Series Preview: Cards vs Pirates

St Louis will host Pittsburgh this weekend for the first time in 2010. Pittsburgh leads the all time series with the Cardinals, 1087-1035, and that’s despite the rivalry being a bit one-sided since the start of the 1992 season (STL leads 154-112).

Current Snapshot

St Louis – 55-46, 2nd place NL Central, half-game back of Cincinnati. Following their 8-game winning streak the Cardinals returned to their struggles on the road, dropping 2 of 3 in Chicago, then 2 of 3 in New York. Both their wins on that road swing came in extra innings after the team grabbed an early lead. The one man they cannot afford to miss is nursing nagging side and leg injuries following the set in New York.

Pittsburgh – 35-64, worst record in NL, 20 games behind Cincinnati. Pittsburgh remains in a perpetual state of rebuild, although there is a core of good players now present at the major league level (Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, Andrew McCutchen, Lastings Milledge). They still have very little reliable starting pitching and are at least two years away from contending seriously.

Pitching Matchups

30 July – Jeff Karstens (2-6, 4.64 xFIP) vs Carpenter (11-3, 3.71 xFIP). Karstens has lost his last 4 decisions, and the Pirates have lost 5 of the last 6 games he’s started. I call Karstens a classic junkballer – 88 MPH fastball, 80 MPH slider and change, 73 MPH curveball. He’s not going to overpower the hitters – he’s only struck out 52 in 89.2 innings this season – meaning he beats them with deception and location. His curve ball grades out as his best pitch, and he throws it 15% of the time.

Karstens has never faced the Cardinals in St Louis. He has started twice in Pittsburgh against them and sports a 1-1 mark after beating the Cardinals on May 8. No Cardinal hitter has stepped in the batter’s box more than six times when Karstens was on the mound. Colby Rasmus has the most success (2-6, HR).

Carpenter gave up 3 ER to Chicago in 7 innings, and he continues to pitch very well coming out of the All-Star Break. He has also dominated the Pirates in his career; the Cardinals have lost only one game he started against Pittsburgh (6/29/04; the Cards were shut out 3-0). He has never lost to Pittsburgh at home. He pitched in Pittsburgh on May 7 and allowed only 2 runs in 7 innings in a no-decision the Cardinals won 4-3. As you might imagine, most Pirate hitters have not had much success against him. Ryan Doumit has had the most success (2 HR), but he’s on the disabled list. Milledge is 3 for 7 lifetime against Carp, and that is wildly successful as compared to his teammates.

31 July – TBD vs Suppan (0-4, 5.65 xFIP). This would be Brad Lincoln’s spot, but he might not get the start Saturday. Jeff Suppan, however, will. He pitched last Friday against Chicago and with the wind blowing out, he surrendered 3 HR in 6 innings and lost 5-0. Most observers thought Dave Duncan might be able to resuscitate Suppan’s career, but so far there is no evidence Duncan has made much difference. Based purely on xFIP, one could say Suppan is worse now than he was with Milwaukee (5.05 xFIP vs 5.65 today).

Like Carpenter, Suppan has also had a lot of success against Pittsburgh. He has not lost to the Bucs since 11 Aug 2006, covering 10 starts. In fact, his team is 9-1 in those 10 starts. Of course, those 10 starts were all with the Brewers, and his last loss was the last time he faced Pittsburgh as a Cardinal. I do not think we can draw any conclusions from what happened 4 years ago, but it is at least an interesting factoid. He did face them in relief this year while still with Milwaukee.

Ryan Church might get a start Saturday, as he’s 3 for 4 against Suppan, but lots of Pirates have good numbers against Suppan. Garrett Jones has hit 2 HR off Jeff in 4 career at-bats.

1 August – Zach Duke (5-9, 4.27 xFIP) vs Wainwright (14-6, 3.23 xFIP). Duke sports a 5.09 ERA, which means he’s a much better pitcher than Earned Run Average would lead one to believe. Duke is another guy who does not throw very hard – 87 MPH fastball, 81 MPH change, 79 MPH slider, 72 MPH curve. His change-up seems to be his best pitch according to Fangraphs, but he only throws it 14% of the time.

Duke has only beaten the Cardinals once in 6 starts in St Louis (8 Apr 09). He’s 4-5 career vs the Redbirds. He last pitched against them in the May 7 game we mentioned above. In that game he worked 6.1, was charged with 3 runs (all unearned), and did not figure in the decision. Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday have feasted on his pitches (3 HR, 1.227 OPS for Pujols, and 1 HR, 1.374 OPS for Holliday). Rasmus, Skip Schumaker, Brendan Ryan, and Felipe Lopez (combined 7 for 54) wish the sluggers would share their secret.

Wainwright just did not have it Tuesday night in New York; the 6 earned runs he allowed were the most surrendered by him since May 2009. Coming back to St Louis may be the tonic he needs, as he has been unbeatable at home (10-0, 0.873 WHIP, 71K in 81.1 innings). Adam is 6-2 lifetime against Pittsburgh but has struggled a bit when he faces them, allowing over 1.5 baserunners an inning. He has already beaten Pittsburgh this season (on May 9 in Pittsburgh). McCutchen and Jones (4 for 8, 5 for 9 respectively) have had the most success against him. No other Pirate is slugging over .450 when Wainwright is delivering the pitches.

Prognosis. St Louis is coming off a 3-3 road trip, and the Pirates just took 2 of 3 against the Rockies. The Cardinals have been tremendous at home while Pittsburgh has been awful on the road despite just taking the Colorado series. St Louis should win 2 of these 3 games. This series also represents Jeff Suppan’s best chance to date to win his first game. If Suppan can throw well Saturday the Cardinals can sweep this series. With Cincinnati hosting Atlanta this weekend, they might have to sweep to keep pace.

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