Later today the Cardinals start a 4-game set against the “favorites” of the NL Central, the Milwaukee Brewers. Even though it’s early April, this is a massively important series. Maybe. It could be massive. A split and it’s not that important as neither team makes any ground on the other, but a sweep and it’s a very important four game advance that is not going to be easy to make up for either team.
The Brewers are a strange great team. They have three elite starters. Going by what they did last year, three legitimate Cy Young contenders. It’s certainly a question whether all three can sustain their performance given they all broke out at the same time. But nonetheless, great they are. They have about as good as an 8-9 inning duo in baseball when they’re working in Josh Hader and Devin Williams. And.... that’s kind of the only reason they are a great team.
Which begs the question: are they actually a great team? I’m not talking smack here. Look up and down their roster. They have the components of a great team at starting pitcher (though nearly completely reliant on the big three), bullpen, second base, shortstop, and left field. And... everyone else is just kind of okay. That might be enough. Not a lot can go wrong, but of course it’s the Brewers, and barely anything has gone wrong for them in the past few seasons.
Thursday (4:14 PM CT)
Brandon Woodruff (2.56 ERA/2.96 FIP, 3.05 xFIP) vs. Adam Wainwright (3.05 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 3.87 xFIP)
Yes, for the record I am absolutely using 2021 stats and not the one start both starters have had. I’m choosing to believe it’s more good sign than bad sign that Woodruff lasted just 3.2 IP in his last start, walking three and hitting two batters while striking out just two and allowed seven earned runs. But I could also just as easily believe the Cardinals were a start too late for perfect timing and he’s 2021 Woodruff today. But he was off his game last start and given the short spring training, there is actually a chance he will not be quite up to speed in today’s game.
Wainwright, on the other hand, was on his game in his last start. He appears to be right back where he was last year. And yes, he did face the Pirates. The Brewers are a tougher team than the Pirates, especially on the Brewers’ home turf. But it’s not like the Cubs are the Rockies at home here. Woodruff did not have some difficult matchup in his first start either. I think we’ll know pretty quickly if Woodruff has it or not.
Pick - Cardinals (I want to believe!)
Friday (7:10 PM)
Freddy Peralta (2.81 ERA, 3.12 FIP, 3.66 xFIP) vs. Miles Mikolas (4.23 ERA, 4.40 FIP, 4.27 xFIP)
I did call Corbin Burnes, Woodruff, and Peralta “The Big Three,” but I will also say that I think Freddy Peralta is clearly a step below the other two. He has control problems that causes him to have short outings too frequently. That’s the way you beat Peralta. Work the count, take good at-bats, get him out of the game quicker. Peralta also had a poor start, although not to the same extent as Woodruff. He lasted four innings and gave up three runs. Walked a batter per inning, but also struck out 6.
I can’t quite be as optimistic about Mikolas, although I did watch his game after the fact. Heard all the chatter about him. And maybe it’s because my expectations were low, but he looked a lot better than I expected. Just seemed a tweak off, and some unfortunate calls at the plate didn’t really go his way, and things went the way they went. The Brewers are not a great matchup to follow up that start though, so my optimism only goes so far.
My pick - Brewers
Saturday (6:10 PM)
Adrian Houser (3.22 ERA, 4.33 FIP, 4.31 xFIP) vs. Steven Matz (3.82 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 3.94 xFIP)
It just seems kind of unfair that the Brewers have three legit aces, and one of the dudes who is honestly not even that good... is like kryptonite for the Cards. Houser allowed one earned run against the Cardinals in four starts last year. This would not bother me except Houser does not appear to be that good! He strikes out a well below average amount of hitters and walks a well above average amount of hitters. He’s a groundball heavy pitcher that the Cardinals cannot seem to hit.
With that said, for some odd reason, the Brewers against a lefty scare me more than against a righty. Which is weird because Yelich and Wong are both lefties. But Hunter Renfroe, Andrew McCutchen, and Lorenzo Cain all have fairly huge lefty/righty splits. Renfroe has a career 134 wRC+ against lefties, Cain a 123 wRC+, and McCutchen an astounding 158 wRC+. Both Cain and McCutchen are no longer as good as their career lines, but they’re still probably pretty good against lefties. We really got to break the Houser curse, but I don’t think it’s going to happen on Saturday since I’m not super optimistic on the pitching side here.
My Pick - Brewers
Sunday (1:10 PM)
Aaron Ashby (4.55 ERA, 3.58 FIP, 3.05 xFIP) vs. TBD (Either Hicks or Hudson, neither of whom have much in the way of stats for me to post)
Ashby, you are playing the wrong team. With such a lefty crushing lineup, it is genuinely annoying how little the Cardinals face lefties. But on Sunday, that talent might be used to its advantage. I am actually a believer in Ashby, but like I said, the Cardinals are not the team you want to be facing if you’re left-handed.
As for Hicks or Hudson, I feel like you got to go Hudson. Hicks is just going to be limited by too few pitches, and the Marlins game on Monday is not as important as winning that Sunday game. I actually don’t feel that strongly about which pitcher is the greater advantage, but I do think asking the bullpen to throw the extra innings would probably hurt the Cardinals. Hudson is also just in general expected to be a better pitcher than Hicks. My faith in the lefty mashing abilities of the Cards drives my pick.
My pick - Cardinals
So, I went the coward’s way and picked a 2-2 series split, but I think it’s probably safe to say most people would not pick these specific games to arrive at a 2-2 split. It’d be nice to win 3 out of 4 or even sweep them, but it is kind of hard to imagine. At least we aren’t facing Corbin Burnes. That should help.