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St. Louis Cardinals Series Preview: Another weekend battling over I-70

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Two teams just marking off the calendar will have some fun playing baseball against each other this weekend.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

It was just a week ago that the Royals saw the Cardinals to begin their home-and-home series that they partake in every year, so we have a pretty good idea who the Cardinals are, which is why I’m not going to spend much time talking about their season. They do continue to hover around .500. They’ve only spent 40 days of their season not within two games of .500, which is kind of crazy. But, of course, the longer you hover around .500, the farther behind the leaders you fall and with the Brewers playing at a mid-90s pace and the Padres, currently leading the second Wild Card, playing at a low-90s win pace, they’ll need to finish something like 33-15 to have a real shot. For a team that hasn’t been able to sustain any kind of hot streak for more than a week and a half, I have to say I don’t see it.

They do get Jack Flaherty back to start the first game of this series, so that certainly helps, but they lost Kwang Hyun Kim to elbow inflammation earlier this week. While that’s a trade they’ll gladly make, they likely would need them both if they want to have any chance of really going on a run because the rotation with Flaherty and Adam Wainwright is still very thin outside of those two and it’ll be hard to win too many games running some of the starters they’re running out there if they have to the rest of the season. They’ve scored more than four runs just nine times since the All-Star break in 24 games. Even the Royals have done it 11 times. If you can’t score, you can’t win enough for it to matter when 60 percent of the rotation is guys you can’t count on most nights.

Royals vs. Cardinals Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Cardinals
Category Royals Cardinals
Winning % .434 .509
Team wRC+ 87 91
Team xFIP 4.51 4.81
Run Differential -94 -37
H2H Wins 1 2
Highest fWAR Whit Merrifield & Nicky Lopez, 2.3 Nolan Arenado, 3.2

Cardinals Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Dylan Carlson RF 478 .261 .341 .419 9.6% 24.1% 109 1.6
Paul Goldschmidt 1B 481 .271 .341 .445 9.4% 21.2% 115 2.2
Nolan Arenado 3B 466 .261 .320 .494 7.5% 13.5% 116 3.2
Tyler O'Neill LF 346 .276 .341 .510 6.6% 31.5% 130 2.7
Yadier Molina C 336 .252 .298 .377 6.0% 16.1% 85 0.8
Harrison Bader CF 216 .269 .338 .456 8.3% 19.4% 111 1.6
Matt Carpenter DH 198 .196 .333 .319 14.1% 30.8% 88 0.1
Paul DeJong SS 315 .204 .292 .400 8.9% 25.1% 91 1.3
Tommy Edman 2B 476 .251 .299 .375 5.7% 13.2% 85 0.9

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 128 .183 .305 .266 13.3% 19.5% 64 -0.5
Edmundo Sosa INF 195 .253 .326 .351 4.1% 17.9% 89 0.6
Jose Rondon INF/OF 54 .271 .333 .354 9.3% 16.7% 92 0.1
Lars Nootbar OF 35 .200 .286 .367 11.4% 11.4% 78 0.2

Cardinals Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Alex Reyes 51 52.2 5 5 28.3% 18.3% 2.39 4.89 0.4
Giovanny Gallegos 51 58.2 5 5 29.6% 5.8% 3.22 3.79 1.3
Genesis Cabrera 53 52.0 2 3 26.6% 13.1% 3.12 4.67 0.8

Probable Starting Pitchers

Friday - Jack Flaherty vs. Mike Minor, 7:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Jack Flaherty 11 62.0 8 1 26.3% 7.8% 2.90 3.98 1.1
Mike Minor 23 130.1 8 10 23.3% 7.1% 5.39 4.28 1.9

Jack Flaherty last pitched on May 31 against the Dodgers before an oblique strain sidelined him for more than two months. He was having a really, really good season, on par with what he did in 2019 that had people so optimistic for him in 2020, but obliques can really derail things as we’ve seen with Adalberto Mondesi this season. He did make three rehab starts in the minors, but only went nine total innings, so he might not be ready to go deep in this one. When Flaherty is healthy, he has a good fastball that sits 93-95 and opponents just can’t seem to do much against. He has a slider and curve that he uses both against everyone and both get tons of swings and misses. If those two pitches are on, you just have to hope he makes a mistake with the fastball or else it’ll be a long day while he’s in the game. Before his injury, he wasn’t nearly as good away from St. Louis, so that’s something for the Royals and he wasn’t getting deep into games anyway, so unless the Royals are swinging away and making outs (certainly possible), they likely won’t have to deal with Flaherty for too long. He’s made three career starts against the Royals. He’s 3-0 with a 0.95 ERA in those three starts. So there’s that.

Mike Minor has had such an interesting boring season. In some ways, he’s been exactly what the Royals had hoped. He’s made all his starts. He’s in the top 20 in innings in baseball. He’s getting strikeouts and limiting walks. He actually has some similar peripherals to his 2019 season when he got Cy Young votes. He was probably pitching over his head that year and under this year. He wasn’t great against the Cardinals in his last start last weekend, but his last four have been kind of exactly what the Royals have expected from him. He’s averaged six innings per start. He has a 4.13 ERA in those starts and he’s struck out 25 and walked six. He’s just been so up and down and this is the first time this year that he’s faced an opponent two starts in a row, so it’s hard to say what we’ll see from him in this one.

Saturday - Jon Lester vs. Brad Keller, 6:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Jon Lester 18 85.2 3 6 14.6% 8.4% 5.57 5.16 0.0
Brad Keller 23 116.2 7 11 18.7% 10.5% 5.79 4.65 0.7

The Royals get their second straight look at Jon Lester in a Cardinals uniform. Last weekend, it took them a little time, but they eventually started getting to him and he ended up giving up five runs in 5.1 innings. He just wasn’t very good, which is kind of the theme of Lester over the last couple years really, which is kind of sad to see. This’ll be his first time on the Kauffman Stadium mound since September 30, 2014. You may remember what happened that night. I wonder if he’ll have nightmares just seeing a Royal on first base.

Cal Eldred had fixed Brad Keller! Until he hadn’t. Heading into his start in Toronto, Keller looked much more like the pitcher we saw last season, but he had some back issues that they apparently knew about before the game and while he was fine for two innings, he gave up three in the third and then was pulled. Then he went out in St. Louis and looked like early season Keller again, giving up five runs on five hits in five innings with five walks and five strikeouts. Maybe he was paying homage to George Brett. Whatever he was doing, it didn’t work, and now he has to work to find his groove again to end the season because confidence that might have grown back a bit from his previous starts is now gone again.

Sunday - J.A. Happ vs. Kris Bubic, 1:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
J.A. Happ 21 109.1 6 6 17.7% 7.0% 6.34 5.22 0.1
Kris Bubic 20 85.1 3 5 19.7% 11.7% 4.43 4.82 -0.4

The Twins signed J.A. Happ with the idea that he could be a stabilizing veteran in their rotation. He wasn’t. But they were able to trade him to the Cardinals and they got back Jon Gant, who is at least interesting. But with the Cardinals, Happ has had a good two starts, giving up just three runs in 11 innings with nine strikeouts and three walks. This’ll be the fourth time the Royals have seen him this year, so there’s some very real familiarity with his 90-92 MPH fastball, ineffective slider and the rest of his pitches that haven’t really worked this year. In his first three starts against the Royals, he was pretty good once and pretty bad the other two times. Overall, he has a 7.53 ERA against them this year with six home runs allowed in 14.1 innings.

I know that Kris Bubic didn’t get deep into the game against the Cardinals last weekend, but I appreciated that he didn’t have it and was able to find a way to keep the team in the game and give them a chance to hold on for a win to salvage the series. That game was just the second time he’s walked more than three batters in a game and while the Cardinals ineffective offense helped him, he pitched out of trouble, which is always encouraging to see. He’s in a bit of a weird spot where he’s seeing opponents twice in a row, having just gone through that with the White Sox and now with the Cardinals. The velocity uptick we saw in that start against the White Sox wasn’t really there against the Cardinals, so I’ll be watching that closely to see if it returns in this one.

Prediction

My hand got caught in the cookie jar last series when I predicted two of three for the Royals, but I’m like a little kid and can’t help myself. As good as Flaherty is, first starts back can be tough. Then you’ve got Lester and Happ, neither of whom are especially good. The Royals pitching is suspect as best as well, but I just like the matchups and think the Royals will win two of three.

Poll

How does part two of the I-70 series go?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Royals Sweep
    (7 votes)
  • 35%
    Royals Win Two of Three
    (20 votes)
  • 42%
    Cardinals Win Two of Three
    (24 votes)
  • 10%
    Cardinals Sweep
    (6 votes)
57 votes total Vote Now