Series Preview: Cardinals host Braves May 16-18

The Hero We Need, The Hero We Deserve - Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Jaime Garcia's return to the rotation highlights the 21-20 Cardinals hosting the 22-17 Braves for a trio of games in St. Louis.

Schedule, Starters

Mise-en-scene

The Cardinals took 2 of 3 in Atlanta May 5-7. Prior to that series, I wrote about the offensive struggles and pitching dominance of both teams. Nothing much has changed in the teams' performances since then. The Cardinals' scoring and ERA have both risen a bit (allowing 17 runs in a game to the Cubs might be related to the latter), but the underlying numbers have hardly budged. The Braves remain excellent at preventing runs and terrible at scoring them. While the injuries to Bryce Harper and Jose Fernandez are good news for the Braves, they're 5-10 in their last 15 games despite sweeping the Cubs at home in that period, and are in danger of losing the division lead.

The teams will not meet again in the 2014 regular season.

What to watch for

We missed Ervin Santana in the last series, but he's been just terrific thus far for the Braves in 40 innings. Over 1700 innings into his career, this is just the previously life-long ALer's 3rd start against the Cardinals. He's not a 2-pitch pitcher, but look for a heavy dose of a decent and well-located four-seamer mixed nearly equally with one of the game's better sliders. He has a sinker and change as well. He's not likely to continue is sub-2 ERA, but there's good material in Santana for the Braves' esteemed pitching program to work with.

Turning to the Cardinals, this series will re-introduce two players who could be keys to the Cards' chances at recovering from their mediocre start.

As Ben wrote yesterday, and baseball in general has proven all year, the idea of pitching "depth" is nothing but illusion. Seven weeks ago, the Cardinals had the luxury of stashing a dominant young pitcher coming off a promising spring in the bullpen, while a pitcher with a career ERA, FIP, and xFIP all under 3.50 didn't really have a spot when he was deemed healthy. And now, Jaime Garcia, the corporeal embodiment of baseball's warning against taking pitchers for granted, seems far more a necessity than a luxury. Shelby Miller is struggling, Joe Kelly is hurt, the guy who replaced Joe Kelly is hurt, and the bullpen is in no shape to lose Carlos Martinez anytime soon. Given his lengthy injury history, it's hard to count on Jaime Garcia, but the Cardinals can use as much of him as they can get.

But Jaime's return isn't just relevant to the team. Fans of beautiful baseball everywhere should take a moment to show their respect to one of the most aesthetically pleasing pitchers in baseball. Watching Jaime's offerings dip, dive, flutter, and fade just out of the reach of an opposing batter is one of the game's most deliciously subtle pleasures. I've missed seeing him work and didn't count on getting to see it again outside of well-worn highlights on mlb.com. Be good, Jaime. Be beautiful, too.

Kolten Wong was sent down a couple of weeks ago because the offense sucked. Now he's back to try to make it better. I don't know what Kolten Wong's future holds, but there's enough in his minor league track record to say that he's ready for and deserving of a lengthy trial in the major leagues, and with Mark Ellis looking suspiciously like a 37-year-old on a 1-year backup contract, Wong's upside is something the team ought to privilege in the battle for playing time.

One last quick note: Peter Bourjos was relegated to the bench prior to the last Braves series, and now he's the nearly exclusive starter. Bourjos has batted over .300 since being handed the role, which is probably why he's remained the starter, even against righties. If Mike Matheny is simply playing the hot hand, let's hope Bourjos doesn't return to the bench when he inevitably hits his next slump. Jon Jay is a pretty good player, but the best use of the pair requires maximizing each player's opportunities when they're likely to succeed based on their remarkably complementary skill sets, not simply riding the hot hand, which is no more tangible than pitching depth.

Keys to the Series

  • Just keep all of the arms soundly connected at the elbow
  • Also the shoulder
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