Three items before we get into the preview:
1. Congratulations to Chris Carpenter on being named NL Pitcher of the Month for August. In 6 starts he averaged just over 7 innings a start, had a WHIP of 1.000, a SO/BB ratio of 5.40, and an OPS against of .591. Truly dominant.
How does that compare to the Wagonmaker? 6 starts, averaged just under 7 innings a start, WHIP 0.9113, SO/BB ratio of 7.25, OPS against of .548.
What about Lincecum? 6 starts, just over 7 innings a start, WHIP of 1.007, SO/BB ratio of 2.79, OPS against of .513.
Anyone telling you the NL Cy Young award is a slam-dunk for Lincecum just isn’t paying attention to how well Carpenter/Wainwright are pitching right now.
2. The AP wire report on today’s Cardinal game says Manny Parra is 3-1 against St Louis this season. Here’s what’s true: Parra has started 4 games against the Cardinals. Here’s what’s not: He was 1-1 (with a ND that the Brewers lost) in the previous 3 starts. So he’s now 2-1 against St Louis. AP regrets the error.
3. Smoltz went 6 today and gave up 4 ER. I saw that crawl across the ticker and thought, well, that’s about what we should have expected. I didn’t realize until reading the game summary he was a botched double play, and then one bad pitch, away from winning that game. So perhaps Smoltz is back as a starter. That’s great news.
On to the preview:
The Cardinals return to Pittsburgh for a three-game set. St Louis has won 8 of the 12 meetings this season, taking 4 of 6 at home and at PNC Park. Should the Redbirds sweep this series, they will (a) assure Pittsburgh of yet another losing season (their 18th straight), and (b) eliminate the Pirates from the NL Central race.
Mostly well-known tidbit: Pittsburgh has been horrendous on the road (18-48 going into Wednesday night’s action) but pretty good at home (35-29). In fact, their home record is 6th best in the League, behind SF, STL, LA, the Cubs, and Colorado.
Also, when did teams quit playing 4-game series over Labor Day? Is this a memory from a previous life, or was the Sunday before Labor Day always a travel day?
Finally, the Pirates must hate when the Cardinals come calling; this is the third time this year they’ll play the Cardinals while in the middle of a long losing streak (currently at 7 and counting).
St Louis: 78-56, 1st in NL Central, 10.5 games ahead of Chicago (9 on the loss side). St Louis just finished a 7-2 homestand, they own the biggest divisional lead in baseball, and only the Yankees have a higher probability of making the playoffs at this point (99.8 to 99.1), and that Holliday trade? Yeah that’s worked out pretty well.
Pittsburgh: 53-79, last in NL Central, 25 games back. Hey, at least this time around their lineup hasn’t undergone a drastic makeover since the last time the Cardinals played them. Not much to celebrate in Pittsburgh these days, but they did look positively frisky against the Phillies last week. Must have been a maximum effort, since they’ve lost 7 straight since…
4 September: Wainwright vs Kevin “Don’t Call Me Bo” Hart (4-4, 4.34). Hart was acquired by the Pirates in the Grabow/Gorzelanny trade. He was 3-1 when the Pirates got him, and then, possibly depressed by going from a team with a legendary record of futility to a team taking a dump on its proud legacy, forgot how to pitch. Hart has been awful as a Pirate. ERA of 6.04, people reach base against him 40% of the time, OPS of .917, 4 HR allowed in 5 games (after allowing 3 in his 8 with the Cubs), and so on. He’s thrown a total of 4 innings against the Cardinals in his career; 4 hits, 2 BB, 5 K’s, and 1 ER overall. No starts against St Louis, and his most recent appearance was in a mop-up role during a 12-6 Cardinal beat-down of Chicago last 19 September (that was Zambrano getting the early shower).
5 September: Boggs vs Ross ”Der” Ohlendorf (11-9, 4.17). The name Ohlendorf is definitely German, but I have no idea what it means. Ohlendorf leads the Pirates in wins, but is 7th in the NL allowing HR (23 this season). He has 3 starts against St Louis this season, and is 1-2, but his lone win was at home on May 13 by a 5-2 count. Those are also the sum total of appearances against the Redbirds he’s made in his career. He allows about 1 in every 3 baserunners to reach, and teams are slugging .788 against him.
Even Mitchell Boggs couldn’t derail the current Cardinal hot streak. He beat Washington on Saturday 9-4, thanks to the Cardinals staking him to an early 7-2 lead. Boggs has started twice against Pittsburgh this season; he didn’t get out of the fifth in either appearance, but the Cardinals won both games.
Statistical Oddity: In each start against the Pirates he faced exactly 21 hitters and left with a 2-run lead. He had the same number of pitches called strikes (13) in each start. Spooky.
6 September: Pineiro vs Paul “Mahalo” Maholm (7-8, 4.67). Maholm is 1-1 against St Louis this year, pitching into the seventh both starts, so he should pitch better than his statistics say he will. His last two starts at home against the NL were superlative, allowing 1 ER in each (7 2/3 and 7 innings respectively), but got hit hard his last road start in Cincinnati (4 ER in 5 IP, loss). However, he’s become prone to the long ball, allowing at least 1 HR in 6 of his 9 starts since the All-Star Break (or put another way, he’s allowed 14 HR this season but 9 since the break). So he might be competitive, but I’d expect some Cardinal to find the seats against him.
I thought Pineiro was due for a bad start, and expected it to be against the Brewers; he did allow 4 runs, but got the win anyway. His season has been one of streaks; 4 wins to start, then lost 9 of 11 decisions, and has now won 8 straight decisions (including his last 5 starts). Can he continue to win? Against this team, probably. He lost to a completely different Pirates team on May 17 (5-2), but beat this version 7-3 on August 9th.
Prognosis/prediction. We are better than this AAAA team. Cardinals should sweep.
Magic Number for Division Title: 20.