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Series Preview: Players Weekend in St. Louis

“Who” is on first? Tommy Two Towels!

MO: Los Angeles Dodgers v St. Louis Cardinals, Game 3 Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays are making a rare trip to St. Louis, celebrating Players Weekend with their chosen nicknames on their uniforms.

The team is coming off a shutout of the Toronto Blue Jays to cap off an all-too-rare series win.

The Cardinals have lost four of five including losing a series to the San Diego Padres, which we here is hard to do. Like the Rays, they still have an outside shot at a Wild Card position. Winning this series is crucial for both teams if they hope to remain even somewhat in the race.

The Matchups:

Friday 8:15 PM: Jake Odorizzi vs Michael Wacha
Saturday 7:15 PM: Blake Snell vs Mike Leake
Sunday 2:15 PM: Chris Archer vs Lance Lynn

The Cardinals are one of only four teams to have a starters ERA below 4.00

All four teams are in the National League. Combined they have a 3.96 ERA and 4.13 FIP. They don’t get a lot of strikeouts, but they limit walks.

Michael Wacha’s results have been significantly better than last year’s injury plagued season. He had a 5.09 ERA and 3.91 FIP last year, but this year has a 4.08 ERA and 3.71 FIP. Last year he was a bit unfortunate, but his strikeouts are up about 4% with similar walk and homerun numbers. In his last start he allowed five runs in four innings to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Mike Leake has been an unexciting but solid signing for the Cardinals. This year he has a 4.14 ERA and 4.04 FIP. Leake has a low 16.0% strikeout rate, but only has a 5.6% walk rate. His 55.2% groundball rate helps him avoid damage. In his last start the Pirates lit him up for six runs in three innings.

Lance Lynn has been doing a great job of limiting runs, but is running a .235 BABIP against this season. He has a 3.17 ERA and 4.72 FIP. Lynn has been a really solid 3+ fWAR pitcher for his career. Like Alex Cobb this is his first year back from Tommy John surgery. His 20.0% strikeout rate is the lowest of his career and his 9.3% walk rate is the highest of his career. In his last start the San Diego Padres put up four runs in six innings.

The Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal is undergoing Tommy John Surgery.

Two days ago the Cardinals announced that their closer, Trevor Rosenthal, would have to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery. From 2013-15 Rosenthal was a big part of the Cardinals backend bullpen. In 2014 and 2015 he had back to back 45 plus save seasons. Everything went off the rails last year as his ERA ballooned 4.46 and his walk rate soared to 14.7%. This year his walks were back down to a manageable 9.9% and has posted his highest strikeout rate of his career at 37.6%.

Overall the bullpen has been fine for the Cardinals with a 4.12 ERA and 4.00 FIP. Brett Cecil and Tyler Lyons have been solid left handed relievers out of the pen. Matt Bowman and Seung Hwan Oh have been reliable from the right side.

Last year Oh was great in his first season stateside as a 34 year old out of the Korean Baseball Organization. He posted a 1.92 ERA and 2.13 FIP. This year hasn’t been nearly as successful with a 3.86 ERA and 4.02 FIP. His strikeout rate is down over 10%. The real problem has been his groundball rate going down almost 10%.

The Cardinals bullpen is as well rested as you’ll see for a team at this point in the season. Tyler Lyons is the only pitcher who has thrown two games in a row and with 47 pitches over the past two days is likely unavailable for tonight’s game.

The Cardinals offense is one of the better offenses in the National League

The Cardinals are hitting .262/.338/.432 and have a 101 wRC+. They don’t hit for a lot of power with a .168 ISO, but they have the third highest on base percentage.

Tommy Pham (135 wRC+) and Paul DeJong (132 wRC+) have led the offense. The incredible thing about Pham is that he’s legally blind. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch wrote about Pham’s degenerative eye condition, keratoconus.

The lineup is deep with veterans Dexter Fowler (121 wRC+), Matt Carpenter (117 wRC+), Jedd Gyorko (110 wRC+), and Yadier Molina (94 wRC+). Kolten Wong (118 wRC+) has also played a positive role in the Cardinals offense.

The Players Weekend should be fun for the players and fans

Players will be able to show a little bit of their personality this weekend with nicknames on their jerseys. There’s sure to be a ton of stories told about some of the more interesting choices. Some of the best on the Rays are Chih-Wei Hu going with “Who?” and Tommy Hunter going with “Tommy Two Towels.”

Nobody is running away with the second wild card in the American League and despite the rough stretch for the Rays they are only three games back. The odds aren’t great, but they aren’t dead yet. But the Cardinals are a strong team who are also fighting for their 2017 baseball lives so this series should be very competitive.