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Series Preview: Cardinals Host Diamondbacks May 20-22

Days after Tony LaRussa accepts the Chief Baseball Officer position with the Diamondbacks, the 23-21 Cardinals host the third-worst team in baseball.

There once was a team called the Dbacks

About them, you ought to know these facts:

Mascot isn't a snake

Yes, Paul Goldschmidt can rake

Kirk Gibson ignores SABR-y stats

The Starters

  • Adam Wainwright (6-2, 2.11 ERA, 2.68 FIP) faces Bronson Arroyo (4-2, 4.15 ERA, 4.12 FIP) tonight at 7:15 pm CT

  • Michael Wacha (3-3, 2.82 ERA, 2.74 FIP) takes on Twitter funnyman Brandon McCarthy (1-6, 5.01 ERA, 3.85 FIP) tomorrow at 7:15 pm CT

  • Lance Lynn (5-2, 3.67 ERA, 3.30 FIP) will take the mound against Wade Miley (3-4, 4.94 ERA, 4.65 FIP) Thursday at 6:15 pm CT (no apparent reason for the earlier start time - the game is not being shown on ESPN or MLB Network)

Where We've Been

The Cardinals are coming off of a series win against the Braves - albeit a very ugly loss on Sunday afternoon.  Still, after scoring 5, 4, and 5 runs in those three games, it appears the offense may be coming around.  Kolten Wong's return has made a big difference, and while I may be prone to singing his praises, I think it is justifiable in this instance.  Since returning to The Show, Wong has five hits in 13 plate appearances, one double, three RBI, and two stolen bases.  He improved his batting average by over 30 points in three games - good now for a season line of .256/.315/.305.

The Diamondbacks are also coming off of a series win against the Dodgers, during which they set a franchise record for runs scored.  Their 18-5 routing of the Dodgers on Saturday also set franchise records for hits (21) and extra-base hits (13) in one game.  While we should continue to expect solid offense from Paul Goldschmidt (who had two home runs in that game), the rest of the team likely benefited from: (a) a rough outing from Clayton Kershaw that lead to the Dodgers' bullpen taking over in the second inning, and (b) the warm weather and higher-than-normal humidity, which had the ball hopping off the bat.

The Cardinals have not played the Diamondbacks yet this season, and in fact, the last meeting took place nearly a year ago - during the first week of June 2013.  The Redbirds split the series with the Dbacks, including a frustrating 6-7 loss in 14 innings.

Where We're Going

Off The Field

As you have probably heard by now, Tony LaRussa has accepted the position of Chief Baseball Officer with the Arizona Diamondbacks.  I suspect he will be in St. Louis for this series.  I don't suspect he will make a difference in the games being played, but it will be a topic of discussion for the broadcasters throughout the series.

[EDIT: tehzachatak pointed out that LaRussa has told reporters he is not going to St. Louis because he doesn't want to be a distraction.  I think that (a) he probably wouldn't have been a distraction to the players, and (b) people are still going to talk about it all series long.]

AZ Snake Pit reports LaRussa's excitement to get back into baseball:

"It's the competition," said La Russa, who signed a multiyear deal. "This morning, for the first time, boy, I felt the guts starting to churn. You realize this is going to happen and you are back in the competitive action. That's all I've known for 50 years. I wanted to get back in the action. I never have missed the managing. I've missed the winning and losing. My heart is pure and my intentions are great. I'll do the best I can.

Also from Fox Sports:

"You know, you make a suggestion in the right way and if it comes down to it, you do have the authority to say, 'No, listen,'" La Russa said. "Sometimes, with the players, they say 'No, no, no.' And you say, '€˜You've got the locker. I've got the office. This is the way we're going to do it.' "

Translation: The buck stops here.

For what it's worth, the Diamondbacks fan base seems to be pretty excited about LaRussa.  They view it as a step in the right direction for the franchise, which has been stepping all over the place - causing it to stumble over its own feet - for the last couple of seasons.

On The Field

For The Diamondbacks:

It's funny, because the talking heads repeatedly refer to Bronson Arroyo as having really "turned it around" this season, and I'm just not entirely sure what they're talking about.  Arroyo's season numbers look largely similar to his 2013 numbers, with his k/9 actually falling to just over 5 and his BB/9 all the way up to 2.27.  The big difference is his HR/9, which sits at 0.94.  This is pretty far off from his career rate of 1.23, and the best it's been since his 2005 season with the Sawx.  Look for some regression there.

WARNING: Daniel Descalso is 11-for-30 against Arroyo and Jon Jay is 14-37.  I wouldn't be surprised to see both of them in the starting lineup this evening.

Brandon McCarthy is an interesting guy.  I've liked him as a person for a long time.  If you don't follow him on Twitter, give him a shot.  He is hilarious.  A few fun examples for you:

His numbers are a bit all over the place right now.  His K rate is way above his career rate, yet his FIP (3.85) and xFIP (2.74 !) are way below his ERA.  This may be due in part to a HR/FB ratio of 21.4% and a 54.1% ground ball rate.  Keep in mind, this is a guy who is only two seasons removed from a 4.5 fWAR year.  He's battled various injuries, but still managed a solid last two seasons (at 1.8 fWAR each).

For The Cardinals:

Earlier today, Fink provided an in-depth look at the impact Jason Motte's return may have on the team.  My quick two cents: I don't expect Motte to return to the closer role, and I don't expect him to be as effective as he was in 2011 and 2012.  That said, I do expect him to be a solid performer and to bring some stability to the bullpen.  He will likely get a chance this series to show us what he's got left.

Despite early season miscues, it appears that Matheny has finally come around to the benefits Bourjos and Wong bring to this team.  As discussed above, Wong came back to the Bigs with a vengeance last weekend.  Bourjos has been hitting sufficiently lately, and he's taking every opportunity he can to showcase his speed.  With LHP Miley throwing on Thursday, I expect to see Ellis in the lineup.  I also expect to see Jay in tonight against Arroyo, just because he hasn't had a start in awhile, and the career numbers will point Matheny in that direction.

All in all, Bourjos and Wong should each get at least two starts this series.  And Daniel Descalso should get no starts.  I repeat: No Starts.  Further deviations from the original plan (which is finally working, or being allowed to work) is a sign of certain disaster.

In Sum:

This is a more evenly-matched series than one would expect, given the team's respective records.  The pitching matchups do favor the Cardinals, as the Redbirds have their top three starters going, including perennial Cy Young contender Adam Wainwright.  However, the Diamondbacks have a power-heavy offense capable of putting up crooked numbers.  They are top 5 in the NL in slugging, wOBA, and ISO, and have 41 home runs (compared to the Cardinals' measly 23).

They say good pitching beats good hitting; this series may put that old adage to the test.