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Cardinals play Royals in two cities over the next three days - A Series Preview

The greatest philosophical question of our time: is this a three-game series or a one-game series followed by a two-game series?

New York Yankees v Kansas City Royals Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

This is something that has probably always been kind of true, but it’s still weird to see. Here is a matchup between two offenses, neither of whom strike out all that much (27th in K% for Cards, 30th for Royals). You’d think that would be some indication of a good offense. You would be wrong. The Royals have a team wRC+ of 77, which to give you some reference point, is noticeably worse than the wRC+ of both Paul DeJong and Matt Carpenter in 2021. They don’t strike out as much as those two, so it might not be as frustrating, but they are worse as an entire team than those two were at hitting last year. The Cardinals are at a more mediocre 99 wRC+, though with their recent struggles and the fact that a .299 wOBA is a 99 wRC+, it sure feels like they are worse than that. (All stats do not factor in Sunday’s game for this article)

On paper at least, they have similar offenses. Don’t strike out, pretty similar in BB% (8.5 and 8.7%), and pretty similar in ISO (.111 for Cards and .101 for Royals). Two things have separated the offense thus far through one month of play: BABIP and park. Kaufman Park is also not a great park for homers, but it’s a great park for literally any other type of hit. The 5-year park factor on Fangraphs considers it somewhere between 5th and 8th as most hitter-friendly stadiums (they are tied with four teams). Busch Stadium on the other hand is tied with one other team as the fourth most pitcher friendly stadium. The Royals also have a team BABIP of .250, compared to .282 for the Cards (which is somehow 16th in MLB).

Another strange thing. The Cardinals pitching ranks 21st in MLB in strikeout rate... and those numbers are dragged down by the bullpen. The Cardinals bullpen K% is a measly 21.1%, which ranks 27th in baseball. Their starters rank 17th in baseball. The Royals are the opposite. Their bullpen ranks 7th in MLB in K%, striking out 25.9% of batters. Their starters? Rank dead last. Royals starters have, so far this season, struck out 14.2% of batters. The next highest K% is the Orioles 16.8%. None of their starters are striking anybody out. Their BB% is in 16th place so they aren’t making up for it by not walking people. The Royals bullpen is walking 10.6% of batters, which somehow is 8th worst. Baseball is weird right now.

Monday - 12:15 PM (in STL)

Zack Greinke (2.86 ERA/3.78 FIP/4.79 xFIP) vs. Steven Matz (6.11 ERA/2.03 FIP/1.96 xFIP)

Matz has been insanely unlucky so far. His BABIP against on the season is .462. His K% of 28.4% would easily be a career high and his BB% of 6.2% would be his second best BB% of his career. He’s doing what you hope pitchers do: preventing the team from even making contact a lot and not giving them that many free bases. But that BABIP! Some of that BABIP is deserved but .462 is beyond whatever upper echelon BABIP I could accept as “deserved.”

Zack Greinke stopped striking people out last year, managing his lowest K% since his 2005. A whole different era of baseball ago. He has taken the not striking out approach to absurd levels this year though. In 22 innings, he has struck out 6 batters. That is a 2.45 K/9 and 6.9 K%. He also has his lowest GB% since 2007. At some point he will strike hitters out again, but I don’t think Greinke is a good pitcher anymore.

My pick: Cardinals

Tuesday - 7:10 PM (in KC)

Brad Keller (2.19 ERA/3.33 FIP/3.34 xFIP) vs. Dakota Hudson (2.75 ERA/4.63 FIP/4.50 xFIP)

I say this fully acknowledging the 2.75 ERA - Hudson has not pitched like a good pitcher so far. So I’m waiting for the moment when Hudson will not seem like a ERA defying below average pitcher. Might be shaking off the rust from Tommy John surgery. This may be an outdated belief, but the first year back is not always smooth. But he really needs to walk less than 11.7% of hitters like he has so far. Can’t rely on a .180 BABIP against for the whole season.

Keller meanwhile after a disappointing 2021, has gotten off to a pretty good start. He’s what passes for the strikeout man of the starting staff with 18.9% of hitters walking back to the dugout. His BB% of 5.6% and 55.9 groundball rate would both be career bests. Now I don’t know whether the Cardinals will hit Keller or not, but if your memory of him is from him pitching badly last year, you may be disappointed. Or maybe the Cards will just hit him anyway.

My pick: Royals

Wednesday - 6:10 PM (in KC)

Kris Bubic (10.50 ERA/7.25 FIP/5.53 xFIP) vs. Adam Wainwright (4.00 ERA/3.46 FIP/3.47 xFIP)

Obviously we can’t take Bubic’s 2022 stats as gospel, but even accounting for that, this matchup is so absurdly lopsided in the Cardinals favor that I have a genuine fear that baseball is going to baseball. You know what I’m taking about. Cards crush lefties and face a bad lefty who has been about as bad as a MLB pitcher can be. Adam Wainwright facing a weak offense.

Doesn’t seem like they’ll lose, but baseball has a funny way of reminding you that games aren’t played on paper. It sounds like I’m justifying picking the Royals, but I still gotta pick the Cardinals. I may have a fear this game will go the opposite way we hope, but if I bet on baseball, I would never ever ever bet on the Royals to win this game, so I’m taking that as a sign that I need to pick the Cardinals.

My pick: Cardinals

I got off to a slow start with guessing the winners. I was wrong on all four games against the Brewers, but I did manage to put a dent in the win column in the Mets series. I still missed a game, but I predicted two of the three games correctly, putting my individual game record at 2-5. But while the Brewers series ended up 2-2 like I predicted, the Mets series did not, as I thought the Cards would take the series (and really should have!). I wouldn’t mind going 1-2 in this section with the reason being that the Cardinals swept.