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The St. Louis Cardinals should respectfully defeat the Atlanta Braves

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A wholesome preview

Divisional Series - St Louis Cardinals v Atlanta Braves - Game Five Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Starting Thursday, June 17 at 6:20 pm CT through Sunday, June 20 at 6:08 pm CT the St. Louis Cardinals travel to Atlanta to take on the Braves for four games. The Cardinals have had a really tough month with a record of 5-9 in June, but recently things have started looking up. They are coming off a sweep of the Miami Marlins and two-straight walk off wins and hope to keep it moving against the Braves, who at 30-35 sit in third place in the National League East. The Braves have also struggled in June, like the Cardinals going 5-9 during the month so far. They were just swept in two games by the Boston Red Sox in their last series and dropped two of three to the Marlins the series before. Both teams will be looking to turn things around before it gets too late. Should be fun!

The Good

Ian Anderson

The Braves’ best pitcher this year has been Ian Anderson. He made his Major League debut in 2020 and started 2021 as a Rookie of the Year favorite based on the strong start to his career. So far he has carried over what he accomplished in 2020 to 2021.

The best part for the Cardinals though? They will not face him in this series because he pitched on Wednesday.

Ronald Acuña Jr.

Someone the Cardinals will face is Ronald Acuña Jr. Acuña is having a terrific season so far. According to Fangraphs he is the third most valuable player in baseball this season and the most valuable in the National League. He is slashing .292/.396/.606 for a 168 wRC+, is walking over 13% of the time, and has hit 18 homers.

I think Acuña has one clear weakness and I shall show it to you now:

He has seen 63 curveballs in 2021 and is batting .188 against them, a 28% Wiff%, and a 35.3 K% per Baseball Savant. Also, for someone that hits as well as he does, he swings and misses a lot — he is in the 48th percentile in Wiff %.

Adam Wainwright

Adam Wainwright has struck out 1900 batters. That puts him at 102nd all time past Josh Beckett. Among Cardinals he has likely secured second place for a long time, around 1,214 strikeouts behind Bob Gibson.

Also in Bob Gibson fashion, he has this to say about the Cubs winning the World Series back in 2016:

The Not-As-Good

Braves starters’ best pitches

The pitchers the Cardinals are scheduled to face have been around awhile: Charlie Morton, Max Fried, and Drew Smyly. Their rank in fWAR is in the order they were listed. By bWAR the ranking would be Fried, Morton, then Smyly. I looked each of them up, but there is nothing really new or exciting going on. Morton throws his curveball the most as usual, but so far this year it hasn’t been nearly as good as it usually is, per Baseball Savant’s run value. In fact all his major pitches have a positive run value (pitchers want negative run values, hitters want positive). I am not exactly sure why that is — the only thing that stands out to me are that each of his pitches (curveball, 4-seamer, sinker, cutter, changeup) are a little bit faster this season and the average spin rate on his curveball increased from 2887 rpm in 2020 to 3038 rpm in 2021.

Max Fried throws the same pitch arsenal as Morton, just from the left side. He throws his 4-seamer the most, then uses his slider and curveball secondarily, occasionally throwing a sinker and rarely throwing a changeup. His best pitch is usually his 4-seamer, but like Morton, it has a positive run value this season. His problem appears to be the location of his 4-seamer.

Smyly has struggled in 2021. He has an above average chase rate, but when he does get hit, is seems to be hit hard. He mostly relies on two pitches: 4-seamer and curveball. Sometimes he throws a cutter, but usually it is one of those two. Smyly has given up six homers on his curve in 2021 and has a HR/9 ratio over 2.

The Cardinals getting on base

The Cardinals currently rank 24 in OBP among teams at .301 and are also 24th in team batting average at .230. As team they have an average walk and strikeout rates at 8.1% and 23.1%, respectively. They also hit for power as well as the average team, coming in 17th among teams with a .154 ISO. The Cardinals batting average on balls in play is 27th in the league, however, at .274. Some good news though, per Baseball Savant, most of the Cardinals starters are average or above the MLB average in Hard Hit %, Barrel %, and Exit Velocity. Hopefully that is a sign of good things to come. This has been the case with Paul Goldschmidt. His season started off a bit bleak and his wRC+ was under 100 for many weeks, but he was near the top of the league in these categories and slowly his BABIP has creeped up to .297 and wRC+ is above at 100 at 104.

The Matchups

Four-game series on the road are tough to win, but it would be nice if the Cardinals could continue riding high from sweeping the Marlins and transfer that into winning three of these four games. The starter for Sunday’s game has not been announced, but I like their chances in that game and with Adam Wainwright going against Drew Smyly. If they can pick up another win in the first two games of the series I think there is good chance they win the last two. Of course I probably just jinxed it, so, my bad.

The matchup I will be watching is Ronald Acuña Jr. versus Adam Wainwright. I am curious if Waino will be able to exploit Acuña’s willingness to chase the curve.

Game 1 — Thursday, June 17 at 6:20 pm — John Gant vs. Charlie Morton

Game 2 — Friday, June 18 at 6:20 pm — Carlos Martínez vs. Max Fried

Game 3 — Saturday, June 19 at 6:15 pm — Adam Wainwright vs. Drew Smyly

Game 4 — Sunday, June 20 at 6:08 pm — Kwang-hyun Kim vs. TBD