Series Preview: St. Louis Cardinals (20-15) at Chicago Cubs (15-18)

The Cubs stranded approximately 215 baserunners in the last series against the Reds, and I don’t know if I should be encouraged by the numbers of batters who got on base or discouraged by the fact that the only win the Cubs got in the series was on a 9th inning, down by one rally on Saturday that almost fell apart on its own rights due to a fluke ground rule double on a hit that should have ended the game.

With the Cardinals coming to town for the first time this season, I’m surprised more buzz hasn’t been whipped up by the press over Theriot’s comments in the offseason. Of course, I don’t regularly read any of the beat writers but generally this bleeds through to twitter etc. The only person I’ve seen beating that noble drum is CubbieJulie. It should be interesting to see what kind of reception he gets.

Team Overview

Team stats (with NL ranks)

wOBA: .350 (1st)
UZR: 6.4 (6th)
DRS: 0 (5th)
SP FIP: 3.53 (4th)
SP xFIP: 3.56 (4th)
RP FIP: 3.71 (10th)
RP xFIP: 4.01 (12th)

Batters

Player wOBA ZiPS wOBA
SS Ryan Theriot .311 .297
CF Colby Rasmus .383 .350
1b Albert Pujols .330 .413
LF Matt Holliday .475 .391
RF Lance Berkman .492 .382
C Yadier Molina .308 .316
3B Nick Punto .281 .293
2B Tyler Greene .335 .306

The biggest surprise of the year is how well Lance Berkman is hitting, and the second biggest surprise is how poorly Pujols is hitting. A big part of Pujols’s numbers is his .228 BABIP, which has not surprisingly driven his batting average 60 points lower than last year’s. However, his ISO is also down by more than 100 points and he’s taking less walks than usual. Pujols still has 7 HRs and the ability to hit his way out of this, but it’s one of the biggest surprises this season. I can’t wait until one of the Cubs beat writers looks at Pujols’s numbers and states that the Cubs shouldn’t sign him, because clearly he stinks (laughing). The Cardinals are missing 3b David Freese (broken hand) and “2b” Skip Schumaker (biceps), but at least their backups play good defense. There’s not much you can say about their bats though. Luckily the heart of the Cardinals order is more than making up for everyone else’s struggles.

Pitchers

Player ERA FIP ZiPS FIP
RHP Chris Carpenter 4.19 4.26 3.46
LHP Jaime Garcia 1.99 2.36 3.19
RHP Kyle Lohse 2.24 3.20 3.82
RHP Jake Westbrook 6.14 4.35 4.02
RHP Kyle McClellan 3.30 3.99 4.03
RHP Mitchell Boggs 3.24 2.39 3.76
RHP Jason Motte 1.76 2.41 3.08

After the Wainwright injury, I still though that the Cardinals were the best team in the NL Central. But I also would have said that it was now even more important that Pujols and Carpenter have good seasons for the Cards to take first place. It figures that both of them have had fairly mediocre years. Luckily for the Cardinals, besides Berkman’s and Holliday’s insane hitting, they’ve gotten great performances from Lohse and McLellan, and Jaime Garcia‘s numbers are even better than they were in his impressive rooke season last year. Ryan Franklin finally managed to pitch his way out of the closer’s role, and the Cardinals are running out a closer by committee situation that’s largely being handled by Mitch Boggs.

Pitching matchups

Tuesday: Chris Carpenter, RHP (4.19, 4.26, 3.43, 3.46) vs Carlos Zambrano, RHP (4.23, 3.69, 4.04, 3.55), 7:05 PM CT

This might be my favorite matchup all season. I love watching both of these guys pitch, and it seems like every game where they’re matched up is a great one.

With Wainwright out for the season the Cards need even more out of Carpenter. Looking at his numbers from last season, I wonder how reckless it was for the Cards to have him pitch 235 innings last year when in 2007 and 2008 he essentially missed two entire seasons with arm injuries. Carpenter’s numbers don’t look like his usual numbers, but nearly all of that is due to his unlucky 16.2% HR/FB rate. In fact, he’s been a bit lucky with balls that don’t leave the yard as he has a .298 BABIP despite a LD rate north of 24%. It’s probably just luck, but we can hope that batters are seeing something this year. According to fangraphs pitch weights his fastball has been relatively hittable this year.

My biggest concern with Z this year is still batted ball rates, and despite the good results ERA wise in his last two starts he’s been giving up a ton of fly balls. His GB% sits at 37.7%, by far the lowest in his career, and he’s allowing a lot more balls in play. Given the number of fly balls he’s allowed it’s not surprising that his BABIP is lower, but he’s lucky that most of those fly balls haven’t left the yard. It’s heating up this week so he could be due for some trouble.

Wednesday: Jake Westbrook, RHP (6.14, 4.35, 4.10, 4.02) vs Matt Garza, RHP (4.43, 1.57, 2.04, 3.64), 7:05 PM CT

One of the biggest surprises for me this year is that Jake Westbrook has been pitching so poorly. I tried and mostly succeeded at drafting him in all of my fantasy leagues this year, figuring he was the perfect fit for a Dave Duncan retread project: he’s bouncing back from an injury, and already gets boatloads of ground balls. The ground ball part of his game is working even better than usual (62.4% GB rate) but many of them are finding holes (.331 BABIP) and even more importantly, his control of the strike zone has completely disappeared. He’s put up better numbers in his last few starts, so a hack-tastic lineup like the Cubs could be just what he needs to get him over the hump.

Garza finally gave up his first home run in his last start, but overall it was another good outing for him – aside from the HR he only gave up one line drive and induced a ton of ground balls. Garza has always been a big flyball pitcher in his career, but there’s only been one game this season where his opponents hit more flyballs than grounders this year. Granted, he did give up a lot of line drives in his first three starts so if you count those it doesn’t look quite as good. But the trend has continued in his last few starts as his LD rate has been supressed. His BABIP has fallen from the redonkulous near .500 numbers from earlier in the season to a merely ridiculous .388.

Thursday: Jaime Garcia, LHP (1.99, 2.36, 2.59, 3.19) vs Casey Coleman, RHP (6.29, 5.40, 5.58, 4.84), 1:20 PM CT

Garcia took a perfect game into the 8th inning against the Brewers in his last start. He had an impressive rookie year and has built on that even further, essentially becoming the third ace on the Cardinals staff (injured players division). His K/9 numbers have increased by a batter and a half, and he cut down his walk rate to 2.18. His BABIP is an unsustainable .263, especially given his GB tendencies so his ERA numbers should regress a bit, but he’s still easily the best pitcher on the staff right now.

Coleman finally had a good start, and it would have looked even better had Q not left him in a bit too long. He finally started getting his strikeouts (including multiple Ks of Joey Votto) but he’s still walking too many batters. Plus, all three of the walks in his last start led off an inning.

Prediction

Cardinals win two out of three, though I would not be surprised to see the Cubs take this series. Z always seems to step up his game when playing the Cardinals, especially when matched up with a great pitcher like Carpenter. I’m really looking forward to tonight’s game.


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