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Cardinals series preview: Misery loves company

The two Missouri teams have not have much to show this year.

St. Louis Cardinals v Colorado Rockies Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The Cardinals franchise has a proud history. They have the fourth-most wins in baseball history, the second-most post-season wins, and the second-most championships. They haven’t had a losing season in 16 years, haven’t had back-to-back losing seasons since the shortened 1994-95 seasons, and they haven’t lost as many as 90 games in a season since 1990.

They went into this season expecting more of the same, a chance to bring home a 12th title to St. Louis, but instead things have gone terribly wrong. They began the year 10-24, and made uncharacteristic moves for such a stable organization, like quickly demoting top prospect Jordan Walker, pulling Willson Contreras from catcher months after signing him to a large five-year deal to catch (then reversing the decision a week later), and pitchers began grumbling about constant questions about their performance.

They have righted the ship a bit since then, but still go into this short two-game series against the Royals with a record of 24-31, third-worst in the National League. The last time the Royals played a Cardinals team with a losing record was on June 20, 2007, when the 31-37 Cardinals defeated the 29-43 Royals 7-6 in thirteen innings. The series was supposed to take place Tuesday and Wednesday, but the Cardinals wanted to play on Memorial Day, so instead the Royals will get the rare two-day break this week.

Kansas City Royals (16-38) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (24-31) from Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO

Royals: 3.94 runs scored/game (26th in MLB), 5.35 runs allowed/game (28th)

Cardinals: 4.93 runs scored/game (8th), 4.69 runs allowed/game (20th)

The offense hasn’t really been the problem for the Cardinals this year. If anything, they have the nice problem of having too many good hitters, and not knowing exactly how to line up the right starting nine each night. Paul Goldschmidt is still an elite hitter, Nolan Gorman is looking like one of the better young hitters in the game, and Paul DeJong has bounced back in a major way. Of the ten Cardinals hitters with at least 100 plate appearances this year, seven have an OPS+ of 95 or better.

The Cardinals haven’t quite reverted by to “Whiteyball”, the stolen-base fervor they employed under manager Whitey Herzog in the 80s, but they are second in the league with 43 stolen bases, with numerous threats in the lineup. The infield defense is better than the outfield defense. Third baseman Nolan Arenado has lost a step or two but the former Platinum Glove Award winner is still solid. The defensive issues have been behind the plate where Willson Contreras has not lived up to the high expectations set by retired All-Star catcher Yadier Molina.

Cardinals expected lineup and bench

Starting Lineup PA HR SB BA OBA SLG fWAR
Starting Lineup PA HR SB BA OBA SLG fWAR
CF Lars Nootbaar (L) 183 4 5 .268 .383 .392 1.4
1B Paul Goldschmidt (R) 240 10 7 .294 .400 .525 2.2
DH Nolan Gorman (L) 193 13 4 .281 .373 .575 1.8
3B Nolan Arenado (R) 225 9 2 .261 .307 .430 0.7
C Willson Contreras (R) 211 5 4 .220 .308 .366 0.5
LF Brendan Donovan (L) 179 5 4 .252 .346 .374 1.0
SS Paul DeJong (R) 113 8 3 .248 .327 .525 1.1
RF Alec Burleson (L) 139 4 0 .240 .294 .400 -0.3
2B Tommy Edman (S) 188 6 7 .266 .323 .456 0.9
C Tres Barrera (R) 2 0 0 .000 .000 .000 0.0
C Andrew Knizer (R) 82 4 1 .231 .259 .449 0.3
IF Juan Yepez (R) 39 2 0 .250 .308 .444 -0.2
OF Oscar Mercado (R) 25 0 2 .375 .400 .500 0.3

The problems for the Cardinals have been with the pitching staff, much of which has put at the feet of Contreras. Cardinals pitchers have a 4.78 ERA when he is behind the plate, and 3.82 when backup Andrew Knizer is behind the plate. In either case, Cardinals starters have been accused of not being able to miss bats - they have the fourth-worst strikeout rate among starters (just ahead of the Royals). Adam “Uncle Charlie” Wainwright may finally be seeing Father Time catch up with him at age 41, as he has the third-lowest strikeout rate of anyone with at least 20 innings pitched. His big looping curveball is still effective, but an 87 mph fastball won’t fool many hitters. Josh Staumont will start as an opener for the Royals on Monday - his first MLB start - with former Cardinals pitcher Mike Mayers expected to pitch the bulk of the innings.

Miles Mikolas has also suffered from a low strikeout rate this year, but he has pitched much better lately with 1.98 ERA over his last six starts, including seven shutout innings his last time out against the Reds. Mikolas relies a lot on a sinker and slider, but his groundball rate has gone down significantly this year.

Pitching matchups

Monday, May 29 - 1:15 ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 fWAR
Monday, May 29 - 1:15 ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 fWAR
RHP Josh Staumont 4.76 2.94 17.0 11.1 5.3 0.2
RHP Adam Wainwright 6.33 5.02 21.1 4.2 2.5 0
Tuesday, May 30 - 6:45 ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 fWAR
RHP Zack Greinke 4.55 4.60 57.1 6.4 1.3 0.5
RHP Miles Mikolas 4.23 4.24 61.2 7.0 2.0 0.8

Cardinals relievers are much better at getting whiffs, with the fifth-best strikeout rate of any bullpen, although with the seventh-highest walk rate. Four of the five fastest heaters in the game will be featured in this series - Ryan Helsley and Jordan Hicks on the Cardinals, and Aroldis Chapman and Carlos Hernandez on the Royals - can all hit regularly hit triple digits. Starter Steven Matz will be skipped over in the rotation this week after a rough start, and could be available in the bullpen.

Cardinals bullpen

Bullpen ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 fWAR
Bullpen ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 fWAR
RHP Ryan Helsley 3.52 2.90 23.0 11.4 4.3 0.6
RHP Giovanny Gallegos 2.08 3.20 21.2 8.3 1.7 0.5
RHP Drew VerHagen 3.46 2.90 26.0 9.7 3.8 0.6
RHP Andre Pallante 4.12 4.92 19.2 4.1 4.9 -0.2
LHP Genesis Cabrera 4.95 5.04 20.0 12.6 5.9 -0.1
RHP Jordan Hicks 4.37 3.86 22.2 13.9 6.8 0.1
RHP Chris Stratton 3.86 2.63 30.1 9.5 1.5 0.6
LHP Steven Matz 5.72 4.82 50.1 8.1 3.6 0.3

The Royals have a rare chance to kick the Cardinals while they’re down, but they find themselves with a much more miserable place in the standings. The Cardinals do not seem truly bad, just the victim of some bad luck - their pythagorean win/loss expectation is 29-26. Still, their confidence may be wavering, and the Royals could seize on their panic and frustrations and steal a series.


How will the Royals fare in this series against the Cardinals?

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    Royals sweep 2-0
    (20 votes)
  • 49%
    Series split 1-1
    (40 votes)
  • 25%
    Cardinals sweep
    (21 votes)
81 votes total Vote Now