Adam Wainwright. Image Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Phillies vs. St. Louis Cardinals Series Preview


 

Coming off of a three-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves, the Phillies have some momentum. That momentum will be tested as they travel to St. Louis to take on the perennially contending Cardinals.

The Phillies’ offense looked lively in Atlanta, and a big reason was because Ryan Howard was swinging the bat well. Howard has traditionally hit well in his hometown of St. Louis, so it would be nice to see the hot streak continue.

That may be easier said that done, as the Cardinals have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball.

What’s the deal with the Cardinals?

The Cardinals are usually the first team people mention when debating “the best run organization in baseball.” While some of the talk may border on hyperbole at times, they have been able to sustain their success for a long period of time.

Much of that success is due to their strong developmental process. It doesn’t matter when they lose stars like Albert Pujols because quality replacements will soon be on hand.

The Cardinals are having another good season in 2014. At 39-33, they are in second place in the National League Central and sit atop the wild card standings.

Most of their success is due to their pitching staff which has given up the third fewest amount of runs in the majors. That has compensated for an offense which has been surprisingly weak at times.

Phillies vs. Cardinals: The rivalry

Stupid Chris Carpenter. Image Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Phillies’ golden era ended on October 7, 2011 when Chris Carpenter shut them out and the Cardinals advanced in the NLDS. The Cardinals would go on to win the World Series, while the Phillies haven’t been back to the playoffs.

The galling thing about that series is that the Phillies had a huge hand in the Cardinals even qualifying for the playoffs. The Cardinals won three games against the Phillies in late September, and were helped again when the Phillies swept the Atlanta Braves over the final weekend to knock the Braves out of the playoffs.

Cardinals player who isn’t entirely horrible

Adam Wainwright finished second in National League Cy Young Award voting in 2013, and it looks like he’s going to be in the mix again this season. Wainwright ranks second in the National League in wins, ERA, strikeouts, and WHIP.

Cardinals player who is horrible

Mark Ellis has had a lengthy major league career, but at age 37, he looks like he might be nearing the end. The veteran infielder might be good with the glove, but his bat has been anemic this season.

Ellis is batting .182 with a .496 OPS. A guy’s defense needs to be REALLY good to justify that kind of production on the offensive end.

Perhaps the real problem for the Cardinals is that Ellis has received too much playing time. They wanted youngster Kolten Wong to seize the second base job, but he has yet to do so.

Pitching matchups

Thursday: Shelby Miller (7-5) vs. David Buchanan (2-3)

Shelby Miller. Image Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Miller has picked up where he left off in 2013 when he finished third in National League Rookie of the Year voting. Over his past two starts, he’s given up just one earned run in 15.2 innings.

Buchanan pitched decently in his last start, but picked up a win over the Cubs thanks to a seven-run outburst by the Phillies offense. He can’t count on that kind of support this time around, so he’ll have to do a bit better.

Friday: Jaime Garcia (3-0) vs. A.J. Burnett (4-6)

Since coming off the disabled list in the middle of May, Garcia has been a solid addition to the Cardinals’ rotation. He’s coming off of a dominating seven-inning, one-run outing against the Nationals.

The key to A.J. Burnett‘s success appears simple: If his control is good, he pitches well. In his last start, he didn’t walk a batter and lasted eight innings as a result. (The Phillies lost anyway, but still, it was a solid effort from Burnett)

Saturday: Adam Wainwright (9-3) vs. Cole Hamels (2-3)

This should be one of the best pitching matchups we’ll see all season. As mentioned above, Wainwright has arguably been the NL’s best pitcher this season, and over the last month, Hamels has been just as good.

So once again, it’s a pretty safe bet that Hamels isn’t going to be pitching with much – if any – of a lead.

Sunday: Michael Wacha (5-5) vs. Kyle Kendrick (3-6)

Michael Wacha. Image Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

In Wacha, the Cardinals have yet another talented young pitcher. He’s having a solid second season, although he hasn’t been pitching particularly deep in games. He has not made it past the sixth inning in five of his last six starts.

In his most recent start, Kendrick finally managed to avoid giving up runs in the first inning, and the result was one of his best starts of the season. Hopefully he figured out the key to his first inning struggles and can repeat it.

Prediction

Does the Phillies sweep of the Braves mean they’ve turned things around, or did they just take advantage of a slumping team? I think this weekend’s series will give us a clearer picture.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, I don’t think they’re going to like the answer, as I see the Cardinals taking three out of four.

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