Welcome To Miami
The Cards get their first crack at the NL East.
Less than a month ago, Florida was the home of Cardinal baseball. After a scrambling start, we were treated to about 15 baseball games that didn’t mean much except for getting people ready for the season and helping final roster decisions get made. However, one of the four teams that the Cards played in spring was the Marlins, which means they’ve more experience against them than anyone else on this early season section of the schedule (save the Mets, whom they’ll see next week.)
The Cardinals wound up splitting in spring with the Marlins, taking the first and last games while dropping the middle. Dakota Hudson started the first one with two scoreless innings with only Zack Thompson getting really damaged and Nolan Arenado hit a home run. The second game saw Steven Matz get rocked for six runs in less than two innings while the offense (besides Paul Goldschmidt going yard) was relatively quiet. Game three was a Drew VerHagen start which saw him allow seven runs in three innings, including a grand slam by Jazz Chisholm Jr., while the offense featured a homer by Paul DeJong. The fourth game, the last one before teams broke camp and headed north, saw Matz redeem himself with 6.2 scoreless frames to end the spring.
And all of that….means pretty much nothing.
St. Louis heads into Miami having split with the Brewers and leading the NL Central while not completely clicking on all cylinders. Paul Goldschmidt hit .500 in the spring but is hitting .138 with only one extra-base hit. Paul DeJong hit .435 in Grapefruit League play, encouraging many, only to hit .167 so far with double the strikeouts (8 to 4) in fewer games. Nolan Arenado has kept the good spring times rolling, but he might be the only one.
This might be the point where things start to mesh. The Marlins send out Sandy Alcantara in the second game, which is not exciting for the hitters (or for anyone that still winces over the Marcell Ozuna trade) and the Fish sit about middle of the MLB pack in ERA, so it may not be either. If it isn’t, you wonder if Oli Marmol might start tinkering a little more with the lineup. It’s not been a rigid one anyway, what with playing matchups and platoons, but another quiet series might see Dylan Carlson get some time in a different part of the lineup, for instance.
There are also the very loud footsteps of Nolan Gorman. The Cardinals were already open to him making the team in spring but eventually went a different way for many reasons. Now, Gorman has a 1.253 OPS at Memphis with six home runs. If he continues to mash like that, it may be difficult to keep him out of the mix, even though there’s no real clear path to getting him on the (what will be soon) 26-man roster.
Welcome to Miami. This promises to be interesting.
The Last Time We Met…..
We detailed the last “unofficial” battles of the fish and fowl, but the last time that counted was actually last June, when the Cards had perhaps the tightest sweep you’ve ever seen, a three game winning oasis in the midst of a stretch that saw them lose nine of ten beforehand and eight of ten after.
Game 1 was a 4-2 victory behind, of course, Adam Wainwright. The ageless one went six innings, allowing two runs, and the bullpen of Genesis Cabrera, Giovanny Gallegos, and Alex Reyes shut the Marlins down the rest of the way. It was a team effort on the offensive side as they mustered 10 hits and four different players scored and four different players drove in runs.
Game 2 was even tighter. The Marlins took the lead in the third with an Adam Duvall RBI single but that was all the club could get off of Kwang Hyun Kim. Paul Goldschmidt then singled in a run in the sixth off of Trevor Rogers, tying the game, before ending it with a walkoff home run in the ninth off of Yimi Garcia.
Game 3, somehow, was even more of a pitcher’s duel. Sandy Alcantara threw eight scoreless innings but was matched by Johan Oviedo, who threw seven scoreless (showing how cruel it is he still doesn’t have a major league win). Andrew Miller and Ryan Helsley took care of the Marlins in the eighth and ninth. Alcantara returned to the mound for the ninth but Goldschmidt immediately reached on a Jazz Chisholm error. Tyler O’Neill struck out, but then Matt Carpenter walked. The Marlins left Alcantara in, hoping to get the double play off the bat of Yadier Molina, but instead he singled into left, bringing home the only run of the game.
The Marlins come into this game a game under .500 but still second in the NL East, trailing the Mets by 2 1/2 games as New York looks to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the pack. Miami is +2 in the run differential stat, though, and is coming off a series win against the Phillies, taking three of four and winning Sunday 11-3.
Jazz Chisholm and Jesus Sanchez lead the team with two home runs and Sanchez boasts a .343/.361/.657 line in eight games so far. The Marlins rank 11th in OPS in the majors (St. Louis is fourth) and they lead the National League with five triples. (If you are starting to try to think if the Cards have a triple yet, they don’t. Maybe this series!)
So their offense is good but not necessarily great. The pitching is much the same. Their team 3.76 ERA sits them 16th in the league, right behind the Brewers team the Cards just finished with. The staff is 21st in strikeouts, which plays into the Cardinals’ hands as they are one of the hardest teams to strike out anyway. The Redbird bats should make regular contact this series and that’s always a good thing.
The Mound Men
Tuesday: Adam Wainwright (1-1, 3.48 ERA, 4.08 xERA) vs. Jesus Luzardo (0-0, 1.80 ERA, 0.77 xERA)
Wednesday: Miles Mikolas* (1-0, 2.61 ERA, 2.87 xERA) vs. Sandy Alcantara (1-0, 3.18 ERA, 3.31 xERA)
Thursday: Jordan Hicks* (1-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.82 xERA) vs. Pablo Lopez (1-0, 0.87 ERA, 4.56 xERA)
*Probable, though officially it’s TBD
—xERA courtesy of FanGraphs
Luzardo’s only made one start this season but it was a doozy. He struck out 12 Angels in five innings, allowing only a run on two hits. He came over from the A’s at the trade deadline last year so he’s never faced the Cardinals.
Alcantara we know all about, of course. He’s made two starts this year and given up two earned runs in both. Last time, it was two in 6.1 innings against the Phillies, where he struck out five. His first start he walked five and struck out four, but that could be written off to early jitters.
Lopez has also made two starts and both have been strong. In his most recent one, he held the Phillies scoreless for 5.1 innings. There may be some luck involved there as noted by his xERA but there could be a lot of early season noise in that as well.
As for the Cardinal side of things, the most notable thing will be if Hicks finally gets to make his first major league start after rain and off days have kept him in the bullpen so far. Here’s hoping!
I mentioned this at the blog and on Gateway to Baseball Heaven this week, but what must it have been like for Devin Williams to see Albert Pujols in the box on Sunday? Williams, as most of you know, grew up in St. Louis. He was six and a half when Pujols made his debut, so he grew up watching and cheering for this legend. I’d bet he had a Pujols poster or baseball cards. So to suddenly have to face this sort of presence in the eighth inning of a close game with runners on had to be a bit overwhelming. Granted, he’s faced Yadier Molina before and it’s a similar thing there, but Pujols’s aura would be even greater. I’d say that might have played a part in walking him but Williams wasn’t exactly sharp at any point in that inning.
Paul DeJong hit a home run in the second game of the season. After that game, he was one for six (.167). Since then, he’s three for 18, which is also .167. It’s going to be interesting to see how much rope the team gives him. They said all the right things in the winter, all about how much confidence they have in him, they didn’t go out and get a replacement, etc. DeJong also said the right things, talking about a different approach, not letting things mentally get to him, letting things he can’t control go. Twenty-four at bats is definitely not enough to draw any conclusions, but it’s a little frustrating to see this after his spring, when it looked like all these adjustments were starting to pay off. Looking at his Baseball Savant page, it looks like he’s adjusted his launch angle but he’s missing the sweet spot. If he can correct that, things might look different.
Currently listening to: I’m just a couple of minutes left in the latest Talking About Birds, so then I’ll probably shift over to Cardinals Off Day. I’ve missed some of Ben and Ben’s more recent shows, because my podcasting time daily is limited and when the season started and EVERYONE starting putting out regular podcasts, it made it very hard for me to keep up! Mowing season is about to pick up, though, so I should be able to get through at least some in that manner.
Currently reading: Still working through Queen’s Hope, though I have a number of open books on the Kindle and a few regular ones around the house that I pick up from time to time.
Currently watching: I finished season two of Star Trek: Lower Decks and I’m up to date on Star Trek: Picard and Moon Knight. I did watch the first episode of Star Trek: Prodigy and may watch that when I have a half hour here or there to watch anything.
Currently playing: I am not a video game person by any means. Besides the fact that I don’t usually have the time, I definitely don’t have the skills. Once video games got out of the Atari era, I was lost. I even bought Star Wars Squadrons a few years ago but I’ve never actually played it. However, LEGO games are right up my alley, mainly because they are designed for casual play, so I jumped on LEGO Star Wars The Skywalker Saga. I’ve actually played my way through the prequel trilogy (finished Revenge of the Sith last night) and I look forward to going back and exploring the worlds when I am done.
Sunday finished up my Lenten Star Wars devotional series, so if you are a new reader and are interested, here’s the link to the site.