Cardinals series preview: Evenly matched cross-state rivals

San Francisco Giants v St. Louis Cardinals
Photo by Scott Kane/Getty Images

After a slow start, the Cardinals are catching fire.

The Royals take on their Show-Me State rivals (for now, unless the Royals move to Kansas) and the two teams are equally matched for a change. It’s the first time since 2017 the Royals have a record as good as or better than the Cardinals heading into the series. St. Louis has certainly had the upper hand in the overall series, going 75-49, but the Royals won the four out of seven that actually mattered in 1985.

Tonight’s game has already been postponed due to rain all day in St. Louis, and the teams will have a split doubleheader on Wednesday.

Kansas City Royals (49-43) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (48-42) at Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO

Royals: 4.54 runs scored/game (13th in MLB), 3.93 runs allowed/game (6th)

Cardinals: 4.10 runs scored/game (22nd), 4.47 runs allowed/game (20th)

The Cardinals got off to a very slow 15-24 start, but since then have won 33 of 51 – the best record in the National League over that time – to climb back into contention. They are 24-18 at home in front of the “Best Fans in Baseball” and are coming off a successful 6-2 road trip against the Pirates and Nationals.

Only five teams have hit fewer home runs than the Cardinals, but they’re not exactly playing “Whiteyball” either, with just 55 steals in 70 attempts and lack a real identity. Catcher Willson Contreras got off to a terrific start, but missed six weeks with a fractured forearm, and hasn’t quite been the same since.

All-Stars Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado are not once they once were with Goldschmidt posting the highest strikeout rate of his career and Arenado posting the lowest ISO of his. Goldschmidt has really struggled at home, batting .195/.247/.340 at Busch Stadium. Brendan Donovan has been a hot hitter, batting .349/.407/.518 over his last 21 games.

Rookie shortstop Masyn Winn has been phenomenal defensively, leading the league at that position in Defensive Runs Saved at +11. Centerfielder Michael Siani is second among all players with 11 Outs Above Average. Otherwise, the Cardinals are average-to-poor defensively.

Michael Wacha was originally drafted by the Cardinals and won 59 games for them over seven seasons. He’ll face right-hander Andre Pallante, a reliever who has transitioned to starting recently, pitching a season-high seven innings in his last out against the Pirates, allowing just one run. He throws a four-seamer, sinker, slider, and a knuckle curve with a 39.5 percent whiff rate. Righties have strangely fared much better against him, hitting .337/.427/.506 compared to .202/.268/.247 for lefties.

Longtime veteran and 2023 All-Star Sonny Gray has a career 9-2 record with a 1.76 ERA in 13 starts against the Royals. He has given up 11 runs in 9 13 innings over his last two outings and a 4.48 ERA over his last 11 starts. The 34-year-old throws a 92 mph fastball that gets hit pretty well, combined with an effective sweeper and cutter, a sinker, and a curveball. Opponents hit it on the ground 46.5 percent of the time against him.

The Cardinals have the fifth-best bullpen by ERA at 3.40 despite the seventh-lowest strikeout rate. They have the seventh-lowest walk rate and the second-highest ground ball rate among bullpens. Closer Ryan Helsley leads the majors with 31 saves, and when he blew the lead in his last outing on July 5, it was just his second blown save of the year. JoJo Romero and Matthew Liberatore feature some of the best sliders in baseball. John King has a 61.5 percent groundball rate, sixth-highest in baseball. Lefties are hitting just .170/.235/.170 against lefty JoJo Romero, while lefty John King does not have a platoon split.

The Cardinals are going through a bit of an identity crisis, coming off a 91-loss season and some calls from fans for manager Oli Marmol to be fired. But they have righted the ship recently and still have a talented roster of homegrown talent. The Royals can stand toe-to-toe with their cross-state rivals, but can they take a short two-game series from them?

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Title: Cardinals series preview: Evenly matched cross-state rivals
Author: Max Rieper

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