Series Preview: How the St. Louis Cardinals can take down the Brewers

The St. Louis Cardinals have had the Milwaukee Brewers number over the years, but can they maintain their dominance in this weird 2020 season?

The St. Louis Cardinals are at Miller Park on Friday to open up their first series of the season against the Milwaukee Brewers. We’ll see the top of the rotation again in this three-game series with Jack Flaherty taking on Brett Anderson tonight, followed by Adam Wainwright starting in game two and then Dakota Hudson in game three.

Historically, the St. Louis Cardinals have performed well in Milwaukee, holding a 58.5% winning percentage and averaging five runs scored a game over the 188 games played there in franchise history. The Cards have also never had a losing decade against the Brewers and only have five losing years in the team’s history. This is something they look to maintain in 2020 with a winning start to this first series!

The Brewers have started the season .500, playing their first two series of 2020 against National League Central rivals. They went 1-2 against the Chicago Cubs and then matched the Cardinals by winning 2-1 against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

ST LOUIS, MO – SEPTEMBER 15: Cory Spangenberg #5 of the Milwaukee Brewers rounds third base after hitting a two-run home run against the St. Louis Cardinals in the seventh inning at Busch Stadium on September 15, 2019 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

The Brew Crew currently sit with a negative four run differential, which is driven by an under-firing offense and a number of uninspiring pitching performances so far also. The offense has started marginally below average, with 24 runs scored sitting just below the current MLB average of 25 runs. But for a Brewers team who hit the third-most home runs in the National League in 2019, they have started 2020 very slowly and in fact, have hit fewer homers than the Cardinals so far!

In their first six games of 2020, the Brewers are allowing an above-average 4.67 runs per game, exceeding the Cardinals’ 3.80 runs per game. The Brewers starters are averaging just 4.1 IP per start which is good news for the Cards as Milwaukee relievers have a 4.55 ERA so far in 2020. This is more than a whole run more than their starters have allowed.

Stopping the Brewers at the plate will work wonders on taking them down, so how does our pitching matchup?

Game one – 1:10 PM, Friday

Jack Flaherty starts his second game of 2020 on Friday afternoon when he takes on Brett Anderson. Flaherty got the dub in his Opening Day start against the Pirates, pitching seven innings and looking strong with only two earned runs allowed. Flaherty allowed an averarge of just 80.1 mph exit velocity from his pitches which is 13th lowest in the National League. His 4.8% hard-hit percentage is also at 20th-lowest in the majors!

Milwaukee has always seemed to excel against Flaherty. He started five games against them in 2019, allowing eight home runs and a 6.48 ERA. This was the highest of any NL Central opponent he faced (significantly so, with Cubs being in second place with a 2.48 ERA) and the most of any team in any year with more than two games played! Let’s hope 2020 is the season where JFlare can buck the trend start to nail down those Brewers.

Brett Anderson, on the other hand, has performed really well against the Cardinals to date. He’s started just two games against St. Louis but has allowed only four earned runs and has a 2.63 ERA which could be challenging. The shining light here is that Paul Goldschmidt has faced Anderson on a number of occasions with the DBacks and has a .533 average and 1.544 OPS in his 18 plate appearances including two homers against him.

-UPDATE-

This first game has been postponed due to two positive COVID-19 tests on the Cardinals. Updates on the situation and how it will change things for the Cardinals are right here.

St. Louis Cardinals

ST. LOUIS, MO – SEPTEMBER 10: Starter Adam Wainwright

Game two – 6:10 PM, Saturday

Adam Wainwright loves pitching against the Brewers – simple as that. He has faced the Brewers 42 times in his career, making 35 starts and coming in seven times in relief. His 2.45 career ERA against the Brewers is by far the lowest against any NL Central team with the Chicago Cubs and their 4.15 ERA being the second-lowest.

Now everyone knows Waino loves pitching in St. Louis, with his 2.82 ERA and only 0.39 HR allowed per game showing that well. But you’d be surprised to know that he has historically pitched even better in Miller Park in his career. Waino has played 20 games in Milwaukee, allowing just 0.35 homers per game, averaging five strikeouts, and maintaining a career 2.68 ERA to date!

Game three – 1:10 PM, Sunday

Whereas Waino has flourished against the Brewers, Dakota Hudson unfortunately has struggled as a starter. Although Dak has been penciled in for the game three start, the Cards may want to re-assess this one. In his three starts against the Brewers, Hudson has allowed five homers, nine earned runs, and has had a 7.30 FIP. However, in his three appearances in relief, he averaged 5.4 K/9, had a 3.76 FIP, and didn’t allow a single run.

In his first start against the Pirates, Hudson changed his pitching arsenal somewhat from his average in 2019. Last season, Dak prioritized his sinker throwing it 48.7% of the time at an average of 93.5 mph. In the Pirates game, he reduced this to 39.3% of the time and lacked some of the velocity, pitching it at 92.8 mph. To make up for this, he upped the use of the slider from 25.7% to 34.4%. While his slider was an effective pitch in 2019, he allowed two hits from six plate appearances including a home run off the slider on Sunday against the Bucs.

It’ll be interesting whether we see a reversion to his 2019 pitching style, or if he’ll continue to increase the use of the slider and reduce the sinker!

Now how likely is it that the Cards offense bounces back in this series?

Tyler O’Neill is raking right now. He currently sits second in the National League on barrels per plate appearance at 17.6%, eighth overall in MLB on average hit distance (242 ft), and in the top 7% of all major league hitters in expected slugging percentage (.664).

Paul DeJong has also started the season hot ranking just behind TON on barrel / BBE % (20%) and ranks in the top three of MLB in average hit distance (260 ft). DeJong has historically performed well against the Brewers with an .873 OPS in his career and eight homers in 37 starts.

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN – AUGUST 28: Paul Goldschmidt #46 of the St. Louis Cardinals and Christian Yelich #22 of the Milwaukee Brewers meet at first base in the eighth inning at Miller Park on August 28, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Paul Goldschmidt should be the other bat to look out for. He is still sitting as the Cardinals’ second-strongest hitter with a 144 OPS+ and a team-leading six hits. Goldy has a career 1.097 OPS against the Brewers which is exceptional. His eight home runs against the Brewers in 2019 were his most against any team in his year as a Redbird.

In order to help these guys, the rest of the lineup needs to get on base. This could be a defining series for the likes of Harrison Bader (whose .091 batting average is 25th worst in the majors with at least 13 plate appearances), Dexter Fowler (whose .195 xWOBA ranks in the bottom 20 in all MLB) and Matt Carpenter (whose .124 expected batting average is 6th worst in the NL).

The good news is that although Bader is struggling, he looks like Mike Trout compared to Christian Yelich at the moment. Yeli currently has one hit, one caught stealing, and a 42.9% strikeout percentage in his 28 plate appearances. His .094 wOBA and .037 BA are the worst in the MLB out of players with at least 19 plate appearances!

Next: Harrison Bader isn’t getting it done

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A massive series this for the St. Louis Cardinals. Sweep the Brewers and the Cardinals are looking good, sitting at 5-3, but lose it even 1-2 and the puts the Redbirds 3-5 which is equivalent to an 8-14 start in a 162 game season!

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