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It’s not the Braves or Mets: Phillies vs. Cardinals series preview

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Two weeks into the season and the Phillies will finally face a different team!

MLB: NLCS-St. Louis Cardinals at Washington Nationals
Success hasn’t been as easy to come by for Paul Goldschmidt this season
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Before the season, if someone told you that the Phillies would emerge from a stretch of 13 games with the Mets and Braves at 6-6 (plus one cancellation), you would have been okay with that, right? But since the Phillies began that stretch much better than they finished, some alarmist fans are acting like this season is turning into some sort of disaster.

It’s not a disaster! Maybe you’ve forgotten because it’s been a couple of years since we’ve watched a full season, but 162 is a lot of games. Even the best teams are going to have some down times. They’ve shown they can at least hang with their chief divisional rivals despite facing some tough pitching matchups.

Let’s see what happens when they start playing teams that are not the Braves or Mets. That portion of the schedule begins tonight as they welcome the Cardinals to Philadelphia for the first time since 2019. Unlike the Phillies, the Cardinals have had more diversity in their early schedule, facing four different teams. But the end result is the same: A 6-6 record.

St. Louis Cardinals

Record: 6-6 (Third place in National League Central)

The last time they met

The Cardinals last visited Citizens Bank Park in May 2019, and the Phillies took two out of three. The first game was won by Nick Pivetta, prompting some people to believe that he was finally figuring things out. (He wasn’t.)

Gold not up to standard

After the Rockies inexplicably traded Nolan Arenado to the Cardinals for pennies on the dollar, Arenado has been pretty good in the early going, with three home runs and a .949 OPS. However, the addition of Arenado has largely been countered by a poor start from Paul Goldschmidt whose OPS stands at just .640.

Goldschmidt was dealing with some back soreness, but has since returned to the lineup. Maybe the early slump is just a blip in what will be another productive season for the first baseman. But back injuries have a habit of lingering, so its not impossible to think that he might be dealing with this all season.

Quick look at the Cardinals’ scheduled starters

The first six years of Carlos Martinez’s career, he was a solid starting pitcher. He was moved to the bullpen and became the team’s closer for the 2019 season, and that went pretty well...until the playoffs.

He was moved back to the rotation for 2020, and unfortunately for him, he picked up where he left off in the playoffs (9.90 ERA in five starts). 2021 hasn’t started out much better since he’s lost both of his starts and has a 6.60 ERA.

Kwang Hyun Kim will make his first start of 2021 after missing the early going with an injury. The Korean import had a strong debut in 2020 going 3-0 (and one save in one relief appearance) with a 1.62 ERA. There may have been some luck involved as opposing batters had a .217 BABIP against him. It will also be interesting to see how teams adapt now that they have video of him facing actual major leaguers.

John Gant has spent most of his career as a reliever, but the Cardinals placed him in their rotation to start 2021. He’s given up a fair number of walks early on (six in nine innings), so the Phillies need to get back to their patient ways that seemed to abandon them against the Mets.

BCIB? It isn’t Yadi

Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina has had a long and distinguished career. There was a time when he might indeed have been the best catcher in baseball. But as any Phillies fan - as well as any baseball fan with a rational mind - could tell you, that time is not now.

Of course, many Cardinals fans have been slow to catch on to this new reality and still consider their guy to be the best. Those fans are wrong.

Obligatory mockery of Cardinals fans

If there’s one thing Cardinals fans love to praise more than Yadier Molina, it is themselves. Despite all the mockery, and even a Twitter account dedicated to them, Cardinals fans still unironically think they are the greatest fan base to exist.

Just look at the responses to this tweet:

Wow, the fans cheered the return of a former player. What an amazing group of spectators! I mean, that sort of thing only happens in about 29 other MLB cities.

Heck, even in awful, awful Philadelphia former players are sometimes given a warm reception upon returning. (Although we also will boo the living crap out of them depending on the circumstances. For instance, I don’t think former manager Gabe Kapler is going to hear too many cheers when he returns next week.)

Trivia

Last series’ answer: When the Phillies played their first game at Citi Field on June 9, 2009, the leadoff hitter was Shane Victorino. Usual leadoff man Jimmy Rollins was in the lineup, but for reasons that I can’t recall, Vic was batting first. Lower Slower was first with the correct answer.

This series’ question: In the middle game of the last Phillies vs. Cardinals series on May 29, 2019, four Phillies hit home runs. Name all four.

What to expect

  • Zach Eflin becomes the first Phillies pitcher to reach the eighth inning in a start.
  • The Phillies offense wakes up a bit, scoring over seven runs in at least one of the games.
  • Molina will so something positive, prompting a flurry of “Maybe he’s actually the best catcher in baseball” social media posts from Cardinals fans.

Closing thought that may or may not be relevant to the series

You may know that the Cardinals have a reliever named Jordan Hicks. He’s talented, but has missed a chunk of time in his career due to injury. He should not be confused with NFL linebacker Jordan Hicks, who also plays for the Cardinals, and has also missed a good number of games due to injury.

I always liked Hicks when he played for the Eagles. I thought he was going to be a star, but mostly due to injuries, he never reached his full potential with them.