With 23 games to go the St. Louis Cardinals are 71-68. They are three games back of San Diego for the second Wild Card spot. Two games ahead of them are the Cincinnati Reds at 74-67, just one game back of the second Wild Card spot. To make the playoffs the Cardinals must jump ahead of the Reds in the standings. The easiest way to do that is to win this weekend’s series.
The Cardinals and Reds have played 16 times this season already. Here is a preview I wrote earlier in the year. The Cardinals won two of three games in the last series they faced the Reds, putting them at 7-9 against them overall with a 73-90 run differential.
We already know a lot about the Reds. They are a strong team offensively with a team 102 wRC+. They have four players that have amassed over 4 fWAR: Nick Castellanos, Jonathan India, Jesse Winker, and Joey Votto. Winker has overtaken Castellanos as the best hitter on the team with a 152 wRC+ and a .307/.395/.560 slash line. He has 24 homers, walks 11% of the time, and only strikes out 15.6% of the time. Winker is also on the 10-day Injured List.
On the fielding side the Reds are a little weaker, but still about average. They are led by catcher Tucker Barnhart and shortstop Kyle Farmer.
The Cardinals will face Tyler Mahle, Luis Castillo, and Sonny Gray, three fairly high-strikeout pitchers. Mahle has a strikeout percentage of 28.2% with an ERA of 3.76 and FIP of 3.90. He throws a 4-seamer over 50% of the time, then a slider about 1⁄3 of the time, and a split finger for the remainder of his pitches. His splitter has been a valuable pitch for him the limited time he has used it. In 402 times thrown it has a Wiff% of 35.7% with a batting average against of .183 and a Hard Hit % of 27.9%.
Mahle does have a slight tendency to throw his fastball a little to close to the center of the plate and he has been taken deep on the pitch 14 times this season. As a starter his HR/9 is 1.29.
Luis Castillo might be the toughest to homer off of this weekend. He has the highest ERA of the three at 4.20, but that is somewhat above his FIP of 3.60. He has struck out 23.7% of the batters he has faced and walked 9.4%. His HR/9 though is 0.94 and his groundball percentage is 55%. He throws a changeup the most at 29.2% of the time followed very closely by his 97 mph 4-seamer at 29%. He has thrown his sinker a quarter of the time and sometimes he is know to throw a slider. Interestingly his slider has been his most valuable pitch this season while his sinker has been the least. His changeup is usually far and away the most valuable pitch he throws but this season it has been almost neutral per Baseball Savant’s run value. In the past the Wiff% on the changeup has been 40% or higher, but this season it is just 32%.
On Sunday the Cardinals will face Sonny Gray, another high strikeout pitcher that might give up a few too many homers. Gray has struck out 28% of batters and has a 3.88 ERA and 3.77 FIP. He has the biggest pitcher arsenals of the three with six pitches, but he mostly relies on four: a sinker, 4-seamer, curveball, and slider. The other two he has thrown less than 100 times are a cutter and a changeup. Per Baseball Savant’s Run Value none of his pitches have been particularly valuable. It is a little strange with this profile that he strikes out so many batters. With two strikes, it is his sinker usage that jumps up to over 45%. Though it is not usually known as a strikeout pitch and his Wiff% on it is just 20.7%, he has 75 strikeouts on the sinker. And look at how he is doing it:
The Cardinals have their work cut out for them, but in order to stay relevant in the race to the final playoff spot they will have to find a way to squeak out a series win. Here are the weekend’s matchups:
Friday, September 10 at 7:15 pm CT: Tyler Mahle vs. Jon Lester
Saturday, September 11 at 7:15 pm CT: Luis Castillo vs. Miles Mikolas
Sunday, September 12 at 1:15 pm CT: Sonny Gray vs. J.A. Happ