Angels (38-38 ) @ Cardinals (38-36)
It’s been a while since Albert Pujols stepped on to the field at Busch Stadium. This will be his first return since he left the Cardinals after the 2011 season. Pujols left a hero. The Machine. Whatever you may think of him now, he was a freaking legend in St. Louis. Pujols played 11 season for the Cardinals and amassed 445 home runs there along with a .328 AVG and 1.037 OPS. That IS the stuff of legends. He was a 3 time MVP as a Cardinal and runner up three times. He was rookie of the year back in 2001 and a 9 time All Star. Pujols will get respect in his return. Likely a standing ovation full of lots of emotion. If anything else happens this weekend, let’s enjoy that moment.
All that being said, the Angels have some games to play - and hopefully win. Pujols will probably play first base a good portion of these games since there is no DH. On paper, these two teams seem pretty evenly matched if you look at their records. However, the Cardinals have been floundering as of late, and even splitting their series against the Marlins this week. The were also swept by the Cubs early in the month.
In the month of June, the Angels have outscored the Cardinals 111 to 68 but put up almost 2 full points less of fWAR in terms of pitching, where the Cardinals sit about in the middle of the pack.
Know your foe:
Cardinals - who’s hot (last 7 days):
José Martínez .563 OBP, 1 HR
Paul DeJong .394 OBP, 2 HRs
Jack Flaherty Thrown out on bases twice in three days to end game
Squirrel saves the day! #MetsWin pic.twitter.com/JziQqlD0rN— New York Mets (@Mets) June 16, 2019
Pinch-running pitcher Jack Flaherty on Saturday, with 2 outs in the top of the 9th, down 1 run, was thrown out at home to end the game— Roger Cormier (@yayroger) June 21, 2019
Tonight, down 1, with 2 outs in the bottom of the 11th, Flaherty was determined to not get thrown out at home again in the same situation and pic.twitter.com/UmrmC85xgw
(L) Griffin Canning (3.92 ERA) v. (R) Michael Wacha (6.00 ERA)
Friday, June 21st @ 5:15PM
The honeymoon part of Griffin Canning’s career is over. He maintains a sterling 0.99 WHIP, and his ERA is still under 4 (by far the only Angels starter to accomplish that feat), but it appears as if he’s been grinding the last few starts. He’s allowed four runs in two of the last three starts. This seems like a minor point to gripe about, considering the state of the Angels rotation, but to have any sort of shot at the playoffs, the Angels will need Canning to be lockdown. He still has an amazing 16% Swinging Strike rate, something that bodes will for future success.
Michael Wacha’s career has been split into two. The irony of Wacha starting Pujols’s return to St. Louis is not lost on us (Wacha was drafted with the compensation pick the Cardinals received from the Angels for the Pujols signing). However, as great as the first three seasons of Wacha’s career were (3.04 ERA, 1.19 WHIP), the last four have been the polar opposite (4.50 ERA, 1.42 WHIP). This year, Wacha has been booted from the Cardinals rotation before returning two starts ago. His last start, he gave up six runs in four innings to the Mets, spawning articles titled, “Why in the world are the Cardinals sticking with Wacha?”
(R) Félix Peña (4.70 ERA) v. (R) Dakota Hudson (3.55 ERA)
Saturday, June 22nd @ 11:15AM
Félix Peña keeps garnering “cheap wins”, as Rick Souddress likes to put it. Two appearances ago, he went 3.2 innings and got the win. Last appearance against Toronto, he allowed four runs in six innings, also getting the win because of an Angels offensive explosion. He’s given up four homers in his last two appearances, and his season ERA is now up to 4.70. He’ll need to do better in St. Louis. Expect an opener for Peña.
Dakota Hudson, despite having a freaking awesome name, looks to be about an average starter. He’s outperforming his FIP by over a run, perhaps due to the Cardinals’ defense, and he has a 1.53 WHIP, a 4.1 BB/9 walk-rate, and a 6.2 K/9. Despite these numbers, Hudson has thrown seven straight quality starts, which is pretty impressive for a young starter in today’s game. He’s only gone 100 pitches in one start, and his swinging strike rate is 9%. As long as the Angels don’t do stupid things, they should feast off Hudson.
(L) Tyler Skaggs (4.61 ERA) v. (R) Miles Mikolas (4.48 ERA)
Sunday, June 9th @ 1:07PM
Tyler Skaggs is having a typical Tyler Skaggs-season. He’s 6-6, his season numbers don’t look great, and he’s coming off a sublime 7.1 inning performance against Toronto in which he might have been able to go the distance if the game was a little more out of reach. He’ll need to limit the walks and keep the pitch count down to have a successful outing against the Cardinals.
After leading the NL in wins last year with 18, Miles Mikolas has taken a step back in 2019. He’s allowed 14 homers despite only giving up 16 all of 2018. His FIP and ERA are both up over a run. Despite having elite swing-and-miss stuff (18% Swinging Strike rate), Mikolas only has a K/9 of 6.5, suggesting some positive regression is in store for him. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen against the Angels. He is coming off six scoreless innings against Miami.
Overall Verdict: The pitching matchups don’t look all that bad for the Angels and their offense has been on top of MLB all month, so expect to see a strong showing for them in St. Louis.
Current Standings (sorted by playoff odds)
(Pitch tracking data from baseballsavant.mlb.com)
(Splits from FanGraphs Splits Tool and Baseball Reference)
(Standings/odds from fivethirtyeight.com)