St. Louis Cardinals’ Opening Series Preview: Don’t fear the Pirates

The St. Louis Cardinals’ first series of the 2020 season is at Busch Stadium against the Pittsburgh Pirates. How will the team fare against their National League Central rivals?

Any St. Louis Cardinals series with the Pittsburgh Pirates is always hard-fought in the NL Central. This time around, we’ll be seeing Jack Flaherty take the mound against Joe Musgrove on Opening Night in the first meaningful Cardinals game in 283 days.

The Cardinals currently actually have a losing record against the Pirates, going 1,146-1,177 over the lifetime of the franchise (since the name changed to the Cardinals in 1900). This is driven predominantly by the Pirates’ domination in the first decade of the 20th century. In that time, the Cards ended up finishing the decade with a .251 record against Pittsburgh. This is the team’s worst record against any team, in any decade in franchise history!

Times have been looking up in recent years though. With the Cardinals dominating the Pirates for the last 20 years, going 209-136 overall with only two losing seasons over this time span. This was brought to the forefront by their 14-5 record against the Buccos in 2019 where they scored a whopping 6.1 runs on average. That was 1.4 runs per game above the 2019 season average.

Busch Stadium has also been a haven for the Cards against the Pirates where they have a .652 winning percentage against the Pirates over the last 10 years. Over that time they allowed just 3.7 runs per game over this time span!

How about if we take a look at season openers against the Pirates:

  • The Cards last played a season-opening series against the Pirates in 2016 in PNC Park where they were swept by the Pirates with a -8 run differential over the three-game series.
  • The last season opener against the Pirates played at Busch Stadium was back in 2009. The Pirates won the opener 4-6 and the four-game series ended being split 2-2 with wins for Kyle Lohse and Chris Carpenter.
  • You have to go back to 1980 for the last time the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Pittsburgh Pirates on opening day with a 1-0 win behind a Pete Vuckovich three-hit shutout.

    PITTSBURGH, PA – MAY 26: Jack Flaherty #32 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches in the first inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on May 26, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Pitching could be key in this series, and that certainly looks good for St. Louis

Game one – 7:15 PM, Friday 7/24

Jack Flaherty will kick off the season as the ace of the St. Louis Cardinals’ rotation when he faces off against Joe Musgrove in the series opener. This bodes well as Flaherty has historically performed well against the Pirates. With seven starts against the National League Central rivals, five were wins for the Cards (with four W’s going to Jack). He has maintained a 1.84 ERA across these seven starts, averaging over six innings per start. However, over his last four starts against the Pirates, Flaherty has allowed just 15 hits, zero homers, and has a 0.64 ERA!

Joe Musgrove, on the other hand, has struggled against the Redbirds. In seven starts against St. Louis, Musgrove has a 7.05 ERA, including 17 extra-base hits allowed. Of these seven games, five have come at Busch Stadium and the numbers just get worse in St. Louis with an ERA swelling to 8.64.

Game 2 – Saturday, 1:15 PM

Adam Wainwright takes his place at number two in the Cards’ rotation and has a huge sample against the Pirates. Waino has faced the Pirates 42 times in his 14-year career, making 36 starts, and holds a 4.11 ERA as a starter.

Waino has started the second game of a season on only two occasions, allowing only two runs in seven innings in a 6-3 win against the Cincinnati Reds in 2010 and allowing two runs in five innings in a 1-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs in 2017. Wainwright has been exceptional at home in his career, holding a 2.83 ERA at Busch Stadium which was accentuated in 2019 when Waino had a 6.22 ERA away from St. Louis but a 2.56 ERA when pitching at home.

Waino will face off against Trevor Williams who has gone 4-4 against the Cardinals in his career over 14 appearances. He has a 5.19 career ERA at present but showed up strong in 2019, allowing just two earned runs in 12 innings pitched over his two outings.

ST. LOUIS, MO – MAY 12: Starting pitcher Dakota Hudson #43 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches in the first inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium on May 12, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Pirates defeated the Cardinals 2-1. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas /Getty Images)

Game 3 – Sunday, 1:15 PM

Dakota Hudson was great in his rookie season, finishing fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting while holding a 3.35 ERA and team-leading 16 wins. He started against the Pirates in three games in 2019 but didn’t excel on the mound with a 4.41 ERA while allowing seven extra-base hits and seven walks. Hudson did shine at Busch Stadium against the Bucs with a 2.40 ERA and only 11 home runs allowed.

Hudson’s pitching opponent for the final game of the series is Mitch Keller. Keller is an unknown entity to the Cardinals so far after making just 11 starts as a rookie in 2019. He struggled in 2019, pitching a 7.13 season ERA which was mostly driven by his 11.14 ERA away from Pittsburgh. Hopefully this will be something the Cards will be looking to profit on.

There is some hype around Keller for the Cards to watch out for though, as although his ERA was high he had a 3.19 FIP which showed a lot of his performance was down to poor fielding which could change in 2020.

Pitching can’t do it all though, offensive support will be a necessity:

Now, looking from an offensive perspective, there are a number of questions coming into 2020 surrounding the Cardinals offense. After the offense was a weak point in 2019, the team didn’t light it up in spring training, nor summer camp. Starting strong with the bats in this Pittsburgh series is pivotal to get the team up and running quickly. Some key contributors to doing this will be:

Paul Goldschmidt – Goldy has faced off against the Pirates in 63 games in his career to date, but his first season with the Cards last year was absolutely his standout year. He had a 208 wRC+ with a .487 wOBA from ten extra-base hits in 19 games.

Tommy Edman – Assuming Tommy Edman could make a real impact in this series. Edman performed well against the Pirates in his debut season in 2019, with a 138 wRC+ and .320 average.

ST. LOUIS, MO – MAY 11: Paul DeJong #12 of the St. Louis Cardinals attempts to turn a double play in the fourth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium on May 11, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas /Getty Images)

Paul DeJong – PaulyD went hot and cold against the Pirates in 2019, but when he was hot he was dang hot! This included his 4-4, three home run game on July 24, 2019, with the homers coming off of Jordan Lyles, Luis Escobar, and Jose Osuna who could all have a part to play in this series.

Tyler O’Neill – Although TON hasn’t played a lot against the Pirates, he does have a career 136 wRC+ against the Pirates in his 16 games to date, including one memorable game on July 15, 2019, where he went 3-4 with two homers and four RBI.

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There is a lot to look forward to in this series, and there is a lot riding on it. If the Cardinals could kick off the season with a home sweep and take a 3-0 start into the National League Central, that would be the equivalent in a normal season of starting the year 8-0 which be a massive way to get going with 2020!