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The leaders of a struggling NL East come to Busch.

The Mets.

For Cardinals fans of a certain age, all you have to say is those two words and you are instantly transported back to the 1980s. Darryl Strawberry. Terry Pendleton. Keith Hernandez. Todd Worrell. That old NL East rivalry comes rushing back. Sure, there have been moments between these two teams since then—a certain curveball comes to mind—but for many of us, the Mets will always be pond scum.

Now the first place Mets (with a worse record than the second place Cardinals) come into Busch for a four game set. The rivalry is not what it once was but it brings a little spice to an early season four game set.

The Last Time We Met…..

The Cards went to New York June 13-16, 2019 and came away with three wins in four tries. None of the wins went to starters. For instance, Carlos Martinez picked up a win when, after seven innings of Jacob DeGrom’s two run work, St. Louis got two in the ninth and one in the 10th off of Edwin Diaz. The next night, John Gant came into a bases-loaded, nobody out mess Andrew Miller left him in the seventh and allowed all those runs to score, but got the win when his club rallied for four in the eighth off of home runs by Paul DeJong and Dexter Fowler.

Game 3 saw Noah Syndergaard outduel Michael Wacha. Well, it doesn’t really count as a duel when Wacha allowed five in the bottom of the first and another in the second. The bullpen did a good job keeping the game close and a Cardinal rally against Diaz in the ninth fell short when Jack Flaherty, pinch-running for Yadier Molina, tried and failed to score on a Kolten Wong double.

The final game was more of a traditional sort of affair. The two teams were tied at three in the eighth when the man who seems to own the team, Paul DeJong, homered again Chris Flexen, who did no such thing in taking the loss.

The Opponent

2021 was supposed to be the dawn of a new era for the Mets. Steve Cohen has taken over for the reviled Wilpon family in the ownership box and immediately made changes, most notably the acquisition and subsequent extension of Francisco Lindor. While there have been some off-field issues requiring the dismissal of their general manager and an investigation of their team culture, overall there’s less of the LOLMETS hashtag being used these days.

That said, 2021 hasn’t been gangbusters for them either. They are in first, tied with the Nationals, but with a .500 record. Lindor has an OPS+ of 46 and, according to Baseball-Reference, has a 0.0 WAR. Jacob deGrom is as great as ever, posting a 0.51 ERA with 59 strikeouts in 35 innings, but has a 2-2 record in his five appearances to show for it. Man’s gotten so desperate for help that he’s 6 for 13 with an OPS of 1.000 at the plate, figuring he’s got to do it all himself.

The Mets are 21st in OPS (Cards are 15th, for reference) and have a total of 17 home runs as a team, the least in the majors. Good thing the team is fifth in ERA or this could get ugly in a hurry.

The Mound Men

Monday: TBD vs. Adam Wainwright (0-3, 4.08 ERA, 3.98 FIP, 3.83 xERA)

Tuesday: Jacob deGrom (2-2, 0.51 ERA, 0.82 FIP, 1.48 xERA) vs. Kwang Hyun Kim (1-0, 3.29 ERA, 2.16 FIP, 6.43 xERA)

Wednesday: Marcus Stroman (3-2, 1.84 ERA, 2.70 FIP, 3.58 xERA) vs. John Gant (2-2, 2.16 ERA, 4.31 FIP, 5.49 xERA)

Thursday: Taijuan Walker (1-1, 3.00 ERA, 3.37 FIP, 5.05 xERA) vs. Jack Flaherty (5-0, 3.41 ERA, 3.29 FIP, 4.22 xERA)

It’s pretty rare to see TBD just hours before game time, but it seems like the Mets are going with a bullpen game tonight and trusting that deGrom and Stroman won’t necessarily need a lot of support in that regard. deGrom has gone no less than six innings this season and Stroman has gone six in three of his five outings, though neither of the last two.

deGrom is deGrom, of course, and we have talked about the last time the Cards saw him. His last game, he gave up a run in six innings to the Red Sox and raised his ERA. He went 109 pitches against the Nationals the time before that, which was a complete game shutout with 15 strikeouts and just two hits.

Stroman is a little different story. Last time out, he went five innings, allowing two unearned runs and striking out eight. He only threw 64 pitches, though, leaving with a tight hamstring. I would assume everything has worked its way out there but something to watch, I guess. Stroman has faced the Cardinals one time, way back in his rookie season 2014 when he allowed a run in seven innings. The run scored in the first when Allen Craig doubled in Matt Carpenter but Matt Holliday was thrown out at home. Yeah, it’s been a minute.

By comparison, Walker is an old friend, having seen the Cardinals three times total in 2017 and 2018. The last of these was the last full game he had before he needed Tommy John surgery, as he limited St. Louis to one run in six innings. His last 2021 start had him giving up four runs to the Phillies in six innings with a no-decision.

In case you are wondering, the Mets’ bullpen corps has similar rate numbers (but much fewer innings) as the Cardinals.

(EDIT: Soon after publishing the Mets announced Joey Lucchesi, who pitched 5.1 innings and allowed two runs against the Cards as a Padre in 2019, will start tonight. The Cardinals are also shifting everyone except Waino back a day and sliding Johan Oviedo in against deGrom. No pressure, kid.)

The Hot Seat

A sweep of a divisional rival will cool just about anybody’s seat. I don’t know if anyone is getting the brunt of the online abuse right now, but I will say that Harrison Bader’s return is going to be closely watched. His three-run homer yesterday helps, but if he struggles offensively there are going to be a number of people wanting a different outfield configuration.

Assorted Crudités

Paul DeJong’s career numbers against the Mets: 20 games, 89 plate appearances, 10 doubles, nine homers, .361/.393/.807.

The Cardinals have hit three pinch-hit home runs this season, all in the last week. That ranks them third in MLB. However, they rank 24th in batting average from pinch hitters (.156).

(Here’s a tangent, for all the talk about the DH, people don’t talk about how it reduces bench opportunities. The Yankees have all of two pinch-hit at bats on the season and the average AL team has less than 15.)

Random Links

Currently listening to: Conversations with Cerutti Episode 13. Ben and Kyle Reis talking minors….well, I’m not to that point yet, but I know they are getting there. May The Force be with you two as well.

If you want the opposite point of view: Check out Faith and Fear in Flushing. Greg Prince always joins in on the Playing Pepper series and when his writing partner Jason Fry isn’t talking Mets, he’s writing Star Wars books. This is always well-written and well-thought-out when I read them. Honestly, it’s stuff like I wish I could write.

My stuff: The post about the weekend, my chat with Katie Woo, and Tara Wellman and I doing what we do.