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St. Louis Cardinals Series Preview: The Royals have a shot to play spoiler

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The Cardinals are in quite a postseason battle, and a good series from the Royals could put them on the outside looking in.

MLB: Game One-St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

With a week to go in the season, the Royals will get to play a direct role in determining the National League playoffs with an opportunity to push the Cardinals out of a playoff spot. The Cardinals have played 20 of their games as part of double headers after the COVID-19 outbreak they had earlier this year, and now they’ve caught up and are done with those, which has to be a relief for them. The issue with double headers is that they’re hard to sweep, so they result in a lot of splits and when 33 percent of your games are part of double headers, you’re likely to be hovering around .500. And sure enough, these Cardinals have never been more than two games over .500 or more than two games under .500. The offense has been inconsistent with very little power and not much speed or OBP to make up for it. The pitching has been pretty good, though, and even with a few injuries that’s largely kept them afloat through this bizarre season.

Royals vs. Cardinals Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Cardinals
Category Royals Cardinals
Winning % .396 .520
Team wRC+ 90 95
Team xFIP 4.60 4.61
Run Differential -34 11
H2H Wins 1 2
H2H Runs 13 19
Highest fWAR Salvador Perez, 1.8 Paul Goldschmidt, 2.0

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 175 .257 .345 .316 9.7% 16.0% 88 0.9
Tommy Edman LF 194 .264 .335 .385 7.2% 19.1% 100 0.9
Paul Goldschmidt 1B 199 .309 .429 .488 17.1% 17.1% 154 2.0
Brad Miller DH 154 .238 .370 .468 15.6% 26.0% 129 0.8
Paul DeJong SS 149 .266 .342 .375 10.7% 27.5% 99 0.8
Dexter Fowler RF 75 .279 .347 .485 8.0% 26.7% 126 0.3
Matt Carpenter 3B 149 .185 .322 .298 13.4% 28.2% 79 0.0
Yadier Molina C 130 .256 .295 .364 3.1% 11.5% 80 0.5
Harrison Bader CF 111 .204 .324 .398 10.8% 31.5% 100 0.7

Cardinals Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Matt Wieters C 37 .188 .278 .219 5.4% 24.3% 45 0.0
Rangel Ravelo 1B/OF 37 .161 .243 .290 10.8% 13.5% 45 -0.2
Dylan Carlson OF 91 .176 .220 .294 5.5% 30.8% 38 -0.2
Tyler O'Neill OF 147 .183 .265 .382 8.8% 26.5% 75 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
Ryan Helsley 9 9.1 1 1 12.2% 17.1% 6.75 7.67 -0.5
Andrew Miller 14 11.2 1 1 24.5% 8.2% 3.09 4.74 0.2
Alex Reyes 13 17.0 2 1 31.9% 16.7% 2.65 4.63 0.4

Projected Pitching Matchups

September 21, 7:05pm - Adam Wainwright vs. Carlos Hernandez

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Adam Wainwright 8 53.1 5 1 21.0% 5.7% 2.87 4.20 0.9
Carlos Hernandez 3 9.1 0 0 15.8% 5.3% 3.86 5.55 -0.1

Adam Wainwright has benefited quite a bit from this shortened season, putting up his best numbers in years. As a 38-year old, he’s posted his best ERA and walk numbers in half a decade. From 2016-2019, he threw 534 innings with a 4.58 ERA and looked like it might be about time for him to hang it up, but he’s been very good this year and especially lately with a strikeout per inning over his last four starts. Interestingly enough, his first start of the year against the Royals was probably his worst of the season when he gave up four runs in seven innings. He’s had a little more trouble against lefties than righties, but he’s been really good against both sides. The time to get to him is a little different than most pitchers. The Royals will need to be on the attack early as he’s allowed a .266/.333/.531 line with five home runs the first time through. The rest of the game, he’s allowed a .176/.217/.252 line. The Royals have been, by far, at their best in the first three innings, so that’s at least a good matchup of splits.

Carlos Hernandez will get his second big league start. His first didn’t go great as the sinker pitcher gave up three home runs to a bad Pirates lineup. One thing I’ve liked quite a bit is that he’s been under control with just two walks allowed in his first 9.1 big league innings. There’s a lot of talk about how Hernandez has never pitched above low-A, but he’s also a guy who has a pretty good idea on the mound, so that’s not hugely concerning to me, but it does lead to some growing pains such as the fact that he probably wasn’t giving up home runs on a couple of those pitches in the low minors. His curve is a good pitch, but that’s what he’s been hit on, so I’d actually like to maybe see a few more changeups in this one. Maybe he’ll be stretched to go five or six innings and that’ll give us a chance to see them.

September 22, 7:05pm - Austin Gomber vs. Brady Singer

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Austin Gomber 12 19.0 0 1 25.3% 15.7% 2.37 5.01 0.2
Brady Singer 10 54.1 3 4 23.3% 8.1% 4.14 3.98 0.7

Austin Gomber will get this start for the Cardinals, and it’ll be his third of the year with 10 other relief appearances mixed in. He last pitched on Thursday and it was his worst outing of the season with four runs allowed in 1.2 innings, but prior to that, he had allowed just one run all year. He’s been incredibly tough to square up this year with just two barrels allowed, but he has walked a few too many hitters, so if he does start to struggle with his command in addition to his control, it can lead to disaster. He’s relied heavily on his four-seamer this year, throwing it more than half the time, and it’s been his best pitch but when he last pitched in the big leagues in 2018, the fastball got him into trouble, and that was in a much bigger sample. He’s done a great job this year of neutralizing righties, which isn’t great for the Royals since they’re so righty heavy, but two years ago, righties gave him trouble, so it’s hard to say. Ultimately, he’s probably not too long for the game no matter how well he pitches, so if they can get a run or two off them before getting to the Cardinals bullpen, that’d work.

For awhile, Brady Singer being on the mound was nice but nothing to get too excited about, but after his last two starts where he’s allowed no runs on three hits in 14 innings with 16 strikeouts and three walks, it’s an awful lot of fun to see his name on the probable pitchers. I really appreciated Mike Matheny going to get him after six innings even though he was pitching well as he had gone 119 pitches in his no-hit bid and only threw 81 in that start against Detroit. He has a 13.5 percent swinging strike rate in those last two starts and you just love to see that, especially when he was just at 8 percent in the previous five starts. He still needs that changeup to be a consistent starter like this, but it’s good to see him ending his season on such a high note and hopefully he can continue it here.

September 23, 7:05pm - Carlos Martinez vs. Danny Duffy

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Carlos Martinez 4 15.0 0 2 17.7% 10.1% 8.40 5.10 -0.1
Danny Duffy 10 50.1 3 4 24.1% 9.7% 5.01 5.05 0.3

Carlos Martinez has had kind of a weird career. He was a top prospect and ace of a rotation and then injuries kind of derailed him and he was moved to the bullpen. He was quite good there last season. Now he’s back in the rotation and he’s allowed 18 runs in 15 innings. Maybe more troubling than anything is that he’s allowed 23 hits, and getting hit had never really been his problem. So what’s going on? I think it’s a velocity issue. It’s down a ton from last year, which is to be expected somewhat since he was pitching in relief last year, but it’s down from previous seasons as well. His changeup is still filthy, but he’s kind of a mess right now and is having trouble even getting to it in plate appearances. One of his biggest issues has been with runners on base as he’s allowed a .387/.462/.677 line in those situations. That is, umm, not good. As maybe further proof that he’s probably suited to be a reliever, he’s actually been pretty good in his first handful of pitches, but then just falls apart as he goes deeper. The Royals will need to take advantage of that.

Danny Duffy needs some major redemption from his start in Milwaukee. He looked so good for the first three innings and then absolutely fell apart in the fourth inning. And as he said after the game, it’s a recurring theme with him. So maybe it’s true that he would be best served next season as a reliever to be able to go all out for an inning or two. His last four starts have been rough, but in typical Duffy fashion, one of them was 5.2 shutout innings and the other three were not. He’d been so good with limiting walks, but hasn’t recently. And while he did strike out five against the Brewers, it just wasn’t enough. And also, he’s started giving up home runs with six allowed in those four starts after allowing four in the first six starts. So basically he needs to be better and has to do it against a lineup that’s actually been pretty good against lefties, so it’ll be a tough go for him in ihs final start of the year.

Prediction

This Royals team is nearly impossible to predict, I feel like. The Cardinals are pretty easy to predict. They have not swept a series of three or more games or been swept in one, so I’m guessing that won’t start here, but I do think the Royals will take two of three and put a dent in the Cardinals playoff hopes.

Poll

Can the Royals put a dent in the Cardinals playoff hopes?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Duh, the Royals will sweep them.
    (13 votes)
  • 12%
    Hahahahaha, oh you’re serious? No, the Cardinals will sweep the Royals.
    (13 votes)
  • 28%
    Sort of, but not enough. The Royals will take two of three.
    (31 votes)
  • 46%
    Nah, the Cardinals will win two of three.
    (50 votes)
107 votes total Vote Now