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The St. Louis Cardinals should try to play better than they have been against the Los Angeles Dodgers

A series preview

MLB Spring Training: St. Louis Cardinals at Los Angeles Dodgers Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

I think the title sort of speaks for itself, but in case you Rip Van Winkled the entire month of April to this point it is with regret that I must inform you that the St. Louis Cardinals have, to put it politely, stunk up the joint. Admittedly I am being a little dramatic to make this more interesting to read, but even still, in all honestly it has straight up not been a good time. For the month of April the Cardinals are 10-15 — and let’s throw March in there as well since that only includes 1 game to make them 10-16. That’s a .385 winning percentage for season and fifth in the National League Central. For a team that looked to be a competitor for the top of their division prior to the season starting, that is real bad. Their Pythagorean win-loss is a little better at 13-13, but it is pretty telling how bad a way they are in win we start using “well, according to their runs scored and allowed, they should actually be .500” to comfort us. It stinks!

The factors contributing to this crummy start have been covered a lot so I won’t get into them much again now — this is meant to be a preview for the Los Angeles Dodgers anyway. A combination of unfortunate sequencing, poorly-timed defensive miscues, an unsustainable amount homers given up, a tough schedule, and maybe a mummy’s curse have all contributed. Fortunately there is still a lot of baseball left to play and maybe this series can lead into a better stretch of baseball for El Birdos. Back in 2019 the Cardinals were off to a hot start in April with 19-10 record and proceeded to play one of their worst months I can remember, going 9-18 in the month of May that season. They still ended the season with a 91-71 record. 10-16 is not an unsurmountable hole, but they do have to stop digging if they ever want to climb out. Hopefully this series against the Dodgers is the series we turn to and say that is when the climb began to happen.

Looking to the Dodgers, the Cardinals will face a team that is good, but perhaps not as fearsome as they have been in years past. As a staff, their starting pitching has been middling with a 4.33 FIP — 15th in the league. The relievers have been a little better with a 4.22 combined FIP, but that is only good for 20th in the league. (Fun fact [pushes glasses up higher on my nose]: the Cardinals relievers are first in FIP with 3.24). The offense has not been the powerhouse it once was and is just outside the upper third in baseball in wRC+, tied for 11th with a 107. (Fun fact: the Cardinals are tied for 3rd in team wRC+ with 116). On defense they are near the bottom of the league with no players really standing out as notably strong defenders.

The Cardinals will face a trio of pitchers from the Dodgers that have had varying degrees of success. On Saturday they will square off against future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw, who — even struggling with injuries in recent years — has been one of the most effective pitchers in the league when he is healthy. His innings load has dropped off substantially since pitching over 230 innings in 2015, but what he lacks in quantity is made up for in quality. Devin has a full profile for Kershaw right here detailing all the different ways he has been good. An area he has struggled with more this year is the long ball — maybe that is an area where the Cardinals bats can come alive.

On Friday the Cardinals face the most intriguing pitcher of the three to me: Dustin May. This guy throws fastballs — his top two pitches are a 4-seamer and a sinker and his fourth most frequently-thrown pitch is a cutter. He has mixed and matched his fastball usage in the past and so far this year has made the change to throw the 4-seamer more than the sinker. He throws his 4-seam fastball pretty hard at 97 mph and tries to throw them up and in to righties. His cutter trails away from righties as they tend to do and he spots it pretty well in the lower outside corner of the zone. For a breaking pitches he throws a curveball at the bottom of the zone that has quite a bit of horizontal break, swooping down and in to righties, very closely mimicking the path of his sinker before dropping to the bottom of the zone. In fact, his curveball is in the 99th percentile in curve spin. Here is where it gets interesting to me: this profile should — in my opinion — generate a lot of swings and misses. He stays out of the middle of the zone, his curveball and sinker move a lot, and he throws hard. It doesn’t though. In 173 career innings pitched May has a strikeout rate of just 22.7%, with most of that coming from his 2021 season. His Wiff percentage this season is just 6% and his chase percentage is 31%. It isn’t like he generates a lot of weak contact either — his hard hit percentage and barrels percentage are right around the 50th percentile and his average exit velocity is in the 63rd percentile in baseball. It makes me wonder if May hasn’t been getting a little lucky. His home runs per flyball rate 0.31 and his batting average on balls in play is just .195, numbers his peripheral stats just don’t seem to support. This all adds up to an expected FIP of 4.89 which is quite a bit higher than his actual FIP of 3.73 which is even higher than his ERA of 3.08. Perhaps he due for some regression.

Noah Syndergaard is scheduled to face the Cardinals on Sunday. It has been a while since I can remember the Cardinals facing Syndergaard — I think the last time they faced him was in 2019 — and by the looks of things, it appears injuries have diminished him to a much less imposing pitcher. His once mighty 4-seam fastball has fallen from touching 98 mph to just above 92 mph. In 2017 he made the switch to throwing primarily a sinker and its velocity has also fell from 98 to 92 mph. While the velocity is down, the sinker is still quite good. It has had a batting average against of just .200 and it very nicely sets up his second-most throw pitch, his changeup. Since his fastball velocity has dropped, though, it appears so too has the effectiveness of his changeup. It still generates wiffs at around 31.7%, but it gets hit lot more often than it used to. He has been able to avoid too much trouble by walking very few — his is in the 92nd percentile in walks — and avoiding giving up hard contact — his hard hit percentage is just 33.3%.

On offense Max Muncy is clobbering the ball. He is slashing .254/.411/.718 for a 195 wRC+. He is sort of a three true outcomes type of hitter with a 20% walk rate, a 30% strikeout rate, and a .465 ISO. He leads the league with 11 home runs and is second to Matt Chapman in wRC+. He will of course return to the team from paternity leave just in time to face the Cardinals. The offense doesn’t drop off much after him either. Will Smith is currently on the Injured List, but had been hitting for a 180 wRC+ while he was active. Rookie centerfielder James Outman has an ironic last name considering he is hitting for a 171 wRC+ with 7 home runs. Then of course Freddie Freeman and J.D. Martinez are their usual selves with a 130 and 123 wRC+, respectively.

Overall this Dodgers lineup is good, but beatable. The Cardinals are the better team in most stats with the exception of starting pitching. That hasn’t really meant much for the Cardinals so far this season, but maybe that all changes this series! These starting pitching matchups are about as even as they could be with these two rosters. We can only wait and see what happens.


Friday, April 28 at 9:10 pm CT: Jack Flaherty vs. Dustin May
Saturday, April 29 at 8:10 pm CT: Jordan Montgomery vs. Clayton Kershaw
Sunday, April 30 at 3:10 pm CT: Jake Woodford vs. Noah Syndergaard