson is slotted to go in the series finale. After an excellent stint as a reliever in 2018, he moved into the starting rotation last year and didn’t miss a beat. He’s a bit Brad Keller-ish in that he did it with a mediocre strikeout rate and far too many walks, but he still did it. The difference between Hudson and Keller is that Hudson uses a curve as his third pitch, and so far this year, it’s been outstanding with a big whiff rate and a lot of success in the 12 plate appearances that have ended on it. This year, he’s had a reverse split and a big one with righties dominating him and lefties really struggling. That is not at all consistent with last season, so given the Royals best hitters batting from the right batters box, they’ll have to hope it stays with the trend it has to start. Hudson hasn’t yet pitched into the sixth, so maybe he’s an early exit again, but I would expect he’ll be able to go a bit longer and his ground ball proclivity might give the Royals some fits. It certainly did last year when he threw six shutout innings against them.

The finale for the Royals fits with Danny Duffy’s slot in the rotation. He continues to rock the best strikeout rate of his career and is limiting walks, which is great. But I’m a bit worried. Maybe it’s nothing, but his average velocity was down a bit from his previous couple starts and he was really sitting at 89-90 in his last inning against the Twins when he was pulled after 81 pitches. It could have very well just been that Nelson Cruz was coming up, but with Duffy, you’re kind of always waiting for the other shoe to drop, even in a short season. Plus, he only had seven swinging strikes against the Twins. But he did still get the win and looked solid once again, which marked his fourth start out of six allowing two or fewer runs and he did that in his third consecutive outing against the Twins, so that’s pretty impressive. I’ll just be paying close attention to his fastball velocity.

Prediction

The Royals offense was iffy before Salvador Perez hit the IL, and now iffy might be a compliment. With the Cardinals pitching, I have a bad feeling they sweep the series. Though maybe that wouldn’t actually be the worst thing with the Royals front office deciding whether to buy or sell (PLEASE SELL IF YOU’RE DOING ANYTHING, DAYTON). I think ultimately the Royals grab one, though, in this series.

Poll

The I-70 Series is renewed. How does it end?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    Royals Sweep
    (11 votes)
  • 26%
    Cardinals Sweep
    (27 votes)
  • 18%
    Royals Win Two of Three
    (19 votes)
  • 44%
    Cardinals Win Two of Three
    (46 votes)
103 votes total Vote Now