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Washington Nationals Series #5 Preview: Cardinals Opposition Research

You may know the Nationals, but how well do you know the teams that they roll over with their group of epic Span-tastic fun-loving baseball juggernauts? To prepare you for this series, here is a primer on the St. Louis Cardinals. Learn their strengths and weaknesses and take your job as armchair manager to new heights.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Cardinals are riding a five-game winning streak into this series.  Their pitching staff has an ERA of 1.91 and these pitchers have been extremely stingy about allowing baserunners.  This is likely the toughest match-up the Nationals will face in April.  There are 149 games left in the season.  Taking these three games would not only cap a strong home stand but set a good tone for the sixteen straight games the Nats will play starting Tuesday.

Tuesday, 7:05 pm - Gio Gonzalez vs Lance Lynn
Lance Lynn has allowed one run in two starts.  Gio has allowed seven earned runs in the same number of games.  The Nationals offense will have to work hard to close that gap.  Lynn's last start was against the Brewers, a team that is not known for its offense so far this year.  This will be a real challenge for the Nationals offense.

Wednesday, 7:05 pm - Doug Fister vs John Lackey
Lackey has had two good starts, but historically he is the weakest of the three Cardinals starters.  This doesn't make him easy to score runs off of, but since he's matched up against Fister who has also started this season strong, this matchup may favor the Nationals slightly.

Thursday, 4:05 pm - Max Scherzer vs Michael Wacha
Wacha proved himself last season to be a solid starting pitcher in a career high 107 innings.  That said, he is no Max Scherzer.  The counter argument is that even Max Scherzer is not really as good as his numbers thus far.

It is hard to know what to make of these matchups, since five of these six pitchers are so far this season allowing far fewer runs than we know they are predicted to on average based on their past work.  None of the Cardinals starters average even one baserunner per inning.  Of course, maybe everyone will get shelled except for Gio who will find a way to shut down the Cardinals completely.  Probably not, but it's a working theory.  Crazy theory #2 is that the games will be won by home runs by Gio, Span and Werth, respectively.

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The Cardinals Lineup

The Cardinals offense is relatively equal to the Nats offense so far, but they are in reality very different beasts.  The Cardinals offense is built around a core of four regulars who have four of the Cards' six HRs thus far.  Bryce Harper has four of the Nats' 14 HRs thus far.  Will the Cardinals small and medium ball offense find success against Nats pitching?

3B - Matt Carpenter
++ bat (lefty)
average glove
He may not be Adrian Gonzalez, but Matt Carpenter has had a hot, hot start.  He is batting .400/.449/.689 through 11 games.  He does not hit them out of the park much, but his .432 BABIP shows that he fits the mold of a great Cardinals(tm) hitter.
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RF - Jason Heyward
+ bat (lefty)
+ glove

Heyward is off to quite a chilly start with a mere .229 OBP.  The former Brave is still locked into this slot, however, and probably will be as long as the Cardinals keep winning.
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LF - Matt Holliday
+++ bat
- glove

Holliday is up to his usual hit-the-ball-really-well shenanigans, think .361/.467/.389.  Luckily, his defense provides us a silver lining as usual.

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1B - Matt Adams
+ bat (lefty)
- glove
Adams is off to a pedestrian start (.270 OBP), but the Cardinals seem determined to stick to the strategy of sandwiching their hottest hitters between cold lefty bats.  It's worked so far.
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SS - Jhonny Peralta
++ glove
++ bat
Odd lineup spot, so it must be a hot hitter again.  Yup, Peralta is hitting over .300 so far.  He continues to fly under the radar as an elite defender too.
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CF - Jon Jay
+ bat (lefty)
average glove

Cold start, but you already knew since it's an even spot.  Jay has a .275 OBP with no power and only one walk.  Since he is historically a contact hitter, best hope he waits til next week for things to click.
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C - Yadier Molina
solid bat
++ glove
Molina is best known for his legendary defense and his strong arm.  He picked up his seventh consecutive Gold Glove last year.  His bat may only be league average, but it is rock steady and far from cold.
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2B - Kolten Wong
+ speed
- bat (lefty)
solid glove
Wong is still working to secure his place in the majors.  His .308 OBP is the best of all the even spotted hitters, but that is largely the result of an unusually high walk rate.  The bit of power he showed last year is missing so far.

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Lineup = HOT - cold - HOT - cold - HOT - cold - HOT - cold - pitcher.  You can't make this stuff up.  Hopefully Gio will have a fun time carving his way through the cold lefty portion of the lineup and use that strand all the Cardinals(tm) hits that drop in between.

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The Cardinals Bullpen

This bullpen has been lights out so far, but their walk rate is high which means that the number of baserunners they have allowed is merely league average.  The trick is getting those runners around to score.

This bullpen is anchored by righties Trevor Rosenthal and Jordan Walden.  They are backed up by Matt Belisle, who hasn't messed up so far, Seth Manness, who has been hittable so far, and Carlos Villanueva, who stands at five baserunners after two innings of work.

The lefties are Kevin Siegrist, who has been solid so far, and LOOGY Randy Choate, who has allowed three of five batters to reach so far.

As a group their ERA is 1.81, but it is hard to tell if some of that isn't just luck.  Time will tell.

Can They Be Swept?

This is going to be a tough series, no doubt about it.  The Cardinals pitching is really good, but it is not that good and the Nats offense has been heating up.  A sweep is possible, but it is not the likeliest of outcomes.  The biggest worry is the first game simply because Gio has been giving up three or four runs per game so far, but he is a better pitcher than that and the team is starting to come together.  The Mongoose is back.  Span is back.  Werth may be back any day now.  Great things may be in the works.

Clearly, it would be a shame if the Nats don't  win every game.  One does not win 155 games by losing games.  The odds may not be in our favor, but history shows that this is no reason to slow down.  Mad Jack Churchill did not approve of losing anything even though he was using bow and arrows in WWII, and he would not approve of losing baseball games simply because the other team is supposedly strong.  Neither should you... neither should you.