clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Giants-Cardinals Preview: Arenado & Goldschmidt lead a potent lineup, BUT...

The Giants have a tough 4-game series against St. Louis, but the Cardinals’ pitching might be bad enough to be the equalizer.

St. Louis Cardinals v Chicago Cubs - Game One Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

Perhaps the San Francisco Giants have figured something out after splitting a four-game series against the red-hot Mets or maybe they’re about to be lured into a trap by the St. Louis Cardinals, who roll into Oracle Park for a four-game series with a 9-13 record.

It’s a bit of a stumble out of the gates for a loaded team coming off a 93-win season, and that’s about as far as I’d like to take any sort of horse racing metaphor. The Cardinals and Giants always play each other tough regardless of record and so even though both teams are fourth in their divisions, figure that neither side will give in... even though one of my strongest memories of last season involves this —

That was last year, though. Does either team have an edge this year?

Oh sure, you can look at the Cardinals’ potent lineup (a mere 14th in MLB by runs scored, but 5th in combined fWAR) and think the Giants are going to get smashed, but the Giants just managed to hold the best lineup in the National League to a four-game split. And before you chuckle at the thought of the Giants being able to rally against the Cardinals pitching, consider this: the Cardinals’ starters have the third-worst staff ERA (5.57) in the NL, behind just the Rockies (6.48) and Reds (6.01). The next worst rotation? The Mets (4.94).

What the hell is going on with the Cardinals’ starting pitching? Seriously?

All of their positive value has come from Monday night’s starter, lefty Jordan Montgomery (0.7 fWAR), who has a 2.88 FIP in 22.1 IP. The only other starter with a positive value is Steven Matz, with 0.1. 26-year old Jake Woodford drags down the average with -0.4 fWAR. Adam Wainwright remains on the IL, and Matthew Liberatore is still in the minors. This gives the Giants a narrow window to do some damage.

The Cardinals’ bullpen looks to be both a strength and performing well to start the season.

The Giants have had three complete game shutouts since 2018 and the Cardinals’ setup guy, Chris Stratton, has one of them (can you name the pitcher with the other two? — trivia answer after the poll). He’s got a 3.09 ERA/2.30 FIP in 11.2 IP with decent leverage numbers. He gives up a lot of flyballs, though, and his primary pitch is a four-seam fastball. The Giants can hit four-seam fastballs.

With two left-handed starters in a four-game series, this might be when we see Mitch Haniger and Austin Slater make their season debuts. That will lengthen the lineup and increase the chances the team can get to the Cardinals early. Will the Giants’ starting staff, who are averaging just 5 IP per start be able to hold off the Cardinals’ nasty lineup — led by Paul Goldschmidt, Tommy Edman, Nolan Gorman, Lars Nootbar, and Willson Contreras — long enough for Giants hitters to get to the Cardinals’ starters? The battle of the bullpens might not favor our favorite team.

Notice I didn’t mention Nolan Arenado in that list of feared Cardinals hitters. There’s good reason for that, which I’ll get to in a moment. For now, though, the Giants look like they might be able to play the Cardinals tough, if only because of St. Louis’s on-paper performance, but for that very reason, this series also has the makings of a trap.


Series details

Who: San Francisco Giants vs. St. Louis Cardinals
Where: Oracle Park, San Francisco, California
When: Monday (6:45pm PT), Tuesday (6:45pm PT), Wednesday (6:45pm PT), Thursday (12:45pm PT)
National broadcasts: MLB Network (Thursday - 12:45pm PT simulcast)

Projected starters:

Monday: Alex Cobb vs. Jordan Montgomery (LHP)
Tuesday: TBD vs. Jake Woodford
Wednesday: Anthony DeSclafani vs. Steven Matz (LHP)
Thursday: Logan Webb vs. Miles Mikolas


Where they stand


Record: 8-13, 4th in the NL West
Run differential: -2, 10th in the NL
Postseason standing: 4.0 games out of the Wild Card, 3.0 games out of the division
Momentum: 2-game winning streak; 3-7 in their last 10 games


Record: 9-13, 4th in NL Central
Run differential: -2, 6th in the NL
Postseason standing: 3.5 games out of Wild Card, 6.5 games out of the division
Momentum: 1-game winning streak; 4-6 in their last 10 games


Three Giants to watch

Mitch Haniger: If the Giants get him back this series, he’s going to need to contribute almost right away. Doubtful he plays all four games (if he’s even ready), but if the Giants are going to lengthen their lineup against lefties and solidify it against righties (he has a career OPS of .795 against righties, so, no platoon split) they’ll need him in order to do it. Watch him if for no other reason than to see what all the fuss was about — the Giants, after all, had their sights set on him from the very beginning of the offseason, always intending to pair him with Judge or Correa.

Austin Slater: He was always intended to be the other half of a platoon with Mike Yastrzemski, and as nice as Yaz has been to start the season, he’s looked dreadful against left-handed pitching. Getting better at bats from this lineup position will be criticial.

Alex Cobb: The game one tone setter. DeSclafani and Webb have similar arsenals, and how the Cardinals do against him could portend the rest of the series.


Three Cardinals to watch

Either of the Nolans: Arenado and Gorman are at opposite ends of the damage infliction spectrum. Arenado a veteran right handed bat who makes so many unfathomably great plays at third base that he doesn’t seem human sometimes. Gorman a 23-year old left-handed bat who’s just barely past his rookie status and is the Cardinals’ primary DH. He’s slugging .657 (11 of his 21 hits are extra base hits), and he has 10 walks against 20 strikeouts. He was the Cardinals’ first round draft pick in 2018 (the Joey Bart draft!).

Meanwhile, Arenado’s defensive prowess remains (95th percentile in outs above average), but his hitting line is a virtual league average (102 OPS+) line of .284/.333/.386. It’d be great if he didn’t get hot against the Giants, even though a poor showing from him at the plate won’t necessarily help the Giants — 1) because of the rest of the lineup and 2) his defense kills rallies! It snuffs out hope!

Jordan Montgomery: If the Giants can get to the Cardinals’ best start of the early season, who is also left-handed, then the possibilities for the rest of the series sort of become limitless. He is a groundball pitcher (46.6% GB rate) who gives up hard contact (45.2% Hard Hit rate) in between those groundouts and not striking guys out (his 7.66 K/9 is 24th-worst in MLB among qualified starting pitchers).

Lars Nootbaar: An early season injury knocked him out of qualifying for the batting title for now, but lowering the measure to 30 PA and his 30.6% walk rate is the best in baseball. #2 in MLB? LaMonte Wade Jr. (22.5%). He’s going to be a very important guy to keep off the basepaths, too (75th percentile sprint speed).


Prediction time!


Giants vs. Cardinals - How will it go?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    Giants sweep!
    (14 votes)
  • 21%
    Giants win 3-1
    (25 votes)
  • 45%
    Giants split
    (53 votes)
  • 17%
    Cardinals win 3-1
    (20 votes)
  • 4%
    Cardinals sweep
    (5 votes)
117 votes total Vote Now

Trivia Answer: Anthony DeSclafani — April 26 and June 11, 2021.