The Cardinals are playing their most important series of the year. If things go well, you can end that sentence with “until their next most important series of the year.” It’s an important first step. I’d think like to think of this like a five-game playoff series with two games missing. A sweep and they’re done. Lose 2 out of 3 and they’ve made life very difficult on themselves. Win 2 out of 3 and they still have work to do, but it’s a really good first step. My analogy falls apart if the Cards sweep though. That’s certainly no guarantee of the playoffs, but it sure will feel like playoffs are gonna be a thing if they do that I think.
And just like the playoffs, the Cardinals are facing the best the Brewers have to offer. No easy starters here. The Brewers really only have three good starters, but they’re more than good, they’re best in baseball good. The Cards face the Brewers 13 times, surely they will not face all three of these guys for all 13 games. Brewers will try their best to line it up so they will, especially if the Cards can inch closer. Whatever the case may be, they’ve lined up for this series.
Big-Time Results from Trades
The Brewers have received absurd luck from their trades. And yes, I’m calling it luck. They’re shrewd moves, but so far the amount of production they’ve received from their three midseason trades is comical. Like no reasonable person can think the Brewers expected what they’ve gotten.
They traded two relievers for Willy Adames, and I’ll retract my statement a bit and say this was an incredible steal by the Brewers. I have no idea why the Rays thought they couldn’t do better. I thought this at the time too. Adames is nowhere near as good as he’s played for the Brewers though. He’s batting .297/.378/.551 for a 146 wRC+. Knowing he’s not that good does not actually comfort me when we have to face him though as he’s still a good player.
They also traded for a 1B since their original plan at 1B, Keston Hiura, has a 54 wRC+ through 193 PAs. Their backup plan, Daniel Vogelbach, with a 93 wRC+ and -0.1 fWAR on the year, got injured. They traded for the largely failed former prospect Rowdy Tellez. In 87 PAs, he has a 164 wRC+. Is the secret here just that the AL East competition is so much better than NL Central competition? Well, Travis Shaw kind of breaks that theory a little - 48 wRC+ in Milwaukee back in 2019, 92 wRC+ for the Blue Jays last year, 68 wRC+ this year. He’s no longer a Brewer by the way.
Lastly, Eduardo Escobar. In 15 games, he has a 143 wRC+ for the Brewers. Like seriously, universe what the hell?
I have no idea what happened to Christian Yelich
I would be very, very worried if I were a Brewers fan about Yelich. That contract suddenly has the potential to be very, very bad. The back half of that contract will be hard for the Brewers to overcome given their resources. Yelich has no power anymore. I mean none. He has 6 HRs in 307 PAs. A .124 ISO. He still walks a ton, though that’s going to stop if he continues having no power. Let me correct myself there: he won’t walk at a 17.3% clip if he has a .124 ISO. No chance. He’s also striking out a lot more than he used to, with a 27% K rate.
So he’s currently a 104 wRC+ hitter. Fangraphs depth chart, combining ZiPS and Steamer, has him projected to finish this year with a 1.8 fWAR season. Some of that is his defense not being at his career level, which might be flukey, but still: he certainly did not get paid to be a league average outfielder in the second year of his $215 deal. Hence why I would be worried.
Attempts at Bullpen Help
Okay, so the Brewers have made a lot of trades during the season. Above, I covered the ones that have so far really worked out. There’s also Hunter Strickland, who has a 1.47 ERA in 18.1 IP, but given his history of being bad and that he has a 3.67 FIP and 4.29 xFIP, that can easily go poorly moving forward. Would love for him to blow a game in this series in fact.
Aside from him though, they’ve had no luck at all. They traded for John Curtiss, who allowed six earned runs through 4.1 IP before being put on the 60 day IL. They traded for Jandel Gustave, who has actually pitched seven scoreless innings (with not terribly encouraging advanced stats), but he’s been out on the COVID list since the trading deadline actually. They signed John Axford who got exactly one out before being put on the 60 day IL. Daniel Norris has managed to stay healthy, but has allowed seven runs in 5.2 IP so far.
Actually, the Brewers don’t have as better of a bullpen than the Cards than you’d think. I mean it’s very similar in some ways. Josh Hader and Devin Williams are better than Alex Reyes and Giovanny Gallegos, but their third best reliever is... Brad Boxberger? Some guy named Jake Cousins appears to be the answer if his stats are at all for real. I’m not really scared of anyone not named Hader or Williams or I guess Cousins who strikes out everybody. Granted, with the starters they have going, they may only need Williams or Hader.
Adam Wainwright (3.27 ERA/3.73 FIP/3.75 xFIP) vs. Corbin Burnes (2.23 ERA/1.52 FIP/2.19 xFIP)
As an example of why the Cardinals could win, the Cards have faced Burnes twice this year. They have won both games he’s pitched in. It’s not because Burnes pitched badly. He allowed one earned run over 11 innings in those two starts. 18 strikeouts to one walk. The Brewers offense scored one run combined for him. In the first game, he left with the lead and the Brewers bullpen blew it. In the second game, he only lasted five innings and the one run he allowed was enough (Cards added a second run)
Burnes strikes out a lot of hitters and that seems inevitable, but he can be prone to high pitch counts because of that. So take a good plate appearance against him, obviously try to get a hit, but at the least don’t go down easy and you’ll knock him out of the game relatively early. Out of his 20 starts, he has pitched more than 6 innings just six times and one of those times was 6.1 IP.
Jack Flaherty (2.65 ERA/3.55 FIP/3.96 xFIP) vs. Freddy Peralta (2.26 ERA/2.99 FIP/3.66 xFIP)
Peralta also has a 3.46 SIERA. He doesn’t get a lot of groundballs (33.3 GB%) and walks his share of batters (10.9 BB%), but he makes up for it by striking out over a third of the batters he faces. Literally. He has a 34.5 K%. As you can imagine, he also can have pitch count issues. In eight of his 21 starts he has lasted 5 innings or less. He has just four starts past the 6th inning. You could see how the Brewers bullpen not being that scary besides Williams and Hader might become a factor in this series.
Peralta has made one start against the Cards, throwing 7 IP, striking out 8 and allowing no runs in... a 6-1 Cardinals win. What, you may say? Winning 1-0, Devin Williams blew the game, which eventually led to extras, which led to a five-run explosion in the 11th.
Favorite: Jake Peralta
Jon Lester (5.32 ERA/5.38 FIP/5.09 xFIP) vs. Brandon Woodruff (2.18 ERA/2.75 FIP/3.04 xFIP)
Woodruff is the workhorse of the group, throwing 20 more innings than the other two pitchers. He does not have the potential longevity issues of Peralta or Burnes. He has pitched into the 7th inning in 10 of his 23 starts. He made one start against the Cards and it was a good one, lasting 7.2 IP, striking out 10 and allowing just one run in a Brewers win.
Interestingly, Woodruff only lasted 3 innings against the Cubs in his last start. He threw 74 pitches with one unearned run allowed and was taken out. Not for injury reasons. Look at that Cubs lineup that day and tell me his most recent start is not slightly encouraging for Thursday for the Cards. Of course, it’d be more encouraging if Jon Lester wasn’t the Cards starter.
So there you have it. The Brewers are the favorites in all three games. But because of baseball and because the Cardinals actually have a decent starter opposing them in two of them, they still have a chance. After all, the Cardinals, against the group of three pitchers, are 3-2. That doesn’t mean anything going forward, but it does mean that anything can happen. The Cardinals have managed a winning record against this ridiculous trio.
Tuesday - 6:45 CT
Wednesday - 6:45 CT
Thursday: 6:45 CT