The St. Louis Cardinals (37-19, +2.5 games) will conclude their NL West home stand with a four games series against the Arizona Diamondbacks (32-24, +3 games). These two teams met to open the season in Arizona, with the Diamondbacks taking the series, 2 games to 1. The difference was a long 16 inning slugfest that featured three blown saves from Cardinals relievers (Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal and Mitchell Boggs) before Fernando Salas gave up the winning run.
How they got here
The Cardinals entered this series with the best record in the major leagues. After surviving something of a challenging April, they took advantage of a long home stand in May and ran their record on the month to 20-7. The key to the Cardinals success has been timely two out hitting, overcoming injuries and some sensational pitching. Seth Maness, Carlos Martinez, John Gast, Tyler Lyons and Micheal Wacha all made their major league debuts in May. Michael Blazek was called up but has yet to appear in a game. Keith Butler made his debut on June 1. All of them have been sensational, and a big part of the Cardinals success so far.
On the offensive side of the game, Matt Carpenter is making a solid case for an All Star appearance. Yadier Molina continues to get better on both sides of the game and making a strong case for early season MVP honors. Carlos Beltran is starting to heat up, creating an intriguing off season conundrum for the Cardinals front office. Perhaps most important, David Freese looks like he might finally be breaking out of his slump.
Kirk Gibson’s Diamondbacks enter this series playing old school baseball with a lot of young players. Injuries and some poor performance have pressed some new faces into action, most notably Didi Gregorius, part of an off season three team trade with Cincinnati and Cleveland.
Gerardo Parra is a solid leadoff hitter and leads the league in doubles. He also leads the league in caught stealing, which should play to the Cardinals advantage with Yadier Molina behind the plate. Paul Goldschmidt is really turning into a nice offensive producer for the Diamondbacks, something akin to the Cardinals Allen Craig.
While the Cardinals starters are getting a lot of recent attention, the Diamondbacks have a good collection of young arms that are pitching better than their record. Fortunately for the Cardinals, they will miss lefty Patrick Corbin (9-0, 2.06 ERA).
If there is a weakness in the Diamondbacks batting order, they do strike out with regularity (Goldschmidt is on pace for 170+). That favors the Cardinals pitchers, who have three of the top ten strikeout leaders in the National League.
Both teams also come into this series, victims of some odd weather. A double header on Saturday without a day off creates a problem for Cardinals manager, Mike Matheny. Instead of going with Shelby Miller on short rest, Joe Kelly will get his first start of 2013. He had been slated to get the start on Friday night, if the game had started on time. The weather somewhat helps the Diamonbacks, with an extra off day, but an injury to Brandon McCarthy creates a bit void in their rotation. Tyler Skaggs will get the start in McCarthy’s place. He was very impressive in his last start against the Texas Rangers.
There is a small black cloud hanging over the Cardinals heading into this series. On Sunday, Yadier Molina was ejected from the game after he threw his batting helmet to the ground in frustration of a close play at first base. The merits of the ejection can be debated, but he has also been suspended for one game for bumping into one of the umpires following the ejection. Molina has appealed the ruling, but is expected to serve it some time during this series.
On paper, this matchup should favor the Cardinals, just slightly. We have learned that games are actually played on the field and not on paper, so anything can happen. There are some intriguing matchups that should make for a very exciting series. Both teams expect to see post-season play, so this could be a precursor to another interesting playoff series.
Monday, June 3 – 7:15pm CDT
The opening game will feature two big horses. Lance Lynn is quietly becoming a solid inning eater in the rotation. He is still averaging a bit over a strikeout per inning, and not getting into trouble with walks. The big difference so far this season is Lynn’s ability to keep the ball in the ballpark. That is letting him see the seventh inning with greater regularity.
Trevor Cahill is also turning into a nice inning eater on the Diamondbacks rotation. His control is not as good as Lynn’s and is giving up more hits while striking out about half as many.
The difference in this game may come down to run support, something that Lance Lynn gets in buckets while Cahill can’t buy enough.
TV: Fox Sports Midwest, MLB.tv (out of market)
Tuesday, June 4 – 7:15pm CDT
Round two of Wacha-mania will hit Busch Stadium as young right hander for the Cardinals makes his second major league start. It is hard to imagine it going any better than his debut a week ago, but good bullpen perforamance could go a long way to making that happen. The big right hander has lived up to expectations so far, dazzling fans with a video game changeup.
Cardinals fans should not take this game lightly as Tyler Skaggs was sensational in his first start of the year, throwing 6 scoreless innings in Texas, striking out nine. If the Cardinals are patient, they may be able to take advantage of his inexperience. If not, Skaggs is exactly the kind of pitcher that can shut down the Cardinals offensive machine.
TV: Fox Sports Midwest, MLB Network, MLB.tv (out of market)
Wednesday, June 5 – 7:15pm CDT
Joe Kelly will make his first start of the 2013 season, after struggling as a long reliever in the bullpen. Kelly has been something of an enigma after an impressive rookie season. He can still throw the ball by just about anybody, and doesn’t get into trouble with walks, but is giving up nearly 2 hits per inning. Perhaps a long outing is just what Kelly needs to get some confidence and get his game back.
Speaking of impressive rookies, Wade Miley was runner up in Rookie of the Year voting, winning 16 games last season. This year has been a struggle so far for the big lefty. He is having trouble with the long ball and is giving up twice the number of walks as last year. That’s not a good combination for winning close games.
TV: Fox Sports Midwest, MLB Network, MLB.tv (out of market)
Thursday, June 6 – 7:15pm
There was a time, not too long ago, when Ian Kennedy was one of the most feared right handers in the National League. Since winning 21 games in 2011, his strikeout rate is down and walk rate is increasing. Not much, but it is a trend. As with Wade Miley, he is also having trouble with the long ball, surrendering over one per 9 innings pitched. The Cardinals have traditionally hit Kennedy well and have put up a huge number of runs.
For the Cardinals, Shelby Miller has had a most impressive start to his rookie season, certainly one worthy of consideration for Rookie of the Year honors. The most impressive thing about Miller has been his ability to grind out a win when he doesn’t have his best pitches working, something you typically see in a veteran pitcher. When he is on, nobody is any better.
Basically the entire Cardinals roster. Mike Matheny can run out a daily lineup with four batters hitting over .300, led by Yadier Molina’s league leading .350.
Allen Craig continues to drive in runs by the truck load, in spite of not hitting the ball out of the ballpark. His ability to hit with runners in scoring position is mind boggling.
Carlos Beltran is starting to hit the ball with some serious authority, leading the team with 13 home runs.
Matt Carpenter continues to amaze at the top of the Cardinals batting order, leading the league in both doubles and runs scored. He is quietly becoming one of the best second baseman in the National League.
David Freese has hit safely in 12 consecutive games, hitting .357 with 3 home runs and 13 RBIs over that stretch. He’s managed to raise his season batting average from .209 to .265.
For the Diamondbacks, Paul Goldschmidt is leading the league in RBIs. While his home runs came in bunches earlier in May, he continues to drive in runs at a frightening pace. He is hitting .400 over the last week.
Heath Bell is 9 out of 10 in save opportunities since taking over closer duties from the injured JJ Putz.
Martin Prado is off to a slow start, hitting 40 points below his career average.
Cliff Pennington, part of the Heath Bell deal, is flirting with the Mendoza line and has lost the starting job at shortstop to Didi Gregorius.
Matt Holliday is hitting .154 with 7 strikeouts over the last week. 2 of his 4 hits were home runs, but the big left fielder is struggling at the plate.
Rafael Furcal, Jason Motte and Jaime Garcia are out for the season.
Chris Carpenter has started throwing to batters and may be heading off to one of the minor league teams soon to start a rehab program.
Jake Westbrook has been sent down to Springfield to begin his rehab assignment and is expected to return to the big club soon.
John Gast and Fernando Salas are on the disabled list, with no timetable on their return.
Aaron Hill, Adam Eaton and Eric Chavez are all on the disabled list for Arizona. Two of these were veterans that were expected to help balance out Kirk Gibson’s young squad.
Pitcher, Daniel Hudson is gone for the season. Closer JJ Putz and starter Brandon McCarthy are also on the disabled list and won’t be activated for this series.
Bob Netherton is a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and United Cardinal Bloggers. His work can be found at On the Outside Corner, a mostly historical blog about the St. Louis Cardinals. You can also find Bob on Twitter at @CardinalTales.