Monday, September 14, 2009

Series Preview - Florida

The Florida Marlins are the last NL team to make an appearance at Neo-Busch. The Cardinals took 2 of 3 in Florida in June.

This will be fans’ only opportunity to see the guy likely to mount the most serious challenge to Pujols’ MVP chase – Hanley Ramirez.

Current snapshot

St Louis: 84-60, 1st in NL Central, 9.5 games ahead of Chicago (8 on the loss side). After a month plus of .800 ball, the Cardinals were swept by Atlanta over the weekend. It was unrealistic to expect the team to continue playing at that high level, but 3 straight losses at home still stings. It’s their longest losing streak since mid-July.

Florida: 76-67, 2rd in NL East, 6.5 games behind Philadelphia. Florida also trails the Colorado Rockies by 4.5 games in the Wild Card chase. They have been playing good baseball since the All-Star break (30-23), and after treading water in August (14-14) they have won 8 of 12 in September. They have a lot of good pitchers, but are only 9th in the National League in pitching (as measured by ERA); if you’re a fan of FIP, they move up to 6th in the league. They’re also 10th in the NL in WHIP.

Pitching match-ups

14 September: Ricky Nolasco (11-8, 5.23) vs Todd Wellemeyer (7-9, 5.62).
Nolasco has that high ERA, but he strikes out 4 times as many guys as he walks and has posted a FIP of 3.52 this season. He is prone to the long ball (20), which ties him for 18th in the NL with such luminaries as Jeff Suppan and Johan Santana. He has not faced the Cardinals this season. He’s faced St Louis 4 times in his career, the last time almost a year ago (5 Sep 08). He’s only got one decision in those outings (a loss way back in 2006), and the team is 1-2 in those starts (his first appearance was in relief).

As you may have seen reported here and elsewhere, John Smoltz was scheduled to start this game, but will be skipped due to shoulder tendonitis. LaRussa has decided to hand the ball to Todd Wellemeyer. Wellemeyer’s only worked 3 major league innings since July 30th, so at least he’ll be well rested. Todd’s last start was 26 July at Philadelphia, where he went 5 2/3 allowing 5 ER and lost 9-2.

Focus on the positive. The Cardinals have won his last 3 starts against the Marlins. He’s unbeaten against them at Neo-Busch (1 start, but hey, we’re being positive). He faced them on June 11, allowing 5 ER in 6 innings (no decision, that’s not a loss – positive). He’s manhandled Hanley Ramirez in his career (1-6, 2 BB).

Two guys he won’t want to see in the lineup are Dan Uggla (4-7, HR, 2 RBI) and Ross Gload (2-4, 2 HR)

15 September: Sean West (6-5, 4.81) vs Wainwright (18-7,2.59). Sean is a 23-year old left-handed rookie who made his ML debut on 23 May. Fastball/slider/changeup are his pitches; he averages 91 on the fastball, 81 on the slider, and 83 on the change. He has a FIP of 4.56, meaning his ERA is pretty accurate. West has won his last 2 decisions, and the Marlins have won his last 4 starts, but he hasn’t survived the fifth in either of his September starts. Both of those starts were on the road (at Washington and Houston). This will be both his first start against the Cardinals and in St Louis.

Wainwright looks to continue marching towards his first 20-win season. Wainwright has never lost to the Marlins (2-0), and the Cardinals have never lost a game in which he appeared (5-0, including 3 Adam starts). He beat the Marlins on 10 June; it wasn’t his best effort (7 IP, 4 ER), but the Cardinals hung 13 runs on the Marlin staff that night so it didn’t really matter. Jeremy Hermida has had the most success (5-12, HR) of the 4 Marlins with at least 10 PA against him.

16 September: Josh Johnson (14-4, 3.06) vs Pineiro. Johnson is easily the ace of this staff. His 166 K’s is good enough for 11th in the league. He’s only surrendered 13 HR this season, and is barely allowing a runner an inning (1.110). He also sports a 3.10 FIP. Johnson has a heavy fastball that averages 95, which he throws 2/3 of the time. He also throws an 87 MPH slider about a quarter of the time, and occasionally flips an 88 MPH curveball up there.

He started the 9 June game that Florida eventually won 4-3, going 7 innings and allowing the 3 runs. He has only 1 other start against St Louis, which is also his only start in St Louis (lost 3-1 to Wainwright on 7 Sept 08).

Only Julio Lugo has more than 10 PA against him. Expanding the dataset to look at guys with 5+ PA, we find he’s handled AP (1-6, although the 1 is a HR), but Rick Ankiel has had success (3-4 with a double), which makes sense based on how good a fastball hitter Ankiel is.

I thought Pineiro was showing signs of fatigue, based on his 4.56 ERA over his last 7 starts. Then he goes out and gives up 1 ER in 7 innings (with 7 strikeouts) on Friday night. So much for that theory. Pineiro hopes to extend that dominance to this game. He has only started 1 game against Florida, which he won 4-2 on 11 Aug 08. All but 2 Marlins have 5 PA or less against him; Ramirez is 2-2.

Prognosis/prediction. This could be another tough series, but Marlin pitching isn’t as good as Brave pitching was. The Cardinals should handle Nolasco, might struggle against the lefty West, and Johnson/Pineiro is a toss-up. I’ll predict St Louis wins 2 of 3, but really it could easily go the other way.

Magic Number for Division Title: 11. Predicted Magic Number PM 9/13: 8.

Go Cards!

No comments: