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The Cardinals are headed to the city of battery love for three games - A Series Preview

The Cardinals face a scary offense and a scary defense - an offense you don’t want to face and a defense that seems afraid of the ball.

MLB: JUN 30 Braves at Phillies Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Phillies’ season has not exactly gone according to plan. They had an interesting approach in the offseason, choosing to completely - and I mean completely - ignore defense. Their roster wasn’t a great defense in the first place. Rhys Hoskins is ideally a DH, who attempted to play in the OF when he first came up, but after he was worth -17 runs in one season by OAA, they moved him permanently to 1B. He’s been bad there too, though not disastrously so with a career -8 OAA. They had prospect Alec Bohm at 3B, who had a 40 prospect grade on defense and has mostly lived up to that billing with a -10 OAA in his short career so far. Didi Gregorious plays shortstop, but he definitely shouldn’t, being worth an average of -15 runs per 1,200 innings (about a season) in his career by OAA.

These three are notably bad on defense, whereas Bryce Harper is just below average. Over the offseason, the Phillies front office doubled down on the no defense approach and signed Nick Castellanos (-12 per 1,200 innings) and Kyle Schwarber (-10.7 per 1,200 innings). I don’t even know if it’s an exaggeration that we’re entering worst defense in documented baseball history here. Really bad defense at 1B, the corner outfield spots, 3B, and SS. Odubel Herrera is good at defense, though not at hitting, and Bryson Stott graded as a potential average fielding shortstop, so he should be fine at 2B. JT Realmuto is good at defense. That’s the list though. Three players you want the ball hit to, one of which is the catcher.

You probably know how it went. After a 22-29 start, Joe Girardi got fired. They are 40-37 today, so from a purely W-L perspective, the firing has worked out so far. But for most of that run, they had Bryce Harper. Harper got injured a few days ago when he got hit by a pitch and fractured his thumb. That’s a problem. Also a problem: two of their no defense, all hit guys haven’t hit. Castellanos has a 92 wRC+ this year. Bohm has an 80 wRC+. Kind of an issue. They’ve also replaced Herrera with Mickey Moniak, who has had trouble with MLB pitching so far. Across three seasons, he has a 40% K rate and 11 wRC+ in his first 90 PAs.

The Phillies bullpen has been shaky. Brad Hand hasn’t blown 8 saves like last year and he has a 2.31 ERA, but his advanced stats are not terribly impressive. Not a guy who a lefty mashing team like the Cardinals should really fear. Corey Knebel has been bad and has already blown 4 saves. Jose Alvarado has solid advanced stats, but has a 5.85 ERA (and is left-handed). Jeurys Familia hasn’t been very good. They do have some good relievers: Seranthony Dominguez has a mostly deserved 1.63 ERA and Andrew Bellati strikes out everybody (34.6 K%). In fact, the Phillies bullpen ranks 6th in baseball in K%. They also rank 27th in baseball in BB%. So we may see a lot of strikeouts and walks once the starters exit the picture. And we may see former 1st round pick Mark Appel, who recently made his MLB debut, but I doubt he comes into the game in any important situations.

The Cardinals thankfully miss Aaron Nola, who pitched yesterday. And who are the three starters the Cardinals will be facing?

Friday - 5:05 PM

Bailey Falter (4.50 ERA/6.13 FIP/5.23 xFIP) vs. Miles Mikolas (2.57 ERA/3.34 FIP/3.76 xFIP)

This is a fairly lopsided matchup, but of course with an offense as good as the Phillies, you can’t assume a good performance from Mikolas. This is the game the Cardinals pretty much need to win. The other two pitching matchups are more even, and may even favor the Phillies. But this one... does not.

Falter is a really unfortunate name for someone trying to be successful. Falter does have an interesting quirk. He has a very big disparity between his MLB stats and his AAA stats this year. He is not fooling anyone at the MLB level in 20 innings, striking out just 14.9% of hitters. That same guy has somehow struck out 32% of hitters in AAA with while walking just 2.9%. I wonder if there’s a story here, because he struck out 36.7% of hitters in AAA last year. But just 19.4% in AA in 14 starts. Not a whole lot of consistency to his strikeout numbers to be honest. No idea what to expect.

My pick: Cardinals

Saturday - 3:05 PM

Kyle Gibson (4.48 ERA/3.90 FIP/3.74 xFIP) vs. Matthew Liberatore (4.00 ERA/6.02 FIP/5.33 xFIP)

So far Liberatore has faced the 28th best offense in baseball twice (Pittsburgh with a team wRC+ of 85), and two average offenses (Chicago and Milwaukee - 100 and 101 wRC+, respectively). The Phillies.... actually are only barely ahead of the Brewers and Cubs, but I’m pretty sure they’re a much harder test. Doesn’t really give me any more comfort to face Castellanos just because he has a 92 wRC+ right now. The lefty-lefty matchup may neutralize Schwarber, Gregorious, and Stott, plus the recently called up current DH for the Phillies Darick Hall (who hit two homers yesterday).

Gibson meanwhile is just a solid starter. The kind of guy the Cardinals could really use right now in fact. He is coming off a rather bad start against the Padres, only lasting 2.2 IP with five earned runs. The former Mizzou grad has faced the Cardinals just one time in his career. Been in majors for over 8 years, only faced the Cardinals once. He lasted six innings with 3 earned runs. That was in 2015.

My pick: Cardinals

Sunday - 6:00 PM

Zach Wheeler (2.89 ERA/2.54 FIP/2.93 xFIP) vs. Adam Wainwright (3.07 ERA/3.38 FIP/3.72 xFIP)

Wheeler has been ridiculous for the Phillies. He is kind of defying aging curves and also how pitching contracts usually go by seemingly improving. He was a 7.3 fWAR player last season and seems to be basically the same pitcher this year (no idea why his fWAR isn’t on the same pace, his FIP is better than last year at the moment)

I doubted Wainwright on Monday and let it be known that me picking the Phillies is not me doubting Wainwright. I’m doubting the Cardinal offense against Wheeler. If Wainwright outpitches Wheeler, I might have to make picking games against Wainwright a thing. So I hope I’m wrong here.

My pick: Phillies

Individual game record: 20-18

Series prediction record: 5-6

I have fallen below .500 on my series predictions. Let the record show that if I found it in my heart to pick the Cubs in that 5-game series, I would be 6-5, as I would have definitely gone with a 3-2 series win. But alas, I could not and here we are. I am hoping to be 22-19 with a 5-7 series prediction record if you catch my drift though.