The Pittsburgh Pirates start a three game series at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Monday night
At 7:05 PM tonight the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals start a three game series. This will be the first series of the season between the National League Central Division rivals. And it appears the Pirates are getting the Cardinals at the right time.
St. Louis currently has the worst record in the National League at 3-9. They are also coming off a sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees over the weekend. Additionally, the Pirates are coming off a sweep of the Chicago Cubs and are playing very confident baseball right now.
While the struggles of the Cardinals may come as a surprise to some, they really should not. The Cardinals are an aging team with a bad lineup, a starting rotation filled with question marks, and they play horrible defense. Additionally, what looked to be a strong bullpen has been an utter mess thus far.
The Cardinals have been the worst defensive team in baseball through the first two weeks of the season. They currently have a team DRS of -13, which is 30th out of 30 Major League Baseball teams. They also rank 21st in FIP (4.24) and 29th in ERA (4.98). Their bullpen has been especially bad ranking 29th in FIP (5.75) and 30th in ERA (7.34).
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Game one will be on ESPN’s Monday Night Baseball, marking the first time this season the Pirates have been on national television. Ivan Nova will make his third start of the season for the Pirates. In his first two starts, Ivan Nova owns a 2.25 ERA, 2.35 FIP, and he has not allowed a home run or walked a batter in 12 innings pitched. However, Nova is not missing many bats as he has just 5 strikeouts and his 4.21 xFIP indicates that he is due for some regression.
As for the Cardinals, they will give the ball to Lance Lynn. Lynn is a pitcher the Pirates have had a lot of success against in the past. After missing all of 2016 due to Tommy John Surgery, Lynn is off to a slow start in 2017. Through two starts he owns a 5.23 ERA, 6.61 FIP, and he has allowed 3 home runs in 10 1/3 innings pitched.
Game two of the series on Tuesday night is scheduled for 8:05 PM. Chad Kuhl will start for the Pirates, while the Cardinals will turn to Mike Leake. It will be the third start of the season for each pitcher.
Chad Kuhl walked 6 Atlanta Brave hitters in his first start of the season in just 5 innings pitched. However, in his second start, he bounced back to pitch a career high tying 6 1/3 innings against the Red Sox and did not walk a batter. He owns a 2.38 ERA and a 2.84 FIP in 11 1/3 innings pitched this season.
As for Mike Leake, he is off to an excellent start. In 15 innings of work Leake has allowed just 1 run, he’s walked just 1 batter, and he has struck out 13. Leake has been the lone bright spot of the Cardinal pitching staff thus far in 2017.
The series finale on Wednesday afternoon will feature a pitching matchup of Gerrit Cole and Michael Wacha. After struggling in his first two starts of the season, Cole bounced back in his third start against the Cubs over the weekend. In 6 innings of work, he held the Cubs to just 2 runs and appeared to have gotten back on track.
Michael Wacha has made two starts this season and has had two very different results. In his first start of the season, he allowed 1 run on 3 hits against the Reds. He also struck out 6 Cincinnati hitters.
Wacha then made a start at Yankee Stadium over the weekend and struggled. He allowed 4 runs, including a pair of home runs, in 6 innings of work. After his struggles and shoulder issues a year ago, the Cardinals have to be a little uneasy about Wacha right now.
The St. Louis offense has also left a lot to be desired this season. They currently rank 26th in the Majors in runs scored (42), 25th in on-base percentage (.294), and 27th in wRC+ (74). Also, their 23.3 percent strikeout rate is the 8th highest in baseball. The Cardinals are not hitting balls well, either, as their 12.5 percent hard hit rate ranks 25th in baseball.
All of this, however, is not a huge surprise.
Outside of Dexter Fowler, Matt Carpenter, and Stephen Piscotty the Cardinal lineup is aging and not very good. Mix in Carpenter (92 wRC+) and Fowler (12 wRC+) being off to slow starts the fact that the Cardinals have struggled so much on offense is not a surprise at all.
There will be a few keys to this series for the Pittsburgh Pirates. First off, put the ball in play. As was mentioned above, the Cardinals have been the worst defensive team in baseball so far this season. The Bucs need to put the ball in play and force the Cardinal defense to make plays. Luckily, the Pirates are very good at this as their 18.8 percent strikeout rate is the fourth lowest in baseball.
A second key is to get into the Cardinal bullpen. The Cardinal bullpen has been nothing short of a total dumpster fire so far in 2017. Getting into it early and often should lead to a lot of success for the Pirate offense in this series.
While it probably won’t last, largely due to the Cincinnati Reds being a bad team, the St. Louis Cardinals are currently in last place. Most likely, the Cardinals will not finish in the National League Central cellar in 2017 but they will struggle this season.
They are more likely to battle the Brewers for third in the division than they are to battle the Cubs and Pirates at the top of the division. Hopefully, the Pirates will continue the early season misery of the Cardinals this week.