Pirates at Cardinals series preview

At this point in the season, the first thing you have to talk about with the Pirates is Andrew McCutchen.  In my mind, he’s the MVP of the NL, whether or not the Pirates make the playoffs.  He’s put his team on his back, and although the term 5-tool player gets thrown around too often, McCutchen truly is one.  The Pirates should have their first winning season since 1992, and it all starts with McCutchen.  Here’s a link to his hitting hot zone.  The Cards will be best served to pitch him up and in or down and away, and if they miss, let’s hope they don’t miss in the middle of the plate.  As the team numbers will show, it’s will be best for the Cards to not let McCutchen beat them, and make others do so.

Outside of McCutchen, there’s nothing else really special about the Pirates on offense.  For NL team rankings, the Pirates are 12th in BA at .247, 15th in OBP at .303, 9th in OPS at .711 and have a run differential of +18.  That’s right, plus 18, which equates to a Pythagorean W-L of 60-57.  Many of us would have thought that would have caught up with them this far into the season, but they currently sit at 65-53.  There’s one reason the Pirates are still in the race outside of McCutchen, and that’s because of a BP that has done the job from start of the season.

While the Pirates SP’s don’t have eye popping numbers, they do enough to get the game to one of the best BP’s in all of baseball.  The SP ranks are as follows:  ERA–4.18 (11th), WHIP—1.29 (9th) and BAA–.255 (8th).  The Pirates BP is 3rd in the NL in ERA at 3.08, tied for 1st in WHIP (1.23) and tied for 2nd in BAA at .226.  The BP is led by closer Joel Hanrahan, who is 4-0 with 33 saves in 36 save opportunities, has an ERA of 2.56, a 1.12 WHIP and 54 K’s in 45.2 IP.

What really separates the Cardinals from teams like the Pirates are their records in close games.  In one run games in 2012, the Pirates are 24-19.  The Cardinals are 12-20.

The pitching matchups are as follows:

Game 1—James McDonald (10-5, 3.77) vs. Jake Westbrook (12-8, 3.62)

Game 2—Erik Bedard (7-12, 4.56) vs. Lance Lynn (13-5, 3.65)

Game 3—Jeff Karstens (4-3, 3.91) vs. Jaime Garcia (3-4, 4.48)

That 12-20 record in one run games is the thing the Cardinals will look back on if they don’t make the playoffs in 2012.  While the BP seems to have finally found its form, the question is, will it be too late.  The 2011 comeback was special because it had never happened in the history of baseball.  Instead of talking about a bullpen that cost them the season, our beloved Redbirds were popping champagne.  Now, with Edward Mujica, Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte leaving little doubt in close games by 2 or more runs, it will be up to the SP and the offense to continue to be dominant.  Motte continues to have problems in 1 run games, but hasn’t been tested in many of those over the last few months.

Dominance is another word I don’t like to throw around that often, but that’s exactly what the Cards offense of 2012 has been.  Not only are the Cardinals leading the NL in every meaningful offensive category, they are up there with the best offenses in the game, which is something special, considering we don’t have the DH.  For MLB ranks, the Cardinals are as follows:

BA–.275 (2nd-Texas)

OBP–.342 (1st)

OPS–.778 (3rd, Texas and NYY)

The starting pitching staff of the Cards has also been great.  Coming into tonight’s game, the SP is 3rd in the NL with a 3.54 ERA, 7th in WHIP (1.27) and 10th in BAA (.261).  Where things start to get a little tricky is with the BP.  The BP ERA is 10th (4.21), 8th in WHIP (1.30), and 7th in BAA (2.42).  Those stats are misleading in a way, considering all of the changes that have taken place.  For instance, I’m going to put the player and their ERA next, and none of them are likely to pitch in the BP again for the Cards in 2012 except for a few in a September promotion in a blow-out game.  So here are some names that will make your blood boil:  Victor Marte (4.46), Chuckie Fick (5.40), Sam Freeman (6.00), Maikel Cleto (7.00 and J.C. Romero (10.13).

This took some time to do, but if you take out those players and replace them with replacement level players over the same amount of IP, the Cards BP stats would be:  ERA—3.93, WHIP—1.23, BAA—2.59.  If Scrabble and Barret Browning can come in the game in key situations and get lefties out, which isn’t a sure thing, the Cards should grab a wildcard.  The one thing that worries me the most right now is Garcia.  I’ve searched over and over, and have yet to find a pitcher to come back and pitch with a torn labrum effectively.  It wouldn’t be the first time the Cards medical staff is led us down this path, but I’ll wait and hope for the best.  Garcia being back means Joe Kelly is heading to the BP, and Trevor Rosenthal is going back to AAA Memphis.  The good thing is we know Kelly is ready if Garcia falters.

So, what do I think the Cards need to do?  Well, nothing really, except to stay the course and hope the back injuries to Yadier Molina and Rafael Furcal are not too serious.  If not for McCutchen, Matt Holliday would arguably be the MVP.  Allen Craig has proven he’s here to stay, along with David Freese.  The SP and BP are good enough.  The minor league system is loaded and the future is bright.  In the immediate future, the Cardinals need to beat the Pirates and make it a race between them and the 2nd place team from the NL West, which will be the Dodgers or the Giants.  The Giants just lost Melky Cabrera for the year due to a PED ban, and the Cards need to take advantage of that.

The Pirates are 3-7 in their last 10 games, and the Cards are 19-6 in their last 25 home games.  The time is now, and it’s important for the Cards to remind the Pirates that the Cards are still the mainstay in the NL Central.  The Cardinals lead MLB in run differential at +109 and their Pythagorean W-L is 71-47.  Neither the team nor the fans want to look back on 2012 and be the ones talking about that’s why they play the games on the field.  We don’t want to be the San Diego Chargers of MLB.  This team is too good, and I would hate for a chance at another magical run to be spoiled by a few middle relievers that are no longer with the club.

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