St. Louis Cardinals’ Opening Series Preview: Pirates are Beatable

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The St. Louis Cardinals are four days away from their first series of the year, and I can’t wait for the games to get started. How does the series matchup?

Oh my goodness, it is almost here. We are finally talking about our first series of the season and the first chance for the St. Louis Cardinals to make a statement. No, a series win here does not give them a division win, but it goes a long way in showing that the team is ready to defend their division title against the team that has finished second to the Cardinals in the last three seasons.

So, what have the Pirates been up to this Spring? You already know what they added in the offseason, as my fellow editor Landon Clapp updated you on this back in February.

Much like the Cardinals’ Spring Training performance, the Pirates’ performance definitely leaves more to be desired, as they have a record of 7-20 in the Grapefruit League. Offensively, things have not been going well for the Bucs, as they are slashing .263/.341/.393 with 73 extra base-hits (46 doubles, 20 homers, and seven triples).

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However, once the team packs up and heads north for the Regular Season things should change. They still have their ridiculous outfield of Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, and Gregory Polanco. All three of those players should have great seasons and will be the reason the Pirates contend on a daily basis.

However, their rotation is very beatable. Currently, their rotation slots out to include Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Jon Niese, Jeff Locke, Juan Nicasio or Ryan Vogelsong. Outside of Liriano and Cole, none of those guys make me dread facing the Pirates.

To date, aside from Juan Nicasio’s perfect 14 innings, none of their rotation members have an ERA under 5.40. This is not good for the Pirates, as last season, their rotation was the league’s fifth-best rotation with an ERA of 3.53. Hopefully, this means that the Cardinals can expose their week rotation starting on Sunday.

We all know how much the Cards have struggled against Liriano since he has been with Pittsburgh, as he is 5-2 with a 2.59 ERA, allowing just a 1.070 WHIP in 12 starts against the Cardinals. So, it is clear that Sunday will be a tough matchup for the Cardinals. However, expect to see the Cardinals aggressive and potentially rolling out a lineup that doesn’t include left-handed hitters Brandon Moss and Matt Adams, letting Tommy Pham nab a start in left and Matt Holliday starting the first game of 2016 at first base. 

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Who’s Hot?

While Andrew McCutchen may not have a great average at .231, five of his eight hits have left the park, and that is nothing to be ignored. Last season, “Cutch” and the Pirates got off to a slow start, and for them to continue being one of the top teams in the division, he is going to need to have another MVP season.

Like McCutchen, John Jaso doesn’t have the flashy average (.219), he does have 10 walks which have led to his .419 OBP through his 15 games.

Starling Marte is off to a flying start through his 15 games, slashing .359/.375/.569 with two homers and a triple.

Even better than that, their new first baseman Mike Morse has been surprisingly effective in his 15 games. He is slashing .353/.436/.500 with three homers, five doubles, and five walks. Whether or not Morse can keep this up is a concern, as Morse hasn’t been able to replicate his numbers from his Nationals days.

The Cardinals will also be dealing with a healthy Josh Harrison. A player who was hurt for most of the last season, and he is showing he is ready for the season with his .292/.340/.521 slash line and seven doubles. 

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  • Bullpen

    Aside from the back end of the bullpen in Tony Watson and Mark Melancon, the RotoChamp projections for the Pirates’ bullpen are not good.

    The only pitcher they project to have an ERA under 4.00 is Jared Hughes, and he is going to start the season on the DL.

    So, this will be an area the Cardinals can get to. If they fail to get to Liriano, they will want to work his pitch count up, so that they can get to the mediocre bullpen.

    Key Injuries

    All three members of the Pirates outfield are dealing with slight injuries, as McCutchen and Marte are dealing with Quadriceps injuries, and Polanco is dealing with a minor shoulder injury.

    On the infield, Jung ho Kang is still recovering from his knee injury that he suffered late in the season last season against the Chicago Cubs. He is said to be recovering well and should be available to return in mid-late April.

    Former Cardinal David Freese will be taking Kang’s spot at third base.

    Summation

    This Pittsburgh Pirates team is still going to be a tough team to face this season, but I think that they seem more beatable than they have in recent years. A.J. Burnett won’t be there to beat the Cardinals just because, and nobody outside of Liriano and Cole are at all worrisome or unbeatable.

    Their offense won’t be any better than it has been in the past, as first base is just as much of a question for them as it is for the Cardinals.

    Next: Proejcting the Opening Day Lineup

    Bottom line, this is a Pirates team the Cardinals can beat. Hopefully, Liriano doesn’t crush all our hopes and dreams on Sunday and the Cards can say they are 1-0 after the game!

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