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The St. Louis Cardinals will probably play two games against the Toronto Blue Jays - A series preview

A two-game series before a four-game series.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Cardinals are in second place in the National League Central and are coming off a sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates. They finished up that series in pretty extraordinary fashion with an 18-4 rout. The Cardinals hope to continue this into their series against the Toronto Blue Jays. The Blue Jays are 22-19, just a game behind the Cardinals at 23-18. They are also coming off a series win, theirs against the Cincinnati Reds.

The Blue Jays will send José Berríos and Kevin Gausman to the mound in this series. Of the two, Gausman has had the better season by far. His 2.52 ERA is actually underperforming his FIP of 1.26. In 50 innings pitched this season he has walked three (3!) batters and given up just one (1!) homer. His K% is 28.9%, his walk rate is a career low of 1.5% and his batting average against is just .253. He has done this with primarily a 4-seam fastball and split-finger change. Per Baseball Savant’s Run Value metric, his splitter was the second most valuable pitch in baseball in 2021 and he is on his way to the top of leaderboards with it again. He also mixes in a slider to righties for something on the outside part of the zone. He will be a tough customer for the Cardinals on Tuesday evening.

The Cardinals might have an easier time with Berríos on Monday evening. Perhaps part of his struggles is that Berríos has the arsenal to be a groundball pitcher, but he does not use it that way. He hasn’t been getting that many grounders — his groundball percentage so far this season is just 31.4% compared to the MLB average of 45%. For comparison, Adam Wainwright’s groundball percentage is 50.4%. Part of this is because Berríos throws his 4-seamer the most often and it is consistently his least valuable pitch over the last two seasons. The pitched used to get a lot of rise and vertical movement, but now it barely moves (perhaps the crackdown on substances to grip the ball has had some sort of impact?).

Baseball Savant

Meanwhile his most valuable pitch has been his sinker. The sinker has a .261 batting average against with just a .370 slugging versus .390 and .627, respectively, from the 4-seamer. His second most thrown pitch has been a curveball — he will use that against righties and has a changeup for lefties.

Among the bullpen Adam Cimber appears to be their top guy. He doesn’t strike out many, but he walks very few and has only given up one homer this season. A .208 BABIP fuels his 2.00 ERA. Jordan Romano and Trevor Richards appear to be their best strikeout pitchers. Richards has some issues with walks — he walks 4.58 batters per 9 innings.

In 2021 the Blue Jays offense was very good. Led by Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. they were second in baseball with a 112 wRC+. As a team they struck out just a little over 20% of the time, which was the second lowest in baseball. On top of that they had hit for the most power in baseball with a team ISO of .200. Guerrero, while still playing well, has fallen back a bit from 166 wRC+ to a 126 wRC+. Bo Bichette was their third best hitter in 2021 with a 298/.343/.538 slash line is now slashing .243/.281/.396 for a 95 wRC+. The biggest hit might be losing the production Marcus Semien brought in 2021. He has seen a big downturn in production this season with the Texas Rangers, so not perusing him in free agency might have been the correct call, but his 45 homers were a big part of the 2021 Blue Jays offensive success and that void is felt in 2022.

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In the meantime the Cardinals have recently started hitting better. The additions of Juan Yepez (155 wRC+, 73 PA), Brendan Donovan (181 wRC+, 60 PA), and Nolan Gorman (264 wRC+, just 12 PA) have really boosted the offense. And after starting the season off cold, Paul Goldschmidt has heated up to a 179 wRC+ and is slashing .342/.409/.566.

How Goldschmidt has gotten even better in ‘22 | David Adler | MLB.com

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Nolan Arenado has cooled off a lot in May. Over the month he is slashing .195/.247/.416 with an 88 wRC+. The last two weeks have been particularly tough — his wRC+ was down to 50 over that time and he only walked 3 times in 56 plate appearances.

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Matchups:

Monday, May 23 at 6:45 pm CDT: José Berríos vs. Miles Mikolas
Tuesday, May 24 at 6:45 pm CDT: Kevin Gausman vs. TBD (I believe that is Jordan Hicks’s turn in the rotation)