The Cards had a winning road trip (4-3 record) and return home to Busch with the second-best record in the NL and a 1/2 game lead over the Brewers in the NL Central. Can't ask for much more given the dire pre-season predictions for the Redbirds.
So now the second-place Brewers, a team picked by many to win the NL Central in '08, come to town. Let's take a look at some story lines for the next three days:
1) The Cards will not face Ben Sheets or Yovanni Gallardo. On Tuesday, they face Dave Bush--a man apparently fighting for his job. This from Tim Haudricourt at Brewers Blog:
"When right-hander Dave Bush takes the mound for the Brewers Tuesday night in St. Louis, he might be pitching for his job."
"Bush pitched poorly in his first two outings, going 0-2 with a 8.44 ERA. This weekend, right-hander Yovani Gallardo is scheduled to return from his minor-league rehabilitation outing in Nashville."
"So, somebody has to go."
Cards pitchers should match-up well this series with Looper (3.09 ERA), Wainwright (3.60 ERA) and Lohse (1.04 ERA) taking the mound vs. Bush (8.44 ERA), Villanueva (4.76 ERA) and Parra (4.82 ERA). From Derrick Goold's column this morning over at stl today.com:
As the Brewers’ rotation is set, the Cardinals will play them five times in eight days and not face ace Ben Sheets or Jeff Suppan. Their ERA is 2.68; the rest of the rotation’s is 6.03.
In somewhat-related news, Haudricourt also reports that the Brewers have signed Jeff Weaver to a minor-league deal. Interesting.
2) Be Afraid of Prince Fielder. Fielder will enter Tuesday's game with a .222 AVG, 0 HR and a .597 OPS. Can the Cards keep the drought going? Fielder will face three straight right-handed pitchers in St. Louis, which he should be happy about. Though his stats vs. righties are not great so far this year (.231 AVG vs. .211 against lefties). Career vs. St. Louis, Fielder has batted .261 with 9 HR and 21 RBI in 111 ABs (.944 OPS).
3) El Hombre is The Man. He's on a tear, batting almost .400 with 3 HR and 8 RBI (1.244 OPS). Almost all of his production coming in the last seven days. While he hasn't hit Bush well (1 hit in 8 ABs), Pujols has mashed both Villanueva (6-for-15 with 2 HR, 5 RBI and 1.304 OPS) and Parra (1-for-2 with a double and an RBI).
It'll be an interesting series. The Cards can set a tone with a victory tomorrow evening. Let's hope Looper brings it and the Cards' bats get to Dave Bush early. This tidbit from Matthew Leach at stlcardinals.com: "Looper's ground-ball rate in the early going this year is 2.30, right in line with what he did in some of his best years as a reliever. Last year it was down to 1.25, the lowest of his career."
A rough first outing for Pineiro yesterday, but he'll be o.k. I have to admit that, given the hot start to the season by the Cards' rotation, I was surprised the Cards did not give Pineiro more than one minor league rehab start. The rotation is better with Pineiro than with Thompson, in my opinion, but the Cards were not in an urgent situation that required rushing Pineiro back.
But look for Joel to rebound next time out. He struggled more with location than with his velocity or movement, a sign that his issues on Sunday had less to do with arm strength and health than with game conditioning.