The Cardinals finally got to four games over .500 for the first time on the season last night. Improving on that number this weekend should prove to be a difficult task. The Cardinals have now won three series in a row after splitting four games with the Nationals. Getting a fourth series win will require taking at least two of three from the Pirates while on the road, a team the Cardinals have just one win in six tries this year, a walkoff on a Matt Carpenter home run. The Cardinals should destroy the Pirates.
The Pirates and the Cardinals enter the series with identical 32-28 records. This Pirates team is very much the same one that took two of three from the Cardinals near the beginning of May. Jung Ho-Kang had just come back at that time, but has now been playing at third base most of the time. Kang has played very well since he came back, with eight home runs and a 165 wRC+ in roughly 100 plate appearances.
The Pirates have produced one of the best offenses in Major League Baseball up to this point in the season with a wRC+ of 114, which is tied with the Cardinals for best in the National League. If you remove pitchers from the equation, the Cardinals nudge out the Pirates in that department at 121 to 119 so far this season. All of that offense has been done so far with Andrew McCutchen just a little bit above average on offense.
The other Pirates outfielders in Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco have both been great. Francisco Cervelli is not having a great year behind the plate, but he is still above average for a catcher. David Freese has seen time at first base and third base, and the Cardinals legend has put up great numbers this year, seeming to rediscover some of his power stroke while adding a few more strikeouts as an expense.
On the pitching side, the Cardinals will have to face off against Gerrit Cole in tonight’s game. Cole is the Pirates ace and he has been pitching like it with an ERA of 2.85 and a FIP of 3.05 in 11 starts. His strikeout numbers are a bit down this season, but he has limited home runs, keeping his ERA and FIP low. Just how long he can get away with this dynamic is unclear, but his fastball velocity is still there, even improving a bit as the season has gone on. Cole matches up against Michael Wacha, whose starts have been a mixed bag.
On Saturday, Francisco Liriano, who has been bad this year, will face off against the Cardinals. This might be considered a good sign, although Liriano has been good in both of his starts this year against St. Louis. He has 20 strikeouts in two starts against the Cardinals and 40 strikeouts in nine starts against everyone else. Since going seven innings and striking out 10 against two walks against the Cardinals a month ago, Liriano has walked at least four batters in four of his five starts and given up 22 runs in 26.1 innings with an ugly 7.10 FIP to match. The Cardinals are sending out Carlos Martinez. Since the six-run second against the Cubs, Martinez has struck out 19 against 4 walks and given up just 3 runs in 17 innings (1.59 ERA and 2.36 FIP).
On Sunday, Jon Niese throws for Pittsburgh. Niese has not been particularly good this year, with a FIP above five, but he has gotten good results of late. Over the last month, Niese has a 2.15 ERA with a 4.46 FIP. He has managed to give up only 9 runs despite allowing five home runs. Niese could well have another good game against the Cardinals, but he will not be fooling anyone. He will face Mike Leake, who people seem to hate less than they used to, although he gave up six runs in his last start, which came against the Reds.
Friday’s game is at 6:05 pm CT and will be on FOX Sports Midwest and MLB Network for those out of market.
Saturday’s game is at 6:15 pm CT and is a nationally televised game on FOX.
Sunday’s game is at 4:05 pm CT and is a nationally televised game on ESPN as ESPN is doing a Sunday Night Baseball doubleheader.