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Series Preview: St. Louis Cardinals @ Milwaukee Brewers

Brewers return home for the first time this season to face division-rival Cardinals

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

American Family Field opens its doors to fans for the first time this season as the Brewers start a four-game set against the Cardinals on Thursday. The Brewers come back to Milwaukee with a .500 record, winning two out of three against the Orioles their last time out. Meanwhile, the Cardinals hit the road for the first time, entering the series with a 3-1 record. Last season, the Cardinals won the season series 11-8.

The Brewers are leaning into the fact this year’s home opener also falls on Milwaukee Day. The celebration of “414 Day” includes a 4:14 PM first pitch, with on-field festivities starting a little before 4:00 PM. This year, the ceremonial first pitch will be delivered by 12-year-old Tucker Sparks, a survivor of the Waukesha Christmas parade tragedy. In December, the Brewers took part in “Jerseys for Jackson,” an event to honor the life of Tucker’s brother Jackson, who was one of six people killed that day.

The Brewers enter the series winners of their last two games. After a slow start at the plate, the Crew has begun to find their swing. Their nine runs total in their last two games matched the total of the first four games, two of which were shutouts. On the mound, the Brewers have seen some early struggles from the Brewers starting pitchers. Yesterday’s game against the Orioles was the first impressive start from a starter, as Corbin Burnes went seven innings while allowing no runs to go with eight strikeouts. He still didn’t manage to get the win, as Devin Williams allowed the Orioles to tie it before the Brewers added two to win in the ninth. For the Cardinals, the trip to Milwaukee gives them some much-needed protection from the weather. Within their first six games of the season, two were postponed due to rain. Two series wins put the Cards in first place heading into the weekend series.

Lineup

The Cardinals come into the series with a lineup that looks largely the same as the one the Brewers saw last year. Paul Goldschmidt, who is a career .324 hitter with 22 home runs against the Brewers, coupled with six-time All-Star Nolan Arenado makes for a dangerous duo in an overall strong lineup. Arenado is off to a hot start, with three home runs in the Cardinals' first 4 games, leading to him earning NL Player of the Week honors. This offseason also saw the return of Albert Pujols to St. Louis. The 42-year-old first baseman spent 11 seasons with the Cardinals before going to the Angels in 2012, where he stayed until moving to the Dodgers last season. Pujols, who slashed just .236/.284/.433 last season, is expected to split time at DH with Corey Dickerson.

The biggest question going into this season for the Cardinals is their starting rotation. Jack Flaherty, the ace of the staff, struggled last season with injury and enters this season on the IL with a shoulder problem. Adam Wainwright has still shown he can be productive on the mound, but he enters this season 40 years old. Wainwright did get a win in his first start of the season, striking out six in six scoreless innings against the Pirates. Newly acquired Steven Matz is expected to be a strong addition to their rotation. The long-time Met and former Blue Jay had a 1.33 WHIP to go with a 3.82 ERA in 2021.

Pitching Matchups

Thursday, 4:14 PM: Brandon Woodruff vs Adam Wainwright

Woodruff had a rough first outing of the season against the Cubs. Giving up seven runs, all earned, on six hits in just 3.2 innings, the Brewers are going to count on him to do more if they want a shot at the division. His seven earned runs were more than he has given up in any game in 2021. Against the Cardinals, Woody has a 3.20 ERA and 57 strikeouts.

The Cardinals Opening Day starter has shown he still has it even at 40 years old. Wainwright’s performance on Opening Day made him the fourth oldest pitcher to throw six-plus scoreless innings on Opening Day, according to Andrew Simon. Wainwright’s 2021 numbers included his lowest FIP (3.66) since 2015, a 3.05 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP.

Friday, 7:10 PM: Freddy Peralta vs Miles Mikolas

Freddy Peralta only saw four innings of work when he made his season debut against the Cubs. The righty gave up three earned runs, including a home run, and only struck out six. Peralta returns home where he found success last season. At home last year, Peralta had a 2.88 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 16 appearances.

32-year-old Miles Mikolas only appeared in nine games in 2021 after missing all of 2020 with right forearm trouble. The 2018 All-Star has struggled to regain the consistency that saw a 2.83 ERA that season. For the Cardinals, their biggest question is the durability of their pitchers. At his best, Mikolas does a good job of finding the strike zone and keeping opponents off base. In 2018, opponents had a .278 OBS and BB/9 of 1.3 against him. In his only appearance this season, Mikolas gave up two runs on six hits in 3.2 innings pitched.

Saturday, 6:10 PM: Adrian Houser vs Steven Matz

Adrian Houser had a career year in 2021, in large part to his success at home. At American Family Field, Houser had an ERA of 2.81 in 15 appearances. With the big three starting pitchers well established, Houser’s role as the Brewers' number four is going to be crucial down the line. Last season saw a career-high in innings pitched with 142.1. Durability and consistency will be the name of the game for Houser, as he looks to build off last season and tries to get his first win of the season come Saturday.

One of the big offseason acquisitions for the Cardinals was the signing of 30-year-old Steven Matz. As a Blue Jay in 2021, Matz had a career resurgence of sorts. Across 29 appearances, Matz recorded his best FIP (3.79), WHIP, (1.33), and ERA (3.82) in five years. Matz struggled in his Cardinals debut, however, giving up seven runs in three innings pitched in a loss to the Pirates.

Sunday, 1:10 PM: Aaron Ashby vs TBD

Aaron Ashby is scheduled to make his first start of the 2022 season on Sunday. Ashby has appeared in two games so far this season, giving up five hits and just one run. Ashby is someone to watch this year as a challenger to become the fifth starter. His first career start against the Cubs was one to forget, allowing seven runs in the first inning before getting pulled. He bounced back, however, having a stretch that included an ERA of 1.78 across 30 innings. For Ashby to become a reliable starter, he needs to continue to lean into his strengths. His 61.3% ground ball rate is due in large part to his excellent sinker. Despite some rough outings at the beginning and end of the season, Ashby has demonstrated he has the stuff to be a consistent presence in the rotation.

The Cardinals haven’t announced a pitcher for the final game of the series, but expect either Dakota Hudson or Jake Woodford to fill that spot.

Stats provided by MLB.com, Baseball-Reference, and StatMuse.com