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The Cardinals travel to the West coast for a four game set against the Giants - A Series Preview

I still don’t know how the Giants won 107 games last year.

Washington Nationals v San Francisco Giants Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Giants were probably the least frightening 100 win team in MLB history last year. The 2021 Giants won 107 games, which when you look at the players involved, is absolutely mind-boggling. My mind cannot conceive it. It was mostly deserved too, with a 103 win pythagorean record. My belief was confirmed when the Cardinals went 4-2 against them last year, and they weren’t even victims of the winning streak. The Cardinals were legitimately two games under .500 when they faced the Giants and used both Giants series to reach .500 by the end.

Pitching-wise, I get their success. Logan Webb, whom we face tomorrow, broke out and had a 4 WAR season last year. Alex Wood and Anthony DeSclafani excelled, both of whom struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness the year prior. And Kevin Gausman turned into a Cy Young caliber pitcher. For this series anyway, DeSclafani is on the injured list, Gausman signed elsewhere over the offseason, and we missed Alex Wood entirely. In their place are Alex Cobb, who has struck out 28% of batters thus far, and Carlos Rodon, who has struck out 36.9% of batters.

It’s their platoon-heavy offense that is just hard to accept as good. This particular point of time makes their offense look weaker than it is too. They have Brandon Belt on the COVID-IL, Evan Longoria out with finger surgery, Tommy La Stella still hurt from achilles inflammation from last year, Steven Duggar with a strained oblique, and LaMonte Wade Jr. with knee inflammation.

Replacing those guys are a waiver wire pickup from last year with 52 career MLB PAs (Luis Gonzalez), a guy they traded cash to get after he was DFA’d by his old team who has 20 career PAs (Kevin Padlo), and another player they traded cash to get who was DFA’d by his old team last year (Thairo Estrada). On the bench is a 28-year-old OFer with 116 career PAs (Jason Vosler).

Thursday - 8:45 PM

Mauricio Llovera (3.00 ERA/1.51 FIP/0.43 xFIP) vs. Miles Mikolas (1.52 ERA/2.89 FIP/3.46 xFIP)

Ignore Llovera’s numbers for two reasons. For one, that’s three innings. He has thrown 10 career MLB innings and has a 10.13 ERA even with his three excellent innings this year. For two, this is a true bullpen start near as I can tell. Llovera threw 18 pitches in yesterday’s game, so the Giants are probably hoping he can throw 2 innings, but they may very well be planning on just one. Four of their relievers haven’t pitched since Sunday, so we’ll probably see Camilo Doval, Jake McGee, Tyler Rogers, and Jarlin Garcia at some point. John Brebbia has had a relatively light workload in the past week, so we’ll probably see him too. Interesting choice going with a guy who pitched yesterday with these options though.

On the other side of the coin, Miles Mikolas has remained great so far. I’m almost inclined to pick the Giants - the Cardinals were terrible against bullpen starts last year, or at least that’s my memory of it. But then there’s Mikolas, giving me some hope that the offense really doesn’t have to do a lot. So I find it too difficult to pick against a Mikolas start.

My pick: Cardinals

Friday - 9:15 PM

Logan Webb (3.26 ERA/2.80 FIP/3.27 xFIP) vs Jordan Hicks (3.65 ERA/5.28 FIP/3.81 xFIP)

I don’t know how much it’s worth monitoring, because we’re talking five starts, but Logan Webb was a groundball pitcher who also struck out 26.5% of batters last year. This year, he’s a groundball pitcher who doesn’t strike out many batters, just 15.9%. His GB% hasn’t improved a ton, from 60.9% to 61.6%. But he does walk a little bit less. As you can see, his numbers are still quite good so he’ll still be a challenge to beat.

Countering him is Jordan Hicks, who might be able to throw 4 innings this time. He threw a career high 63 pitches in his last start, and I’m not sure if Oli Marmol will push him to 80 pitches, but 70 is certainly on the table. At an average of 15 pitches per inning, Hicks may even be able to complete five innings for the first time in his career. But I can’t pick against Webb, who seems like someone the Cardinals will really struggle against.

My pick: Giants

Saturday - 6:15 PM

Alex Cobb (5.40 ERA/1.79 FIP/2.57 xFIP) vs. Steven Matz (4.56 ERA/2.12 FIP/2.56 xFIP)

Well this is a very fitting matchup. Cobb has only pitched 10 innings this year, but has a .452 BABIP against so far. Steven Matz and his .400 BABIP against can sympathize. Whatever Cobb did that caused him to have a 2.5 fWAR season in just 93 innings for the Angels so far appears to have stuck. So beware of that ERA or of Cobb’s previous reputation: he’s probably very good.

In deciding this matchup, I am having trouble overlooking the relative weaknesses of the Giants lineup. A few of their better hitters are left-handed - Brandon Crawford, Joc Pederson, and Mike Yasrzemski - and I’m not sure two of them being replaced by the great against lefties Austin Slater and Mauricio Dubon make up for their absence/worse expectation if they do start. So I have to go with Matz.

My pick: Cardinals

Sunday - 3:05 PM

Carlos Rodon (1.55 ERA/1.40 FIP/2.70 xFIP) vs. Dakota Hudson (3.16 ERA/4.73 FIP/4.43 xFIP)

Usually, when the Cardinals face a left-handed pitcher, I will pick the Cardinals to win. That would certainly have been my pick if the Cardinals had faced Alex Wood in this series. Unfortunately, by the numbers, this is a rather lopsided matchup. Carlos Rodon strikes out everybody which will make it difficult to score. He will really test the Cardinals elite level hitting against LHP, because you don’t get to be as good as he’s been without getting out right-handed batters too.

On the other side of the coin, maybe Dakota Hudson can surprise. I haven’t really been too impressed with any of his starts this year, and I realize that includes a couple zero earned run performances. Those starts came with BABIP luck and a not very good K/BB ratio. It’s possible Hudson is a unicorn and can somehow not strike out many, walk too many, and defy his FIP, but I still kind of think he’s going to have to pitch better to keep his 3.14 career ERA.

My pick: Giants

Going with my picks is now exactly a 50/50 proposition. I went 3 for 3 in the Royals series, picking every single game correctly. I am 5-5 on individual games, which sounds about right for the sport of baseball. Do not bet on baseball folks. I have also correctly predicted the series correctly twice out of three times. There’s a pretty good chance the Cardinals and Giants are going to split, so I’m not exactly going out on a limb with that prediction, but there’s no way I predict every game correctly.