And so we’ve come to the worst scheduling in baseball. The dreaded off day, two-game series, off day. I know the schedule makers have a difficult job, but boy do I hate this particular quirk. It doesn’t even feel like a real series. Do I have a solution? No, just let me complain about two off-days in one week please.
Indians Guardians come into this series in 2nd place, 9 games behind the White Sox, and 4 games ahead of the Detroit Tigers. They are 49-48 with a -31 run differential. They are... remarkably similar to the Cardinals actually. The Cardinals are 50-50 with a -35 run differential. They are in 3rd place, not 2nd, but they’re also in a better division. Which is not me complimenting the NL Central, the AL Central has three bad teams. The Tigers, 47-54 with a -57 run differential, are in 3rd place.
They are also similar in having a rotation absolutely wrecked by injuries. Both Shane Bieber and Aaron Civale recently got transferred to the 60-day IL. Which means their current rotation, according to Roster Resource, is Zach Plesac (4.30 ERA), J.C. Mejia (7.52 ERA), Triston McKenzie (5.61 ERA), Cal Quantrill (3.84 ERA), and Sam Hentges (8.23 ERA). Plesac is the old man of the bunch at 26-years-old. But Bieber and Civale were their best starters. With them in the fold, the team is 26th in baseball in ERA. They currently have neither. Sound familiar?
So who are the Guardians?
Still Bad in the Outfield
I don’t know how it’s possible, but for the seemingly 10th straight year, the Guardians have a bad outfield. Like the Mets and injuries and the Phillies and a bad bullpen, this is just a thing for the Guardians now. They can never acquire good outfielders. In CF is the powerless Bradley Zimmer, with a 98 wRC+ propped up by a .392 BABIP. He will strike out a lot, with a 34.6 K%. In left field is Miami Marlins castoff Harold Ramirez who has a slightly below league average bat, but seems to be atrocious fielder sapping any potential value his bat may provide.
Now to be fair, injuries are why the outfield is bad right now. Sort of. They signed Eddie Rosario to a one-year deal, who had an 85 wRC+ in 306 PAs before going on the IL. Jordan Luplow, former Pirate, has a 112 wRC+ with a .167 BABIP, but has only played in 36 games. Josh Naylor was batting for an 89 wRC+ with terrible defense before going on the injured list. So I take that back, they were bad before the injuries too. The third outfielder is either Oscar Mercado (81 wRC+) or Daniel Johnson (54 wRC+ in 40 PAs). So despite the similarities, we have pretty much opposite outfields.
I like facing teams with weak starting pitching with a caveat. Teams with weak starters and strong bullpens can be mighty annoying to face. If the bullpen gets the ball and the game is within reach, there’s a good chance you’re not scoring again and the Cardinals’ bullpen is not exactly inspiring confidence at the moment. So yeah that’s probably the danger zone for the Cards. The innings after the starter leaves. Could be dangerous.
Literally every member of their bullpen either has a great ERA or great advanced stats. Technically Sam Hentges, ostensibly a member of the rotation, does not, but he seems like a guy who will pitch to us when his impact to the game will be low. Emmanuel Clase is the standout with a 1.98 ERA, on the strength of a 68.4 GB% and 25 K%. Nick Wittgren has elite K/BB numbers but has a 28 HR/FB% so he’s pretty prone to allowing homers. Phil Maton has a misleading 4.43 ERA, which is misleading because he strikes out 34.9% of batters he faces and has a 2.96 FIP. Both Blake Parker and Bryan Shaw have good ERAs, but they’re probably the weakest members of the bullpen. Which leads me to....
James Karinchak since inspection
Karinchak before June 19th, which was two days before they announced they would check pitchers for foreign substances: 2.37 ERA, 45 K%, 11.7 BB%, 2.36 FIP, 2.37 xFIP
Karinchak since June 19th: 3.86 ERA, 24.2 K%, 17.7 BB%, 6.15 FIP, 5.66 xFIP
He’s sort of gutted out a decent ERA, but YIKES. Might as well be a different pitcher. He went from striking out nearly half of the batters he faced to an amount that is not much above league average. He went from walking a lot of hitters to walking an Alex Reyes amount of hitters.
Anyway, his season numbers still look pretty good, but if we have some hitters with patience at the plate, good chance he walks them.
Tuesday - Cal Quantrill (3.84 ERA/4.31 FIP/4.88 xFIP) vs. Adam Wainwright (3.56 ERA/3.94 FIP/3.83 xFIP)
See those numbers for Quantrill? Yeah he’s been in the bullpen a lot. As a starter, he has a 5.11 ERA, compared to a 1.88 ERA in the bullpen. He strikes out less (14.5% to 18.2%), walks more (9.9% to 6.7%) and gets less grounders (38.5% to 45.6%). He’s pretty clearly worse as a starter and in fact pretty much screams a guy who needs to be in the bullpen. But look at the injuries above. They need him.
Wednesday - Zach Plesac (4.30 ERA/4.80 FIP/4.52 xFIP) vs. Kwang-Hyun Kim (2.88 ERA/3.59 FIP/4.53 xFIP)
Plesac is right now probably their best starter, and he’s not particularly close to Kim. As many struggles as the Cards rotation has had, I think Cleveland is in worse shape actually. Plesac is fine, but he doesn’t miss bats and relies on getting balls hit on the ground (51.5 GB%). He hasn’t struck out many this year (15.8%), though he doesn’t walk many either (4.9 BB%). No matter how you look at it though, Kim is better.
Keys to the Series
Crush the starters - Pretty simple strategy. Just don’t let that bullpen have a lead. In theory, we have our good starters and this should be doable. But easier said than done and baseball doesn’t always cooperate with what should happen.
Be careful with their big bats - Their big bats are Jose Ramirez (126 wRC+), Franmil Reyes (134 wRC+), and maybe Bobby Bradley (119 wRC+). Bradley doesn’t have much MLB experience and the projections aren’t buying the 119, so I’m not sure he should count. Everyone else that comes to the plate is average or worse, and usually worse. They have some phenomonally bad catchers hitting, with Roberto Perez (74 wRC+) or Austin Hedges (17 wRC+).
So try not to get hurt by their two or three actually good bats. You’ll probably win if you do.
Bullpen needs to do its job - There is a decent chance the Cards have a lead in the 4th or 5th inning, but once the ball trasnfers to the bullpen, the Guardians have a sizable advantage. This is not a problem if the Cards bullpen can mimimize damage and not let the Guardians back in the game.
Tuesday - 6:10 CT
Wednesday - 12:10 CT
Good chance I watch neither of these games, as I am leaving for Mexico as of this writing. When you actually read this, I will be in Mexico in fact. Maybe they’ll for some reason have the game there. I will be following, though absent from commenting for the next week. Here’s to coming back to St. Louis, with the Cardinals having not lost since I left. Doesn’t seem like too much to ask.