Series Preview – Cardinals and Padres

This series was supposed to feature two teams headed to the post-season, but both have hit significant pot-holes in the road. St Louis’ odds of making the playoffs have rapidly reduced to a very low order of probability; after Monday’s loss to the Chicago Cubs, they stood only a 5.7% chance of playing October baseball. San Diego has weathered a recent 10-game losing streak while managing to hold onto first place in the NL West. It is a testament to how well they played the first 5 months of this season that they could endure such a cold spell and still have any shot at all. Visiting Busch III poses a tough challenge in an already tough September for the Padres; they are 7-26 along the Mississippi since 2000, and have lost 9 straight.

This series will also mark Ryan Ludwick’s first return to St Louis since being traded to San Diego on 30 July. I expect he will receive a warm welcome when he steps into the box Thursday night.

Current Snapshot

St Louis: 74-69, 2nd place NL Central, 7 games behind Cincinnati; 7.5 back of Atlanta in the Wild Card. It’s basically over for 2010. The Cardinals were handed a recent gift when Cincinnati went on a 5-game losing streak; they made up exactly one game, and have since handed that game back. All that remains is for Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter to chase the Cy Young award, and Albert Pujols the League MVP and possibly Triple Crown. There is the remote chance this team will get hot over the last 18 games of the season, and climb back into the playoffs; but that would require them to play their best extended streak of baseball since April, and for at least 3 other teams to tank.

San Diego: 82-62, 1st place NL West. The Padres lost 10 straight, then swept LA, then lost 3 of 4 to San Francisco, then snapped the Colorado Rockies 10-game winning streak. It has been a bizarre three weeks by the Pacific. Through it all they have somehow remained in first place (although San Francisco did tie them on two separate occasions over the weekend). San Diego is not getting much offense at all. Miguel Tejada has been better than expected offensively, Ryan Ludwick has been in an extended slump. Their starting pitching is showing signs of fraying. Kevin Correia and Wade LeBlanc have lost their starting jobs, replaced by Tim Stauffer and Cory Luebke respectively. Jon Garland has been shelled his last two times out. But Mat Latos and Clayton Richard continue to pitch well, and the bullpen continues to be the best in baseball, and they simply will not go away.

Probable Pitching Matchups

Thursday 16 Sept: Tim Stauffer (4-3, 1.54 ERA) vs Jake Westbrook (1-3, 3.78 ERA). The Cardinals may be out of the playoff hunt, but it sure as heck is not Jake Westbrook’s fault. Westbrook has really pitched well since coming over. He’s lasted at least 6 innings in all 8 of his starts, and allowed 4 runs only once. Yet the Cardinals are 2-6 behind him. Westbrook has 2 career starts against San Diego, but the last one was 2005 so it really is not worth talking about. Tim Stauffer is one of the unsung heroes of the Padres. He, Wade LeBlanc, and Mat Latos competed for the fifth starter slot in spring training. Latos won, LeBlanc went to AAA, Stauffer was sent to the bullpen. Stauffer did not give up a run in his first 15.1 innings this season. He made an emergency start when Correia’s younger brother died unexpectedly in May, and threw 5 shutout innings at the Astros. After missing two months recovering from appendicitis (which he diagnosed himself, by the way, using WebMD) he returned to his bullpen duties and resumed his stingy pitching. Since returning to the rotation he has made 2 starts, and has allowed 1 run in 10 innings. San Diego has won all of his starts this season.

Thursday’s game is also Social Media night at Busch.

Friday 17 Sept: Mat Latos (14-6, 2.43) vs Kyle Lohse (3-7, 6.85). On paper this game is heavily lopsided in favor of the Padres. Mat Latos is a Cy Young candidate having his breakout season at age 22. He is a power pitcher (174 K in 166.2 IP) who has allowed one more baserunner than innings thrown (120 hits, 45 walks, 2 HBP). Mat Latos is the reason Jake Peavy became expendable last season. Latos has faced St Louis once before. The Cardinals roughed him up last August for 7 runs in 4 innings of a 9-2 St Louis victory. Lohse beat Atlanta his last time out, and has pitched OK since getting shelled in Washington on August 28. The Cardinals have not lost to San Diego at Busch when Lohse starts (2-0). As you might have imagined, Adrian Gonzalez truly enjoys hitting off Lohse (7-18, HR, 1.272 OPS).

Saturday 18 Sept: Cory Luebke (1-1, 4.59) vs Jamie Garcia (13-8, 2.70). Luebke made the leap from AA to the majors on 3 September. This will be his fourth major league start. He throws a fastball that runs 89-92 MPH, a change-up, and a slider. Luebke has allowed 8 runs in his 15.1 big league innings, all to the Colorado Rockies (he shut out the Dodgers for 6 innings in his other start). He is not as overpowering as Latos, but he has shown he knows how to pitch. Luebke pounds the strike zone, so Cardinal hitters should be aggressive early in the count against him. Garcia is a leading candidate for NL Rookie of the Year honors. He has one career start against San Diego, throwing 6 scoreless innings on 26 May in a game the Padres eventually won 2-1 in 13 innings. You might remember this game, for it included one of the most boneheaded sequences of baserunning I’ve ever seen at the major league level in the top of the eleventh inning.

Sunday 19 Sept: Jon Garland (14-11, 3.44) vs Adam Wainwright (18-11, 2.50). Garland was signed by San Diego this off-season for his experience, but mostly because he is an innings eater. Garland has thrown 173.2 innings this season, living up to that reputation. That said, he has struggled in two of his last three. He lasted only 4.2 innings against Colorado on 4 Sept. allowing 4 ER in a 6-2 loss. He surrendered 3 HR to the Giants on 9 Sept, going 5 innings in a 7-3 loss. More alarming, every ball hit off him was well struck. Both of those starts were in San Diego. Garland seemed to fix those flaws in his last start in Denver, throwing 7 innings and allowing only 3 runs. Garland beat the Cardinals 1-0 on May 25. It is his only career win against St Louis. Adam Wainwright famously vowed not to lose again in 2010 following his loss to the Reds on 4 Sept. His team rallied behind him, sending him to an 11-4 win over Atlanta, but could not keep the momentum going on Tuesday, losing 7-2 to Chicago. Wainwright has only made 2 career starts against San Diego, and is 1-1. He lost to Garland on that May night, in what might be one of his best career starts (7 IP, 4 hits, 1 run, 1 BB, 12 K). Wainwright will tie his career high in wins with a Victory on Sunday.


The Padres are playing for their playoff lives. The Cardinals are playing for pride. This will be a tense, hard fought series. There is a modicum of bad blood in this rivalry, from last year’s shoving match between Albert Pujols and Will Venable up the first base line, all the way back to the 3 NLDS series these teams have played (St Louis is 9-1 in NLDS games against the Padres). San Diego appears to have put its swoon behind them, and is playing better baseball (even though the bats still aren’t fully awake yet). Probably the best St Louis can hope for is a split, although I will not be surprised if the Cardinals sweep this series – they seem to always beat San Diego in St Louis.

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