The St. Louis Cardinals were one of the National League’s most disappointing teams through the first half, but they’ve turned it around since the All-Star break. Now they’re coming up fast in the Brewers’ rearview mirror -- now just 1.5 GB of the Brewers for a wildcard spot -- turning this weekend’s series into one that’s more important than some probably figured it would be a couple weeks ago.
The turnaround actually started just before the break, when they (finally) fired Mike Matheny as manager. The former Brewer frequently seemed overmatched in the role, and the atmosphere around the club seems to have almost immediately cleared with his departure. The team is 19-10 since the managerial move, but that’s likely just as much due to Matt Carpenter turning into Barry Bonds in the second half. Carpenter now has an NL-leading 33 home runs, hitting 15 of them in the past 28 games while slashing .306/.441/.769. Almost half of his hits in that time (33) have been home runs, with 5 others being doubles.
But the real key to the turnaround has been the pitching. In this 29-game stretch since Matheny’s firing, the team has allowed 4 or more runs in a game just 8 times, and the majority of those -- 5 of those 8 -- came in the first week of that stretch. The bullpen has especially turned around, which may not be a surprise, given one of Matheny’s biggest weaknesses was bullpen management.
Friday - 7:15 p.m. CDT
Freddy Peralta vs. Jack Flaherty
Saturday - 6:15 p.m. CDT
Wade Miley vs. Miles Mikolas
Sunday - 1:15 p.m. CDT
Jhoulys Chacin vs. John Gant
Flaherty has dominated the Brewers this year -- 22 strikeouts in 2 starts, covering 12 innings, allowing a total of 2 runs -- but he’s done that to just about everyone this year. Coming into this series with a 3.22 ERA, he’s struck out 127 batters in 103.1 innings, translating to 11.1 per 9 innings. His FIP (3.89) says he may be getting a little lucky due to the 15 home runs he’s allowed and his 3.1 BB/9, but his 123 ERA+ shows the 22-year-old has been legitimately good this year and should get some Rookie of the Year votes, even if he gets overshadowed by Ronald Acuna and Juan Soto.
Mikolas has actually been even more impressive than Flaherty this year and is becoming one hell of a comeback story. After flaming out in the majors his first go around and pitching in Japan, Mikolas has returned at the age of 29 to put up a 2.85 ERA (3.37 FIP) in 24 starts, thanks in large part to simply not allowing anyone on base. His 1.5 BB/9 is the lowest in the National League, allowing just 26 walks in 151.1 innings. He’s done all of that without striking out very many batters -- 6.1 per 9 -- by keeping the ball from being hit in the air. He’s carrying a 50.7% groundball rate, with a flyball rate of just 27.2% -- the third-lowest in all of baseball.
Gant is another young arm that’s had a good amount of success for the Cardinals this year. Just having turned 26, Gant has put up a 3.74 ERA (and a nearly spot-on 3.75 FIP) in 74.2 innings split between the rotation and bullpen. 11 of his 18 appearances have been starts, with his ERA a touch higher as a starter at 4.03. While he’s (probably predictably) allowed runs at a higher rate as a starter, he’s actually been able to maintain his strikeout rates between the two roles, coming into this appearance with 51 strikeouts in 58 innings as a starter. He held the Nationals to 1 run in 5.1 innings in his last start while also hitting a two-run home run that was the difference in the Cardinals’ 6-4 win.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs