Opponent Preview | St. Louis Cardinals

The Reds (23-30) finally broke the month-long series losing streak with an impressive three-game sweep of the Dodgers to take the season series 4-3. They hope to keep that momentum at Great American Ballpark and climb out of the NL Central basement against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Monday (4:10 PM): Nick Lodolo v. Lance Lynn

Tuesday (6:40 PM): Andrew Abbott v. Kyle Gibson

Wednesday (1:10 PM): Frankie Montas v. Matthew Liberatore

The intensity of rivalries within sports ebbs and flows over time. Not that the rivalries tend to disappear outright, but when two teams are at their peak and battling for divisions or championships, bitter feelings can turn to downright dislike. Fans’ formative years have a way of anchoring that hatred, so there is a decent split amongst Reds fans between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals when answering who our biggest rival is. The Cardinals’ two World Series and 12 division titles as I have grown up. Chad Dotson went down memory lane to the height of the rivalry over the past 15 or so years here. It is bolstered by an insane conversation amongst Cardinal fans on the way into Great American stating that Yadier Molina was better than Johnny Bench (there could be an entire article written laying out why the 10-time Gold Glove winning, 14-time All-Star Hall of Famer is head and shoulders above the embodiment of the ridiculous “Cardinal Way”). I am with Chad, screw the Cardinals.

Position Players

The Cardinals bring in a below-average offense (96 wRC+), which is good for 20th in the league. With the second least home runs in the league and a team ISO of .129, they have not supplied much power this year. Their lineup took a hit earlier this month when Willson Contreras fractured his arm on a catcher’s interference. Contreras still leads the team in ISO (.271) and wRC+ (171). 

In his second full season, Alec Burleson has taken a jump with a .304 batting average, 60 points higher than 2023. The former fourth-round pick is seeing a season where his numbers align much closer to his expected statistics, with an xwOBA of .334 and xSLG of .457.

Two years ago, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado swept the NL and AL MVPs, and they have four MVPs combined. While still relatively early in the year, both seem to be starting to show some age. Arenado is in the bottom 10% in hard-hit rate, 7.5% lower than the league average and almost 10% under his career rate. While still at the league average of wRC+, it will be his third-lowest after his rookie year and the Covid-shortened season. Goldschmidt is bringing a wRC+ of 78, 22% below the league average and the only year of his career under the league average. He is striking out at a 31.5% rate, good for the bottom 9% of the league and 9% lower than his career average. 

Starting Pitching

In the offseason, the Cardinals made it a point to bolster their starting lineup with veteran pitching, including former Red Sonny Gray. Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson were two other free-agent signings toward that goal that we will see this week.

Lance Lynn will utilize three different fastballs: a four-seam, cutter, and sinker, all between the upper 80s and low 90s, to account for 86% of his pitches. He will throw a slider and a changeup to lefties to mix in some offspeed. Back with the Cardinals, who originally drafted him, Lynn is operating just below league average in most statistics, including xERA, xBA, strikeout rate, and walk rate. His career groundball rate has been a couple of percentage points lower than the league average, but he sits 5.4% lower than the rest of the league in 2024 and is giving up 1.05 HR/9 this season. The Reds can look to take advantage when Lynn comes to the hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark.

Kyle Gibson carries in a 3-2 record and a 3.81 ERA. However, the 36-year-old holds an xERA of 5.54, indicating a bit of “luck” this season. Gibson’s primary pitch is his sinker, which he throws nearly a third of the time, followed by a sweeper and cutter with about a 20% frequency each. This pitch mix has helped Gibson to keep a groundball rate above 50% for his career, including this season. A .268 BABIP, well below the league average of around .300, further demonstrates the luck Gibson has enjoyed in 2024. A strikeout rate and hard-hit rate both in the bottom quarter of the league mean Gibson relies on those hard-hit groundballs to keep finding gloves. A game to help Gibson’s BABIP regress to the mean would be welcome on Tuesday.

Matthew Liberatore has primarily been a relief pitcher for the Cardinals this season, with 16 appearances but only three starts. He has been used as an opener, never exceeding 3.2 innings in his three starts this month. The lefty throws a slider more than any other in his repertoire at 26%. Liberatore’s slider is generating a 41.7% whiff rate and a .129 batting average, so expect him to continue to rely on it during his start. His four-seam, sinker, and cutter, all sitting in the low to mid-90s, accounting for almost 60% of his remaining pitches. To righties, he will mix in a curveball and changeup for offspeed.

Bullpen

Ryan Helsley will close and leads the team with 17 saves. In other high-leverage situations, Jojo Romero is the lefty expected out of the bullpen. Getting to the Cardinals’ bullpen early in the series can have an even more significant impact on Wednesday when Libaratore starts, and they expect a heavier bullpen day. See below the rest of the current depth chart of the Cardinals’ bullpen and their 2024 stats.

Conclusion

After a brutal schedule and results in May, five of the next seven series are against inter-division opponents. The Reds have a great opportunity over the next couple of weeks to make their way back toward the top of the division.

Chris Duzyk

Chris began his Reds fandom with family trips from central Kentucky to Riverfront Stadium. At a young age, he had to learn to swing a wiffle ball bat left handed to properly imitate Ken Griffey Jr. and Sean Casey in backyard games against his brother. A graduate from Centre College, he was able to combine his love of baseball statistics and analytics often into his statistics and econometrics courses. He currently is living in Northern Kentucky where all it takes is a simple walk across the bridge to enjoy the games. Find him on Twitter @cduzyk.

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