Coming into this season, it was clear the Cardinals had a glaring weakness that should have been addressed. They needed another starting pitcher. And there were a multitude of options, some reasonably priced, some not, and some on the trade market. And the Cardinals chose to do none of those things, I assume primarily for budgetary reasons, though they did decide to give $7.5 million to two DH options that seem somewhat likely to be replacement level. But I digress.
This series may as well be called the Ghosts of “Could Have Beens.” Arguably, all three pitchers could have been acquired by the Cardinals in the recent past, though whether that would have been a wise decision is another matter. But they could have. The first two are straightforward. Max Scherzer was available for just money and it was money the Cardinals didn’t want to spend, so he’s with the Mets now. Chris Bassitt could have been had for non-elite prospects, though he did net two pitching prospects and the Cards aren’t exactly in a position to be giving those away at the moment. And a bigger stretch perhaps, but on Wednesday, they face Carlos Carrasco, traded to the Mets in January 2021. The Cards needed pitching last year too, so I’m including him in this hypothetical too.
The Mets’ offense is littered with good hitters with two notable exceptions. Brandon Nimmo is an on-base machine, Francisco Lindor has quickly reversed doubts about his contract, and Jeff McNeil seems to have returned to his normal self after a down 2021. We all know how annoying it is to face Starling Marte, Eduardo Escobar has been on fire, and Mark Canha was too, until he landed on the COVID-list recently. And the name most of you know, Pete Alonso, has been the worst of the names mentioned and he has a 116 wRC+. So that’s the kind of offense they’ve been.
The two exceptions are whoever plays between Robinson Cano and Dominic Smith, both of whom haven’t hit a lick so far. And catcher James McCann. I think I’m the only non-Mets fan who literally cannot get over the contract McCann got from the Mets. It’s inconceivable a “smart” team did that. I think part of it is that I once had him in a deeper fantasy league - pre-breakout actually - and the reason I did was because he was exceptionally good against LHP. That was literally all he could do. He is not an everyday catcher, because he can’t hit RHP. Steve Cohen thinking a more reasonably priced James McCann was the better play than
Yasmani Grandal (JT Realmuto my bad) is like exactly the same situation as Jason Bay and Matt Holliday back in the day. Some of you will know what I’m talking about. Steve Cohen is dumb, is what I’m saying. I had to get that off my chest for some reason.
Monday (6:45 PM)
Max Scherzer (2.50 ERA/2.58 FIP/3.16 xFIP) vs. Miles Mikolas (1.76 ERA/2.17 FIP/3.78 xFIP)
Everyone was writing Mikolas off. Even if he was healthy, he was going to be bad. So far, that has not been the case. But Monday provides his first great test. He’s faced weak offensive teams so far. The Mets will be a little more difficult. And the Cardinals are going to need him to bring his A game, because he’s going toe-to-toe with the best pitcher of his generation and a future Hall of Famer.
There are two potential warning signs with the 37-year-old Scherzer, although I must add that the sample size we’re dealing with - just three starts - makes this nearly useless. It’s the kind of data I wouldn’t share if he were 30-years-old. But 37? Declines are expected. Age comes for us all. He has walked 10.1% of batters so far. That would easily be a career high. He is also generating a 12.9% swinging strike rate, which would be his lowest since 2013, when he was a member of the Detroit Tigers. But like I said, grasping at straws. Those ERA/FIP/xFIP numbers are as elite as they’ve always been.
My pick: Mets
Tuesday (6:45 PM) - TBS
Chris Bassit (3.00 ERA/3.14 FIP/2.92 xFIP) vs. Jordan Hicks (1.29 ERA/2.51 FIP/3.07 xFIP)
Those numbers for Hicks are not super useful for the purposes of this. There’s the fact that it was done in seven innings for one. And for another, only one of them was actually a start. And he only threw 46 pitches in that start. But the early results have been better than I would have expected back in March. He’ll probably be on about a pitch count of about 60 pitches, so four innings would be a good outcome.
Bassitt seems to be pitching out of his mind, which I am interpreting as “his numbers are due for a fall.” The Cardinals will provide that fall. His projected FIP, even factoring in his current numbers, is 3.97. At 33-years-old, it seems unlikely he’s going to pitch vastly better than he ever has before. So it seems likely his numbers will dip. The question is can the Cardinals do the dipping or will it be some other team?
My pick: Cardinals
Wednesday (12:15 PM)
Carlos Carrasco (1.47 ERA/2.81 FIP/2.74 xFIP) vs. Steven Matz (5.23 ERA/2.21 FIP/1.92 xFIP)
Yeah fun fact. Steven Matz has actually been unbelievable this year. One inning is dragging his numbers down, which is something that can happen this early in the year. But it’s been a very, very encouraging start from him. It’s funny that the narrative around him was that he was a contact pitcher who got groundballs, and that really hasn’t ever been the case with him. But through his first three starts, you really couldn’t use those terms to describe him. He has a 27.4% K rate and a shade under 40% groundball rate.
Carrasco is also pitching out of his mind, but in his case, he does have a history of being pretty darn good. And he’s had a lot of injury issues. Even at 35-years-old - and damn the Mets have an old pitching staff - if he’s healthy, he’s a scary pitcher to face. And he’s healthy right now.
My pick: Cardinals
Take my picks with a grain of salt. I am 0-4 in my picks. I was correct in guessing the Brewers and Cardinals would split the series, not correct on any of the individual games. I’m predicting the Cardinals to win the series 2 games to 1, and it will not be possible for me to be right about that and wrong about every game, so I’m hoping the series predictions remain accurate.
While the Mets unquestionably have the better pitcher in every game, I will say it’s nice to not at least feel hopeless about the Cardinals’ starters. I actually have faith in Mikolas pitching well, but zero faith in the Cardinals hitting Scherzer. I for some reason think the Cardinals are going to hit Bassitt. And I think Matz is going to dominate his old team. That’s my rationale for my picks.
Well you’ve seen the times and the matchups. First game is tonight and features Scherzer and Mikolas.