Friday, September 11, 2009

Series Preview - Atlanta

The Cardinals invite Atlanta in for their annual appearance at the stadium. St Louis took 2 of 3 from the Braves in April.

Again with the weird scheduling. Atlanta and Florida are the only remaining NL teams not to visit St Louis in 2009, but both will appear in town over the next week.

Current snapshot

St Louis: 84-57, 1st in NL Central, 11.5 games ahead of Chicago (10 on the loss side). St Louis returns from a 5-1 road trip, which saw Carpenter dominate, Pujols turn white hot, and Holliday skin his knees.

Atlanta: 72-68, 3rd in NL East, 8 games behind Philadelphia. Atlanta continues to have a pulse in the Wild Card as well, but they trail Colorado by 8.5 games, and there are three other teams they need to hurdle to get in. The Braves are a sub-500 team in regulation (62-63), but 9-5 when the game is shortened or extended. They also limp into St Louis having lost 6 of their last 7.

Pitching match-ups

11 September: Jair Jurrjens (10-10, 2.93) vs Pineiro.
This is a rematch of the 27 April game, won by the Cardinals 3-2. Jurrjens went six that day, allowing 2 ER on 6 hits, striking out 2 and walking 2. Jurrjens is an ace in waiting. Atlanta acquired him from Detroit after the 2007 season for Edgar Renteria. Fastball, change-up, slider are his pitches, and he mainly throws the fastball and changeup. Jurrjens has pitched better than his 10-10 record would indicate. He strikes out about 6 hitters a game, twice as many as he walks, has a BABIP of .278 this hear and a FIP of 3.79. Jurrjens is 0-2 lifetime against St Louis in 2 career starts.

Atlanta has lost his last 3 starts, and scored a total of 4 runs in those games.

Pineiro has started to wobble a little bit since his dominating July. His ERA over his last 7 starts is 4.56, and he’s allowed an OPS of .709. In his first twenty 2009 starts, his ERA was 2.84 and the allowed OPS was .635. I think this is cause for concern. He’s also allowed a HR in 4 of his last 6 games, after allowing 3 in his first 21.

Joel is 1-1, 6.75 in 6 career appearances (3 starts) against Atlanta.

12 September: Tim Hudson (1-0, 2.19) vs Lohse. Hudson is back after Tommy John surgery, and has made 2 starts so far. He has a 3-2, 4.74 career mark in 6 starts against St Louis; his last start was August 25, 2007 in St Louis, and he lost that day 5-4. He throws everything but the kitchen sink, but features the fastball and a cutter (they account for 75% of his pitches). Of the rest, he throws the curveball/split finger/change with about equal frequency (7% or so). Of guys with 10 or more Plate Appearances against him, AP has had the most success (.412/.588/1.062). You probably could have guessed that.

This is a huge start for Lohse and the Cardinals. With the Smoltz ceiling returning to normal (around 5 IP, around 3 ER), and Pineiro starting to struggle, the Cardinals need Lohse to return to form. This will be his first start since 21 August in San Diego. We’ll just have to cross our fingers and hope he’s finally well. Depending on Pineiro’s start, of course, which will determine who’s available in the bullpen Saturday, I’d be surprised if Lohse went more than 5 innings.

Lohse is 2-1, 4.15 career against Atlanta in 6 total starts. There are a couple of Braves that have mandhandled him (min 10 PA): Chipper Jones (.556/.667/1.111), Ryan Church (.462/.500/.769), and Garrett Anderson, perhaps surprisingly (.360/.407/.600)

13 September: Javier Vasquez (12-9, 3.06) vs Carpenter. I believe this is ESPN’s Sunday night game, and should be a good one; too bad most of the country will be staring at Chicago/Green Bay on NBC. Vasquez is the seasoned vet on this staff, having started his ML career in 1994 with the Expos. He was acquired by Atlanta from the White Sox for 4 prospects last off-season. He’s a fastball/slider/curveball pitcher, but he’s throwing fewer fastballs and more curves this season than previously, and his curveball is a weapon (if I’m reading his pitch type values correctly). He is 0-1 this year against St Louis, victimized by three consecutive two-out singles in the sixth that scored 3 runs and erased a 3-2 Braves lead.

He’s had very little career success against the Cardinals, going 2-7 with a 4.21 ERA in 10 starts. He has two complete games against St Louis. Four Cardinals have more than 10 plate appearances against him: AP (.412/.412/1.118), DeRosa (.320/.393/.833), Lugo (.267/.313/.733), and Glaus (.214/.313/.813)

Statistical Oddity. Vasquez’s three longest starts (by innings) against St Louis, and both of his complete games, were in a losing effort.

Carpenter had a dominating start against Milwaukee. Some think it may not his best start this season, much less by a Cardinal (the principal difference is walks issued). Great topic to debate. Carpenter didn’t pitch against Atlanta in April – that series happened while he was on the DL. He has a winning career mark against them at 2-1, but he’s given up 18 ER, and 4 HR, in 29 2/3 innings pitched. The only NL team that’s given him more trouble is Philadelphia.

That said, the Cardinals have won the last 5 games he’s started against Atlanta, although he’s only made one start opposing the Braves since 2006 (30 July 08), and he only threw 4 innings that day – it was his first start since Opening Day 2007. Only Garrett Anderson and Nate McLouth have more than 10 plate appearances against them. McLouth is hitting a robust .083; Anderson has had slightly more success (2 doubles, HR, .846 OPS).

Prognosis/prediction. This could be a tough series. The Braves starters are solid. With Lohse trying to find his way, Pineiro struggling a little bit, and Holliday slightly nicked up, the Cardinals could struggle. Carpenter and AP being white hot will help. We’ll err on the side of caution and say St Louis drops 2 of three this weekend.

Predicted Magic Number PM 9/13: 10.

Magic Number Watch:

Clinch Division: 12 (Cubs off yesterday)

Eliminate Rivals:
- Houston - 7 (lost to Atlanta 9-7)
- Milwaukee - 6 (off yesterday)
- Cincinnati - 2 (lost to Colorado 5-1)
- Pittsburgh - ELIMINATED

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