Archive for June 23rd, 2006

Friday: 06.23.2006

Albert and the Cards Come to Town


The Cardinals and Tigers can commiserate this weekend. Both have been swept by the Chicago White Sox this season. St. Louis comes to Detroit fresh off of that sweep and outside of last night’s pitching battle, it wasn’t even close. Mark Mulder and Jason Marquis were absolutely obliterated, before Anthony Reyes figured the Sox out and held them to one hit, unfortunately it was a (who else?) Jim Thome home run that ended up being the difference in the 1-0 game. Mulder, who would’ve gone on Sunday against Detroit, finally hit the disabled list with a shoulder strain. As highlighted in the trade redux a few days ago, he simply hasn’t been anywhere near the pitcher he was in Oakland. At 42-29, the Cardinals hold the National League’s 2nd best record behind New York as well as a four game edge over Cincinnati in the Central division.

As with Milwaukee, the Tigers will face the best that St. Louis has to offer. Chris Carpenter takes the hill tonight against Justin Verlander in a potential pitcher’s duel tonight. Verlander stood toe-to-toe with Johan Santana earlier in the season and he will have his work cut out for him again facing arguably the National League’s best pitcher. Carpenter, the reigning Cy Young winner, has picked up right where he left off in 2005. At just 6-3, Carpenter is one of those guys that shows you why you can’t look at record to determine a pitcher’s worth. In 84 innings, he has a 2.46 earned run average, 1.24 WHIP and 3.0 K:BB. He has experienced a career rebirth since joining St. Louis with a 3.00 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 3.9 K:BB in 507.7 innings. Carpenter offers a mid-nineties fastball, a curveball, a changeup and a cutter. After Carpenter, the Cardinals offer very little in their rotation. Mulder’s move to the disabled list will force them to spot-start Sidney Ponson on Sunday while Jeff Suppan will pitch the middle game of the series. The two have combined for 134.3 horrible innings with a 5.16 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP. On the road, they are even more susceptible to failure with a 7.73 ERA in 54.7 innings allowing 13 home runs and yielding 23 walks against just 29 strikeouts.

One silver lining to the abysmal rotation has been a the bullpen. In terms of earned run average, their bullpen rates 5th-best in the majors (3.67), two slots ahead of Detroit (3.76). Their .233 batting average allowed is best in the National League and second only to Detroit’s .221 in all of baseball. Jason Isringhausen is the closer, but it’s the lead up to him that has helped the Cards most. Adam Wainwright (2.34 ERA), Braden Looper (3.07) and Randy Flores (3.22) don’t allow free passes with just 21 walks in 86.3 innings. Izzy has 24 saves in 28 opportunities with a troubling 24 walks in 29.3 innings of work.

The Cards lineup returned baseball’s best hitter last night when Albert Pujols came back from a strained oblique. Despite missing two weeks, he is still tied for the home run lead with Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard and sits just one RBI behind him. Being that he is fresh off of the disabled list, it will be interesting to see how much Leyland pitches to him this weekend. His supporting cast includes the 6th and 7th ranked batting average leaders in Scott Rolen (.335) and David Eckstein (.317). Rolen also ranks 8th in the National League with a .408 on-base percentage. Former Detroit Tigers outfielder, Juan Encarnacion, has been on fire in June with a .405/.429/.635 batting line including 11 extra-base hits and 15 runs batted in. Jim Edmonds has played just 57 of the 71 games, but remains a threat when in the lineup. Their role players bring some pretty good production to the table as well. The entire lineup ranks 6th in batting average, tied for 7th in on-base percentage (Texas) and 12th in slugging percentage.

This is another elite test for the Tigers, but they should be able to take a series win against these Cardinals at home. This lineup can and will take advantage of mistakes, but Carpenter is the only plus starter we’ll face this weekend. It would have been great if Pujols had come back for the Cleveland series, but his return doesn’t change my thoughts on whether or not we can take the series from these guys. In terms of the National League, they are probably the second best team, behind the Mets, but they are in the latter half of the top 10 in the entire league. I ranked them 8th in the Power Poll on Wednesday. I will step out and predict a win versus Carpenter that will lead to a series victory.