It really is the tale of two cities for these clubs. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…
The St. Louis Cardinals (15-7) will be coming to Washington to take on the Nationals as the front-runner in the NL Central. They are seeing the best of times these days as they have won six of their first seven series to start the 2009 campaign. The Cards look to extend their lead over the NL Central this weekend as they take on the NL cellar dweller.
For the Nationals (5-15) it is arguably the worst of times. The team is already 10 games below .500 at the end of the first month of the season and already their bullpen is in shambles. The Nats are looking to put some sort of spark into their season this weekend as they face one of the better teams in the NL, trying to prove that they aren’t the whipping boy of the National League.
The Cardinals success so far this season has rode the back of their starting pitching. The club right now boasts four starters with an ERA under four, including three with an ERA under two. It’s this excellence that allows them to be second in the Majors in Diff/G (Runs Scored Per Game minus Runs Allowed Per Game) with 1.43.
The Cardinals Rotation
Adam Wainwright 3-0, 2.76 ERA, 1.57 WHIP
Kyle Loshe 3-0, 1.79 ERA, 1.03 WHIP
Todd Wellemeyer 1-2, 6.14 ERA, 1.95 WHIP
Joel Pineiro 4-0, 3.76 ERA, 1.37 WHIP
Mitchell Boggs 1-0, 1.17 ERA, 1.30 WHIP
(Chris Carpenter on DL, 1-0. 0.00 ERA, 0.70 WHIP)
Those imposing numbers imply that the Nationals will have to do at least one of two things to be successful against the Cardinals this weekend. Either they figure out how to beat a Cardinals starting pitcher, as the only one to record a loss yet this season is Wellemeyer, or they need to learn to beat the pen. If they want to beat the Cards by getting to their bullpen then they will need to start hitting with runners in scoring position(RISP). When you are facing a bullpen you are only looking at a 4-inning window, maximum. Therefore all opportunities’ must be capitalized.
The Nats have been inconsistent hitting with RISP so far this year. Overall they rank 23rd in the MLB in batting average w/RISP, .237, and 28th in batting average w/bases loaded, .133. Surprisingly enough however in terms of batting in the ‘clutch’ the Nats have excelled, as they are sixth in the league batting .292 with RISP and 2 outs.
The most telling stat comparison however may be that the Nats are third in the league in batting in innings 1-6, .298 and first in OBP with .378. However in innings 7+, when the bullpen is usually on the mound the Nationals are dead last in batting .211 and have an OBP of only .318.
That bullpen window we spoke of earlier did not include the 9th inning. That is Ryan Franklin time, and Ryan Franklin does not mess around. In 10.1 IP this year he has allowed only four hits, no earned runs, collected 9 K’s and earned seven saves. The 36-year-old reliever has been lights out all season for St. Louis, as he has finally found a closer job that has probably been owed to him for some time now.
Up until the end of last season Franklin served as the set up man for the Cardinals earning 13 holds in 2008 and 25 in 2007 where his ERA consistently stood at below 3.6.
It’s not all about the pitching either
The Cardinals rank 2nd in the NL in runs scored per game, 5.67
The Caridnals rank 2nd in the NL in Hitter VORP with 50.0
The Cardinals rank 1st in the NL in team batting average, .287
The Cardinals rank 1st in the NL in runs scored, 124
The Cardinals Rank 2nd in the NL in OBP, .366
The Cardinals have Albert Pujols.