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The St. Louis Cardinals should play better against the Kansas City Royals

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MLB: JUL 14 Reds at Cardinals Photo by Jimmy Simmons/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The big news of the St. Louis Cardinals’ upcoming series against the Kansas City Royals is the return of former manager (and former Cardinals catcher) Mike Matheny. That should be interesting. Matheny was a catcher for the Cardinals for five seasons and was held in high regard for his defense and just general toughness. He is credited for being a mentor to the Cardinals current catcher Yadier Molina. When Tony La Russa retired after the 2011 season (before he un-retired in 2021), the Cardinals chose Matheny as their managerial replacement. Matheny took over in 2012 in his first managerial role and held onto the job for almost seven seasons before being let go in the middle of the 2018 campaign (two seasons later than some people might have hoped). He was hired by the Royals in 2020 and will make his first return to Busch Stadium since his canning.

So that’s the storyline of the game, but let’s look at what we need to know about the Royals...

The Offense

As a whole the offense is near the bottom of the league with a wRC+ of 89, which puts the Roayls at 27th overall. Salvador Perez has been the Royals’ best hitter with a wRC+ of 118 and a slash line of .276/.304/.512. Edward Olivares made his MLB debut in 2020 and is another player to watch. The young outfielder has been up and down this season, but has hit well in his limited time in the big leagues with a 121 wRC+. He was called up again on July 31 and in those five games has three home runs.

The Fielding

The Royals are 11th in fielding fWAR in Major League Baseball. The biggest contributors to that have been shortstop Nicky Lopez, centerfielder Michael A. Taylor, and second baseman (and sometimes outfielder) Whit Merrifield. Between the three of them they have 28 defensive runs saved, with 14 of those from Taylor. In this limited sample size it is tough to draw conclusions on defense, though, so just see for yourself:

The Pitching

The Royals pitching staff is 22nd in baseball in FIP with 4.50 and 26th in ERA at 4.91. The Cardinals will start off the series facing the Royals most valuable starter in the lefty Mike Minor and ending the series against their starter struggling the most, another left-hander Kris Bubic. They will miss Danny Duffey, who is the starter that is having the best year and his 2.51 ERA is the the only one among the starters that is under 4.00. Brad Keller will make the start against the Cardinals on Saturday.

All three of the starters have had trouble giving up homers, with Minor and Keller having HR/9 just over 1.2 and Bubic over 2.5. Minor’s issues this season have been with his changeup and slider. He throws these pitches each around 20% of the time and has allowed a .421 and .513 slugging percentage on them, respectively. For Brad Keller it has been the 4-seamer and sinker that are getting hit. He throws a good slider about 34% of the time and throws his fastballs a combined 60% of the time. He only throws his changeup about 6% of the time and it has been crushed with a .682 SLG against it in the 122 times he has thrown it.

Kris Bubic is in his second season of work. He throws a fastball around 90 mph about half the time. A third of the time he will complement that with a changeup and then pepper in a curveball around 16% of the time. His four-seamer is his best pitch — he has just 11 extra base hits against it. His changeup is another story, though. Bubic has given up 16 homers in just over 80 innings, 11 of those coming off his changeup. It is pretty easy to see how:

via Baseball Savant

For context, here is where Zack Greinke throws his changeup (Greinke is a righty and Bubic is a lefty, but the idea is still pretty clear):

via Baseball Savant

Old friend Greg Holland leads the Royals in saves, but the best reliever this season for Kansas City has been Scott Barlow. He has the lowest FIP on the team at 2.37 and the second-lowest ERA after Duffy at 2.77. He primarily throws a slider, a pretty good one too, and then secondarily throws a 4-seamer and curveball.

The Matchups:

Friday, August 6 at 7:15 pm CT: Mike Minor vs. Adam Wainwright
Saturday, August 7 at 6:15 pm CT: Brad Keller vs. Kwang Hyun Kim
Sunday, August 8 at 1:15 pm CT: Kris Bubic vs. Jon Lester