I’m going to take a wild guess and say that we probably would not have predicted that, when the Pirates and Cardinals first met this year, the Pirates would be in 2nd place and the Cardinals would be in 4th place. But if you took a bit more credence in strength of schedule, maybe it should have been more expected. The Pirates have faced the Reds, Red Sox, White Sox, and Astros. That’s one really bad team, two below average teams, and the Astros. It might be surprising that they lost the series to the Reds of all teams, while sweeping the Red Sox.
Also, they haven’t actually been good. Despite two more wins than the Cardinals, the Pirates have a worse run differential. They actually have the worst run differential in the NL Central. While compiling a 7-5 record, they have been outscored by nine runs early in the season. The Cardinals have only been outscored by three runs. So fear not, the Pirates are not suddenly a 2nd place caliber team nor have they played like one.
Injuries have already affected them greatly. You’ve probably heard the news about Oneil Cruz fracturing his ankle on a slide into home plate, which puts him out for about four months. Austin Hedges suffered a concussion after three games, though he may return for the series. JT Brubaker has already gone Tommy John surgery.
Offensively, Bryan Reynolds is off to an unbelievable start, not letting his desire to get traded affect his performance, with a 184 wRC+ through his first 49 PAs. Also off to a great start is the returning Andrew McCutchen, with a 177 wRC+ on the strength a .500 BABIP with more walks than strikeouts. Rodolfo Castro, who has taken Cruz’s place, has also had a pretty good start, though it’s mostly BABIP. Connor Joe, playing mostly against LHP, is batting .368 so far.
That’s pretty much it though. Ke’Bryan Hayes has a 3 wRC+ through his first 45 PAs, and yes that is three. I think his 0-3 day with a walk may have actually improved that number by the time you read this. Both Carlos Santana and Ji-Man Choi are off to slow starts. Jack Suwinski has nine strikeouts in his first 28 PAs while batting .130.
In the bullpen, you better not let David Bednar face you in the 9th with the Pirates having a lead. He has a 34.8 K% with a 4.3 BB% so far with a 1.80 ERA. Colin Holderman has been mediocre by the advanced stats with just a 16.7 K% but he has not allowed a run and has gotten a hold in every game he’s pitched. Chase De Jong’s fluky performance last year has not carried over so far. Will Crowe has been used in 2 and 3 innings increments this year for some reason, and not sure how long that’ll last if he continues with a 15.2 BB%, though he has a 2.35 ERA so far.
Thursday - 6:35 PM
Vince Velasquez (4.78 ERA/4.25 FIP/4.48 xFIP) vs. Jordan Montgomery (3.48 ERA/3.61 FIP/3.43 xFIP)
(Stats are from 2022, as the sample size is pretty poor so far). Velasquez has been awful so far this year. He’s been a pretty bad starter for a few years now, so not real sure how there’s nobody better. But Velasquez has allowed eight runs in 7.1 IP with more walks than strikeouts and two homers allowed already. I’ll be pretty disappointed if the Cardinals don’t manage to win this game to be honest. They should crush Velasquez, I’ll settle for a win of any sort though.
My pick: Cardinals
Friday - 7:15 PM
Johan Oviedo (3.53 ERA/3.84 FIP/4.52 xFIP) vs. Jake Woodford (2.23 ERA/3.13 FIP/4.18 xFIP)
For the stats, I chose Oviedo’s stats as a starting pitcher in 2022 and Woodford’s overall stats last year. In Oviedo’s case, the 2023 stats are not a whole lot different. His xFIP is 4.62 and his ERA is 3.18. What is different is the FIP. Oviedo has allowed three homers already so his FIP is 6.32. He’s been pretty unlucky on giving up homers, something he has in common with Woodford. Unlucky might not be the right word. A HR/FB% that is unlikely to continue may be better phrasing.
I think this is a dead set neutral pitching matchup, but I think Woodford is going to convince the Cardinals to give him at least another start on Friday. I think if he has a bad start here, you have to swap him with Matthew Liberatore personally.
My pick: Cardinals
Saturday - 1:15 PM
Roansy Contreras (3.79 ERA/4.38 FIP/4.48 xFIP) vs. Steven Matz (5.25 ERA/3.78 FIP/3.15 xFIP)
At a young age, Contreras had a respectable debut, if maybe not as exciting as Pirates fans may have hoped. His sophomore season has started slowly. He has five strikeouts to five walks in 9 innings, allowed eight earned runs to score. As you can gather, it does not appear the starting pitching is what has allowed the Pirates to have a winning record.
Contreras has also struggled against the Cards. Weird true fact here, but he walked more than he struck out against the Cards every time he pitched against them. Every time. He struck out just 3 Cardinals to 9 walks last year.
My pick: Cardinals
Sunday: 1:15 PM
Mitch Keller (3.91 ERA/3.88 FIP/3.99 xFIP) vs. Miles Mikolas (3.29 ERA/3.87 FIP/3.80 xFIP)
As a person who would love to pick a sweep but knows four-game sweeps are very hard, even against bad teams, I was torn on whether to pick the Contreras or Keller game to lose. But ultimately Keller is the easier choice. For one thing, he’s off to a good start and for another, he threw 21.1 IP against the Cardinals last year with a 3.38 ERA, which included a scoreless 7 inning outing late last season.
My pick: Pirates
As an unbiased fan who would want to nail every single pick, I would have predicted the Cardinals to lose the series against the Brewers, but on a fan-site, I feel no such need to care about such things. The Jake Woodford-Freddy Peralta matchup was a loser on paper and in real life. So I start the season 2-1 in individual games. No such issues in this series thankfully.