Not even the rain can dampen today’s action, which celebrates two great St. Louis baseball traditions, opening day and the mostly friendly rivalry with the Cubs. Since it’s such a special occasion, we teamed up with with fellow ESPN SweetSpot blogger Joe Aiello, who writes at View from the Bleachers, to preview the weekend series.
A week into the season, the Cardinals have the most Pythagorean wins in baseball and lead the NL Central with a 5-2 record. The league leaders in OBP in 2011, the Cardinals lead the majors early on in runs scored, largely on account of their .371 OBP. They’re clearly not missing their old first baseman. Only hitting like that could overshadow the work of the pitching staff, which ranks sixth in the majors in Fielding-Independent Pitching (3.31). Only the Phillies and Mariners have yielded walks less frequently than the Cardinals (1.91 BB/9). Compare that with the Cubs’ 4.00 BB/9, and the Cardinals could enjoy a lot of baserunners this weekend.
|View from the Bleachers||Fungoes|
|Jeff Samardzija vs. Adam Wainwright||His first start of the season against the Nationals was his best pitching performance of his career. He’s in the rotation with a locked in spot for the first time ever and he’s making the most of it. Of course it’s early, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see him finish the season with the best numbers of all the pitchers in the Cubs rotation. At the same time, I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him be the first one booted from the rotation, not necessarily because he’s bad, but because the Cubs pen is atrocious and he could be of service there. The Cubs have a history of jerking around Samardzija and I could see this year being no exception. Until then, watch out because he hit 97 mph in the 1st inning and 97 mph in the 9th inning of his first start.||The Cardinals lost their planned opening-day starter in Chris Carpenter, who is indefinitely on the DL. But their other ace, Adam Wainwright, has returned and will take the ball for the home opener after missing a year with Tommy John surgery. He looked strong in his first outing, striking out six and walking only one of the 22 batters he faced. David DeJesus won’t be intimidated, however, with a .364 OBP/.636 SLG against Wainwright in 12 plate appearances. The Cardinal righty has held Alfonso Soriano (.303/.321, 33 PAs) and Marlon Byrd (.222/.333, 9 PAs) in check.|
|Chris Volstad vs. Lance Lynn||Wanna know why Cub fans are excited about having Volstad in the rotation? Because his name is not Carlos Zambrano. Big Z was dealt to Florida and we received Volstad in return. He’s not much to write home about, and would probably be listed as the 5th starter had Paul Maholm not had the flu in spring training, but he can be serviceable. One thing of note, he’s extremely tall, checking in at 6’8”, but looking like he’s 6’10”.||Lynn takes Carpenter’s place in the rotation. The sophomore hurler mostly relieved in 2011, but in his first start of 2012, he mowed down the Brewers, striking out eight and walking only one.|
|Paul Maholm vs. Jake Westbook||I was extremely disappointed by what we saw out of Maholm in his first outing. The Reds offense simply manhandled him in the 41 pitch first inning to the tune of five runs. It was all downhill from there. He’s coming off a decent year with the Pirates so we’re hoping he slots in as a 3rd or 4th starter.||Westbrook and his open-secret sinker were perhaps too well-rested in his first start of the year after a long break following his final spring appearance. He walked four and struck out only two in Cincy, though he finished unscathed, mostly because he induced 11 of his 27 batters faced into hitting ground balls.|
|Who’s hot||Backup catcher, Steve Clevenger has been pushing Geovany Soto for playing time of late. He’s been a double down the line machine to start the year with three two-baggers in just nine at bats. On the season, though the sample size police will probably arrest me, he’s hitting .667 / .667 / 1.000. Look for him to see some time this series in key situations and make at least one start behind the plate.||David Freese has picked up where he left off in the World Series, raking at clips of .448 OBP and .750 SLG. Offseason contract signers Rafael Furcal, Yadier Molina and Carlos Beltran have also jumped out to a fast start, all featuring wOBAs over .400.|
What to watch for: Starlin Castro has been running wild on opponents this season having stolen five bases. He’ll meet his match with Molina behind the plate. Castro is 1-for-2 in stolen base attempts against Molina and his pitching batterymates. Last year, Castro nabbed a based with Jaime Garcia pitching, but Molina and Mitchell Boggs caught him back in 2010.
Odds and ends: Cub outfielder Joe Mather got his start in St. Louis and was a fan favorite from his debut in which he laid out for a spectacular catch.