After a day off on Thursday, the Cardinals are on the final leg of their three-city road trip that has featured stops in Pittsburgh and Miami so far. This weekend, the Cardinals are back in Missouri, but not in St. Louis; instead, they are in Kansas City for a three-game series with the rivaled Royals.
St. Louis is 7-3 across it’s last ten games, 60-55 overall, and enters play Friday 6 1⁄2 games back of the National League Central-leading Cubs, at 66-48. This weekend, Chicago will host the Nationals, and the Brewers have traveled to Atlanta for a series with the Braves. The 35-79 Royals have an MLB-worst -198 run differential and are well buried in the American League Central.
In the series opener on Friday, the mound matchup will feature Burch Smith and Austin Gomber at 7:15 PM Central time. The 28-year-old Smith has appeared in 29 games for the Royals this season, the last five of them as a starter. In the handful of starts that have totaled 20 2⁄3 innings, Smith has allowed 19 earned runs on 23 hits and eight walks with 20 strikeouts. Perhaps being in Kansas City will help Smith, as only one of his five starts has been at home. Smith has faced the Cardinals once in his career - back in 2013 when was with the Padres.
For Gomber, this will be the third start of his Major League career. Gomber matches up well against the Royals; a few of Kansas City’s key bats - Alex Gordon, Lucas Duda, and Brett Phillips - are left-handed hitters. All of Gomber’s starts have been on the road thus far, and this is his first interleague assignment as a starter. Entering Friday, Gomber has an opponent’s BABIP of .275 in 26 1⁄3 innings.
Danny Duffy and Jack Flaherty will take the mound in Saturday’s game, a 6:15 PM start. Duffy will be making his team-leading 25th start of the season and is at the top of several team categories, including strikeouts (126) in 138 innings of work. Duffy has had trouble with the long ball this year, as his HR/9 rate is up from 0.80 last year to 1.37 this season. This may work further against Duffy, as he faces Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina. Entering the series, Carpenter leads the National League in home runs with 31, while Molina leads National League backstops with 14 big flies.
Flaherty’s most recent outing was just what the Cardinals wanted to see out of the 22-year-old after July, his worst month in the Majors. On 8/5 against the Pirates, Flaherty twirled six shutout innings, holding Pittsburgh to three hits with seven punchouts. For Flaherty, it was his first Major League start greater than five innings with no runs allowed. The Royals have not faced Flaherty in the past, and he appears to have an edge in this assignment; in 10 road starts, Flaherty has a 3.06 ERA.
The finale of Sunday’s series, the last game of the I-70 Series for 2018, will be started by Jakob Junis and Luke Weaver. First pitch for this game is set for 1:15 PM Central time. Junis started against the Cardinals back on 5/23 and lasted five innings. The Cardinals fanned seven times and managed just two runs off the right-hander, who has been struggling recently. Over his last five starts (24 2⁄3 frames) Junis has a 6.20 ERA with 10 walks and four home runs.
Weaver faced these Royals back on 5/22, when he fired seven frames of three-run ball and lost - thanks to (what was at that time) an unsupportive offense. Four of Weaver’s last six outings have been at least six innings, and he has already surpassed his previous career high in innings; it was 105 1/3, set back in 2015 with the Palm Beach Cardinals.