The Cardinals start to this season has been less than desirable. Fortunately, the Cardinals will not be playing teams as good as the Pirates all season long. The next three series provide a really good opportunity to get the season going in a positive direction. The Cardinals next nine games are against the Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers, and Cincinnati Reds, three teams that are projected to be very bad this season. All three teams are projected to lose around 90 games or more. First up, a road series against the Braves.
The Atlanta Braves began their rebuilding before last season, unloading Craig Kimbrel, Justin Upton, and in a move Cardinals fans will remember, Jason Heyward. The Braves lost 95 games last season, and then traded Shelby Miller and Andrelton Simmons last season, potentially accelerating their timeline to success, but also making the team even worse this season. Like the Cardinals, the Braves have not won a game. Unlike the Cardinals, this is not a surprise.
Here is the lineup for Braves on Opening Day:
Here is the lineup for their second game:
Same lineup both times. There is Freddie Freeman and not much else in the way of offense. If you thought the Cardinals offense looked weak, the Braves are at another level. Freeman is the only player projected to be above average on offense. Erick Aybar and Ender Inciarte are solid players, but along with Freeman, they are the only three position players projected to be worth more than one win above replacement.
The Cardinals will counter with their 3 best pitchers in Jaime Garcia, Carlos Martinez, and Adam Wainwright. While the first two pitchers are masquerading as the Cardinals four and five starters, they do not resemble any other four and five starters for one simple reason: they are not the Cardinals fourth and fifth best starters. The team put Martinez on a slower schedule in Spring Training after being shut down last season and that resulted in his first start being delayed until Saturday, but for the bulk of last season, he was the team's ace, and on a rate basis projects better than any Cardinals pitcher, including Adam Wainwright.
Jaime Garcia is known for being oft-injured, but he is better than Mike Leake, and he is likely better than the current incarnation of Michael Wacha. His past history might have put behind the young, former postseason hero in Michael Wacha and the big-money free agent Mike Leake, but by stuff and projections, Garcia is head of them both. Closing out the series, the Cardinals have former and perhaps still current ace in Adam Wainwright. He was a bit shaky in his Opening Day start, but he made it six innings in very difficult weather conditions. Improvement should be expected in Atlanta. As long as the Cardinals trio is healthy, they are the Cardinals' top three pitchers with the order still undetermined.
As for Atlanta, they are sending right-handers Matt Wisler, Juio Teheran, and Williams Perez. Wisler is just 23 and made his debut last season. He posted mediocre strikeout numbers (15%), without similarly low walk numbers (8%) and appeared homer-prone. Projections see a slight improvement, but still a mediocre pitcher. Julio Teheran is the Braves best pitcher, but struggled last season as his walks increased by nearly 50% to roughly 9% of batters. The projections see a roughly average pitcher this season, and in his first start he struck out four walked three and gave up homers to Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy. WIlliams Perez is a poor man's Matt Wisler.
We do not yet know how the Cardinals will put out their lineups, but whoever gets to play should have the opportunity to get things going. The Cardinals could load up with lefties by putting Jeremy Hazelbaker, Brandon Moss, Matt Adams, and Greg Garcia all in the lineup, resting Holliday, Grichuk and/or Piscotty and whomever is the starting shortstop. Wisler pitched against the Cardinals twice last year and pitched well, although the second start came in the final game of the year, and most of the players in that game are not currently with the team.
All three games are on Fox Sports Midwest:
Friday, April 8, 2016, 6:35 PM CT
Jaime Garcia v Matt Wisler
Saturday, April 9, 2016, 6:05 PM CT
Carlos Martinez v Julio Teheran
Sunday April 10, 2016, 12:35 PM CT
Adam Wainwright v Williams Perez