Coming off a plain old bad start to the season and most recently a disappointing 1-1 split with the Chicago Cubs and a rainout of the rubber game, the Brewers are looking to bounce back with a series win this weekend in St. Louis. Unfortunately, the Cardinals are once again a force in the NL Central and the Brewers will have their hands full this weekend as they face Shelby Miller, Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia.
To get a better handle on what’s up with the Cardinals these days, I posed some questions to Daniel Shoptaw of C70 At The Bat (Twitter: @C70). I want to thank Daniel for helping us preview the season’s first matchup with the Cards. I also had the pleasure of answering some of his questions about the Brewers, and you can find that here. Please check that out, but just a warning: you may want to shield your eyes from the ad on that page offering the chance to ‘relive all the greatest moments of the 2011 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals’. Without further heightened fuss or concern:
TBB: Kyle Lohse has been one of the Brewers' best pitchers, but that isn't saying much. What will his return vs. the Cards be like for fans?
C70: For the fans, I think it'll be nice to see an old friend. Lohse should get a good ovation when he takes the mound and possibly his first time at-bat. There's no ill will toward him at all–there were some that wanted the Cardinals to sign him, even though there wasn't room for him–and while it'll be a bit weird to see him in the road grays in Busch, it'll be good to check in on him. Wouldn't mind him losing a 2-0 game or something of that nature, in other words.
TBB: What is the biggest strength and weakness for the Cards right now?
C70: The biggest strength so far has been the starting rotation, which has combined for a 2.50 ERA (roughly) in their first nine starts. The Brewers will see Shelby Miller, who was very effective against the World Champion Giants this past weekend, Adam Wainwright, who looked like the Cy Young-caliber pitcher he is his last time out and still hasn't walked a batter in 2013, and Jaime Garcia, who is always very effective on the road and should be 2-0 right now.
The weakness is the bullpen. Jason Motte is out until at least May 1 and in all actuality is probably done for the year. Mitchell Boggs has had some missteps in the closer role and could be walking a thin line to keep that job. The most obvious person to take over is flamethrowing rookie Trevor Rosenthal, but he's been unable to hold a couple of leads in his relief outings as well. I'm still not completely sold on Randy Choate as a left-handed specialist either. While it's not cover your eyes when any one of these guys comes out of the 'pen, the anxiety level does go up a couple of notches.
TBB: It's early, but do you see the Cards as a division winner?
C70: I do think the Cardinals have the potential to win the division. Cincinnati is going to be their toughest competition and they just took two of three from them, though they've won the season series against the Reds before when the Reds have taken the title. If the bullpen gets sorted out, this team has a top-notch rotation, a lineup that–if Pete Kozma really is what we are seeing now–can go eight deep without the pitcher getting a break, a bench that always has at least one bopper and a couple of good hitters on it no matter who is starting, and the pieces in the minors to fill in or make a deal. I don't see why the Cards can't be in this race until the very end.
TBB: The Brewers look like garbage so far. Is this what you expected from them?
C70: I didn't expect the Brewers to be sitting in last place when we first met, if that's what you mean. I did think the Brewers might finish fourth and have around a .500 record, but I don't think any of us expected John Axford to blow up quite like he has and for the Brewers to catch the injury bug early. I don't think they are going to challenge for the division, but I think they and Pittsburgh could have an interesting battle for third.
TBB: What's something Brewers fans should know about the Cards but probably don't (could be anything)?
C70: That's an interesting question. Being in a bubble it's sometimes hard to know what we know locally versus what is known nationally. I think probably I'd say that you should keep an eye on Matt Adams. Sure, his average is going to come down from the .650 he's hitting now, but he belongs in the big leagues and is in scoring position every time he steps to the plate. If the tying run is on second when he pinch-hits, I'd get pretty nervous. On the flip side, if Ty Wigginton is the pinch hitter, you can probably relax a significant bit.
TBB: How are ya rating Pujols these days? Is Freese now 'the Man' in the 'Lou?
C70: I think a lot of the dislike and disdain for Pujols has faded in the community with the fact that the Cards put together a strong run last year and Pujols seems to be showing his age a bit in Anaheim. He's never going to reach the heights that he once did, but I think if he came back to Busch he'd probably get more cheers than boos, something that wouldn't have been the case this time last year. As for who has replaced him, Freese definitely has the story to do it, but I think Adam Wainwright's on that level as well. Taking a hometown discount and being so open about how much he loves St. Louis has endeared him to a lot of the fan base. Of course, it helps that he's pretty good as well.