Series Preview: Brewers at Cardinals

Garcia
Cardinals Lineup:

Rafael Furcal – SS
Matt Carpenter – 1B
Matt Holliday – LF
Carlos Beltran – RF
David Freese – 3B
Yadier Molina – C
Jon Jay/Skip Schumaker – CF
Daniel Descalso – 2B

(Note: The Cardinals shift their lineup around a lot, so this isn’t terribly definitive.)

Game One: Marco Estrada (11.0 IP, 3.18 FIP) vs. Jake Westbrook (20.2 IP, 2.95 FIP)

Last Saturday, Estrada did an excellent job in the absence of Chris Narveson, striking out nine over five one-run innings. It would be a surprise to see him consistently put up lines like that one, but Narveson’s old job appears to be his for the time being, and he projects to be solid, but unexceptional in the role.

He will face Jake Westbrook, a veteran innings eater in every sense of the term.    Westbrook’s approach to pitching is relatively simple: He pounds the zone with moving fastballs (mainly sinkers, but he features a cutter as well) over 75% of the time, and occasionally mixes in a curve or changeup. This combination doesn’t lead to a lot of strikeouts (5.5 per nine as a member of the Cardinals), but Westbrook is able to survive thanks to his ability to limit the home run (batters hit his pitches on the ground almost 60% of the time) and avoid the free pass.

Game Two: Yovani Gallardo (24.2 IP, 4.16 FIP) vs. Kyle Lohse (27.1 IP, 2.17 FIP)

This is usually the space where I usually point out something good about a player and they immediately do poorly, but Gallardo is on a fantastic run of starts: A total of 21 innings and four runs allowed for his last three outings. Let’s hope he has a better game than the last time he faced St. Louis.

 

Starting for the Cardinals will be Kyle Lohse. Like Westbrook, Lohse is a sinkerballer, but his usage of the pitch isn’t as extreme: He throws the 88-91 mph sinker around half the time, and relies a bit more on his slider and changeup, even intermittently throwing in a slow curveball. Lohse is one of many pitchers who owes his career to Cardinal pitching coach Dave Duncan, who ramped up Lohse’s use of his sinker upon entering St. Louis. This has been followed by a transformation from a washed-up twentysomething to a surprisingly effective rotation piece — except for an ugly one-year blip in 2010.

From a statistical perspective (stop if you’ve heard this before), Lohse is almost a carbon copy of Westbrook, only with better command. As a Cardinal, Lohse’s strikeout and home run rate (per nine innings) are both within .1 innings of Westbrook (5.4 vs 5.5 and .8 vs .7, respectively). However, he has walked about half a batter less per nine innings (2.5 vs 3.4, though Westbrook’s career figure isn’t that high), which actually makes a pretty big difference over the course of a season.

Game Three: Zack Greinke (23.2 IP, 1.72 FIP) vs. Jaime Garcia (25.1 IP, 2.63 FIP)
 
To date, Greinke has followed Gallardo’s current pattern of three good starts, with one disaster mixed in. There’s not much to say here, but Greinke’s pitch count is worth watching: He threw 115 in his last start against Houston.

His opponent, Jaime Garcia, is a sinkerballer that stands out among the crowd of similar hurlers. Unlike his rotation-mates, Garcia throws the pitch along with four others (four- seam fastball around 90-91 mph, slider, curve, change) in relatively even proportions. His slider is thrown very hard, with a difference of only 5 mph from his fastball, so it could probably also be classified as a cutter.

With almost 400 big-league innings under Garcia’s belt, we can have a decent idea of what kind of pitcher he is. Garcia has shown a consistent ability to keep the ball on the ground (almost 55% of the time for his career), and consequently limit home runs. With that, he has shown excellent control (2.91 BB/9) and has struck out a surprising number of batters. He might be best classified as a younger, better, left-handed version of the pitchers starting before him in the series.

Other Notes:

- The Cardinals and Brewers are in first and second place, respectively, and don’t seem to like each other much, but that’s still doesn’t give this series a ton of added importance. Each win or loss will cause twice the swing in the standings, and that does matter. However, just because this series takes place in St. Louis doesn’t mean that Armageddon is taking place.

- I’m a little bit worried about the Brewers’ offense for this series, mainly because of the unique matchup with the Cardinals’ pitching staff: A offense that relies on the home run versus a staff full of sinkerball pitchers. Milwaukee hitters are going to have a tough time getting the deep fly balls their offense needs against a trio of pitchers who give up ground balls 55% of the time.

- For those of you who are on Twitter and enjoy the #cardinalseatbabies meme, it’s absolutely necessary that you follow @bestfansstlouis right away. Trust me

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