Hitting Analysis of Brandon Phillips: From a St. Louis Cardinals’ Perspective

Photo Credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images

Ever since this altercation (video) between Brandon Phillips and Yadier Molina back in 2010, Phillips has been one of the most despised opponents to play at Busch Stadium.

A large factor is obviously due to the incident, but another contributing factor has to be his success against Cardinals’ pitching over the years. In 117 career games against St. Louis, Phillips has a solid .264/.314/.437 slash line. He has 26 doubles, 5 triples, 14 home runs, and 61 RBI–arguably his most success against any team in the National League.

PhillipsWhiffLHP

In 2013, Phillips’ whiff rate against left-handed pitchers was exceptionally low at just 9.9% (74 whiffs/749 pitches). Down and out of the zone (boxed in yellow), his whiff rate is 18.3%–almost double that of his average whiff rate against lefties. 18.3% is still really low, but it’s the best shot Cardinals’ lefties have if they are looking for swings and misses from Phillips. Up and in (boxed in green) would be an area to avoid considering he faced 73 pitches in that zone and did not whiff on a single one.

PhillipsWhiffRHP

Phillips’ whiff rate against right-handed pitchers was 12.5% (219 whiffs/1750 pitches) in 2013. This is slightly higher than it was against lefties, but it’s still really low. Down and out of the zone (boxed in yellow) could be an area right-handers could target against Phillips, with a whiff rate of 21.3%–almost 10% higher than his average in 2013. Like with lefties, up and in (boxed in green) is an area to avoid when facing Phillips considering he had only one whiff in 83 chances.

PhillipsLHPLD

Phillips’ linedrive percentage on balls in play against lefties was 25.5% (40 linedrives/157 balls in play) in 2013. Down and away (boxed in yellow) is the best place for lefties (Jaime Garcia, Randy Choate, and Kevin Siegrist) to attack Phillips. His linedrive percentage in these zones was over 10% lower than his average at 14.3%. Lefties can also attack him down and in (boxed in orange), but they would have to paint the inside corner because he has high linedrive percentages in the zones immediately adjacent to this.

PhillipsRHPLD

Phillips’ linedrive percentage on balls in play against righties was 22.7% (87 linedrives/384 balls in play) in 2013. The zones boxed in yellow are areas right-handed pitchers could target when facing Phillips because his linedrive percentage on balls in play from these zones was just 7.3%–15.4% lower than his average in 2013. The two zones boxed in green, up and in, would be areas to avoid when facing Phillips.

Conclusion:

In short, Phillips does not swing and miss much. Because of this, he does not strike out very often. In 11 years of experience, he averages only 66.8 strikeouts per season. To break it down even more, he strikes out one time in every seven plate appearances against the Cardinals which is pretty impressive.

Thus, Cardinals’ pitchers should not look to strikeout Phillips in 2014 and beyond. Rather, lefties can attack him down and away, while righties can attack him away as well–both up and down in the zone. A quick look at his spray chart from 2013 (below) shows that the majority of his extra-base hits–and all but one of his home runs–occurred when he pulled the baseball. By pitching him away, he may still get hits, but these hits will likely be singles instead of doubles, triples, or even home runs.

phillipsSPRAY

There you have it. I have taken a look at Pedro Alvarez, Jay Bruce, and now Brandon Phillips. I hope, as fans, you can use these posts as references/quick guides going into next season to see how Cardinals’ pitchers will approach these “Cardinal Killers.”

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe or Facebook: stlCupofJoe’s Sports Page

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Hitting Analysis of Pedro Alvarez: From a St. Louis Cardinals’ Perspective

Photo Credit: piratesprospects.com

Photo Credit: piratesprospects.com

Pedro Alvarez is probably the most infamous “Cardinal killer” in recent memory. In 53 regular season games against the Cardinals, Alvarez has a .254/.304/.473 slash line. The batting average and on-base percentage components don’t seem all that scary, but a .473 slugging percentage shows that his hits “pack a whole lot of punch.”

Of his 51 hits, 11 of them were doubles and 11 more were home runs. Thus, 43% of his hits have gone for extra bases. He has knocked in 42 runners against the Cardinals–11 more than he has against any other team in his career.

So what can the Cardinals do? Alvarez is a career .235 hitter who averages 141 strikeouts per season. He must have a lot of holes for the Cardinals to exploit, right? Well, I took a look at five different graphs from BrooksBaseball.net to see where he can be attacked.

Now, I fully realize that the Cardinals already have scouts and pitching coaches relaying this information to their pitchers, but I figured it would be fun and informative for readers as well. At just 26 years old, fans will be seeing Alvarez take at-bats against the Cardinals for years to come.

As noted on the graphs, but to avoid any confusion, all zones are from the catcher’s point of view.

AlvarezWhiffsLHP

Against left-handed pitchers, down and away (boxed in yellow) seems to be the most vulnerable spot for Alvarez. This makes sense, though. Teams bring in lefty specialists, such as Randy Choate, to throw sweeping breaking balls down and away–daring him to chase pitches that usually end up out of the zone. Of those four squares in the bottom left, Alvarez swung and missed (aka “whiffed”) on 67 of 242 pitches in 2013. His 27.7% whiff rate on pitches down and away was 6 percentage points higher than his average whiff rate (21.5%) against lefties in 2013.

Also, if a pitcher is locating his pitches well, up and out of the zone (boxed in yellow) could be viable options with 50+% whiff rates in these boxed areas. However, very dangerous areas border these so it would probably be wiser to look down and away since there’s more room for error.

AlvarezWhiffsRHP

Like with lefties, down and out of the zone is the way to attack Alvarez if you are a right-handed pitcher looking for swings and misses. His overall whiff rate against righties in 2013 was 16.6%, but in the zones highlighted by the yellow box, his whiff rate was significantly higher at 25.2%. This was a pretty good sample size as well, considering 25% of the pitches from right-handers ended up in the boxed zones.

Enough about whiff rates, what about balls in play? I’ve got you covered there as well. However, before I get into that, let me make you aware of a quick disclaimer. I chose “linedrives per balls in play” instead of batting average because I believe linedrives are a better representation of a hitter’s hot and cold zones than average. A high average in a certain zone could be tainted by a small sample size full of bloop hits; whereas a linedrive is a linedrive–regardless of whether it’s results in a hit or not.

AlvarezLHPLD

That same zone I highlighted on the left-hander whiff rate graph is highlighted here. As you can see, of 15 balls in play on pitches in this zone, only two of them (13.3%) were linedrives. In fact, if you look at the zone highlighted in orange just above that, Alvarez had just one linedrive in 17 balls in play–leading to a very tame 5.9%. If you put the two left-handed pitcher graphs together, the way to attack Alvarez is down and away–looking for him to chase pitches out of the zone at times, which he does at a pretty regular rate.

AlvarezRHPLD

The same area I noted in the right-handed pitcher whiff rate graph is highlighted (in yellow) in this graph as well. Of 36 balls in play on pitches in this zone, only four of them were linedrives–11.1%. Considering the linedrive percentages in other parts of the zone, this is easily one of his weakest spots. I highlighted two other areas in orange that seem to be weak spots for Alvarez as well. However, if you take a look at the zones immediately adjacent to these (highlighted in green), a pitcher must have his best stuff if he wants to attack these two zones.

Finally, a look at Alvarez’s spray chart from 2013:

AlvarezSprayChart

Of his 36 home runs in 2013, five were to the opposite field (14%) and three were to center field (8%). It’s obvious that much of his pop comes when he pulls the baseball. This shouldn’t be news to anyone, though–just thought it was worth visualizing.

Conclusion;

Alvarez’s career batting average against lefties is .200 with 12 home runs. His career average against righties is much better at .248 with 74 home runs. The numbers show his bat is much more potent against right-handed pitching–also should not be news to anyone. However, as I showed in the five graphs above, both lefties and righties should attack him in pretty similar zones–down and away.

I fully realize that the majority of the zones I highlighted were pitches out of the strikezone. Yet, until Alvarez proves he can be a more patient hitter, these zones need to be exploited. Plus, if he indeed proves to be more patient next season, I would much rather walk him on four pitches out of the zone than give him the opportunity to change the game with one swing of the bat–like he has done so many times already in his young career.

I hope you enjoyed this piece because it was pretty fun to create. In the coming days, maybe even today, I will be publishing a few more hitting analyses on infamous “Cardinal Killers.”

Due up next: Jay Bruce

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe or Facebook: stlCupofJoe’s Sports Page

Fox Sports Ohio is a Terrible Way to Watch the St. Louis Cardinals

Photo Credit: Fox Sports Ohio

Photo Credit: Fox Sports Ohio

As most of you know by now, I am a 5th year pharmacy major at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. Thus, in order to watch the Cardinals while at school, they either have to be on national television or playing against the Cincinnati Reds. Well, tonight, I was lucky enough to catch the action on Fox Sports Ohio. However, I don’t think lucky is the right word to describe the telecast that I viewed. Yet, before I get into that, let’s review some of the key points from the game first…

Quick Game Recap:

The Cardinals beat the Reds 6-1. The Cardinals are now an incredible 25-3-2 in 30 series against the Reds in St. Louis since 2003.

Joe Kelly had yet another solid outing for the Cardinals. He was able to pitch around jams (with some help from the Reds’ base running) all night. He pitched 6 innings, allowing just one run–a solo shot from Shin-Soo Choo in the 5th. Kelly is now 6-0 in his last eight starts.

Every starter (minus Kelly) had a hit. Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter, David Freese, and Daniel Descalso all had one RBI in the game. The other run scored on a ground out double play by Craig in the first.

Kelly, along with the bullpen (Siegrist, Rosenthal, Maness), silenced the Reds after Choo’s solo home run in the 5th. Cardinals’ pitchers ended up retiring the last 13 Reds hitters in order.

With the win, the Cardinals pulled 1.5 games ahead of the Pirates and 4.5 games ahead of the Reds in the National League Central.

Here comes the juicy part…

Analysis of the Broadcast:

The Fox Sports Ohio telecast consisted of Thom Brennaman and Chris Welsh, and boy, were they extremely hard to listen to all game. After watching this telecast, it will be extremely hard for me to badmouth Danny McLaughlin and the Fox Sports Midwest crew ever again.

There were many things that made me mad, but the main thing that got under my skin was their pregame scouting report on Joe Kelly. I forget which broadcaster said this, but here is exactly what was said, “Kelly throws from 92-94 MPH, but the changeup is really his pitch.”

Mr. Brennaman and Mr. Welsh, who is providing you with your scouting reports? Whoever it is needs to re-check their references. To be 100% sure, I immediately looked up Kelly’s pitches on BrooksBaseball.net. Prior to the game against the Reds, Kelly had thrown 871 fastballs (44% four seamers, 56% two seamers), and the average speed on those fastballs was 95.64 MPH. Also, by my count, Kelly had roughly 30-35 pitches that were faster than this nonsense “92-94 MPH” scouting report provided by the Reds’ broadcast team.

As the game went on, the broadcasters still weren’t believers in Kelly’s fastball speed as shown by the following two quotes:

“I didn’t realize that Kelly threw this hard. He has to be having a little adrenaline flowing to touch 97.”

“[Kelly’s] fastball above average to what it normally is.”

In short, baseball broadcasters have one of the best jobs in the world. They are paid to watch and talk about baseball. Other than being a player, I really cannot think of a better job out there. As a professional, they should take ownership in providing viewers with the best information they can get. Broadcast teams have access to a lot more scouting reports than I do, so it could not have been that hard for them to find out that Kelly’s fastball has averaged nearly 96 MPH this season.

There were various other quotes on various other topics that I could have also included in this post, but I figured I would spare you from any more of them. The next problem I had with the broadcast irked me the most. I could not stand their lack of interest in the game. Choo hit a home run that temporarily brought the Reds back into the game, and yet Brennaman called it in such a bored tone. If you truly don’t want to be there, I am sure there are many people in Cincinnati willing to take over, Mr. Brennaman.

People can knock Danny McLaughlin all they want, but after what I just watched on Fox Sports Ohio, I will not be one of them. McLaughlin calls plays like he sees them, shows enjoyment to the game being played on the field, and interacts with fans via social media. All three of those (and many more) make him a much better broadcaster than both Brennaman and Welsh.

In closing, I am sorry that this post ended up being a rant. I guess this can be seen as a sign that I miss being back home in St. Louis. I promise to refrain from posts like this in the future, I just really wanted to make a point and felt this was the best way possible.

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

Official Member of the STLSportsMinute Network

St. Louis Cardinals: Time to Break Homer Drought against Bronson Arroyo, Reds

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Photo Credit: Getty Images

After 13 runs scored in the last night’s game against the Pirates, the Cardinals’ offense may have finally gotten its “mojo” back. Let’s hope it can carry over in Cincinnati for the crucial series against the Reds.

Before tonight’s game, let’s break down the Cardinals’ hitting against the game one starter:

Bronson Arroyo: 138 innings pitched, 9-8 record, 3.26 earned run average, 76 strikeouts, 25 walks, 18 home runs allowed.

Against the Cardinals, Arroyo is 0-2 in three starts. He has 19 innings pitched with eight earned runs. He has allowed three home runs–one each to Holliday, Beltran, and Adams.

However, disregarding past performances against St. Louis, Arroyo is coming off a really good July. In five starts, he was 3-2 with a 2.16 earned run average. He had 33 and one-third innings pitched with eight earned runs. He allowed five home runs and had 19 strikeouts to just five walks.

Bold Prediction: One home run each for Holliday and Jay. Okay, the first is a lot less bold than the second, but given the current homer drought, I figured it was fine calling any home run a bold prediction.

So when is Arroyo most vulnerable? The first pitch. In 84 at-bats this season, hitters have 29 hits with 10 doubles, three home runs, and 12 runs batted in. Why is he most vulnerable on the first pitch? Well, the only straight pitch he has is his fastball. He only throws it 13-14% of the time. However, 17-18% of his first pitches are fastballs–most likely an attempt to get ahead of the hitter. Thus, Cardinals’ hitters won’t see many straight pitches tonight so expect them to be first pitch swinging more often than not.

I know that in my last article I said that Adron Chambers deserves a shot to start now that he has been called up, but given the current outfield’s success against Arroyo, it will be difficult for Matheny to keep any of the three from the starting lineup.

Let me explain why below…

Cardinals Hitting vs. Arroyo:

Those in bold are the hitters to watch.

Matt Carpenter: 1 for 12, .083 batting average, .083 on-base percentage, 1 single, 1 strikeout

Carlos Beltran: 11 for 32, .344 batting average, .400 on-base percentage, 2 doubles, 1 triple, 2 home runs, 6 runs batted in, 5 strike outs

Allen Craig: 1 for 14, .071 batting average, .071 on-base percentage, 1 double, 2 runs batted in, 2 strikeouts

Matt Holliday: 16 for 51, .314 batting average, .386 on-base percentage, 4 doubles, 4 home runs, 10 runs batted in, 10 strikeouts

David Freese: 1 for 15, .067 batting average, .125 on-base percentage, 1 single, 4 strikeouts

Jon Jay: 13 for 32, .406 batting average, .424 on-base percentage, 2 doubles, 1 triple, 1 home run, 3 runs batted in, 3 strikeouts

Tony Cruz: 1 for 5, .200 batting average, .200 on-base percentage, 1 double, 1 strikeout

Pete Kozma: 1 for 7, .143 batting average, .143 on-base percentage, 1 single, 2 strikeouts

Daniel Descalso: 9 for 25, .360 batting average, .360 on-base percentage, 3 doubles, 1 triple, 4 runs batted in, 3 strikeouts

Matt Adams: 1 for 1, 1 home run, 2 runs batted in

Based on the above statistics and some other factors, here is the lineup I would use for the game.

1. Carpenter 2B
2. Beltran RF
3. Craig 1B
4. Holliday LF
5. Freese 3B
6. Jay CF
7. Cruz C
8. Descalso SS
9. Miller P

I originally had Adams in the 4-spot playing first base, but given Craig’s successful night at the plate last night, I decided that he should be kept in the lineup–moving him to the 3-spot and Holliday to the 4-spot–just like last night.

Another thing to watch for is Shelby Miller and his ability to keep the ball in the ballpark. He has allowed home runs in three of his past four starts. Thus, he will have to work extra hard at keeping the ball down in the zone given the ballpark and its proclivity to allow home runs.

Game Prediction: Cardinals 6, Reds 3.

Until next time…

Joe

Follow me on Twitter: @stlCupOfJoe

St. Louis Cardinals: Breaking Down the NL Central

Photo Credit: cardinals.com

Photo Credit: cardinals.com

With 95 games completed in the 2013 season, the St. Louis Cardinals sit atop the National League Central division–two games up on the Pittsburgh Pirates and four games up on the Cincinnati Reds. When the Cardinals end the season at home against the Chicago Cubs on September 29th, will the team still be in first? Here is a review of the remaining schedules for the Cardinals, Pirates, and Reds to see just what is in store for the NL Central.

Cardinals Remaining Schedule

67 games left: 36 home, 31 away

Home Winning Percentage: .622

Away Winning Percentage: .600

Opponents’ Winning Percentage: .498

Pivotal Portions:
1. July 29th through August 4th: 5 games in Pittsburgh (DH on the 30th), 3 games in Cincinnati

2. August 26th through September 8th: 3 home games against Reds, 3 games in Pittsburgh, 4 games in Cincinnati, 3 home games against Pirates

Pirates Remaining Schedule

67 games left: 31 home, 36 away

Home Winning Percentage: .640

Away Winning Percentage: .533

Opponents’ Winning Percentage: .488

Pivotal Portions:
1. July 29th through August 1st, August 30th through September 1st: 8 home games against the Cardinals

2. September 20th through 22nd, September 27th through 29th: 3 home games against the Reds, 3 games in Cincinnati

Reds Remaining Schedule

65 games left: 33 home, 32 away

Home Winning Percentage: .667

Away Winning Percentage: .469

Opponents’ Winning Percentage: .488

Pivotal Portions:
1. August 2nd through 4th, September 2nd through 5th: 7 home games against the Cardinals

2. September 20th through 22nd, September 27th through 29th: 3 games in Pittsburgh, 3 home games against the Pirates

Analysis

From a Cardinals standpoint, it is nice to see that the team has 5 more home games than away games on the remaining schedule. However, through 95 games, the team has played to a .600 winning percentage or higher both home and away, so this may not be that big of a deal. It will be nice for fans to pack Busch Stadium III and create a playoff atmosphere down the stretch, though.

The Cardinals face teams with a higher winning percentage (.498) than both the Pirates and the Reds (.488 for both). This is unfortunate, but the Cardinals do face teams that currently have losing records for the last six series of the season.

The outlook of the season for the Cardinals will be a little clearer after August 4th. The team will have just played five games in Pittsburgh and three games in Cincinnati. If the team is able to remain in first place after those two series, then the outlook for the rest of the season should be a positive one. However, if they fall out of first place after those two series, they will still have an opportunity to make up ground from August 26th through September 8th. During this span, the Cardinals will face the Reds for two series (one at home) and the Pirates for two series (one at home).

One big benefit for the Cardinals, as long as they are still at or at least very near to first place, is that they finish the season at home against the lowly Cubs. The Pirates will be in Cincinnati for three games to end the season. These two teams will have just got finished with a series against each other just two series prior. Thus, to end the season, the Pirates and Cubs will be beating up on each other while the Cardinals will have a legitimate shot at a sweep against the Cubs, who will have presumably packed up the tents by then.

For the Cardinals sake, I hope Matt Holliday is able to return and be successful sooner rather than later. I hope that Jon Jay can continue to pick it up at the plate–he is hitting .271 with a .364 on-base percentage in July. I hope Chris Carpenter can make it back to the rotation and be effective–this is in doubt after last night’s frustrating performance in Triple-A Memphis. Lastly, I hope that Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, Carlos Beltran, Allen Craig, and Edward Mujica can keep up their All-Star level of play for the rest of the season. Is this a reasonable? Probably not, but I hope that the majority of the six stay hot throughout the rest of the 67 games.

Thus, needless to say, I am looking forward to the rest of the season. It would be nice if the Cardinals had a bigger lead, but it is good for baseball as a whole to have such a tight divisional race involving three teams.

I have said this once and I will say it again. This is a very special team. The team has come down to Earth a little bit lately, but I will stick to my prediction that this year’s Fall Classic will be the Cardinals facing off against the Oakland Athletics.

Until next time…

Joe

Follow me on Twitter: @stlCupOfJoe

Can Cardinals’ Bats Solve Latos?

Photo Credit: bleacherreport.com

Photo Credit: bleacherreport.com

The St. Louis Cardinals throttled the pitching of the Cincinnati Reds last night for nine runs–getting hits from all eight position players in the starting lineup. However, tonight, they face Mat Latos–a pitcher who has had great success against them since joining the Reds.

Latos enters the game with an unbeaten 5-0 record this season and a quality 2.90 earned-run average. Not including the playoffs last season, Latos has not lost in his last 19 appearances. Also, he is 2-0 with a 1.06 ERA in his last three starts against St. Louis.

The Cardinals’ top two hitters against Latos are Yadier Molina and Jon Jay. Molina has 10 hits in 23 at-bats (.435 average) with one home run and five RBI. Jay, who had two hits and two RBI last night, has nine hits in 21 at-bats (.429 average) against Latos. Carlos Beltran has just four hits in 14 at-bats against the Reds’ hard-throwing righty, but three of those have left the playing field for home runs.

Thus, the Cardinals have had decent hitting success against Latos. They just need to be able to string together some hits in order to knock in some runners. David Freese (17 games), Matt Carpenter (16 games), and Allen Craig (11 games) will all look to extend their current hitting streaks.

What the Cardinals’ Bats Can Expect from Latos:

Of the 1,190 pitches he has thrown so far in 2013, 29% have been fastballs (average velocity of 91.6 MPH) and 26% have been sliders (average velocity of 85.3 MPH). Batters are hitting just .212 on his sliders but have been successful against his fastball with a .306 batting average. He does not throw his curveball often (only 9.7% of the time), but when he does, it is tough on hitters who have just a .133 average against that pitch. He also has a changeup in his repertoire, but he throws it less than 5% of the time. (Statistics calculated from data provided by PITCHF/x on fangraphs.com)

Thus, if the Cardinals’ offense wants to score some runs against Latos, it is going to have to jump on his fastballs. He is a fantastic pitcher that has given up only five home runs this season, so they will have to string together hits and keep up their hot hitting with two outs.

Tyler Lyons looks to return to form tonight after having a tough outing against the San Francisco Giants last week in which he allowed four earned-runs that led to his first loss of his rookie season. If Lyons is able to limit his pitch count and keep the Cardinals in the game, and the offense can capitalize on Latos’ fastballs, they will be in a good position to win yet another series against the Reds. However, it will not be easy because Latos is one of the best pitchers in the National League, and the Reds are out to redeem themselves after last night’s performance.

This game will be fun to watch, that is for sure.

Until next time…

Joe (@stlCupOfJoe)

Return of the Cardinals-Reds Rivalry

Photo Credit: ontheoutsidecorner.wordpress.com

Photo Credit: ontheoutsidecorner.wordpress.com

The rivalry returns tonight at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, Ohio. The St. Louis Cardinals have the league’s best record at 39-21 while the Cincinnati Reds are just three games back in the National League Central with an impressive 36-24 record. Due to the Chicago Cubs being irrelevant for many seasons now, the Reds have taken their place as the Cardinals main rival. Also, because of the Johnny Cueto kicking incident in 2010 and the Yadier MolinaBrandon Phillips general dislike for each other, the rivalry has become much more personal than just some baseball competition.

Pitching:

Fortunately for the Cardinals’ offense, yet unfortunate for the rivalry, Cueto was placed on the disabled-list with a right lat injury and will not be pitching in the series.

Tonight: Adam Wainwright (8-3, 2.33 ERA) vs. Mike Leake (5-2, 2.75 ERA). Advantage: Cardinals.

Tomorrow: Tyler Lyons (2-1, 2.66 ERA) vs. Mat Latos (5-0, 2.90 ERA). Advantage: Reds.

Sunday: Lance Lynn (8-1, 2.76 ERA) vs. Bronson Arroyo (6-5, 3.38 ERA). Advantage: Cardinals, but not as much as one would think.

Battle of the Bullpens:

Set-up Men: Trevor Rosenthal (15 holds, 1.86 ERA, 42 strikeouts) vs. Jonathan Broxton (10 holds, 4.44 ERA, 17 strikeouts). Advantage: Cardinals.

Closers: Edward Mujica (18/18 saves, 1.63 ERA, 25 strikeouts) vs. Aroldis Chapman (15/17 saves, 2.42 ERA, 46 strikeouts) Advantage: Reds, especially based on past performances by Chapman against St. Louis, but can we really doubt Mujica the way he has been performing in the 9th this season?

Offense: Virtual tie. Both are in the top three of three major offensive categories–runs, runs batted in, and on-base percentage. It will most likely depend on which team will be able to come up with clutch hits with two outs. If this turns out to be the case, then the Cardinals will have the advantage.

Key Things to Keep an Eye On: David Freese and Matt Carpenter look to extend their hitting streaks to 17 games and 16 games respectively. Allen Craig is carrying his own hitting streak as well at 10 games.

Brandon Phillips’ Quote: “I feel like the Cardinals are the best team in baseball right now,” Phillips said. “Those are the type of teams we have to step our game up, and I’m glad I’m going to play Friday. I think everybody on our team is looking forward to it. That shows where you really are when you play against the best teams.”

In Summary: The series will be hard fought like most of the series have been in the past four years, and runs will most likely come at a premium despite being played in the Great American “Launching Pad.” I give the slight advantage to the Cardinals for the series based on how they have been playing thus far this season. The Reds are great at home with a 21-9 record, but the Cardinals are almost as good on the road–20-9 record. Thus, barring a three-game sweep by the Reds, the Cardinals will still be in sole possession of first place after the series. Ideally, though, the Cardinals will win at least two of three and be four games up after the game on Sunday.

Until next time…

Joe (@stlCupOfJoe)