How do you get over a series loss in a four-game series, including losing on a walk-off homer when you have the lead? Face a bad team of course. That is a slight misrepresentation - yes, the Cardinals were winning, but the expectation was that the Mets would be able to tie it up, since they had a runner on 2nd and nobody out. But still. Not the best way to lose. And as we saw in the Baltimore series, the Cardinals are perfectly capable of losing to bad teams.
The Pirates arguably have two good position players: Bryan Reynolds, NL All-Star last year, and Ke’Bryan Hayes, probable NL Gold Glove winner once he manages to take one from Nolan Arenado. After that, you have a career 105 wRC+ designated hitter (Daniel Vogelbach), a career 98 wRC+ corner outfielder (Ben Gamel), career 85 wRC+ hitter at 1B (Yoshi Tsutsugo), career 73 wRC+ hitter at 2B (Josh VanMeter), and career 56 wRC+ hitter at catcher (Michael Perez). Plus, rookies Jack Suwinski with a preseason ZiPS projection of 93 in the corner outfield and Rodolfo Castro, with a preseason projection of 85 at shortstop. This is not a lineup anyone fears.
And we’ll get into the rotation of the Pirates through their individual matchups, but their bullpen isn’t really a weakness. It’s not necessarily a strength either. Try to avoid allowing the Pirates to grab a lead, otherwise they’ll have to face David Bednar, who is striking out 38% of batters with a 0.90 ERA so far. Aside from him, nobody else is really dominant, though they have quite a few solid relievers. It’s easy enough to imagine the Pirates holding onto a lead with a good pitching performance from a starter. Especially if Bednar comes into the game.
Friday - 5:35 PM (AppleTV)
Zach Thompson (5.47 ERA/4.99 FIP/4.53 xFIP) vs. Adam Wainwright (3.15 ERA/3.54 FIP/3.77 xFIP)
There is another Zach Thompson in baseball, but he is very different from the Cardinals’ prospect. This Thompson spells his name with an h, while the Cardinals one spells it with a k. I’m sorry to say that the h is the correct spelling. Thompson also was never really a prospect. He has quite the unusual trajectory to the majors in fact. He came up through the White Sox’ system, got moved to the bullpen in the middle of 2017 while in High at 23-years-old. He couldn’t crack the majors, becoming a minor league free agent at the end of the 2020 season.
He signed a minor league deal with the Marlins for 2021. Even though he hadn’t started a game since 2017, he was promoted to the majors in June and instantly went into the rotation. He started 13 games, pitched probably better than expected, and got moved to the bullpen in September. The Marlins then leveraged that surprising performance into making him one part of a three-person trade for Jacob Stallings. Wouldn’t think a 28-year-old with 75 mediocre innings as his resume would be worth...anything, so good for the Marlins.
Anyway, the Cards face him tonight. Thompson is a groundball-heavy pitcher when things are working though only has a 44.1 GB% for his career, not elite level groundball numbers. He strikes out a below average amount of guys and walks an above average amount. Not generally a winning combination. And the Cardinals have Wainwright in a familiar position: needing a great performance to right the ship and save the bullpen. I wish we didn’t need to keep relying on a 40-year-old to do that, but he doesn’t let us down often and is facing a weak offense to do that.
My pick: Cardinals
Saturday - 5:35
Jose Quintana (2.19 ERA/3.39 FIP/3.92 xFIP) vs. Matthew Liberatore (AAA numbers: 3.83 ERA/3.84 FIP/3.63 xFIP)
I’m not sure you could have timed a better team for Liberatore to face. They are a very left-heavy team. Looking at their usage the past week, he’ll probably see Vogelbach, Tsutsugo, Perez, Suwinski, and Gamel against Liberatore. Bryan Reynolds has been a decent amount worse against LHP too (128 wRC+ to 114) They do have three right-handed players on the bench, the only one of whom is guaranteed to start is Michael Chavis (in place of VanMeter). They have started both Tsutsugo and Vogelbach in both games they faced lefties earlier this week, and they seem to be giving Perez a full starter’s workload, and he’ll enter the series with two straight off-days, so if that stays consistent he’ll start Saturday too (he started Monday against a lefty).
Meanwhile, the Cardinals get to face a lefty themselves. Picking up Quintana has so far been a pretty shrewd move by the Pirates, as he’s been good in his seven starts. But we all know how good the Cardinals are against LHP. They are the best team in baseball against LHP. So hopefully, the Cardinals put a dent into those numbers. It’s hard to construct a better situation for a first start than this for Liberatore, but baseball has a funny way of ruining your plans, so we’ll see.
My pick: Cardinals
Sunday - 10:35 AM - Peacock
YES, YOU ARE READING THAT TIME CORRECTLY. 10:35 AM. This is the earliest game time the Cardinals have played in my memory.
Bryse Wilson (5.67 ERA/4.24 FIP/4.23 xFIP) vs. Miles Mikolas (1.68 ERA/2.82 FIP/3.65 xFIP)
Speaking of good pickups, even if he doesn’t work out, I do believe Wilson is the exact kind of guy the Pirates need to get as a rebuilding team. Post-prospect hype player who is still 24? Yeah give that guy every opportunity. That said, they aren’t exactly treating Wilson as a full-fledged starter. Four of his seven appearances have been starts - though the other three he seemed to operate as the “follower” - but even so, he’s pitched into his 5th inning of work just twice and averages under 4 innings per game. Some of that is performance - see ERA - but they have a very quick hook on Wilson in general.
Facing them is Mikolas, looking to “rebound” from his second worst performance of the season by ERA - 2 ER in 6 IP was his second worst performance which imagine thinking that would be true through 8 starts at the beginning of the year. But by advanced stats, his last start was actually his third best (by FIP and xFIP) of the season. Very encouraging against a good offensive team after his two previous starts - which were still good! - produced a 6/4 K/BB ratio, which worried me.
My pick: Cardinals
Well, I seem to have picked a sweep by the Cardinals. The Cardinals have the clear better matchup in all three starts - even though it’s Liberatore’s first start, I feel confident in him, and he’s facing a fairly weak, lefty-heavy lineup. And the Cards get to face a lefty in support of him. In the other two games, the Cardinals are throwing their two best starters against two not very good starters.
This would be a very good bounceback series for the Cardinals and hopefully for me as well, as I missed on three games, only correctly predicting the Scherzer game. But in all honesty, if I weren’t biased, I would have picked the Mets 3 games to 1, I just couldn’t bring myself to do that on a Cardinals blog.
Individual game prediction record: 8-10
Series record: 3-2