The St. Louis Cardinals face their first big test of the year against the powerful Minnesota Twins.
In this short two-game series with the Twins at Target Field, we’ll see the remainder of the St. Louis Cardinals rotation make their first start of the season. On Tuesday, we’ll see Carlos Martinez starting against Homer Bailey, followed up by Miles Mikolas facing off against Rich Hill on Wednesday.
The Twins won the American League Central in 2019 with 101 wins, their second-best season in franchise history behind only the 102-win 1965 season where they lost the World Series. They even came out ranked first overall in the Central Division power rankings.
The Twins finished with two players with over 100 RBI (the Cards had none), two players with over 35 homers (the Cards had none) and four players with over an .850 OPS (the Cards had none). They also demolished the previous single-team home run record (267) with a whopping 307 homers last year.
Okay, we get it – the Twins offense looks formidable.
But they didn’t have a single starter with a sub 3.50 ERA in 2019. The Redbirds, on the other hand, had both Jack Flaherty (2.75) and Dakota Hudson (3.35). The St. Louis bullpen was superior to the Twins as well with Minnesota finishing 0.29 points higher than the Redbirds in ERA.
The St. Louis Cardinals have only played against the Twins in 33 games in franchise history, dating back to 1987. The two teams are very evenly matched with the Twins edging it 16-17, though that is very dependent on who is playing at home. The Cardinals have a 68.4% winning percentage at home, but as visitors, the Cards have only managed three wins in 14 attempts.
So far in 2020, the Twins are 2-1 having won their opening series against the Chicago White Sox. In doing so, they scored an average of nine runs per game including seven total homers. Although they did allow 17 runs to be scored. They even managed a monster first two innings in game three against the White Sox, which the Cards will have to look out for:
The Cardinals’ last matchup against Minnesota came in 2018 when they played two two-game series, coming out 1-3 overall. The St. Louis Cardinals have had two winning seasons in franchise history against the Twins, and both have been sweeps – so here’s hoping that can be increased up to three winning seasons of sweeps!
With Cardinal pitching looking likely to be the edge for the Redbirds, let’s dig into the series
Game one – 8:10 PM, Tuesday
Carlos Martinez will be making his first appearance as a starter for the St. Louis Cardinals since July 30, 2018, when he took down the Colorado Rockies in a 5 – 4 win in Denver. There is a lot of noise around Carlos re-joining the rotation after his time in the bullpen in 2019, so this should be an exciting matchup to see how he fairs as a starter again.
Carlos has started against the Twins on two occasions, once in 2015 and once in 2018. In those starts, he allowed three earned runs off of nine hits over 11.2 innings pitched. Most importantly for this series, Carlos has never allowed a home run against the Twins. Based on Minnesota’s offensive abilities that will be key to keeping them at bay in this game as well.
The Cardinals’ old friend Homer Bailey will be opposing pitcher on Tuesday. Homer is a veteran of the National League Central, playing for 12 years with the Cincinnati Reds before moving between Kansas City, Oakland, and now Minnesota. Bailey has struggled in recent years, not having a season with an ERA below 4.50 since 2014.
In his career to date, Homer has faced the Cardinals 28 times allowing nearly a home run per start (26) and an average of over six hits per start (181 in total). His career ERA against the Cards sits at 5.80 which is his worst ERA against any team who he has faced up against at least eight times!
Game two – 8:10 PM, Wednesday
Miles Mikolas will make his first start of the 2020 season on Wednesday when he takes on Rich Hill for the series finale. Mikolas has faced the Twins just once back in 2018 where he went 4.2 IP allowing two earned at Target Field. This was the only game in 2018 that the Cardinals ultimately went on to win during their 1-3 season against Minnesota.
Rich Hill, a 16-year MLB veteran, will take on St. Louis for the ninth time in his career. At present, Hill has a 5.03 ERA against the Redbirds and has allowed four home runs in seven starts. He has shown up well against the majority of the Cardinals lineup though. The exception to this is Paul Goldschmidt. Goldy has hit well against Hill during this time in Arizona and in 19 plate appearances, has a 1.085 OPS including three RBI and only 2 walks.
Now we know the Twins offense is going to be scary, so how can the Cardinals offense respond?
The vast majority of the current Cardinals roster has only played a handful of games against the Twins. From those few games, the numbers look positive.
Matt Carpenter – Carpenter has not quite hit the heights against the Twins historically with just eight hits (four of which were doubles) in 30 at-bats. But against Rich Hill, Carp has not yet struck out and holds a .933 OPS, noting the small sample size. More importantly, against Homer Bailey, Carp has 49 plate appearances with21 hits which combine for a 1.164 OPS.
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Carpenter did take a ball to the knee in his final at-bat against the Pirates so hopefully that won’t hold him back, as he could make a real impact in game one against Minnesota in this series!
Paul DeJong – Having played just four games against the Twins, this certainly is a small sample size. But in those four games, DeJong has a .308 average and 50% of his hits have been for extra bases. From a matchup perspective, DeJong has faced Homer Bailey in 16 plate appearances and has two doubles, two homers, and five RBI. This culminates to PaulyD having a career 1.371 OPS against the Twins starter.
Dexter Fowler – Now, I bet this isn’t a name you’d have expected to see here, but Dex has shown up well against the Twins in his career with an .821 OPS in 10 games including two homers and a triple. Dex has eight career RBI against Minnesota, and four career RBI against Homer Bailey, so the Cardinals outfielder could make an immediate impact in this series!
It wouldn’t be right to not take a peek into the Twins lineup, but doing so certainly doesn’t look all bad for the Cardinals!
Nelson Cruz is the Twins number one-hitter, finishing 2019 with their highest OPS+ (166) and already has the team lead in hits in 2020 (7). But to date, the 40-year-old Nelson Cruz has a combined .000 OPS against Carlos Martinez and Miles Mikolas combined, granted this is only over five at-bats.
Max Kepler has been a menace for the Twins, already hitting two home runs in 2020 in their first three games. He finished as their fourth-best hitter with a 122 OPS+ and a total of 36 homers last year. Kepler has been kept at bay by the Cardinals in the past, having not hit a single homer in four games and limited to only four hits, giving him a .631 OPS. Kepler also is still awaiting his first hit against Carlos Martinez, having only succeeded in getting a walk against CMart in past matchups.
From past games, it seems this could be a tightly fought battle in Minneapolis. The pitching matchups seem to favor the Redbirds although current form would certainly go in the way of Minnesota. If the Cardinals can jump on Homer Bailey early in game one and get the dub, this piles the pressure onto the Twins for game two and there could be a chance of the first series sweep from there!