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Cardinals should destroy the Pirates

A series preview

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Cincinnati Reds David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been quite the week. The Cardinals went 3-3 since last Friday. If they had flipped the order of the three wins and the three losses, they would have a legitimate shot at first place in the division. Of course, the Cubs are a lot better than the Reds, and now the Cardinals have almost no shot at the division, but still have a decent play for the Wild Card. The Cardinals should destroy the Pirates.*

*With title, .574 W%, a 93-win pace. Without title, .448 W%, a 73-win pace.

By playoff odds, this was the Cardinals’ last week:

Lose, lose, lose, off day, win, win, win. Of course that’s not all of the story. A week ago, half of their playoff odds were tied up in a close division race and half of them were tied up in the Wild Card. Those three losses to the Cubs have dwindled the division odds near zero, pushing the Wild Card odds way up.

Before the Reds series, I said the following:

The Cardinals have 13 games remaining with a six-game deficit in the division, a 4.5 game deficit in the Wild Card and the Brewers also ahead of them in both. Their playoff odds currently stand at 4.0%, which is roughly the same odds of the Cardinals sweeping both of the next two series.

I’ve got good news on that front. A similar statement can be issued now, but with circumstances not quite as dire. The Cardinals chances of making the playoffs is now 22.5%. Their odds of completing the sweep in this series is at 14.8%. Given that the Cardinals have four games upcoming with the Cubs followed by three with the Brewers, a sweep would be helpful.

When the Cardinals last played—and swept—the Pirates, they had a number of factors working in their favor.

Consider the following:

Josh Harrison is on the disabled list with a fractured hand. Max Moroff is Harrison’s replacement and he has a 64 wC+ in 100 plate appearances and his projections aren’t that much better.

Gregory Polanco has been out for a while, and might not come back this weekend, but probably won’t play much. His replacement, Jordan Luplow, has had a good year in the minors, but might not be ready for the majors.

Francisco Cervelli is on the disabled list and Chris Stewart and Elias Diaz have replaced him. Neither one has hit at all this year and neither one is expected to.

While still dangerous, Andrew McCutchen’s hasn’t hit well lately, and his season-long wRC+ of 119 might be pretty close to his current talent level instead of the hitting monster he showed for parts of this season.

The Pirates two best pitchers are probably Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. Neither one will face the Cardinals this series.

Josh Harrison and Francisco Cervelli are still out, and Gregory Polanco is playing some, and Andrew McCutchen is playing a little bit better, but the main issue here is from that last point: starting pitching.

Ivan Nova is the only holdover starting pitcher from the last series against the Pirates, and he starts tonight. Nova gave up three runs, including a homer in 5.2 innings against the Cardinals earlier this month, striking out five without a walk. Nova is solid, but he continues to give up homers, now up to 29 on the season. If the Cardinals are going to get to him, it should be via the dinger. Michael Wacha makes the start for the Cardinals.

Gerrit Cole starts tomorrow in Pittsburgh. The big righty has put together a decent season with a 4.16 FIP and 4.13 ERA. In 25 September innings, he’s struck out 30 against 13 walks, so it is possible he has become a bit walk prone, although that could just be random variation over a just a few starts. He’s been relying on his fourseamer more over the last few starts, near 60% in his last two compared to 43% leading up to those starts. He had been throwing a sinker 15% of the time, so we will see if he brings that back. Lance Lynn starts for the Cardinals.

On Sunday, Jameson Taillon will go for the Pirates. Taillon has had rotten luck this season with a .353 BABIP against. His FIP is a strong 3.53, but his ERA is not very good at 4.73. That FIP is the more reliable indicator of Taillon talent. He’s only pitched more than five innings in one of his last six starts so it is possible he is wearing down a bit or that Pittsburgh is monitoring his innings slightly after missing the first part of the season recovering from cancer. Over the last month, he has just 16 strikeouts against 12 walks in 24.2 innings so he might be lagging a bit at the end of a long season.

John Gant will make his first start for the Cardinals on Sunday after Jack Flaherty was removed from the rotation. He made seven starts last season with the Braves, holding his own with a 4.45 FIP and 4.80 ERA. He made 18 Triple-A starts with Memphis this season, putting up a 3.90 FIP and 3.83 ERA with solid strikeout and walk numbers, but not overwhelming. It’s hard to read too much into his bullpen numbers this year, given it is just 39 batters. He’s pitched mostly when the game has already been decided and hasn’t pitched with a leverage over 1 (average) in any appearance.

In the bullpen Gant has been a fourseam-change guy with an occasional curve. His fastball has averaged 93 mph from the pen, but it is reasonable to expect a small drop in the rotation. That said, he might just pitch this as though he’s coming from the bullpen as this game should be all hands on deck with only a week of the season to go and every win so important.

Tonight, September 22, 6:05 pm CT, Fox Sports Midwest

Saturday, September 23, 6:05 pm CT, Fox Sports Midwest

Sunday, September 24, 12:35 pm CT, Fox Sports Midwest

Other series of note:

Cubs v Brewers

Rockies v Padres