No movie quotes. No rants about payroll inequality. No rimes or song lyrics. Not for this series.
We’re talking the St. Louis Cardinals and head-to-head baseball against our … arch rival. Strap in for three sold-out crowds and likely the most intense, exciting and important weekend of baseball so far this season.
(Attendance is up nearly 3,000 people per game at GABP this year, meaning 243,000 fannies over 81 games. Using Forbes’ estimate from 2012 of $60 in revenue per fan, the bump generates over $14 million in new revenues. It’s not quite that straightforward, but still.)
You probably know that the Cardinals are in the midst of a less-than-wonderful road trip. Not only have they lost seven of the eight games, including four of five to the now first-place Pittsburgh Pirates, but St. Louis also lost their MVP-candidate and catcher Yadier Molina to the disabled list. They arrive to the Queen City with a four-game lead over the Reds for second place in the division.
Bottom line: The Reds have 53 games remaining. Ten are against St. Louis. After this series, the two teams face off for three games on the banks of the Mississippi on August 26-28 and four more in GABP September 2-5.
If the Reds are going to make a serious run at the division championship, it has to start this weekend.
Hitting Match-ups by Fielding Position
Despite the current road trip, the Cardinals still lead the National League in runs scored (Reds are fourth) and they score the new-fashioned way. They get on base, they don’t strike out and they hit line drives. Their on base percentage (.334) is first in the NL (Reds are tied for second at .327). The Cardinals have the second-fewest strikeouts in the league (Reds have 6th most).
At the same time, St. Louis creates minimal havoc on the bases, with the fewest SB in the league. And they don’t swing for the fences, ranking only 13th in the NL in home runs. Here are your head-to-head match-ups, based on playing position [stats through Wednesday's games].
|Allen Craig (R)||29||.316||128||17.4||5.8||33.2||10||2||2.0||-1.2|
|Joey Votto (L)||29||.430||152||19.1||16.4||21.0||16||4||3.9||0.2|
Allen Craig, an 8th round draft pick in 2006, is testament to the Cardinals’ ability to develop talent. Like the Reds, many of their important players (Craig, Freese, Molina, Wainwright, M. Carpenter to name a few) came up through their farm system.
While Craig became famous for his post-season heroics in 2011, this is really the first time the Cardinals first baseman has been healthy for an entire season. The 2013 All-Star is a line-drive hitter with a career .306 batting average. Marty Brennaman may sprain his tongue this weekend from so frequently saying “runners in scoring position” when discussing Craig’s RISP of .465.
Joey Votto’s greatness at the plate starts with getting good pitches to hit. O-Swing% is the percentage of times the batter swings at pitches outside of the strike zone. It’s a pretty good first approximation of plate discipline. League average is 30.6% and Votto has the third lowest O-Swing in baseball. He leads the National League in weighted runs created (wRC+). But Joey, buddy, you’ve gotta get in front of those ground balls.
|Matt Carpenter (L)||27||.386||138||12.1||9.5||22.2||9||1||3.8||0.4|
|Brandon Phillips (R)||32||.313||93||13.8||6.1||39.3||13||2||1.2||0.4|
To get Matt Carpenter’s bat in the lineup every day, the Cardinals asked him to switch to second base for the 2013 season. Carpenter has not only been an outstanding leadoff hitter, but the advanced metrics show he is at league average in his first season fielding a new position. The 13th round pick in 2009 credits Cardinals infield coach Jose Oquendo for his quick and successful transition.
Carpenter is, without question, the best hitting second baseman in the National League. And it isn’t even close. He leads the entire NL in hits, doubles and runs scored. If you’re looking for reasons why the Cardinals are better this year than most everyone expected, look no further than their second baseman.
Brandon Phillips has the third worst O-Swing in the NL. Dat’s bad.
|Pete Kozma (R)||25||.283||62||20.3||6.3||27.8||1||2||-0.4||1.0|
|Zack Cozart (R)||28||.271||72||16.5||4.0||30.5||8||0||0.3||0.5|
Shortstop Pete Kozma is in the midst of what some are calling one of the worst offensive seasons in Cardinals history. Despite a recent 0-for-27 slump that triggered speculation Kozma might lose his job to Daniel Descalso, Kozma’s job now seems safe. Given the hitting depth in the St. Louis line-up, defense is what they’re looking for a in a shortstop and Kozma gets to a lot of balls.
Zack Cozart is fulfilling every young kid’s dream by leading the majors in sacrificing his out by bunting. Otherwise, he’s Kozma with a little pop.
|David Freese (R)||30||.338||96||19.1||9.4||29.4||5|| 1
|Todd Frazier (R)||27||.330||96||22.2||9.6||32.1||10||5||1.5||0.4|
Two pretty similar players here. They’re even near each other in an alphabetical player list. Frazier has an edge in power, defense and that ‘a’ comes before ‘e’. Of course, less-than-Super Todd has been mired in a colossal slump dating almost back to the days when Rolens walked the earth.
|Tony Cruz (R)||31||.254||46||19.0||3.2||38.3||0|| 0
|Devin Mesoraco (R)||25||.313||88||18.3||8.8||36.4||6||0||0.2||0.1|
Yadier Molina went on the disabled list this week and will miss the series. Johnny Bench — Johnny Bench — recently described Molina as the complete package. Molina is annually among league leaders in innings caught and started over 90 percent of the Cardinals games, ranking second in innings caught. Even though St. Louis will desperately miss his bat in the middle of the lineup, they’ll suffer even more without his pitch calling and defense.
Tony Cruz has 68 plate appearances. Donald Lutz had 59.
Devin has been one Hot Mes since the All-Star break (149 OPS+) with Ryan Hanigan on the DL. Good chance we’ll see him all three games of this series.
|Matt Holliday (R)||33||.354||120||14.8||10.0||31.5||13||5||1.4||-1.8|
|Chris Heisey (R)||27||.270||80||22||4||37||5||2||-0.3||0.1|
Matt Holliday returned to the Cardinals lineup last Saturday after a trip to the DL for a strained right hamstring. He’s also had back and neck issues earlier this year. Now in the latter half of his $120 million contract, the ever-dangerous Holliday is suffering through a season where he may not be worth his $17 million salary. He’s hit into 24 double plays and as his dWAR indicates, he struggles on defense, just ask Andrew McCutchen.
Chris Heisey is part of the triad playing left field for the Reds, joining Xavier Paul and Derrick Robinson. After a promising start since the All-Star game, Heisey cooled off considerably during The West Coast Horror (.211/.211/.368) but did have an important looping RBI single yesterday. I don’t mean to ruin your morning, but Ryan Ludwick is 1-for-9 at Louisville.
|Jon Jay (L)||28||.331||89||16.9||8.6||30.9||5||3||1.0||-1.0|
|Shin-Soo Choo (L)||31||.418||138||19.0||14.3||21.9||14||12||4.0||-1.1|
Jon Jay has a negative dWAR according to Baseball-Reference, but until recently he had a 245-game errorless streak, which was a Cardinals record. Jay played with Ryan Braun at the University of Miami and was shocked, I mean shocked, to learn of his former teammate’s admission of cheating.
Shin-Soo Choo has the fifth lowest O-Swing% in baseball and the third highest OBP. I wonder if those are related. From the Department of Second Guessing: Cleveland is two games out of first place in the AL Central and would be the #2 wild card team in the AL if the season ended now. The trade made sense for them assuming they were in a rebuild mode, but now Cleveland appears to be contenders. Do they wish they still had Choo?
|Carlos Beltran (S)||36||.328||127||17.3||4.8||33.2||19||2||2.0||-0.6|
|Jay Bruce (L)||26||.328||122||27.4||6.8||29.5||22||3||2.5||0.5|
Carlos Beltran is a rare 35+ year-old player in the post-Bonds era who continues to perform at elite levels. This swing notwithstanding, the switch-hitting Beltran continues to build a resume for possible inclusion in MLB’s Hall of Fame. Signed to a two-year contract as one of the pieces to replace Albert Pujols, Beltran will be a free agent in 2014 and likely find more interest from AL teams where he can spend time as a DH. The Cardinals have Oscar Taveras and Matt Adams waiting for playing time.
Beltran and Jay Bruce have similar offensive numbers this year. Bruce is an above average defensive player, which gives him an edge over Beltran, who in his younger days did win three Gold Gloves for the Mets (2006-2008). Other than his slow start in April, Bruce has been consistent this season. He’s batted .310/.362/.571 in situations FanGraphs considers High Leverage and hitting left-handed pitchers almost as well as righties. The haters need some new narratives for #32.
Starting Pitching Match-ups
The Cardinals’ rotation has the lowest FIP (3.23) in the National League and the Reds’ has the second lowest (3.61). However, the three best starters on the two teams (Adam Wainwright: 5.1 WAR, Homer Bailey: 3.5 WAR, and Mat Latos: 3.1 WAR) aren’t pitching in the series.
|Shelby Miller (R)||22||116||2.79||3.04||9.6||2.5||0.8|| 21%
|Bronson Arroyo (R)||36||138||3.26||4.24||5.0||1.6||1.2||21%||5.5%||1.0|
Those of us who thought (hoped) that Shelby Miller would eventually slow down/tire out/some statistical thing have been disappointed. The young pitcher has continued to impress all season, as evidenced by his brilliant FIP and K/9. The Reds have faced Miller only once, in the final, meaningless game of the 2012 season.
Bronson Arroyo will provide a study in contrast for the series opener. The wily veteran has pitched in 36 games against St. Louis, including twice for the Red Sox in the 2004 World Series. He has a career 8-15 record against the Cards.
|Jake Westbrook (R)||35||93||3.18||4.25||3.3||3.5||0.4||19%||5.1%||0.3|
|Tony Cingrani (L)||24||77||2.90||3.63||10.4||3.5||1.2||20%||9.7%||1.1|
Game two offers another veteran-new guy match-up. Jake Westbrook has put together a decent year despite the fact that he doesn’t strike anyone out. One factor has been his extreme luck with home runs. He hasn’t faced the Reds since April 10 in St. Louis, when he threw a 5-hit shutout.
Tony Cingrani has yet to face the Cardinals and is coming off his most impressive start of the year, an 11-strikeout performance against the Dodgers in game three of The West Coast Horror.
|Lance Lynn (R)||26||135||3.87||3.09||8.6||3.3||0.5||22%||8.9%||2.6|
|Mike Leake (R)||25||135||2.59||3.98||5.5||2.1||0.9||19%||6.9%||1.4|
Lance Lynn, who made the All-Star team in July, has seen his ERA climb amidst worries that he is hitting a mid-season wall like he did in 2012. But taking a closer look at his peripheral stats, it’s clear that Lynn is still pitching well. His FIP is nearly a full run lower than his ERA and has stayed relatively stable through every month of 2013. At 3.09, it’s one of the best 15 in all of baseball.
Mike Leake has faced the Cardinals once in 2013, giving up three earned runs in five innings. Sunday’s game will be an important test for Leake in relation to his worthiness to start a post-season game.
The Cardinals bullpen has the second lowest FIP in the league, after the Atlanta Braves. The Reds bullpen is ninth. The Reds’ staff does have the highest K/9 in the league, by far. The Cardinals bullpen is fourth in strikeouts.
|Edward Mujica (R)||29||44||2.01||2.93||7.7||0.4||1.0||17.2||13.5||0.6|
|Aroldis Chapman (L)||25||42||2.98||2.85||15.1||4.5||1.1||27.0||15.3||0.8|
Probably the most important statistic for these two guys is that Mujica has converted 30 of 32 save opportunities while Chapman has in 25 of his 29 chances. You can see they get it done in different ways. Mujica never walks anyone while Chapman has double Mujica’s strikeout rate. They both miss plenty of bats. [SwStr% = percentage of pitches where the batter swings and misses]
Prior to 2013, Edward Mujica had never been a closer. Rather, he’d been a journeyman reliever with The Lou being his fourth stop in five years. He was traded from Miami to the Cardinals in the blockbuster deal that sent Zack Cox to the Marlins. When Cardinals’ closer Jason Motte suffered a season-ending injury at the end of spring training, Mike Matheny spun a bottle and it pointed at Mujica (actually, it first landed on Mitchell Boggs who said ‘not it’ and then Fernando Salas who was busy doing something else. Then Mujica became the Cardinals closer). So yeah, you need an established closer.
The big gun in the Cardinals’ bullpen is 23-year-old Trevor Rosenthal, who generally pitches the 8th inning. Rosenthal has an FIP of 1.84 and already earned 1.6 WAR. He strikes out 34.7% of the batters he faces and walks only 5.2%.
The Cardinals have two lefty-on-lefty guys, veteran Randy Choate and rookie Kevin Siegrist. The 24-year-old Siegrist is the power arm of the two, with 20 strikeouts in 14 innings. The Reds are 0-for-small sample size against him.