What's going on with the Cardinals?
When the Mets last faced the Cardinals in late April, the reigning National League champs hadn't yet begun to show title-winning form, and New York took three of four games. Nowadays, while the Mets had fallen on hard times prior to this weekend's series win over San Diego, the Cardinals appear poised to make a run at the NL Central crown. The first place Brewers have a three-game advantage in the loss column, but St. Louis's deeper pitching staff will make it difficult for that lead to hold up.
Even with Joe Kelly and Tyler Lyons on the disabled list with hamstring and shoulder injuries, respectively, the Cardinals have been boosted by another stellar season from Adam Wainwright and the triumphant return of Jaime Garcia. The lefty has been out since last May due to shoulder surgery, but he looks to be back in top form with 32 strikeouts and just five walks in his first six starts of 2014. Wainwright is now on the shelf temporarily with elbow tendinitis, but that will open up a starting opportunity (sort of) for Carlos Martinez, who many analysts thought should have been a part of the Cardinals rotation since April.
The only problem with St. Louis, then, is the power outage that has overtaken its lineup this season. Allen Craig, Matt Holliday, and Matt Carpenter are all presently slugging under .400, and if not for the free agent acquisition of Jhonny Peralta, the team might have no home runs at all.
Matt Adams was also part of this problem with three home runs in his first 194 at-bats of the season, but he's seemingly turned all that around in an instant. Adams went on the disabled list with a calf injury for a couple of weeks from late May to early June, and since returning to the lineup, he's homered in three straight games to bring his season total to six.
Who are these guys?
With Martinez temporarily weakening the bullpen to help out in the rotation, the Cardinals called upon Nick Greenwood from Triple-A Memphis to join the relief corps for at least a little while. Acquired in a three-team trade deadline deal in 2010 that sent Ryan Ludwick to San Diego, Greenwood isn't exactly top prospect material, but he has pitched very effectively at Memphis this season. Even though he's proven himself worthy of a call-up with 32 strikeouts and just seven walks in 41.1 innings, it's unclear how long Greenwood will be in the majors for. As things stand, he's one of three lefties in the St. Louis bullpen, and his promotion results in the team having a four-player bench. It could be that Greenwood is used just to piggyback off of Martinez, who is only supposed to throw around 60 pitches tonight, and then is sent back to the minors soon after.
The call-up of Greenwood comes at the expense of Randal Grichuk, who was sent down to make room for the lefty. As a versatile outfielder who might develop into a better hitter than center fielders Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos, Grichuk was a nice bench piece for the Cardinals to carry around. However, with the team not wanting to put Wainwright on the disabled list just yet, the pitching staff became a priority, and now St. Louis is stuck with just Jay/Bourjos as the only outfielder on its bench. The funny thing about Grichuk is he was selected with the Mets' 2009 first round draft pick that was surrendered to the Angels when New York signed Francisco Rodriguez in free agency. Fortunately, the Angels waited until the very next pick (from the Yankees via the Mark Teixeira signing) to grab Mike Trout, or else we'd have even more "LOL Mets" materiel that we don't need.
Who's on the mound?
Monday: Jacob deGrom vs. Carlos Martinez
Although Martinez has started just one game before in his major league career, he came up through the minors starting in nearly every game he was used in. In fact, he might be a rotation piece right now if not for his presence in an organization that is flush with hard-throwing right-handers. That said, Martinez hasn't pitched particularly well as a set-up man this season. He's striking out just 7.27 batters per nine innings, and his walk rate is creeping up towards 10 percent. That, combined with a low strand rate, has made for an unsightly 4.67 ERA that will hopefully continue to rise over the next 24 hours.
deGrom can avoid a bullpen fate for himself if the command that got him through the minor leagues starts showing up more consistently in the majors. Last time out was a good start, as the 25-year-old surrendered just one free pass in 5.2 innings against the Brewers, but he's still walking around four batters per nine innings on the season. That's not good enough for a player like deGrom who is probably never going to be able to overpower his opponents.
Tuesday: Jon Niese vs. Michael Wacha
After a fantastic rookie campaign in 2013, Wacha is looking good again this season with a 2.88 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. However, the changeup commander out of Texas A&M has struggled lately, striking out just one batter in his last 11 innings against the Rays and Royals. New York fans should find those figures hard to believe, since Wacha was nearly untouchable in his start against the Mets this season. On April 23, he punched out 10 in just four innings, but also walked five batters and threw 93 pitches. Thanks to his early exit, the Mets were able to prevail against St. Louis on that day, but that might not be the case this time around if they continue to whiff at his stuff.
Whiffing usually isn't a huge problem for opponents of Niese, but it was for the Brewers last Thursday. The lefty pitched one of his finest games of the year with a season-high eight strikeouts and just one run allowed in 7.2 innings. Unfortunately, the Mets' bats couldn't do much against Kyle Lohse, and Milwaukee finally pulled away in extra innings. With another tough counterpart on the mound, Niese knows he's being counted on to provide an encore.
Wednesday: Bartolo Colon vs. Lance Lynn
For a guy who isn't considered a "star," Lynn has had a pretty remarkable first two-and-a-half major league seasons. From 2012 to 2013, he accumulated a 6.0 fWAR, and Lynn hasn't shown any signs of slowing down this season. He certainly pitched like an All-Star player in his last outing when he shutdown Washington for eight innings with just two baserunners allowed. Lynn wasn't quite that good on April 24 against the Mets, but he did strike out nine batters in 6.1 innings for one of his seven quality starts in 2014. For a team that has suffered a fair share of injuries this season, Lynn's durability may be an even more valuable asset than his devastating slider.
While Lynn did pitch well in his one outing versus the Mets this season, he didn't come out a winner. That's because Colon -- who doesn't have a slider as cool as Lynn's, but has more than enough durability to make up for it -- pitched even better that day. He struck out eight Cardinals in seven inning to lead the Mets to a 4-1 win. Lately, outings like that have become more of the norm for Colon, who has been mostly excellent since his Yankee Stadium blowup on May 12. With just six weeks left until the trade deadline, Colon is looking like he could bring back a nice little prospect or two if he continues to prosper and the Mets continue to flail below the .500 mark.
Prediction: With Wainwright out of action and Martinez limited on Monday, the Mets are able to steal a pair this week.
What about some GIFs?
Back on April 23, this great relay to nail Carpenter at the plate saved the Mets from a blown lead.
The Mets defeated the Cardinals 2-0 on Military Monday, with much thanks to some fine defense by Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy.
Finally, who can forget Wacha losing his hat to the wind on a blustery night in Queens?