After losing three straight games and nine of their last 11 overall, the Cardinals got back on track with a much-needed 2-1 win over Pittsburgh on Monday. St. Louis right-hander Mike Leake toes the rubber in excellent form, posting a 0.60 ERA and 0.73 WHIP in his first two starts of 2017.
Leake is a control artist who has induced sixteen outs on the ground in 15 innings of work, and his career 50.7% ground ball rate suggests that more groundouts will be in his future.
The 29-year-old is coming off a disappointing 2016 campaign where he finished with a 4.69 ERA, but his underlying peripherals were much better than his surface statistics. Leake finished with a 3.83 FIP, 3.76 xFIP and 3.92 SIERA last season, together with an elite 4.0% walk rate.
However, the command specialist suffered bad luck with battled balls in play (.318) and finished with an uncharacteristic strand rate (65.6%). Leake owns a career .292 BABIP and a 73.4% strand rate so he is poised for a bounce back year in 2017.
Pittsburgh enters Game 2 of this series with a struggling offense that is averaging just 3.6 runs per game this season (.294 OBP; .639 OPS), including garnering just 2.0 runs per game at night (.244 OBP; .470 OPS).
The concern, of course, is the Cardinals’ underperforming bullpen that owns a 7.18 ERA and 1.73 WHIP, including a 6.51 ERA and 1.55 WHIP at home and an 8.14 ERAS and 1.85 WHIP at night. Leake may also get very little run support from a St. Louis lineup that’s averaging just 3.0 runs per game at home, 2.7 runs per game at night and 3.0 runs per game versus National League Central foes.
Pittsburgh sends right-hander Chad Kuhl to the mound, who owns a 2.38 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in 11 1/3 innings pitched. Despite having a solid ERA, Kuhl’s peripherals tell a different story: 4.92 xFIP, 4.43 SIERA, 12.2% walk rate and a 48.4% fly ball rate (compared to a 36.1% FB% in 2016).
Kuhl is also 0-1 with a 6.43 ERA and 2.28 WHIP in two career starts against the Cardinals, both of which came last year. Technically speaking, the Pirates are a money-burning 1-4 in Kuhl’s last five starts against National League Central opponents and 1-5 in Kuhl’s last six starts following a team loss.
Pittsburgh is just 2-6 in its last eight road games versus right-handed starters, 3-8 in its last 11 road affairs, 4-10 in its last 14 games versus divisional rivals, 8-20 in its last 28 games following a loss and 1-7 in its last eight games after scoring two runs or less in its previous game.
St. Louis owns a perfect 5-0 mark at home in this series and gets an assist from umpire Gary Cederstrom, who is 24-8 in favor of the home team in his last 32 games behind home plate. The Cardinals are an 80% winning proposition at home with Cederstrom calling balls and strikes.
Finally, St. Louis applies to a very good 70-20 system of mine that invests on certain starting pitchers with elite command versus opponents with below-average on base percentages.
Take the St. Louis Cardinals in this National League affair as Oskeim Sports’ Free Pick for Tuesday, April 18.