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Oh no, it’s Bud Norris: Phillies vs. Cardinals Series Preview

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The St. Louis Cardinals will visit Citizens Bank Park for a three-game set

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at St. Louis Cardinals Joe Puetz-USA TODAY Sports

After taking two out of three from the Milwaukee Brewers, the Phillies return home to take on the Cardinals. Since the Brewers were in first place, and the Cardinals are in third, it stands to reason that this series should be considerably easier for the Phils.

The Last Time They Met

When these teams met in St. Louis last month, they split a four-game series. Oddly, the Phillies lost the games started by Jake Arrieta and Aaron Nola, and won the games started by Vince Velasquez and Zach Eflin. Then again, the Phillies just won a series against a first place team in which they received poor outings by both Arrieta and Nola. So maybe baseball is just a weird sport?

Since Then

The Cardinals have muddled along since that series with a 12-13 record. Despite the Phillies doing them a favor and handing the first place Brewers a couple of losses this past weekend, the Cards are still four games out in the National League Central.

Cardinals Pitching vs. Phillies Offense

Now that Rhys Hoskins has returned to his early season form, the Phillies once again have a game-altering presence in the middle of their lineup. Sure there are still plenty of holes, but it’s nice to have a guy who can patch over those holes by doing stuff like this:

As talented as he is, even Hoskins can’t be the lone supplier of offense. Hopefully that’s where Odubel Herrera steps in. He had a huge series the last time these teams played, and a three-hit day on Sunday (including a home run) may be a sign that he’s ready to do it again.

Let’s take a look at the starting pitchers who will have the unenviable task of trying to slow down Hoskins and company over the next three days. First up is Miles Mikolas, and if you’re not familiar with him, he’s got an odd backstory. Mikolas spent the first three years of his major league career as a reliever and frequently bounced between the majors and minors. Unable to find a job after the 2014, he took his talents to Japan where he became a full-time starter.

In most cases, when a major league pitcher goes to Japan, that’s the last we hear of them. Oddly, Mikolas actually became good over there. So good that the Cardinals decided to take a chance on him. So far, he’s rewarded them by going 7-2 with a 2.43 ERA.

For a Phillies equivalent, imagine if former reliever Michael Schwimer had gone to Japan and become a good starter instead of starting a company that preyed on foreign minor league players.

The key to Mikolas’ success this season has been his control. He’s leading the league in fewest walks per nine innings. That’s not the best news for a Phillies lineup which is very dependent on the free pass. Then again, if Mikolas has any sense, he’ll walk Hoskins early and often.

Here’s a fun nugget: Mikolas may be known for his great control, but in his one career appearance against the Phillies, he walked two batters in one inning. And he’s got a fascinating 70’s style mustache:

Tuesday’s starter is Luke Weaver who is in the midst of a thoroughly mediocre season. The Cardinals are 6-8 in games he’s started, and one of those losses was to the Phillies, making him 0-2 in his career against them. It’s worth wondering if that lack of prior success will get in Weaver’s head. He might be half-defeated before he throws a single pitch.

The finale will be handled by Michael Wacha. It seems like Wacha has been around forever, but he’s only 26 years old. He pitched well against the Phillies last month, but he has poor numbers in his two career starts at Citizens Bank Park.

Closer duties are being handled by Bud Norris. The former journeyman starter has done a decent job, but he’s already blown two saves in June, and there are legitimate questions as to how well he’ll hold up in that role. Is it possible for anyone to get a “This game is over” vibe when Bud Norris enters the game?

Phillies Pitching vs. Cardinals Offense

The Cardinals offense is heavily dependent on the home run. When you can keep them in the park, they are limited in what they can do. (Then again, the same could be said about the Brewers, and they certainly did some work against the Phillies.)

None of the Cardinals hitters are especially threatening individually. Their best hitter has been Jose Martinez, but he’s been on paternity leave, and might not even play. If he’s spent any time at home with the newborn, he probably hasn’t been sleeping all that well, and it’s hard to imagine he’ll be at the top of his game.

The rest of the lineup features former All-Stars who aren’t having their best seasons. Matt Carpenter’s home run numbers are slightly up, but his on base percentage is down. Marcell Ozuna hasn’t matched what he did in Miami last season, and Dexter Fowler’s batting average is under .200.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Cincinnati Reds
Matt Carpenter’s on base numbers are down
David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

In order to counter these former stars, the Phillies pitching staff will need to rebound from a very shaky weekend in Milwaukee. None of the starters lasted past the fifth inning, and that put a heavy burden on a bullpen which isn’t capable of handling it right now.

Monday’s starter is Nick Pivetta who is having a bad month of June. He allowed six runs in his last start, and hasn’t made it past the fifth inning in his last four. He’s faced the Cards once before this season, and while it wasn’t a great start, he also wasn’t helped much by his defense. (Sadly, a familiar situation for Phillies pitchers this season.)

Vince Velasquez gets the ball on Tuesday. The last time he faced the Cardinals, they had the misfortune of facing “Good Velasquez.” Since “Bad Velasquez” has been appearing with much less frequency this season, they probably won’t luck out this time either.

The finale will be started by Jake Arrieta who is going through a rough patch of his own. Part of the problem is that the Phillies’ defense has been awful behind him (Notice a trend?) but the defense can’t be entirely blamed for his struggles. Still, he’s far too good to go through an extended slump, so he’s likely to come out and pitch a gem on Wednesday.

As for the bullpen, it hasn’t been pretty lately. Being forced to pitch in every close game seems to have slightly lessened Seranthony Dominguez’s effectiveness, and the other relievers have been inconsistent. Although one guy who is having a decidedly nice season is Edubray Ramos:

Boo This Man

Want to see Cardinals fans get upset? Say something bad about Yadier Molina. I’m not saying that Molina hasn’t had a very good career, but Cardinals fans might overrate him just a bit:

Cardinals fans also probably won’t like it when Phillies fans point out that Jorge Alfaro has a better arm than Molina. And to show that I’m not just being a homer when I say that, I’ll point out that I would definitely trade Alfaro for Mike Trout! (But only if they threw in a decent prospect.)

Trivia

How many career home runs did Ryan Howard hit against the Cardinals?

Last series’ answer: Shane Victorino is the Phillies’ all-time leader in hits against the Milwaukee Brewers

Prediction

This is normally the time when I pick the Phillies to win two out of three, but for some reason, I’m not feeling as optimistic as usual. Perhaps I’m letting Hector Neris’ ninth inning meltdown on Sunday affect my thinking.

I was about to pick the Cardinals to win the series when I remembered that their lineup isn’t that great, their best pitcher was in Japan a year ago, and Bud Norris is their closer. So let’s go with that whole “Phillies win two of three” thing again.