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Series Preview 7/5-8: Cardinals at Giants

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Four games by the Bay...

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Arizona Diamondbacks Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

After taking two of three from the Diamondbacks, the 44-41 Cardinals are set to take on the 45-43 Giants in a four-game series that will kick off Thursday night in San Francisco.

Entering play on Thursday, the Brewers hold a one-game lead over the Cubs in the National League Central division race. The Cardinals are 6 12 back of Milwaukee, as Miller Park plays host to the Braves for four games beginning Thursday. The Cubs will take on the Reds at Wrigley this weekend. In the NL West, the Giants are 3 12 games behind first-place Arizona. The Dodgers, with just one fewer win than the Diamondbacks, are lurking closely in second place.

In the first of four on Thursday, familiar foe Johnny Cueto will take on Luke Weaver at 9:15 PM Central time. Cueto, the former Cincinnati hurler, will be making his first Major League start since late April after a bout of right elbow inflammation shelved him on May 1st. In two rehab starts at Triple-A, Cueto logged 7 2/3 innings, struck out 10 batters, and allowed zero runs. In his career against the Cardinals, Cueto is 7-8 with a 3.74 ERA in 23 starts facing the St. Louis squad.

Weaver did not pitch very well in the month of June. In six starts, Weaver logged 30 2/3 innings with 23 earned runs allowed - a 6.75 ERA. The 24-year-old walked 14 batters in the month after walking 20 in the first two months of the season. Weaver has not logged more than 5 2/3 innings since consecutive seven-inning outings on 5/17 and 5/22 and has failed to pitch out of the fifth inning in five of 17 starts this year. All four of Weaver’s wins have come on the road, where Weaver has an even 5.00 ERA in 45 innings across nine starts. These are better than Weaver’s stats at Busch Stadium; perhaps pitching at AT&T Park will aid the struggling right-hander.

Friday night’s matchup will feature Dereck Rodriguez and John Gant at 9:15 PM. Dereck is the son of Hall of Famer Ivan ‘Pudge’ Rodriguez and made his big-league debut in late May of this year. In seven games (six starts), Rodriguez has a 3.16 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP in 37 frames. In 6 1/3 innings in his last start, Rodriguez held the Diamondbacks scoreless - his first scoreless appearance in the Majors.

Gant has filled the void in their rotation about as well as they could have asked him to. Gant held the Indians scoreless through seven frames on just one hit back on June 25th and allowed four runs in 5 1/3 innings against the Braves on 7/1. This will be the third appearance of Gant’s career against the Giants. In four innings, all as a relief pitcher, Gant has allowed one run and fanned a pair.

On Saturday, Jeff Samardzija will return from the disabled list to take on Carlos Martinez at 3:05 PM. Samardzija, a long-time Cub with some work on the Athletics and White Sox, has been sidelined since late May with tightness in his right shoulder. The 33-year-old Samardzija is in his third year with the Giants and has a 6.56 ERA in eight starts - inflamed by the 23 walks and six home runs he allowed in 35 2/3 innings. In 88 career innings facing the Cardinals, Samardzija has a 3.68 ERA with 68 strikeouts.

After a slow return from his lat injury, it seems that Martinez is starting to find his stride. With quality starts in his previous two outings against Cleveland and Arizona, Martinez enters his assignment with confidence he pitched without for much of June. Over his last two starts, Martinez has allowed four runs in 12 innings with 15 strikeouts. In over 10 fewer innings than Weaver, Martinez trails him by two (82 to 80) for the team lead in strikeouts.

Sunday’s series finale will showcase what may be the best starting-pitching pair of the four-game slate: Madison Bumgarner and Jack Flaherty, around 3:05 PM. Bumgarner’s season began in early June after a hand injury occurred late in Spring Training. In six starts this year, Bumgarner has pitched like.. himself. Opponents are batting just .215 in 38 1/3 innings against Bumgarner this season. The Cardinals historically have a .231/.273/.410 slash-line in 51 1/3 innings against the tough left-handed hurler.

Flaherty has a 3.19 ERA with a 10.64 K/9 rate in 12 starts for St. Louis in 2018. With a 1.05 WHIP and 80:19 strikeout-to-walk ratio, Flaherty has limited batters to a collective .209 average. On the road this season, Flaherty had a 2.86 ERA in six starts, totaling 34 23 innings.