Series Preview – Cards In Miami

The Cardinals finished up a 4-2 home stand Wednesday, and travel to South Florida for a 3-game set with the Marlins. The Cardinals split two with Florida in May.

Current Snapshot:

St Louis: 60-48, 2nd place NL Central, 0.5 games behind Cincinnati. Am I the only one happy to see Houston leave town? Didn’t think so. After allowing Pittsburgh 2 runs in 3 games, they surrendered 31 runs to Houston. The team added Jake Westbrook, sent Ryan Ludwick to San Diego, lost David Freese for the year, and ceded right field to Jon Jay. It’s been an exhausting week.

Florida: 53-54, 4th place NL East, 8 games behind Atlanta. The Marlins boast some of the best young players in the league with Josh Johnson, Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla, and Michael Stanton on the roster. That they sit a game under .500 is somewhat of a surprise. Florida is 5-5 over their last ten games, and followed taking two of three from San Diego in San Diego by getting swept at home by the Phillies.

Pitching Matchups

6 August: Jeff Suppan (1-4, 5.15 xFIP) vs Rickey Nolasco (12-7, 3.64 xFIP). Suppan got his first win of the season against Pittsburgh last Saturday, so he’s on a major roll right now. Jeff has started 8 career games in Florida, never losing as a Cardinal, never winning as a Brewer. His last win down there was 5 may 06. He has never faced Rickey Nolasco.

Dan Uggla (.267/.429/.600, 1 HR) and Mike Lamb (.158/.200/.211) are the only Marlins with more than 20 career PA’s against him (Hanley Ramirez has 19). I doubt Lamb will suit up against Suppan Friday.

Rickey Nolasco is a right-handed pitcher currently tied for fourth in the NL in wins and tenth in xFIP. By most advanced metrics this is his best season in the majors. Nolasco features a fastball averaging 91 MPH, which he throws about half the time. He complements that with a split-finger (85MPH, 12%), slider (85, 23%) and curveball (75, 16%). According to Fangraphs, his off-speed pitches are plus pitches.

Nolasco has appeared in two games vs St Louis in Miami (one start). He’s not beaten the Cardinals at home; in fact, he’s never beaten the Cardinals, and the Marlins have only won one of the 5 games he’s appeared in (4 starts). His lone home start was almost exactly two years ago.

No Cardinal has 20 plate appearances against Nolasco. Matt Holliday and Felipe Lopez have hit two home runs off him. Holliday, in fact, is 7 for 11 all-time against Nolasco.

7 August: Adam Wainwright (15-6, 3.22 xFIP) vs Josh Johnson (10-4, 3.10 xFIP). Two of the best young pitchers in baseball, and two contenders for the 2010 NL Cy Young award, square off on Saturday. If this is not the Fox Game of the Week something is seriously wrong. What? Boston is playing the Yankees this weekend too? So much for that.

Wainwright was masterful in his 7 innings against Pittsburgh on Sunday and looks to keep that going. He’s started one game in Florida against the Marlins, winning last June 6th. In his career he’s 4-1 against Florida, and he won on 20 May this year 4-2. Only Hanley Ramirez has 20 PA versus Adam, and Wainwright has completely handcuffed him (.167/.260/.167). Uggla has the only HR on the roster off Wainwright, but has been similarly frustrated (.125/.167/.313).

The right-handed Johnson was roughed up in San Diego on Sunday, allowing a season high 5 earned runs, but the Padres are the only team to beat him since May (5-2 over that span). Johnson throws a fastball, slider, and changeup; his fastball averages 95 MPH and he throws it 60% of the time. All three pitches are above average, which makes sense given his success this season. Johnson has started 3 career games against St Louis, one in Miami. He’s 1-1, with a no decision in the home start although the Marlins won the game (9 June 09). Cardinals on the roster have hit .321/.346/.436 career off Johnson (82 PA). Albert Pujols has hit the only HR among the current Redbirds off Johnson.

He and Wainwright have hooked up once before, on 7 Sept 08. Wainwright won the game 3-1.

8 August: Jake Westbrook (0-0, 2.01 xFIP) vs Sean West (0-1, 4.84 xFIP). Westbrook made his first start as a Cardinal Monday against Houston, and would have gotten the win if the bullpen could have held the lead. In a relative oddity of the Interleague Era, Jake has never faced Florida. Of the current Marlins only Mike Lamb (1 for 7, walk) and Donnie Murphy (1 for 2) have any at bats against him.

Westbrook has five pitches but hardly ever throws his curveball. His fastball averages 92 MPH, his slider 80, his change-up 79, and his cutter 86. Of those his best pitch appears to be his slider, which makes sense given his ground ball/fly ball ratio (1.87 in 2010). He strikes out a tick over 5 hitters a game, making him a pitch-to-contact guy that Dave Duncan loves.

Sean West was recalled to the Marlins on 3 August, and lost his first start of the 2010 season Tuesday to Philadelphia. West started 20 games a year ago for Florida, posting an 8-6 record. He has not faced the Cardinals in South Florida, but he has beaten the Cardinals in his career, 2-1 on 15 September of last year. West features a fastball/slider/changeup and is a bit of a fly ball pitcher (0.70 GB/FB ratio). His fastball averages about 91 MPH.

No Cardinal has more than 3 PA’s against him, so it’s not really worth discussing those numbers.

Prognosis. The Cardinals have struggled on the road this season, while the Marlins have been exactly average at home. Florida will be favored on Friday, St Louis on Sunday. Saturday’s game will be epic and most likely become a battle of bullpens. St Louis has the ability to take 2 of these 3 games but it won’t be easy. Cincinnati is in Chicago this weekend, so it may take 2 of 3 to keep pace with the Reds.

UPDATE: The Cardinals shifted their rotation for this weekend. Adam Wainwright pitched Friday night, Jake Westrbook will pitch Saturday and Jeff Suppan shifts to Sunday.

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