I exchanged five questions about the upcoming series with Larry Borowsky of the SBN Cardinals site Viva El Birdos. You can go there for my answers to his questions; here are his responses to mine:
BCB: How? OK, that's the short version, but many Cubs fans thought the Cardinals were headed for a rebuilding year. How are they doing it? How are this year's Cardinals contending at midseason?
VEB: Most Cardinal fans expected a rebuilding year too; we’re as surprised as you guys are. Here are three reasons why they’re winning. Reason #1: the St. Louis pitchers are among the league’s best at preventing walks and home runs. Two guys who didn’t project to be in the Cardinal rotation when spring training began, Kyle Lohse and Todd Wellemeyer, are having breakout seasons; Wellemeyer’s elbow has been bothering him for a month, and that’s a huge concern because the Cards can’t replace him if his performance drops off. Reason #1A: the defense has been outstanding at nearly every position (with the possible exception of left field). The pitchers keep the ball in play, and the fielders get to most of those balls and turn them into outs. The Cardinals’ collapse last year had a lot to do with bad defense up the middle ---- Edmonds and Eckstein both had awful years with the glove --- and it has improved by leaps and bounds in 2008. Reason #3: They’re getting tremendous mileage out of a pretty unspectacular group of outfielders. Ryan Ludwick, Rick Ankiel, and Skip Schumaker are all in their late 20s and all first-year regulars --- it has taken them a long time to blossom. None is an MVP candidate, but they’re all getting on base and hitting for power. Any or all of them might be half-year flukes, but so far they’ve shown an ability to make adjustments.BCB: Will Ryan Franklin continue to close all year, or will Jason Isringhausen get the job back? Or will it go to someone else?
VEB: Isringhausen looked great his first half-dozen games back from the DL and appeared ready to reclaim the closer’s job, but then he messed up his knee during a stretching exercise. He’s now pitching with the knee in a brace. His mechanics already were very delicate, owing to the balky hip which was repaired in 2006 --- if the knee continues to bother him and / or reactivates the hip problem, then he may be headed back to the DL (or into retirement) instead of the closer’s role. If Izzy doesn’t return as closer, Franklin probably will stay there --- he has been serviceable so far.BCB: What do you fear most about facing the Cubs this weekend?
VEB: I wouldn’t use the word "fear"; I’m looking forward to seeing how the two teams match up. The Cards and Cubs will meet 9 or 10 more times after this set, so nothing will be decided this week. I do think the Cubs have one big advantage they might exploit: The Cardinal pitching is extremely vulnerable at the moment, so I can imagine a scenario in which the mighty Cub lineup blows the Cardinals out 3 times in a row. That outcome wouldn’t surprise me. And Ted Lilly is generally hard on the Cardinals, so the Saturday game is a tough matchup for our team. But even if the series goes badly, the Cardinals don’t have much to fear at all --- they weren’t and aren’t expected to win anything this year, and there is very little pressure on them. Being the underdog rocks.BCB: What's your biggest worry -- what is/are the thing(s) that could go wrong to make the Cardinals' wheels fall off?
VEB: Their pitching staff is really thin with Wainwright out and Wellemeyer ailing. It is affecting not only the rotation but also the bullpen, which has a heavier load to carry and is starting to sag under the burden. Wainwright is talking about returning to the rotation right after the All-Star break, but I think he’s just being optimistic; from what I’ve heard he’s likely to be absent until some time in August. If Wellemeyer doesn’t get back on track, the Cards will have to trade for a starting pitcher to stay in the race, and they will think long and hard before they trade any prospects for a rent-a-pitcher --- the long-term rebuilding plan remains a higher organizational priority than the 2008 race.BCB: What are the strengths and weaknesses of all three teams in the Central race?
|Today's Starting Pitchers|
Here, you should be seeing a stat line with Z's season stats. Something is wrong with the stat service providing this, and it shows some... well, see for yourself:
|2008 - Carlos Zambrano||16||47||4||105||2||1||1||6||36||68||0||0||.362||.362||.511|
Braden Looper's Cardinals stats are correct:
|2008 - Braden Looper||9-5||17||17||1||1||0||0||99.1||113||52||47||10||26||44||4.26||1.40|
One thing you notice right away about Z's record is that he's cut down both on his walks and K's. Cutting down on K's doesn't necessarily sound good until you realize that Z had his best success -- in 2003 -- when he had his sinker working. Hopefully, that will be the case tonight. He has had some of his best games vs. the Cardinals -- 8-4, 2.37 in 18 career starts -- including this key game in the pennant race last September. Albert Pujols has hit only .234 vs. Z, but with 4 HR in 47 AB.
Braden Looper has been a competent starter for the Cardinals, something I'd have never expected given his long career as a reliever before that. He made four starts vs. the Cubs last year and went 2-1, 1.67. Most of the Cubs had a tough time with him -- maybe Jim Edmonds, who he has never faced, will make the difference.
Today's game is on WGN -- after yesterday, I make no more predictions based on TV channel! Also on FSN in the St. Louis area, on EI, and at the MLB.com Mediacenter.
MLB.com Gameday (2007 version)
MLB.com Gameday (2008 version)
Today's first pitch thread will post at first pitch time, 7:15 pm CT. The overflow comment threads will post at 8:30 and 9:30 pm CT.
Discuss amongst yourselves.