The St. Louis Cardinals are coming off their third series win of the season. They will try to hold on to this good energy as they head up to Boston to take on the 22-16 Red Sox. There are some compelling pitching matchups this weekend — some pitchers with a lot of MLB experience on the docket — so let’s get into them!
On Friday night the series kicks of with Adam Wainwright against lefty James Paxton. Paxton has not pitched since 2021, but really he hasn’t pitched since 2019 as that is the last season he amassed more than 21 innings pitched. With that being said it is sort of hard to pin down what to expect from him. When he last pitched he threw three pitches. He relied heavily on a 4-seam fastball, throwing it almost 60% of the time and followed that up with a cutter and curveball. In his career he has a 3.59 ERA and 3.31 FIP, but in his limited action after 2019 he struggled with allowing walks and homers. After nearly three seasons away from MLB action though, it is anyone’s guess what to expect.
On Saturday the Cardinals face another lefty in the 13-season veteran Chris Sale. Over the course of his career Sale has pitched a 3.10 ERA and 2.94 FIP, though again, similarly to Paxon, he has not pitched more than 43 innings since 2019. So far this season he has struggled a bit — he still strikes out over 28% of batters, but he is walking just under 7% which is a career high since he became a full-time starter. He also has a BABIP against of .372. This is somewhat explained by his line drive percent, which is up from his peak years at nearly 27%. He throws a 4-seamer, a slider, a sinker, and a changeup.
Corey Kluber takes the mound on Sunday and again, like his rotation-mates he seems to have had to overcome years of injury struggles. He at least has about a full season pitched in 2022 at 164 innings. His production has been steadily dropping since he began having injury troubles, however. In 34 innings this season he has a 6.29 ERA and 6.40 FIP, striking out only 18.2% and walking 7.8% while giving up 2.36 home runs per nine innings. He throws a curveball, a sinker, and cutter about the same amount of the time. He has all but completely ditched the 4-seamer and looks to have replaced it with a changeup. This might have to do with his fastball topping in at just 88 mph now, down from 92 it used to be in his prime.
While the rotation for the Red Sox seems to be a big question mark, the offense has been quite good. As a team they are fourth on baseball with 114 team wRC+. They are being led by Jarren Duran who in 88 plate appearances is slashing .372/.420/.603 for a 176 wRC+. After him is Alex Verdugo and Masataka Yoshida with a 140 and 139 wRC+ respectively. The team is notably without Adam Duvall, who is currently on the 60-day DL after starting the season hot with a 312 wRC+ in his first 37 plate appearances.
On defense the Red Sox are strong up the middle with catcher Connor Wong and shortstop Yu Chang. In addition to his offense Duran is a steady centerfielder as well. The team is near the bottom in Fangraphs defensive stats and that appears to be largely due to Masataka Yoshida’s defense in left field. For the season he has a -3 defensive runs saved.
Kenly Jansen leads the bullpen with a 0.77 ERA and 1.17 FIP. Behind him is Josh Winckowski with a 1.50 ERA, John Schreiber at 2.16, and Kutter Crawford at 1.08, though their FIPs are all a touch over 3.00. It is combination of pitchers who strike out a lot, but walked a modest number, like Jansen and Schreiber, and pitchers that don’t strike out very many, but rarely issue walks, like Winckowski and Crawford. Jansen has also yet to give up a home run and the other three have only surrendered 4 among them. It is a strong bullpen, so the Cardinals really want to get to these starters early.
This is a very interesting series to me. In most ways, this Red Sox teams seems even better than the Cubs team the Cardinals just faced. The one facet they are not in though is the starting pitching. In 2015, it would be a pretty stacked rotation, but in 2023 it is a glaring weakness, only made more painfully clear by the production from the rest of the team. I think the Cardinals have a good chance of winning this series, as long as that cursed energy is behind them and they play like they did in Chicago. We shall just have to see — fingers crossed!
Friday, May 12 at 6:10 pm CT: Adam Wainwright vs. James Paxton
Saturday, May 13 at 3:10 pm CT: Steven Matz vs. Chris Sale
Sunday, May 14 at 6:10 pm CT: Miles Mikolas vs. Corey Kluber