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Series Preview: Red Sox at Cardinals

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Looking ahead to this week’s stop in St. Louis

2004 Sport Pictures of the Year Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

SB Nation Blog

Viva El Birdos

The Opponent in one sentence

Arguably the most consistent franchise in all of baseball, the Cardinals once again find themselves near the top of the league thanks to a well-balanced attack.

Record

21-15

Trend

Up. Way up. The Cardinals are one of the hottest teams in all of baseball, fighting back from a tough start to the season to their current position atop the NL Central. They’ve won eight of their last nine including six in a row at Atlanta and at Miami. That was followed by taking two of three in a series in which they hosted Chicago. They are firing on all cylinders right now.

Pitching Matchups

5/16: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Lance Lynn, 8:15 PM ET (MLB Network)

Rodriguez is one of the hottest pitchers in all of baseball, coming off yet another strong outing in Milwaukee. His control has been particularly impressive of late, with just three walks over his last three outings including a goose egg last time out. That, combined with strikeout stuff that is being led by a dynamite changeup, is making him look like he can fulfill some of that top-of-the-rotation promise he showed through the minors.

Lynn missed all of last season after undergoing elbow surgery and has come back this year looking like his old, solid self. Well, by ERA at least. Through his first seven starts the 30-year-old righty has a 2.75 ERA (152 ERA+), but also has a 4.76 FIP and 5.94 DRA. He’s still getting his typical eight-ish strikeouts per nine innings but his walk rate has jumped to almost four per nine and he’s already allowed six home runs in his 39 innings. He’s also coming off what was arguably his worst start of the year, so perhaps the Red Sox are catching Lynn right as he’s ready to get his ERA to match the peripherals. He’ll relies on a fastball/sinker combo — both in the low-90’s — to go along with a mid-to-high-80’s cutter.

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images

5/17: Rick Porcello vs. Mike Leake, 8:15 PM ET (ESPN)

It’s been an up-and-down year for Porcello, who at times has looked like the Cy Young winner he was a year ago and at other times looked like nothing more than an average arm. To be fair, lately it’s been much more of the former but his last time out was more like the latter. The hope is that Porcello’s troubles are inexplicably linked to the Rays lineup and he can regain his best form against this NL lineup.

Heading into this season, Leake was perhaps the most boring pitcher in the league. He was slightly below-average in terms of ERA and got there by relying on weak contact to offset his lack of strikeouts. The strikeouts still haven’t been there in 2017, but he’s somehow managed to spin a 1.94 ERA (214 ERA+). The peripherals aren’t half bad, either, with a 3.19 FIP and a 3.33 DRA. He’s taken a step back in May, however, and if the Red Sox can work counts and keep the ball off the ground they should have success. Leake mainly throws a sinker and a cutter, both in the low-90’s.

Old Friends

None.

Notable Hitters

Jedd Gyorko has shockingly become one of the linchpins of the Cardinals’ offense over the last couple of years. Early on this season, the infielder is up to seven home runs with a .287 Isolated Power. His batting average on balls in play is inflating his current line some, but make no mistake: Gyorko is legit.

While Gyorko is having the best year, Matt Carpenter is still the best and most consistent hitter in this lineup. Another infielder who can play all over the diamond, he has almost absurd plate discipline with legitimate power to boot.

Dexter Fowler was the big acquisition for St. Louis this year, and while he’s been merely average over the whole season he has been outstanding in May. He will draw a walk and has the ability to make hard contact on a regular basis.

Tommy Pham was just recently called up, and while the sample is small he’s hitting everything in sight.

Aledmys Diaz came out of nowhere to become one of the better shortstops in the National League last year, but he hasn’t been able to get back to that same level this year.

Yadier Molina will be the face of this franchise until he retires, and he still has some defensive ability. He’s not all that intimidating at the plate anymore, however.

Randal Grichuk is still only 25 and has plenty of potential, but he’s yet to make consistent enough contact to make good on that potential.

Speaking of potential, Kolten Wong once seemed like St. Louis’ long-term solution at second base but he lost the team’s confidence last year. He’s been better this year, although he’s more of a solid regular than a future star.

Bullpen Snapshot

The Cardinals bullpen is headed by Seung-Hwan Oh, who came over from Korea last season and completely dominated major-league hitters. Things haven’t gone as smoothly this year, despite the solid 2.89 ERA. He’s lost over five strikeouts per nine innings off his 11.6 K/9 from a year ago while adding 1.4 walks per nine to his rates. The result is a 5.23 FIP and a 6.09 DRA. He hasn’t allowed an earned run since April 17, but he’s had control issues this month.

He’s been backed up by Trevor Rosenthal, who has gone from starting pitching prospect to dynamic closer to disappointing closer to dominant set-up man. That last part is his description this year. His typical control problems are nonexistent this year, and he’s putting up Kimbrel-like strikeout rates.

Kevin Siegrist is their top option from the left side, but he’s had a horrible year. The southpaw is walking everyone he faces and his strikeouts have fallen for the fourth consecutive year, falling below a strikeout per inning for the first time in his career.

Injuries

Alex Reyes was the most notable injury on the roster this year. He was the favorite for the NL Rookie of the Year heading into the spring and was arguably the best pitching prospect in baseball. Unfortunately, he’ll miss the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in February.

Stephen Piscotty is one of the better hitters on the Cardinals, but he’s been down for a couple weeks with a hamstring injury. There was a chance he’d be activated for this series, but it appears they want him to play in a few rehab games before getting back to action.

Jhonny Peralta was once quietly one of the most consistent infielders in the game. He took a step back in 2016, and got off to a slow start before hitting the disabled list with an upper respiratory illness. He’s playing rehab games now, and there could be a chance we see him in the next couple days.

John Gant is just a depth piece, but he’s yet to pitch since the end of spring training.

Zach Duke was a highly useful left-handed reliever, but he underwent elbow surgery last October.

Tyler Lyons could be back in the bullpen this series, and he is a left-handed reliever who relies on weak contact to outperform his peripherals.

Weather Forecast

It’s shaping up to be a really nice couple of days in the Midwest. It should be sunny and in the high-80’s during the day in St. Louis on Tuesday, with the skies staying clear and temperatures dropping into the 70’s at night. There could be some thunderstorms on Wednesday, but they should pass before the game. That night should be similar weather to Tuesday’s.

Other Notes

It is another series in a National League park, which means more pitchers batting.

The Red Sox and Cardinals will face off for two more games later in the year at Fenway Park.