On the very first day in which St. Louis Bullpen was a functioning site, the St. Louis Cardinals launched a three-game series at PNC Park against the Pittsburgh Pirates, who had a good record but who were not generally expected to be playoff contenders before the 2018 season. Greg Holland blew a three-run save (great day for our namesake!) to contribute to a loss on Friday and then the Cardinals proceeded to be swept across the weekend. It was bad and I do not recommend the Cardinals doing this again.
The Pirates are still surpassing the expectations most had of them entering this season, as they participate in the four-team race currently in play in the National League Central (the Reds are also in the NL Central, thanks for asking). The Pirates have cooled somewhat recently, having just lost two of three to the Cincinnati Reds and three of four to the San Diego Padres. They did sweep a two-game set against the Chicago White Sox before that, but really, who among us?
Pittsburgh has had more than its fair share of surprise performances, but few stand out quite like Francisco Cervelli. Mostly acclaimed as a terrific pitch framing catcher, Cervelli’s defensive numbers have actually been a bit down this season, but he has more than atoned for this with a 155 wRC+. Cervelli missed Thursday’s game with a hand injury and he is considered day-to-day; his availability could have a noticeable impact on which team is favored in this series.
The Pirates’ WAR leader is Corey Dickerson, famously designated for assignment by the Tampa Bay Rays last off-season despite making last year’s All-Star Game. Starling Marte, who (probably) inherited the Face of the Pirates crown from now-Giants outfielder Andrew McCutchen, has played well, but he will miss the series on the Disabled List as he recovers from a right oblique strain.
Tonight’s matchup (6:05 start time in St. Louis) features John Gant and Joe Musgrove and is a distant third in terms of enticing pitching matchups. Gant is, admittedly, just holding down the fort until Carlos Martinez and/or Alex Reyes make it to the St. Louis rotation, while Musgrove, most famous for winning last year’s maniacal Game 5 of the World Series for the Houston Astros, was sent to Pittsburgh in the Gerrit Cole trade and will make his Pirates debut tonight.
On Saturday, the Pirates will pitch Trevor Williams, with his 3.05 ERA and 4.09 FIP, while the Cardinals will go to Jack Flaherty, even stronger on a per-capita basis (2.31 ERA, 2.80 FIP) but less entrenched in the Cardinals rotation than Williams is in his team’s. On Sunday, the Pirates will throw Jameson Taillon, a former #2 overall pick who hasn’t quite lived up to expectations, with an ERA and FIP in the fours, but who has overcome a more serious foe than MLB struggles, having undergone treatment during last season for testicular cancer. Meanwhile, the Cardinals will go to Miles Mikolas, who in his last outing threw a complete game shutout against the Kansas City Royals. He seems pretty good.
If forced to make a prediction, I’d say the Cardinals lose tonight and then win their next two games. But also this is a regular season series and predicting the results of a series is completely silly. Anyway, feel free to hold me to my picks.