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The Cardinals have an upcoming series against the Marlins - A Series Preview

The Cardinals play their opposites.

Miami Marlins v Boston Red Sox Photo by Paul Rutherford/Getty Images

If baseball were a fair sport, the Cardinals should sweep the Marlins. Baseball is not a fair sport, so this is unlikely to happen. But the Marlins, when they play opponents, have been outscored by 22 runs this year. The Cardinals, when they play opponents, have been outscored by 24 runs this year. In theory, they should have close to the same record. The Marlins have 13 more wins on the season than the Cards do.

I would be confused if it weren’t for the fact that the reason is clear as day. The Marlins have been inexplicably good at one-run games, the Cardinals inexplicably bad. Here’s another stat: the Marlins’ relievers have an ERA of 4.06, which is good for 18th in baseball. The Cardinals’ relievers have an ERA of 4.28, good for 22nd in baseball. Marlins’ relievers have an FIP of 4.05, compared to Cardinals 4.04.

So... it’s not the bullpen. The Marlins haven’t even been that special at not blowing saves. Their 13 blown saves is just three less than the Cardinals and dead average in the majors. The Marlins are 19-5 in one-run games. There is no apparent reason for this. There is a reason the Cardinals are 8-16 in one-run games, there’s no denying that. It is clear the fortunes of both teams are tied completely to one-run games. What is less clear is if both will continue for the rest of the season.

So.... if baseball were fair, the Cardinals would sweep the series with four straight one-run wins. Baseball is not fair.

Given their run differential, it is perhaps not surprising that the Marlins are not a very good hitting team. They have a team wRC+ of 97, good for 19th in baseball. If you go through their lineup, they have two standouts, a whole lot of average, and some dead weight. With a quest for .400, Luis Arraez is probably not as valuable as you’d think as he comes with very poor defense and no power, but he nonetheless is having an All-Star caliber season (I assume you think near .400 and think MVP, but he doesn’t have a very good case.). Jorge Soler is the other standout with a 131 wRC+ thanks to 22 homers mostly.

After that, you have the hovering around average hitters: Jazz Chisholm (103 wRC+), Jesus Sanchez (109 wRC+), Bryan de la Cruz (104 wRC+), Garret Cooper (92 wRC+), Yuli Gurriel (94 wRC+), Jonathan Davis (99 wRC+), and Joey Wendle (90 wRC+). Some average hitting lines are more valuable than others. Chisholm brings solid D in center and Wendle solid D in the infield. De La Cruz is below average in the corners, but has a much higher xwOBA than actual. Gurriel and Cooper are essentially 1B/DH types so they are near replacement level with those lines.

And then you have some truly dreadful hitting getting significant plate appearances. Neither catcher has been able to hit. Nick Fortes has a 58 wRC+, though Statcast really believes in his defense since he has 0.7 fWAR in 61 games. Once a darling, but the same cannot be said for the 52 wRC+ hitter Jacob Stallings. Jean Segura is still getting regular playing time with his 44 wRC+ through 246 plate appearances. That’s pretty much two guaranteed black holes in the lineup, though Segura has a pretty lengthy track record of not being a 44 wRC+ hitter.

And it’s also not the Marlins’ defense either that’s propelling them to a one-run record. They rank 19th in baseball in defensive value on Fangraphs. So any easy narrative about why the Marlins are exceptional at one-run games pretty much falls flat. You can’t explain that record because of bullpen or defense.

That said, if you go up and down their bullpen, there’s not a lot of weak spots. They don’t have a Devin Williams, just a bunch of solid options. AJ Puk has been an effective closer (13/15 save opportunities) by not walking anyone (3.8 BB%). And there’s plenty of strikeout stuff here: Tanner Scott (35.9 K%), Andrew Nardi (32.9 K%), and Steven Okert (34.8 K%) give them three pretty good bets to strike out hitters. My best theory is that they have such a solid amount of arms to throw at the opposition that when they’re losing, the vast majority of their bullpen isn’t going to let the game get out of hand.

But again 19-5. Sorry, there’s just no way for me to see that and not think incredible luck. I can buy an above average record given the right parts, just not that absurd of a difference. And like I said, by the numbers, nothing really stands out that suggests they would be anything but .500. So... I repeat if baseball were fair, the Cardinals should take a couple one-run games in this series.

For the first time ever, I think, the Cardinals are actually not going to face Sandy Alcantara in a series which is remarkable for two reasons: we of course picked a year where Sandy hasn’t been good (19.7 K% and 4.93 ERA) and it’s a four-game series. Now whether this is a blip or he just pitched out of his mind for a couple years, we’ll see. (His ERA has always been way better than his advanced stats, even though his advanced stats were also good.)

Monday - 5:40 PM

Miles Mikolas (4.44 ERA/4.03 FIP/4.63 xFIP) vs. Braxton Garrett (3.53 ERA/3.29 FIP/2.87 xFIP)

Modern baseball is fascinating because a pitcher like Garrett doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense to me. He is striking out 27.7% of hitters, walking just 4.5%, and getting groundballs on nearly half the balls hit into play (49.1%), and he has a relatively mediocre 3.53 ERA, and craziest of all, his xERA is somehow 4.14. How can you strike out a lot of hitters, not walk many, get a lot of groundballs, and... batted ball data suggest a 4.14 ERA.

Mikolas is really due for a good game. He arguably hasn’t pitched a good game since he struck out 10 against the Royals. Which is maybe a controversial statement when he went 7 with 2 ER against the Nats, but he had a 4.71 FIP and 5.36 xFIP in that game. He also has a game with 2 ER in 5 innings, but he allowed 10 hits and had just two strikeouts. The other games were all 5 ER or more. So he’s due.

Tuesday - 12:10 PM

Adam Wainwright (NSFW) vs. Jesus Luzardo (3.53 ERA/3.29 FIP/3.47 xFIP)

Okay look guys I’m going to ask for consistency on this one. Judging by the overwhelming pessimism towards the Cards’ turning the season around, most of you think the season is over, at least when it comes to the playoffs. If you are one of those people, why not just keep Wainwright in the rotation? Who cares? Season’s over, doesn’t matter. You’d rather give those to Dakota Hudson or Steven Matz?

Now fair enough if you think the Cardinals are still a not terrible bet to win the division, I just know that’s not most of the people complaining about Wainwright not being removed from the rotation. Luzardo is also good, though that’s two lefties in a row now. By the personnel they have, they really should be crushing lefties. Maybe it’ll start in this series.

Wednesday - 5:40 PM

TBD (I’m guessing Matz) vs. Bryan Hoenig (3.72 ERA/4.66 FIP/4.87 xFIP)

Matz threw 64 pitches on Thursday, and due to the doubleheader on Saturday, either Jack Flaherty or Matthew Liberatore would be on short rest if they pitched Wednesday. He should have a quick hook and I do not say this as someone who is particularly down on Matz. The Marlins have a team wRC+ of 118 against LHP. Matz should get the bulk of innings, but it should be effectively be a bullpen game if possible. The other benefit of this is you can push Liberatore to Friday, against a team that is mediocre against LHP, and then finish out the first half with Montgomery and Mikolas. Right now, and I don’t know if it’s been announced, but Liberatore is just not scheduled for any start this week.

Hoenig doesn’t appear to very good and I hope the Cardinals can hit him.

Thursday - 5:40 PM

Jack Flaherty (4.60 ERA/4.12 FIP/4.46 xFIP) vs. Eury Perez (2.47 ERA/3.60 FIP/3.91 xFIP)

Perez’s underwhelming FIP and xFIP, in relation to his ERA I mean - those are absurdly good numbers for a 20-year-old - is due to the fact that hitters don’t hit many groundballs against him. He has a 30.1 GB%. His ERA is what it is due to an 87.4 LOB%. (left-on base% which is what it sounds like) League average is 72%, and elite of the elite territory is 80%. Anything above that is not sustainable.

Flaherty is in a good position to have a good game. If you’ve put two and two together, noticing that the Marlins are a top 5 offense against LHP and a below average offense overall, well you probably pieced together they aren’t good against RHP. Their 91 wRC+ against RHP ranks 22nd in baseball.


I mean I guess it’s not surprising that a team with a below average run differential relying on winning one-run games seems pretty beatable, but they do. Granted, three of their four pitchers in this series are exciting young arms who will not be an easy matchup, but their offense isn’t scary at all. It depends on if the Cardinals’ offense shows up this series. Win three out of four, sweep the White Sox, that would be a great way to end the first half.