FOX Saturday Baseball returns to the airwaves this Saturday with three matchups beginning with a 7:15 p.m. ET first pitch. The National League Central Division will be well-represented with three teams in Saturday’s first round of games. The St. Louis Cardinals will continue their three-game weekend set at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati against the Reds, the Pittsburgh Pirates host the Washington Nationals, and the Junior Circuit will be represented by the Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim from Angel Stadium.
St. Louis at Cincinnati
The Reds-Cardinals rivalry began back in 1882 when the Reds were known as the Cincinnati Red Stockings and the Cardinals were the St. Louis Brown Stockings. Red beat Brown on July 29, 1882 by a 5-3 score to kick off a nine-game home-and-home series. Saturday’s matchup will feature a couple of left-handers as Jaime Garcia makes his second start since May 17, 2013 and Tony Cingrani makes his second start since returning from the disabled list on May 18.
Cingrani is 2-3 this season with a 3.76 ERA, a 4.63 FIP, and a 4.17 xFIP. Garcia took a no-decision in his first start and allowed four runs over seven innings. The good thing for Garcia was that his velocity was at a three-year high in that start, averaging 90.6 miles per hour with the fastball. Runs may be hard to come by because both the Cardinals and Reds are struggling versus southpaws. On the year, the Cardinals are batting just .228/.306/.344/.650 against lefties, 17 percent below league average, while the Reds check in at .234/.295/.368/.663, 20 percent below league average, through Thursday’s games.
In five appearances, four starts, against the Cardinals, Cingrani is 2-1 with a 3.27 ERA against the Redbirds. He has allowed 15 hits, one home run, over 22 innings with a 29/15 K/BB ratio. He is 4-3 with a 2.91 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP in 65 innings at Great American Ball Park, but he has allowed 11 home runs.
Garcia has been tremendous against the Reds in his career with a 9-2 record and a 3.18 ERA in 15 appearances, 13 of them starts. In 85 innings, he has allowed 82 hits with 68 strikeouts and 26 walks. However, he is just 2-2 with a 4.78 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP in 32 innings at Great American Ball Park.
Both teams have had bullpen problems this month, with the Cardinals 25th in ERA and the Reds 29th. The return of Aroldis Chapman should solidify the Reds bullpen. Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal has had some control problems due to his early season workload and a velocity drop. That will be something to monitor going forward.
Pick: St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals entered Friday’s series opener with wins in seven of their last eight games. Over the last season-and-a-half, the Cardinals are 15-10 against the Reds and are +26 in run differential. The Reds were already one of the lowest teams in on-base percentage with Joey Votto in the lineup and his loss is crippling to an offense that lacks consistent production in the lineup.
Washington at Pittsburgh
Get excited for this matchup if you’re a fan of great pitching. Saturday’s FOX game will feature two tremendously exciting right-handers as Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals takes on Gerrit Cole of the Pirates. These two are the poster children of why the new generation of baseball fans doesn’t put much emphasis on win-loss record. Strasburg enters this start just 3-3 with a 3.38 ERA over 10 starts, while Cole hasn’t fared much better at 4-3 with a 3.84 ERA.
As Adam Burke discussed on Thursday in his article about evaluating starting pitchers using sabermetrics, these two are the perfect candidates to do that with. Both pitchers have gotten unlucky with balls in play and Cole has been hurt by the home run. Strasburg has a 3.38 ERA, but his FIP of 2.43, xFIP of 2.56, and SIERA of 2.66 are all elite numbers. Among qualified starters, Strasburg’s FIP is sixth, behind Jose Fernandez, Aaron Harang, Corey Kluber, Yu Darvish, and Felix Hernandez. He’s third in xFIP behind Masahiro Tanaka and David Price. His SIERA also ranks sixth. In other words, he’s pitching better than traditional ERA would suggest because of a sky high BABIP against of .358. Most pitchers fall into the .270-.290 range in BABIP, so Strasburg’s has some regressing to do.
Cole has struggled with his command this season, allowing seven home runs in 58.2 innings, but a home run per fly ball rate of 14.9 percent is well above league average. Also, Cole’s home ballpark, PNC Park, is one of the better pitcher’s parks in baseball. Consider that Cole has a 3.43 SIERA because of an increase in ground balls and a decrease in line drives and his numbers should improve shortly. He’s also throwing more strikes and getting more swings and misses than he did in his 2013 rookie season.
The Nationals are missing several key pieces off their offense. Catcher Wilson Ramos just returned from surgery to remove his hamate bone, but Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, and Adam LaRoche are all still on the disabled list. As a result, the Nationals are dead last in wOBA, or weighted on-base average, at .279. They have scored just 60 runs in 19 games this month.
The bats are coming around for the Pirates, who rank sixth in wOBA in the month of May. With 85 runs this month, the Pirates just sneak into the top 10 in run scoring for May. It will be tough to score against Strasburg, but Cole should hold up his end as well.
Pick: Pittsburgh Pirates
The Nationals offense is really scuffling and Strasburg will likely be the victim of poor run support yet again. Cole has pitched better at PNC Park than he has on the road this season and the Pirates offense, which was 27th in runs scored over the first month of the season, has come alive as the weather has warmed up.
Kansas City at LA Angels of Anaheim
“Big Game” James Shields will get the ball for the Royals on Saturday afternoon in Anaheim against Matt Shoemaker and the Angels. The shadows tend to play a factor in 4 p.m. PT start times at Angel Stadium, so that’s definitely something to consider in this game. This will be Matt Shoemaker’s third start after replacing Hector Santiago in the Angels rotation.
Shields, who will be a free agent after the season, is turning in another fine campaign. He’s 6-3 in 10 starts with a 2.67 ERA. His 3.12 FIP, 3.38 xFIP, and 3.31 SIERA signal that things may get a little bit rocky in the near future, but nothing that bettors should be too concerned with. The Royals are a great defensive team, even though the stats aren’t showing it thus far, so Shields could outpitch his advanced metrics because of the defensive help. Shields’s 4.54 K/BB ratio is just outside the top 20 among qualified starters.
Shoemaker has thrown the ball well in his two starts with a 2.45 ERA over 11 innings. He struck out six over six innings in his last start against Tampa Bay, an outing in which he allowed just two hits. In five Triple-A starts before being recalled, Shoemaker was 1-0 with a 6.31 ERA, but he had a .421 BABIP against, so luck was certainly not on his side.
Two drastically different offenses will take the field for this game. The Angels rank seventh in wOBA at .325 while the Royals are 26th at .297. The Royals have hit just 20 home runs this season, the lowest total in the Majors. The Angels have hit 50. The Royals should start to see some improvements. They have the lowest strikeout percentage in the league and the fewest number of home runs, but their BABIP is just .291. Since home runs and strikeouts don’t count for BABIP, the Royals have a large sample of balls in play and they just aren’t finding holes.
If this game comes down to the bullpens, the Royals should have a major edge. The Royals have the best bullpen in the American League by FIP at 2.96, a full run better than the Angels at 4.10. With Shields, a guy that averages 6.2 innings per start, and Shoemaker, who has averaged less than six innings per start in his first two Major League starts of the season, the Angels could go into their bullpen early.
Pick: Kansas City Royals
Shields’s ability to work deep into games could be the “X-Factor” in this one. Both lineups are aggressive, but Shields has better stuff than Shoemaker to keep the Angels lineup off-balance. The Angels could have to go into their bullpen in the fifth or sixth and middle relief has been one of their biggest problem areas. The Royals offense should see things get better soon and their offensive woes create value with a guy like Shields on the mound.