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Series Preview #45: Talking Cardinals With Viva El Birdos

67-70 (4th place, NL Central)
74-63 (2nd place, NL Central)

GAME 1: September 7, 2012 @ 7:15 p.m. CDT
(TV: FS-Wisconsin; Radio: 620 WTMJ)

: September 8, 2012 @ 6:15 p.m. CDT
(TV: FS-Wisconsin; Radio: 620 WTMJ)

GAME 3: September 9, 2012 @ 1:15 p.m. CDT
(TV: FS-Wisconsin; Radio: 620 WTMJ)

Busch Stadium | St. Louis, Missouri

SBN Coverage: Brewers vs Cardinals coverage

A View from the Other Dugout: Viva El Birdos

Game 1 Yovani Gallardo (14-8, 3.79) vs. Kyle Lohse (14-2, 2.81)
vs. Cards (0-2, 22.24) vs. Brewers (2-0, 2.25)
Game 2 Mike Fiers (8-7, 3.11) vs. Jake Westbrook (13-10, 3.93)
vs. Cards (0-0, 0.00) vs. Brewers (1-0, 1.29)
Game 3 Shaun Marcum (5-4, 3.53)
vs. Joe Kelly (5-6, 3.54)
vs. Cards (0-0, ---)
vs. Brewers (1-1, 3.86)

While the Brewers and Cardinals were getting ready for their final meeting of the 2012 season DanUpBaby of Viva El Birdos and I exchanged questions to help get you ready for this series. You can see my answers to his questions over there, and his answers are below.

BCB: The Cardinals enter this series as the NL leader in hits, runs, batting average and OBP. Would you have predicted that a year after Albert Pujols departure?

VEB: Since signing Matt Holliday the Cardinals seem to have put a premium on having a broad offensive base, and last year's post-Pujols signings—Beltran, Furcal, and even the resigning of Berkman—emphasized that even more. I wasn't expecting them to be the top offensive team in the NL, but this was, from the beginning, the kind of team that could have ended the season with all its starters over the league-average OPS.

Follow the jump for more!

BCB: Speaking of Pujols, the Cardinals have played seven players at first base in their first season without him but the most notable may be Allen Craig, who is hitting .310/.365/.551 in 2012. Is he the long term answer at the position?

VEB: Craig is a little old for his amount of MLB experience, is developing a reputation for injury-proneness, and has been an unnervingly similar hitter at every level, and the effect of all that is to make fans a little less ready to commit than they would be for the average guy with a 139 career OPS+.

That said—his career OPS+ is now 139. Even if he were not quite this good, I think it's become clear he's the Cardinals' first baseman of the next three or four years. But there's a small part of me that's happy the Cardinals still have Matt Adams in AAA Memphis.

BCB: In Friday's series opener the Brewers will face Kyle Lohse, who is having a career year and carrying an ERA under 3 on the season despite striking out less than six batters per nine innings. What's the secret to his success?

VEB: Since his weird injury problems subsided Kyle Lohse has turned himself into the most stereotypical Dave Duncan pitcher imaginable. During Duncan's tenure as the Cardinals' pitching coach we liked to joke about how he'd remake any pitcher in his own image, but I'm not sure Lohse even has a self-image anymore; he's just the Platonic form of Duncan-ness. He's a testament to how much success a pitcher can have throwing a reasonably deceptive high-80s fastball at the lower half of the strike zone over and over.

BCB: By my count the Cardinals have made five September callups. Is there one that sticks out as being more interesting than the others? Do any of them figure to make a significant contribution down the stretch?

VEB: The most interesting call-up long-term is Shelby Miller, who's been the Cardinals' top prospect for two or three years now and was having a terrible season in AAA until a midsummer run in which he struck out 50 batters against just one walk. He made his MLB debut on Wednesday and looked a lot like—well, Kyle Lohse with a low-to-mid-90s fastball. So prospect-watchers are going to be interested in whether he's actually changed his approach; as recently as early this year he was still seen as a flamethrower with average command.

With Rafael Furcal injured and the bullpen in tatters, though, Ryan Jackson and Trevor Rosenthal might have a more immediate impact. Jackson is a mediocre hitter with a defensive reputation somewhere between very good and excellent; Rosenthal is a minor league starter who's been promoted aggressively to the Major League bullpen, as small right-handers with 97 mph fastballs often are.

BCB: The Cardinals entered Thursday in a virtual tie for the NL's final Wild Card spot but only a game and a half ahead of both the Dodgers and Pirates. Should they be considered a favorite to win one of those two playoff spots? Will this season be a disappointment if they don't?

VEB: Yes and yes. This season began with a lot of promise for the Cardinals; their farm system's peaking and their general manager, John Mozeliak, found a way of spending the Albert Pujols Dividend that a lot of us found really impressive. After a summer of watching them underperform their run differential and lose games with the help of the undifferentiated back of their bullpen I think a lot of fans are already disappointed, but they can salvage this season if they hang on to this berth in the play-in game.

Thanks again to Dan for taking the time!