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Series Preview: Cardinals at Diamondbacks, September 26-28

The Cardinals finish the season in Phoenix against baseball's worst team.

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Dilip Vishwanat

The Series Schedules

For the Cardinals:

  • Friday, September 26: Michael Wacha (5-6, 3.18 ERA, 3.16 FIP) vs. Trevor Cahill* (3-12, 5.55 ERA, 3.89 FIP), 8:40 p.m. CT
  • Saturday, September 27: Lance Lynn (15-10, 2.73 ERA, 3.25 FIP) vs. Wade Miley (8-12, 4.35 ERA, 4.01 FIP), 7:10 p.m. CT
  • Sunday, September 28: Adam Wainwright (20-9, 2.38 ERA, 2.87 FIP) vs. Josh Collmenter (11-8, 3.57 ERA, 3.94 FIP) 3:10 p.m. CT

* Remember when Trevor Cahill was an All-Star and finished in the top 10 in Cy Young voting?  Me neither.

For the Pirates:

  • Friday, September 26: Vance Worley (8-4, 2.93 ERA, 3.53 FIP) vs. Mike Leake (11-13, 3.78 ERA, 3.88 FIP), 6:10 p.m. CT
  • Saturday, September 27: Francisco Liriano (7-10, 3.32 ERA, 3.56 FIP) vs. Alfredo Simon (15-10, 3.34 ERA, 4.29 FIP), 12:05 p.m. CT
  • Sunday, September 28: Gerrit Cole (11-5, 3.78 ERA, 3.42 FIP) vs. Johnny Cueto (19-9, 2.29 ERA, 3.30 FIP), 12:10 p.m. CT

The Good News

  • The Cardinals have three games left against the worst team in baseball.
  • The Cardinals have their three best pitchers going in Arizona.
  • The Pirates have to face Alfredo Simon and Johnny Cueto.  Cueto will be going for his 20th win.  Even in the SABR era, this is still something of a milestone, so I expect the Reds to play hard for him.
  • If the Cardinals win two games and the Pirates lose one, we win the division.
  • The Pirates' game on Sunday starts three hours before the Cardinals' game does, and could be decided before the Redbirds take the field.  I suppose this could be a good thing or a bad thing - but at the very least, the Cardinals will know what they have to deal with. 

The Bad News

  • Surprise!  There isn't any! 
  • The Cardinals' magic number is 3!  We have a guaranteed playoff spot! 
  • This team was 6.5 games out of first place on July 1.  We have a lot to be grateful and excited for.

The Bizzaro Diamondbacks

The team that we will see this weekend looks basically nothing like the team that we faced in St. Louis waaaay back in May.  They are actually even worse now!  And, if you recall, the Cardinals swept the Diamondbacks in St. Louis.  In a series of moves, sort of strange even by Diamondbacks standards, the team:

- Traded Brandon McCarthy to the Yankees for LHP Vidal Nuno.

McCarthy's ERA was 5.01 at the time of the trade.  But his FIP was 3.81 and his xFIP was 2.88!  He ran into some tough luck, with a .345 BABIP against and home run rates well above his career averages.  But even with a 3-10 record, he was worth 1.1 fWAR for the Snakes.  Of course, since being traded to the Pinstripes, he's gone 7-5 with a 2.89 ERA and 3.21 FIP and has been worth two wins for the Yankees.  He's having a pretty successful season and is only 31 years old.  Nuno, on the other hand, has pitched decently for the Diamondbacks (7.42 k/9, 3.89 FIP, 0.8 fWAR), but still has not been as good as McCarthy.   This move saved the Diamondbacks some money (McCarthy was owed 9 million this season, and the Yankees picked up half of what remained to be paid), which they probably desperately need, since only 12 people come to the games these days.  I miss Brandon McCarthy because things like this:

- Traded Gold Glove Right Fielder Gerardo Parra to the Brewers for minor leaguers Mitch Haniger (outfielder) and Anthony Banda (pitcher).

If you are asking yourself, "Who?  Why?" then this is the appropriate response.  To be fair, Haniger was the Brewers' first round draft pick in 2012 and was considered the organization's #3 prospect at one point.  And his numbers at AA before the trade were decent: .255/.316/.416, with 10 home runs - still, not worth the trade, IMO.  But Parra is only 27 years old and still somewhat cost-controlled.  He was having a terrible season for Arizona and they probably could have locked him up on a team-friendly deal this offseason.  Incidentally, the Dbacks drafted Banda in 2011, but he didn't sign with them.  I guess they just REALLY wanted him back.

- Traded Martin Prado to the Yankees for minor league utility player Peter O'Brien.

And I mean utility.  O'Brien plays catcher, first base, third base, and right field.  This trade is hilarious to me, because for the last two years, the collective City of Phoenix has been obsessed with proving that Prado is better than Justin Upton and the Diamondbacks are the smartest team in baseball for making that trade.  People will say things like: "Prado can play almost every position; all Upton can do is walk around right field and let fly balls drop in front of him."  "Prado's average is up to .290; Upton is barely over .250!"  "All Upton does is either strike out or hit a home run, but most of the time he just strikes out and kills rallies."  Yes, Martin Prado was going to save us all.

- Fired General Manager Kevin Towers on September 5.

The only thing strange about this was that it took so long.  Yesterday, the Diamondbacks hired former Tony La Russa cohort Dave Stewart into the GM role.  Surprise, surprise.

In addition, Paul Goldschmidt is out for the season with a fractured left hand, Bronson Arroyo had Tommy John surgery in July, and Brad Ziegler had season-ending knee surgery earlier this month.  It's been a tough year for the Snakes.

[EDIT] 3:42 p.m. CT Update: The Diamondbacks have fired Kirk Gibson and bench coach Alan Trammel.  No word yet on who will be interim manager during this weekend's series.

The Cardinals' Goals

Sweep.  Sweep, sweep, sweep.  Really, that should be the goal, with taking two of three also being an acceptable outcome.  I'm not tempting the GOBs here, because the Cardinals truly are the better baseball team, and are in fact superior at every spot...except right field. :(

Other than just hoping the Cardinals generally play good baseball, I will be keeping a close eye on Michael Wacha's start tonight.  Playoffs are comin', y'all.  We really need to know if we can trust Wacha.  At this point, I am pretty comfortable with Wainwright-Lynn-Lackey-Miller, and I agree that Shelby Miller has earned a playoff spot.  But a good, healthy, Wacha really steps things up and completely changes the strength of the Redbird rotation.  In his last outing, he had a lot of trouble locating the change up.  He has barely thrown it since coming back from the DL, and he has not thrown it well.  This is his best pitch.  If it's not working, he's not working.  At least, not in the vintage-Wacha way that the Cardinals need.

We should also be looking for offense - and lots of it.  The Diamondbacks have the hitter-friendliest ballpark in baseball, outside of Coors Field.  (Surprisingly, Busch Stadium is number 4 on this list.)  Plus, the weather is dipping below 90 this weekend; maybe they'll even open the roof!  I would love to see the Cardinals' hitters jump all over the Dbacks pitchers right out of the gate.

Regardless of the outcome, this is going to be a fun series.  It's always exciting when playoff hopes come down to the very end of the season, and the Redbirds' rotation is set up for win.  And this is the first time that I can remember the Cardinals having this important of a (regular season) series in Arizona.  Which, of course, makes it even more fun for me.


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