The Miami Marlins host the St. Louis Cardinals in game one of a three-game series tonight. The Marlins have been one of the worst teams in the majors this season, but things have been looking up somewhat in the last couple of weeks as they have been more competitive. Miami has lost four straight, but that comes on the heels of winning four straight and finishing up May winning nine out of their last fourteen games. This team certainly won’t be competing for the playoffs this season, but as these young guys start to get accustomed to playing in the big leagues, this team is getting better and better as the season wears on.
For St. Louis, this season has been a tale of two halves. They had the best record in all of baseball for a period in late April but have been very shaky since then. In May, they went just 8-18, and now in June, they have lost four out of their last five games and have a losing record on the month. The Cards desperately need to turn things around soon, as their division, the NL Central, is the most competitive in baseball. This recent skid has seen the Cardinals drop from first place to third in the central, seven games back of the Chicago Cubs.
Starting for the Cardinals tonight is Michael Wacha (3-2 6.30 ERA), and for the Marlins it is Sandy Alcantara (3-5 3.80 ERA). The game total over-under is set at eight and a half runs. The Cardinals are -138 road favorites. First pitch is scheduled for 4:10 PM PST from Marlins Park in Miami.
If you had to point to one reason why the St. Louis Cardinals saw their production drop off a cliff, it would be the absence of Yadier Molina. Molina is the most important player on this team, and he might mean more to this team than any other single player means to any team in the game. It’s not just his leadership and heavy bat anchoring the lineup. It is the fact that he is one of the top defensive catchers in the game and calls the best game of anyone in baseball.
Molina makes every part of this St. Louis team better, and since he has been out with an injury, things just haven’t been the same. The Cardinals have gone from a team that looked like the favorites in the National League, to a team that is struggling to stay above .500. Rumor is Molina will attempt to take batting practice tonight and could be available to play, but my gut says he just isn’t ready yet. They would be crazy to rush him back.
The Cards are hoping that Michael Wacha can get back to his old self tonight against the weak-hitting Marlins. Wacha pitched himself right out of the Cardinals starting rotation earlier this year as through nine starts he had an ERA of nearly six runs. St. Louis sent him to the bullpen where he was also awful, pitching a combined three and a third innings and allowing six runs in two appearances.
The Cards called up rookie Genesis Cabrera to make his major league debut to replace Wacha in the rotation, and he was completely ineffective as well as he posted a 6.48 ERA in his two starts. So, here we are with the Cardinals forced to turn back to Wacha and hope that he gets things figured out. Since Molina hit the IL in early May, Wacha has given up twenty-four runs in just twenty-three and two-thirds of an inning. Ouch.
Sandy Alcantara was the next big thing for the St. Louis Cardinals before they flipped him to Miami for superstar slugger Miguel Ozuna two years ago. Alcantara was solid in his debut last season with Miami, where he made six starts and had an ERA of just 3.44. He has been able to build on that success recently as well as after a slow start, he is really starting to produce some strong results.
April was not kind to the 23-year-old Alcantara as he had an ERA of 6.39 in the month. But in May he posted a 3.23 ERA, and in three of his last four starts, he has been very good. In that stretch, he threw a complete game shutout two-hitter against the New York Mets. Then he pitched six shutout innings, again allowing just two hits against the San Francisco Giants. And in his last start, he went seven strong against the Milwaukee Brewers, allowing just one run and picking up the win against one of the best lineups in the National League.
I smell upset tonight. On paper, the Cardinals are the much better team in this one. It’s not even all that close. But right now, this team is a dumpster can fire, they have all the talent in the world, but it is just not converting to wins. Until Molina gets back, I am going to keep looking for ways to fade them. Throw in the fact that the Cardinals have been absolutely terrible on the road this year, and I see a ton of value fading them as big favorites.
The Cardinals are 11-19 on the road this season. That is the worst road record in the National League! And with a young blue chipper like Alcantara that is really starting to figure things out on the big-league level on the mound for Miami, I think the Marlins find a way to win this one at home. Give me the Miami Marlins as home underdogs tonight in game one against the Cards!