Things to Know about the St. Louis Cardinals

The Mets finish up their homestand this week with a three game set against the St. Louis Cardinals. Here are some things you might want to know about the birds:

Record: 50-45, second place NL Central
Manager: Tony LaRussa, lifetime 2,688-2,338 (.535) managerial record. Still the overmanger — the Cardinals don’t lead the league in sac bunts, intentional walks, or pitching changes this season, but there’s still plenty of time. Where do you think he gets his hair cut? I bet he does it himself.
Park: The Mets remain home. Citi Field and all its quirks still.

Quickly…
Can they hit? Yup
Can they pitch? Meh
Can they field? Surprisingly yes
Who’s their best player? Albert Pujols broke his wrist on June 19th in a game against the Royals. He went to the DL, but was back in the lineup July 6th. He missed 14 games. With a broken wrist. The human growth hormone jokes miss a key point – Pujols clearly isn’t human.

Lineup:
SS – Ryan Theriot – R
CF – Colby Rasmus – L
1B – Albert Pujols – R
LF – Matt Holliday – R
RF – Lance Berkman – S
3B – David Freese – R
C – Yadier Molina – R
P – Pitcher
2B – Skip Schumaker – L

The second highest scoring group in the National League, trailing only the Reds and their band box. The Cardinals lead the league in on-base percentage, are second in slugging percentage, and have the best middle of the order in the league. Lance Berkman, a signing that seemed curious in the offseason, proved to be an inspired: He leads the league in home runs and OPS without being awful in right field. Matt Holliday would be third in OPS if he had enough at-bats to qualify, and Albert Pujols has 20 home runs. The Cardinals hit lefties well, they hit righties well, they hit for power, they draw walks, they don’t strike out – they’re the best hitting team in the National League by almost every standard.

They’re also one of the slowest. The Cardinals have grounded into 101 double plays this season, 24 more than any other team. They have stolen just 35 bases while being caught 24 times. Baseball Prospectus estimates that their speed has cost them 17 runs on the bases this season, the worst mark in all baseball. Lance Berkman is slow. Matt Holliday is slow. Skip Schumaker is slow. Albert Pujols has a case as one of the fleetest of foot on this team, and he’s grounded into 20 double plays this year. Colby Rasmus is St. Louis’ best stolen base threat, and he has five steals. They can hit for power, hit for average, field and throw, but they can’t run.

Pitching Matchups:

7/19:RHP Kyle Lohse (8-6, 3.32 ERA) vs Dillon Gee (8-3, 3.76 ERA)

Like Mike Pelfrey, Fausto Carmona, and every Cardinals pitcher the Mets face this series, Lohse is a low strikeout/sinkerball pitcher who suffers through seemingly random peaks and valleys. After a 15-6, 3.78 ERA campaign in 2008, Lohse went 6-10 with a 4.74 ERA in 2009 and followed it up with a nightmare 4-8, 6.55 ERA season in 2010. This season, Lohse has cut back on his walks and relied more on his changeup, with improved results – by ERA, FIP and xFIP, Lohse is having the best season of his career.

7/20:RHP Kyle McClellan (6-6, 4.24 ERA) vs R.A. Dickey (4-8, 3.70 ERA)

The only civil war veteran active in major league baseball today, McClellan was moved out of the bullpen and into the rotation this season. His results have suffered: His ERA has risen almost two runs, and his strikeout rate is the lowest in the National League. He’s been a bit better than replacement level, but my guess is that this is a one and done experiment when Adam Wainwright returns next year. McClellan is another Dave Duncan pupil, so he throws mostly sinkers, along with some curveballs, sliders and changeups.

7/21:RHP Jake Westbrook (7-4, 5.26 ERA) vs Jon Niese (9-7, 3.73 ERA)

Same thing as Lohse: A low strikeout/ground ball pitcher who suffers through seemingly random peaks and valleys. But whereas Lohse is at a peak, Westbrook has settled into a valley — he is fourth in the league in ERA this season (if you list ERAs in descending order), and he has one the worst strikeout to walk rates in the league. Still, most of the underlying statistics suggest he isn’t this bad. He’s a pitcher for the Cardinals, so guess what he throws a lot of.

The Mets miss the big guns, Jamie Garcia and Chris Carpenter.

Bench:
C – Gerald Laird – R
C/UT – Tony Cruz – R
IF – Daniel Descalso – L
IF – Nick Punto – S
OF – John Jay – L

You can never have too many catchers. Hey, did anyone ever figure out why Buzz Bissinger insisted on italicizing hit-and-run every time he used it in 3 Nights in August, as if it were a foreign phrase?

Bullpen:
RHP – Fernando Salas
LHP – Trevor Miller
RHP – Jason Motte
RHP – Mitchell Boggs
LHP – Raul Valdes
RHP – Lance Lynn
RHP – P.J. Walters

With a 4.05 ERA and 17 blown saves (only two NL teams have more), this Cardinals’ bullpen has struggled about as much as the Mets’. Fernando Salas has pitched decently as the closer, as have Jason Motte and Mitchell Boggs as setup man, but the rest of the pen has been inconsistent and amorphous. Trevor Miller has more walks than strikeouts as the lefty specialist, and almost everyone else is whatever happened to be lying around somewhere as the Cards try to rebuild their pen — hey there, Raul Valdes. They’re one more contender that needs bullpen help at the deadline.

And those are some things to know about the Cardinals.

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