Coming off a difficult first month of the season where they played 21 of 29 games against division rivals, the Cardinals hope that May will bring a less demanding schedule. Over the next four and a half weeks, they will play most of the games at home and against teams not in their division. Two long home stands might be just what the Cardinals need to close the gap with the division leading Milwaukee Brewers. They have to go through Chicago and Pittsburgh first.
The Cubs (9-17, 9 1/2 games out) had a similar schedule to start the 2014 season, playing most of their games against teams in the NL Central, including 3 against the Cardinals. At 9-17, they share the cellar of the division with the Pittsburgh Pirates, 9 1/2 games out of first place. Like the Cardinals, the Cubs woes seem to be consistent offensive production from their regular position players. Entering this series, only 4 regulars have a batting average over .250 (the Cardinals have just 5).
Where the two teams differ is in pitching. While the Cubs have a good 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation with Jeff Samardzija and veteran Jason Hammel, they would be a 3rd and 4th starter in the Cardinals rotation. The bottom three, including former Cardinal Edwin Jackson, have been inconsistent. Their bullpen has also been roughed up, especially veteran Jose Veres, who has last his job as closer after his second blown save, ironically in St. Louis. Hector Rondon has been sensational as his replacement and should be expected to protect a late inning lead, if given the opportunity.
For the Cardinals (15-14, 5 games behind), all that we can say about April is that they survived it. With a favorable schedule ahead, including warmer weather, there is a lot of reason to be optimistic about next few weeks.
While the bullpen has had its shares of early season troubles, the starting rotation has been very good, especially at the top with Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha. Both pitchers could easily have another win already, perhaps more if the Cardinals offense could muster up a few key hits.
Offense has been the Cardinals Achilles Heel so far in the 2014 season. It is easy to criticize roster construction, but the problem truly lies in the starting 8 position players. Matt Adams and Yadier Molina have been carrying the team through the first five weeks of the season, with Matt Holliday getting some big hits in key moments, but not a lot elsewhere. Fortunately, two of the three Matt’s (Carpenter and Holliday) are starting to hit, and Allen Craig has finally broken through the Mendoza line, now hitting .220. Jon Jay has been a very pleasant surprise, hitting near his career average and driving in 10 runs. Jay has turned off season acquision, Peter Bourjos, into a bench player, where he has a history of struggling. Jhonny Peralta, Mark Ellis, Peter Bourjos and Daniel Descalso all continue to struggle at the plate, and all but Bourjos offer weaker defense than the alternatives, which is a bad combination for the Cardinals. That prompted a roster move before the last series, sending Kolten Wong and Shane Robinson down to Memphis to join Pete Kozma who had been optioned earlier. In their place, the Cardinals called up Randal Grichuk and Greg Garcia. Mike Matheny continues to juggle his lineup, hoping to find a combination of hitters that can generate some runs.
The bullpen has been something of a Jekyll and Hyde so far. Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal, Randy Choate and Kevin Siegrist have been very good, though Siegrist has been used sparingly. Though Mike Matheny has given public words of support for Seth Maness, he has struggled to find his 2013 self and may be one or two rough outings away from a road trip south on I-55. Off season acquisition, Pat Neshek, has been inconsistent, but largely effective. Cardinals GM, John Mozeliak, has been rolling in and out young arms from Memphis to fill out the remaining bullpen spots. Eric Fornataro has been good in his first few outings. A combination of Sam Freeman, Jose Almarante, Jorge Rondon, Keith Butler and David Aardsma await their opportunity in Memphis.
Friday, May 2 – 1:20PM CDT
With the off day for travel, Cardinals manager, Mike Matheny, has opted to skip Tyler Lyons for the series opener. In his place, Adam Wainwright will get the start on regular rest. He carries a 25 inning scoreless streak into the game, which probably played a big part in Matheny’s decision. Wainwright has faced the Cubs once this season, at home, and won that game despite giving up 4 runs over 7 innings (2/3 of his total runs allowed in 2014).
Travis Wood has been good in the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field this season, allowing one run in each of his two starts. Since the Cardinals have trouble facing lefties, we should expect another solid outing, and a close game. In his career, Wood is 3-5 against the Cardinals and carries a lofty 5.16 ERA.
TV: Fox Sports Midwest, CSN and Nationally on the MLB Network
Radio: KMOX (St. Louis), WGN (Chicago)
Saturday, September 7 – 12:05 pm CDT
Michael Wacha has added a breaking pitch to his repertoire for this season. If he can learn to throw it as effectively as his fastball and change up, he could develop into an elite starter in the National League. His record does not indicate how well he has pitched. Unlike Lance Lynn, Wacha seems to be the guy in the rotation that just doesn’t get any run support, so has to throw a shutout to win. He deserves a better fate than he has been receiving, and should benefit the most as the Cardinals bats start heating up.
Jake Arrieta will get his first start of the 2014 season. He came out of spring training suffering from shoulder soreness and was placed on the disabled list. He has one career start against the Cardinals, an impressive win where he threw 7 shutout innings.
TV: Fox Sports Midwest, CSN and nationally on Fox Sports 1
Radio: KMOX (St. Louis), WGN (Chicago)
Sunday, September 8 – 7:05pm CDT
Lance Lynn continues to pitch just well enough to win, given some run support, often times ridiculously generous support. That might be a tough task against one of the Cubs better free agent signings, Jason Hammell. Hammel is throwing no hitter stuff so far this season and he is compounding that by not giving up a lot of walks. An inconsistent Cardinals offense plus Lynn’s tendency to give up a big inning tilts the series finale in the Cubs favor.
This will be the first of three appearances for the Cardinals this month on ESPN’s national broadcast.
Radio: KMOX, WGN
The Cardinals have shared some encouraging news as both Jaime Garcia and Jason Motte will begin rehab assignments with the Springfield Cardinals this weekend. Garcia will get the start for Springfield on Sunday.
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