SB Nation Blog
The opponent in one sentence
The Cardinals have been one of the hottest teams in baseball in the second half and have gotten themselves back into the playoff race thanks to a well-balanced attack.
Red Sox 2, Cardinals 0
Up. Way up. This series is a matchup of two of the hottest teams in all of baseball. St. Louis is coming off a loss, but prior to that had won their last eight games. Half of those games were against non-contenders in the Braves and Reds, but the other four came in a home-and-home against the Royals.
8/15: Rick Porcello vs. Mike Leake, 7:10 PM ET
Porcello is still trying to get back on the right track this season, though he took a big step in the right direction his last time out against the Rays. In that start, the 2016 Cy Young winner was facing a team that had killed him all year to that point, but he came through with a big performance to help the Red Sox get a win. He’ll need more than one start like that to get back into the fan base’s circle of trust, but there is reason to believe he is finally starting to turn the corner. Don’t expect the Porcello of a year ago, of course, but it’s fair to think he’s turning himself back into a playoff-caliber pitcher.
The last time these two teams faced, I called Mike Leake the most boring pitcher in baseball, as he perennially hovers around league-average ERA marks without really striking anyone out. There’s value in this kind of pitcher, of course, but it’s not the ideal guy to watch every five days. Leake ended up allowing only two runs over seven innings in that May matchup. In fact, for much of the first few months of the year, Leake was preventing runs against everyone. He’s come back to Earth since then, though, and has a 5.08 ERA in seven starts since the beginning of July. Leake features a low-90s sinker, a cutter and a slider.
8/16: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Lance Lynn, 7:10 PM ET
Like Porcello, though to a lesser extent, Rodriguez is/has been approaching a point in the year where he needed to take the next step. It hasn’t been the same kind of path as Porcello, as Rodriguez was fantastic for much of the first half before going down with another knee injury. Since returning, he hasn’t been able to find the same consistency and has also shown an unwillingness to lean on his secondaries. The Red Sox will need more from him, though he took a huge step in the right direction Friday in New York. Obviously, that game didn’t end well but Rodriguez gave them six scoreless innings before things went south. He allowed three runs in six innings against the Cardinals in May.
Prior to the trade deadline, some saw Lynn as a potential pitcher to change uniforms. The righty is a free agent at the end of the year, and at the time St. Louis wasn’t much of a threat in the postseason chase. The Cardinals opted to keep him, of course, and they’re happy they did. He’s not going to blow you away with any specific pitch or skillset, but all he’s done over the last few years is prevent runs. He’s actually taken a step back in each of the three true outcomes (strikeouts, walks and home runs) in 2017, but it hasn’t hurt his overall ERA. Normally, that would scream regression but Lynn has pitched around average peripherals for long enough that he’s earned the benefit of the doubt. The righty features a mid-90s fastball, a low-90s sinker and a cutter.
None. Stupid Cardinals
Matt Carpenter is rarely the best player on the Cardinals at any given time, but the corner infielder is their most consistent hitter year in and year out. The lefty has some of the best plate discipline in all of baseball and legitimate power to go with it. Somehow, he’s still incredibly underrated.
Dexter Fowler was the Cardinals’ big free agent signing this past winter and he’s given them their money’s worth in the middle of the lineup. His batting average is a bit lower than you’d like, but he supports that with big power and plenty of walks.
Tommy Pham has somewhat quietly been the Cardinals best player this year by providing strong defense in the outfield, big value on the bases, good plate discipline and above-average power. There’s likely some regression coming, but even with it he’s a very good player.
Paul DeJong has been a big surprise in the Cardinals offense with great bat-to-ball ability that masks some major plate discipline issues.
Yadier Molina is having something of a bounce-back year, and though the veteran is far from great his aggressive approach provides enough value for a catcher with his defensive talent.
Jedd Gyorko has seen his power come down a bit after a big 2016, but he’s still average across the board and provides enough value in the infield.
Kolten Wong was looking like he might be a prospect bust, but he’s come back this year with enough plate discipline and line drives to mask his lack of power.
Jose Martinez has been a big part of the Cardinals’ second half providing power towards the bottom of the lineup.
Randall Grichuk hasn’t been able to turn into the player many envisioned him to be thanks to major holes in his swing.
Trevor Rosenthal has had a roller coaster of a career than has seen him as: a top starting pitching prospect, a top up-and-coming closer, a walk machine, an underrated setup man and a walk machine again. This year, he’s come back and spent much of the year back in the underrated setup man role. He’s taken over as the team’s closer, though, and isn’t pitching like someone who is going to give that role up. When he’s throwing strikes, Rosenthal is a problem for all of his opponents.
Seung-hwan Oh was one of the best closers in baseball in 2016, but he’s taken a big step back this year thanks to a lack of swings and misses and an uptick in home runs. He’s still pitching late in games for the most part, though.
Matt Bowman isn’t an overpowering reliever, but expect to see him late in a game if the Cardinals have allowed some baserunners and need a ground ball to get out of a jam.
Tyler Lyons is the team’s top lefty and is having a huge breakout thanks to an uptick in swings and misses.
Alex Reyes was/is one of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball and appeared ready to step into St. Louis’ rotation and take the leap towards superstardom in 2017. Instead, he went down with a major elbow injury in February and underwent Tommy John surgery. It was a major blow to the Cardinals and baseball as a whole.
Kevin Siegrist has been a longtime back-end arm for St. Louis, but has battled injuries and command issues all year in 2017. He was just placed on the 10-day disabled list with a neck injury at the start of last week. The timetable for his return is unclear.
It should be a nice two-day stretch in Boston for this series, with dry skies and temperatures avoiding brutally hot levels.