What are the Cardinals up against?
If you are like me you have not really given the Baltimore Orioles too much thought in the last few years. I do not mean that as a slight against the franchise, it is just that the Cardinals do not play them often — by my count the two teams haven’t played against each other since 2017. My guess is that they should have faced each other in 2020, but due to a global pandemic, that series was delayed.
2017 also marks the year the Orioles current woes began. After finishing in second place in the NL East in 2016 at 89-73 their season came to an end in the eleventh inning of the Wild Card Play-In game off a home run from Edwin Encarnacion. Since then the team hasn’t had a winning record and finished in fifth place every year with the exception of 2020, when they finished in fourth.
This current Orioles team is managed by Brandon Hyde. This is his first stint as a manager, not counting his one-day term as manager of the Florida Marlins. His team is being led by outfielder Austin Hayes, a 26-year-old having the best season of his career thus far. After his call up in 2017, he spent all of 2018 in AA and returned for 21 games in 2019 with much more success — 146 wRC+ in 75 plate appearances. After a pandemic-shortened 2022 he had a modest 2021 season and has started 2022 off to a hot start. He is batting with a .327/.403/.500 slash line for a 170 wRC+ and his great contact rate means he is walking just over 10% of the time and only striking out 16% of the time.
After Hayes the Orioles have two players with a wRC+ above 120 and three with three or more home runs. Anthony Santander is batting at a 129 wRC+, propelled by a 16.4% walk rate (that is fifth highest among all qualified hitters this season). After him is Cedric Mullins II at 120. His slash line is similar to Santander’s except he walks on 5.4% of the time, but has a .188 slugging. Ryan Mountcastle has hit four homers this season and has a .275 average, but only walks 2.7% of the time and strikes out 24.8% of the time, leaving him with just a .301 OBP and 109 wRC+.*
*writer’s note: offense is soooooo down this year, this slash lines are terrible and somehow in the 120s in wRC+????
The best pitcher for the Orioles in 2022 has been Bruce Zimmermann. It looks like the Cardinals will miss his start since he started Sunday in double-header against the Kansas City Royals. Before Sunday the last time the Orioles has played was Thursday and Spenser Watkins took that start. He is scheduled to start against the Cardinals on Wednesday. In his second MLB season the 29-year-old has pitched just over 22 innings with a 3.22 ERA with a 5.54 FIP, a matching walk rate and K-rate of 10.3% and has given up three homers. He throws five pitches: a 4-seam fastball over the middle of the plate, a cutter, a slider that usually ends up in top part of the zone, a curveball, and change-up. According to Baseball Savant his slider has been his most valuable pitch in 2022. Looking at the location heatmap, it does not look like a very good pitch, but watching the videos… the thing moves like crazy.
On Tuesday the Cardinals face Kyle Bradish. The 25-year-old will be making his third MLB start of his career. In 10 innings this season he has a 5.40 ERA and 5.88 FIP and has walked 3 and struck out 5 while giving up 2 homers. So far he has relied heavily on 4-seamer that he throws about 94 mph up in the zone and complements it with a slider low in the zone. He has also thrown some curveballs and changeups. Both the home runs he has surrendered were off his fastball and four of his five strikeouts were on the slider. Based on his pitch breakdown from Baseball Savant, the Cardinals hitters will likely be hacking at the fastball early, especially the switch hitters.
There has not been a starter declared for Thursday yet, but since Jordan Lyles and Zimmermann pitched on Sunday and Bradish and Watkins are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, my guess is the Cardinals might see Tyler Wells on Thursday. He has been the Orioles second-best pitcher after Zimmermann with a 3.75 ERA and 3.67 FIP. He doesn’t strike out many with a 17.3% K-rate, but he also walks very few at just 4.1%. He throws a 4-seamer, changeup, slider, curveball, and then the rare sinker, per Baseball Savant.
Something fun and definitely not a jinx:
The Cardinals have the tenth most team war per Fangraphs and most of that is due to baserunning. Per wRC+ they have the 14th best offense, but in BsR, the baserunning component of fWAR, they are second at 5.7 after the Texas Rangers at 6.9*.
Yadier Molina has an 8-game hitting streak. During that time he has a 119 wRC+, 10 total hits with 1 double and 1 homer. He started the streak with a -19 wRC+ and has raised it to 53.
Paul DeJong is now probably hitting the worst among the Cardinals regulars. He has a 30 wRC+ and is striking out around 29% of the time while not hitting for power. Season after season he has seen more and more breaking pitches. His line drive percentage is down to just 15.1%. A glimmer of hope: his Wiff % is just under 27%, which is lower than last season’s 32.6% and he is going to the opposite field more than he ever has in his career (whether that is due to a change in approach or just being late on a bunch of fastballs remains to be seen).
Adam Wainwright has not cleared COVID protocols and POBO John Mozeliak said it was “unlikely” the right-hander pitches this homestand. #STLCards
— Katie Woo (@katiejwoo) May 10, 2022
Tuesday, May 10 at 6:45 pm CDT: Kyle Bradish vs. …. Packy Naughton (LHP and definitely someone that exists)
Wednesday, May 11 at 6:45 pm CDT: Spenser Watkins vs. Miles Mikolas
Thursday, May 12 at 1:15 pm CDT: TBD vs. Jordan Hicks