What's going on with the Cardinals?
The 2014 version of the Cardinals isn't too different from the 2013 edition that won the National League pennant. The rotation is still made up of Adam Wainwright and a bunch of young, talented arms. This year, however, those arms are supposed to be there and are not replacements for Jake Westbrook and Jaime Garcia.
The one exceptions is Tyler Lyons, who has just been called up from Triple-A Memphis to fill in for Joe Kelly. Kelly had gotten his season off to a very good start, but a hamstring injury has him shelved on the disabled list for now. At Cardinals blog Viva El Birdos, Ben Humphrey takes a look at how awesome the St. Louis "replacement" starters were last season.
The St. Louis lineup was supposed to be improved with the addition of shortstop Jhonny Peralta. The veteran brings some pop to a position that was an offensive weakness for the Cardinals in recent years. While Peralta has hit four home runs so far, he's also struck out 14 times for a .172 batting average and .243 on-base percentage.
The offseason departure of Carlos Beltran was supposed to be offset by more playing time for first baseman Matt Adams, and the big fella has performed admirably so far. The problem is that Allen Craig, now a full-time outfielder, has had trouble reproducing his 2014 success. Based on his past three seasons, though, Craig will eventually come around, and so will the St. Louis offense. When that happens, they have a pretty good chance to be back in the World Series this October.
Who are these guys?
Kolten Wong is guy who is best known for being picked off at the end of Game 4 of the 2013 World Series. One could certainly do better when it comes to leaving a lasting mark on the game, and Wong seems to have the skills to carve out a better place for himself in the hearts of Cardinals fans. Throughout his minor league career, the Hawaiian second baseman showed enough plate discipline and speed to make him a possible top-of-the-order hitter in the future. Last year in Memphis, Wong posted a .303/.369/.466 line for the highest ISO of his career along with 20 stolen bases. He's had trouble reproducing that success during his brief time in the majors, but the future appears bright for the 23-year-old.
Peter Bourjos was somewhat of a luxury acquisition for the Cardinals in the offseason. With Wong and Matt Carpenter pushing David Freese out of the lineup, St. Louis sent Fernando Salas and its former third baseman to Anaheim last November in exchange for Bourjos and a minor league player. The interesting part was that the Cardinals already had Jon Jay on their roster. He's an adequate defensive center fielder who is more valuable than Bourjos with the bat thanks to his career .356 OBP. However, Bourjos, a defensive wiz who was pushed out of a crowded Angels outfield, has made 14 appearances in center field so far to Jay's seven. He's not going to hit too much, but with Craig and an aging Matt Holliday manning the corners, it's clear the Cardinals value Bourjos as a key piece in their outfield.
Who's on the mound?
Monday: Tyler Lyons vs. Jenrry Mejia
Viva El Birdos went way in-depth on Lyons the other day. The short version is that he's got pretty good stuff but has been more of a control guy throughout his career. Last season in eight starts and four relief appearances, Lyons struck out 43 batters and walked 16 for a 4.75 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. That's not too impressive in this age of rookie starters lighting the world on fire, but it's not bad either. At Memphis in 2013, Lyons walked just 1.70 batters per nine in 100.1 innings, so the patient Mets should be leaning a bit more towards attack mode than usual. His counterpart on Monday night will be Mejia, who still has a WHIP of 1.44 despite only allowing four hitters to reach base in his last outing. If he can continue to limit his walks, Mejia could be a nice rotation piece for the foreseeable future.
Tuesday: Adam Wainwright vs. Dillon Gee
There's not much to say about Wainright that hasn't already been said. He's one of the game's best pitchers, but he would probably like to win a Cy Young award at some point in his career. He doesn't blow you away with velocity, but his cutter/curve combo is one of the game's most lethal pitch combinations. Wainwright is off to a great start in 2014 with four straight starts of at least seven innings with at least seven strikeouts. His last game was his best, as the graybeard of the Cardinals rotation hurled a complete game shutout against the Nationals. The good news for the Mets is that Gee is also coming off his best outing of the season. He just threw seven shutout frames to finish off the Diamondbacks last Wednesday. At just 72 pitches, Gee probably could have gone the distance, but if that happened, the Mets might still have Jose Valverde closing games. It's probably for the best that the old closer gave up a pair of home runs at the tail end of a win instead of the front end of a horrible collapse.
The subject of Muppets jokes in the past, present, and future, Wacha has picked up in 2014 where he left off last year. The 22-year-old's electrifying fastball, devastating changeup, and the preciseness with which he locates the two pitches could make him a dominant starter for years to come. Of course, it would be prudent to wait for the youngster to pitch at least 100 major league innings before showering such praise, but boy, is Wacha fantastic. In 2013, pitching out of the rotation and bullpen, he struck out a batter per inning while posting a 1.10 WHIP and 2.78 ERA. This season, the kid gloves are off, and Wacha has a 25:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 26 innings. It will be tough for Niese to keep pace, but the lefty is quietly off to a great start, especially after we were given such a scare with his elbow injury this spring.
Lynn would be an exciting young rotation arm in many other systems, but for the Cardinals he's more of a forgetful guy considering how stacked the team is with young flamethrowers. Taking the mound after Wainwright and Wacha, he's not so intimidating, but the Mets shouldn't relax too much or they might miss their big chance to score some runs on the Cardinals. Lynn has struggled with walks during his career, posting a WHIP above 1.30 during his first two full MLB seasons. That should play into the Mets' hands if they don't flail too much at his curveball. After blowing up against Anaheim, Colon looked solid against the Braves over the weekend. Perhaps a fourth quality start in his first five of the season would be enough to get New York a win in the series finale.
Prediction: The Mets battle to a split with the Cards, defeating Wacha and Wainwright but losing the two other games.
What about some GIFs?
Wainwright's curveball was on display when he faced the Mets last June.
The Cardinals won two of four games versus the Nationals this weekend, but the real highlight of the trip was seeing the Easter Bunny body slam Teddy Roosevelt.