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The Cardinals play four games against a few homer happy Nationals pitchers - A Series Preview

The Nationals’ starters have one thing in common: they give up a lot of homers

Washington Nationals v New York Mets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

I am sad to announce that the Cardinals appear to miss Patrick Corbin. In a four-game series, it’s not asking a lot to hope the only left-handed pitcher in the rotation is pitching in one of the games. Interestingly, the Nationals have a five-man pitching rotation and he last pitched Saturday. But even though his spot would come up Thursday, ESPN is listing him as the starting pitcher for Friday’s game. They have some sort of pseudo six-man rotation with Cory Abbott either being a starter or reliever depending on off-days I assume.

So that’s the bad news. The good news is that Albert Pujols will probably start one or two of the games because the Cardinals are 8.5 games above the Brewers, the Nationals starting pitchers are still not very good for the most part, and I really don’t have a third reason but you’re supposed to have a third reason when you list things.

Looking at the shape of their roster, they have five players who are probably a part of their future plans. The rest are basically here until they get better players. And actually I’m counting Luke Voit as one of those five players and he only has two years of team control after this year, so he probably isn’t long-term either. Former top 100 prospect Luis Garcia has a good enough bat, but has been atrocious defensively at shortstop. He might fare better at 2B, where he’s since moved. Keibert Ruiz, 23-year-old catcher, has been somewhat disappointing with the bat, but has a .318 xwOBA to his .292 wOBA so he’s probably still a good bet. Recently acquired in the Juan Soto trade CJ Abrams has replaced Garcia at SS and hasn’t hit a lick so far, but is 21-years-old. And Josiah Gray, who we’ve already seen and will see in this series, still can’t fix that homer bug that’s been plaguing him.

The rest? Well, former Cardinal Lane Thomas looks like a bench player, but not in the way you might expect: his bat hovers around league average, but he’s a below average baserunner and fielder. Which passes the eye test from what I remember, but is bizarre given his speed. 30-year-old Joey Meneses is a fun story, having made his MLB debut earlier this year. He’s been in the minors since 2011 and has a 157 wRC+ through his first 119 plate appearances. Victor Robles never really learned how to hit. Nelson Cruz is showing his age for the first time. Ildemaro Vargas was DFA’d by the DBacks in 2020, claimed by the Twins, DFA’d by the Twins, picked up by the Cubs, DFA’d by the Cubs twice in 2021 and the second time was claimed by the Pirates, who DFA’d him and traded him to the DBacks, who after two weeks DFA’d him. At this point he finished out the year in the minors, reached free agency, signed a minor league deal with Cubs, got promoted, DFA’d and elected free agency in May 2022. Then he signed with the Nationals to a minor league deal and he was promoted in August and he actually has a 136 wRC+ with the Nats. One of the fun parts about being a bad team is you get some long shots who perform well, even if just for a little.

I’ll be quick with the bullpen, but Kyle Finnegan is their closer and he is fine. Most of their bullpen is fine. They have former Cub Carl Edwards Jr. He’s fine. Former Cardinal for a brief minute Steve Cishek is not very good, and neither is the recently claimed Jake McGee. Statistically, their only really “good” reliever is Hunter Harvey, who has looked great for 26 innings, but you know he was DFA’d by both the Orioles and Giants in the last year, so it could be for real, it could just be a great 26 inning stretch, there is literally no way to know with relievers.

Onto the matchups

Monday - 3:15 CT

Anibal Sanchez (5.05 ERA/6.66 FIP/5.23 xFIP) vs. Jack Flaherty (5.63 ERA/7.00 FIP/7.39 xFIP)

I’m going to take a wild guess and say Pujols starts against Sanchez because look at that FIP. He allows home runs. He has allowed 12 in 46 innings. Paul Goldschmidt and Pujols hopefully can feast on Sanchez. He can’t really strike hitters out and he walks an above average amount. The main things you want a pitcher to do: prevent walks, strikeouts and prevent homers - he’s bad at all of them.

Flaherty meanwhile has no real excuse to pitch badly today. The Nationals are not good. He was rehabbing in Springfield, the Cardinals AA team, and this team isn’t a whole lot better than if he got promoted to Memphis and played in AAA. So this is about as an ideal situation for a pitcher coming back from injury. He is not getting thrown into the fire, if he does poorly, you can pretty much write him off for the playoff rotation.

My pick: Cardinals

Tuesday - 6:45 CT

Paolo Espino (4.22 ERA/4.65 FIP/4.17 xFIP) vs. Jose Quintana (3.47 ERA/3.28 FIP/3.85 xFIP)

Espino is another great story. Drafted in the 10th round way back in 2006, he lingered in the Guardian’s system for years, becoming essentially minor league depth, pitching about half the year in AA and half the year in AAA for four straight years, finally reaching free agency at 27. He signed with the Nationals, spent the whole year in AA, and then two more years where he was finally seen as a fully fledged AAA pitcher, but never made the majors. The Brewers signed him at 30 and he shuttled back-and-forth between AAA and the majors, only throwing 17.2 IP, before being traded to the Rangers at the end of the year. He reupped with the Rangers the next year who released him in April. He signed back with the Brewers, but never made the majors.

In 2019, he went back to the Nats. They never promoted him. He got another crack at the majors in 2020, but only threw 6 innings. Last year, he finally stuck in the majors at 34-years-old. And that’s how a 35-year-old has 1.074 years of service time with two MLB options remaining. I spent all this time on Espino, so I have nothing to add about Quintana, who I hope looks better than his last few starts.

My pick: Cardinals

Wednesday - 6:45 CT

Cory Abbott (4.39 ERA/5.93 FIP/5.76 xFIP) vs. Jordan Montgomery (3.15 ERA/3.52 FIP/3.44 xFIP)

Well, this is one of those deals where I would not be surprised if Abbott doesn’t actually start the game. This seems like a bullpen game to me. Abbott actually pitched yesterday - only one inning and 11 pitches - but he certainly doesn’t seem likely to throw anything more than like 60 pitches if he does start. I’m just listing Abbott here because that’s what ESPN is telling me.

It is kind of funny that Montgomery made 21 starts and went 3-3 - not even that he only got three wins, but six total decisions is so little. He went over to the Cardinals and is 5-0 in 6 starts. Baseball is weird. He might have more decisions as a Cardinal than he did as a Yankee and he’ll probably have about half the starts as a Cardinal. You can tell I have nothing to say about Cardinals pitchers at this point.

My pick: Cardinals

Thursday - 12:15 PM

Josiah Gray (4.91 ERA/5.82 FIP/4.43 xFIP) vs. Adam Wainwright (3.21 ERA/3.54 FIP/3.89 xFIP)

Gray is one of those pitchers that might, just might, have everything working for him. I have him in a deep fantasy league - and I might be forced to drop him because I can only wait for potential so long - but occasionally everything clicks for him. He has three 10+ strikeouts games on the year and six games with at least 8 strikeouts. He still has a real home run problem - he allowed eight homers in those six games and at least one in every one of them. He’s allowed 34 homers in 24 starts. But this is the one matchup that I can see surprising us.

Meanwhile, over in the Cardinals side, if I’m not mistaken, this is the start that will tie the battery mate record. Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina, 324 starts together as a battery. One more start and they have the record all to themselves. If they manage to do that, I bet they’ll have the record for a while.

My pick: Nationals

Yeah I can’t pick a 4-game sweep and Gray seems to have the most potential to dominate the Cardinals, not to mention that the Cardinals seem to make it very difficult for Wainwright to get wins this year, for whatever reason. But I really just felt like I had to pick one of these games as a loss and that got the short straw.

Individual Game Record: 35-28

Series Predictions: 8-12