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Series Preview: Cardinals vs Phillies June 19-22

The Cardinals host the Phillies for four games before embarking on a tough Western swing.

104 fWAR
104 fWAR
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
The Schedule

  • Shelby Miller and David Buchanan pitch tonight at 7:15 (all times central).
  • Jaime Garcia and AJ Burnett have game two Friday at 7:15.
  • After a successful side session yesterday, Adam Wainwright is slated to start against Cole Hamels Saturday at 3:10.
  • Michael Wacha Carlos Martinez! and Kyle Kendrick get the call to close things out Sunday at 1:15.

Breaking News Edit:

Regarding the Cardinals

For the first time in what seems like a long time, I was surprised the Cardinals lost yesterday. That's a good kind of bad surprise to have because it means the team has been playing very well. I would be surprised again if the Cardinals don't win this series. The team pitching staff has been on a stellar run of late, and while they're not going to keep up what they've done in this recent stretch, it's worth noting that the Cardinals have now allowed the fewest runs in the league this season. A couple of weeks ago, Al Hrabosky said something about how the Cardinals don't really know their identity yet. I think they found it: Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, Jaime Garcia, Shelby Miller. Now let's see yours.

Regarding the Phillies

It sure is nicer seeing the words "David Buchanan" than "Cliff Lee" on the schedule. Lee has been out since mid-May with an elbow strain. He expects hopes "is aiming" to be back before the All-Star Break. If he can show he's healthy and effective prior to the trade deadline, he'll be a interesting trade target who shouldn't take much to acquire given his age, questions about health, and money owed ($25m in 2015 and $27.5m with $12.5m buyout in 2016). The Phillies ought to trade him, of course, because they need to rebuild. However, Ruben Amaro has been here before, and Cliff Lee is still on the team.

The Phillies are hot off a three-game sweep of the reeling Braves, have won seven of their last ten, and at 32-38, sit just 4.5 out of the division lead. However, this is not a good team. Their run differential is roughly equal to the Astros', and one good series following the good fortune of playing the Padres and Cubs does not a "hot" team make. They can't hit (their OPS+ is worse that the Cardinals'!), they can't defend (BIS has them worst in the league), and other than Cole Hamels, they can't really pitch without Cliff Lee. Let's look at that first.

They're not very good at pitching:

Cole Hamels has been terrific. He missed the early part of the year, but in his 11 starts since being activated, he's put up a 2.78 ERA and a 2.79 FIP, both numbers best of his career. He's still Cole Hamels, and he'll face Adam Wainwight, who is still Adam Wainwright, in what might be a stellar pitcher's duel.

The Phillies brought in AJ Burnett this off-season, but he appears to have lost his Allegheny mojo. K's are down, BB's are up, his 4.17 ERA is lower than his FIP or xFIP, and he's 37.

Kyle Kendrick has been just as mediocre, striking out almost nobody, and walking too many to get away with it. Ditto for Roberto "Fausto Carmona" Hernandez. They're the kind of pitchers who need good defenses behind them.

David Buchanan is a 25-year-old rookie. John Sickels wrote about him in May, as did Phuture Phillies. They agree he's a back of the rotation guy. BrooksBaseball says he throws three versions of the fastball (straight, sink, cut) along with a curve and a change, all within some margin of 20% of the time each. Through five starts, he has a 5.97 ERA with seven homers allowed in 28 innings.

Jonathan Papelbon has yet to give up a homer and has a shiny 1.59 ERA, but his K rate is continuing to plummet from his heyday, now under 22%. Maybe he's still effective, but look for something different from him. Mike Adams is finally healthy and pitching well again, and lefties Antonio Bastardo and Jake Diekman are on their way to striking out or walking everyone in the world.

They're not very good at defending:

Carlos Ruiz is good behind the plate. Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley are still good at everything they do. Every other starter is below average. Ryan Howard is poor, Marlon Byrd is old, Dominic Brown has never been a good defender, Cesar Hernandezscouting report says "lacks the arm for short-stop" and he's playing third. He's replacing Cody Asche, who is out with a strained hammy. He's also been below-average defensively both of his MLB seasons. Reid Brignac has played a little third, and he's been worse. Ben Revere should be a good defender given his speed, but he's been negative by UZR for two year running. It's ugly! It should be noted that backup OF John Mayberry is terrific.

They're not very good at hitting:

Did you know Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins were born three weeks apart? They've both been hitting well, especially Utley, who is continuing to be a good ballplayer even as memories of his five straight 7+ WAR seasons begin to fade. He's going to reach 60 career WAR this year or next. Put that man in the Hall of Fame. Anyway, his current line is .301/.362/.477.

After struggling last season, it appears Jimmy Rollins altered his approach, and so far it has paid off. He's walking and striking out at career-highs, both by fairly large margins, and this more selective eye and more aggressive swing has worked if his old contact-first approach was no longer suitable for him. His .246/.340/.396 line gives him a 107 wRC+, returning him to the above average hitting shortstop perch he's lived on for most of the last fifteen years. Jimmy recently said he'd be open to a trade. They ought to trade him. I hope they don't.

Chooch is re-creating his very good 2011 season by walking a ton, putting nearly everything else in play, and hitting for no power.

Marlon Byrd still has some pop, but a 112 wRC+ is nothing special for a corner outfielder.

John Mayberry, Jr. has been good in 72 AB's, but he's still John Mayberry, Jr., and for that reason he's only had 72 AB's.

Ryan Howard? He's hit a few dingers. He's also batting .231 and is a below average hitter league-wide.

Ben Revere? 75 wRC+

Dominic Brown? 57 wRC+

Cesar Hernandez? 48 wRC+

The take-away: Don't let Chase Utley beat you, and the Phillies really ought to bat Carlos Ruiz lead-off.

What to watch for

  • Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, and The Renowned Artist Jaime Garcia are pitching. What a treat.
  • It'll be interesting to see how many pitches Waino gets to work with on Saturday. I think (and hope) his days of clearing 100 regularly are a thing of the past for the rest of the season.
  • I'm not ready to say that Shelby Miller is not broken, but I'm also not ready to say that Shelby Miller is not not broken. Joe Kelly will likely return around the all-star break, and it will be interesting to see what happens when that occurs. How Shelby does until then will likely play a big factor.
  • The Phillies are throwing three RHP's. Tear them up, Matts.

Key to the Series

  • Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey. Also the guy with the hair.
  • Be good to each other. Tony Gwynn, Jr. is on the bereavement list, but is currently a backup OF for the Phillies.