The Cardinals are coming off of a tough road trip in which they went 3-4 against Philadelphia and Milwaukee. They are in the middle of an even tougher month of June where they’ve gone 10-12. Unfortunately, things won’t be getting any easier with their upcoming home series against the Cleveland Indians.
The Indians are finally hitting their stride this season after a bit of a slow start. They were just five games over .500 coming into June and leading the Central by a slim margin. Since the start of this month, they’ve improved to 43-33 and taken an eight-game lead in the division.
Jose Ramirez is leading their offense, looking like an MVP candidate. Ramirez is tied for the AL lead with 23 home runs to go along with his 52 RBI, 12 stolen bases and .296/.402/.616 slash line. Francisco Lindor is also having a very good season with 19 homers, 44 RBI and an OPS of .928 while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense at short. Michael Brantley is also doing his part with a .316 average and .511 SLG, as is Edwin Encarnacion and his 18 homers and 53 RBI.
The Indians pitching has been almost as good as the offense. They have three qualifying starters with ERAs of 3.00 or less, led by Corey Kluber. Kluber has a 2.10 ERA and is tied for the Major League lead with 11 wins. The Cards will get their chance at him on Tuesday.
St. Louis is about to start a six-game home stand, starting on Monday against the Indians. Cleveland is at Busch for three games, before the Cards have an off day on Thursday.
Monday’s home series opener will feature John Gant, in place of Michael Wacha, and Mike Clevinger.
Clevinger is 6-2 this season with a 3.00 ERA. In 15 starts he’s thrown 99 innings and struck out 90 total batters. He has never faced the Cardinals in his career, however, this year he is 1-2 with a 4.15 ERA against teams above .500, which the Cards are for now.
John Gant will be making his fourth start this season. He has struggled so far in 2018, posting a 1-2 record and a 4.39 ERA, despite a 2.62 FIP. Gant has one start against the Indians, though it was short lived. He pitched just two innings and allowed one run. The Redbirds will need more than two innings out of him on Monday.
Tuesday night’s game will be the toughest of the series for the Cardinals. They will have to face one of the best pitchers in all of baseball in Corey Kluber.
Kluber is 11-3 with a 2.10 ERA and 113 strikeouts over 111.2 innings this season. He’s walked just 12 batters in those 111+ innings, posting a WHIP of 0.81. Corey has just started one game against the Cards in his career, but it was a good one. He went eight shutout innings, allowing just one hit and striking out 18. With him being a strikeout pitcher and the Cardinals being a strikeout team, it could be a long night for St. Louis hitters.
Carlos Martinez will be trying to match Kluber for the Redbirds. Martinez has struggled since his return from the DL. He is 3-4 on the season with a 3.24 ERA, but he hasn’t pitched past the fifth inning since coming back on June 9th. In four starts, he’s gone 0-2 with an 8.10 ERA with 18 strikeouts to 20 walks. It will be a tough task to turn things around against this Indians offense, but Carlos has the stuff to do it.
The series finale will be a matchup of rookies. 22-year-old Jack Flaherty will take on 23-year-old Shane Bieber in a battle of two young stars.
Bieber will be making his fourth career start on Wednesday. So far, he has won two of his first three starts. In his last start against Detroit, he went seven innings without allowing a run and struck out nine batters. On the season Bieber is 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA.
As good as Bieber’s last start was, Flaherty’s was equally as impressive. Last time out, Flaherty held the NL Central-leading Brewers to one run and carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning. He also struck out 13 hitters for the second time this season. Despite not getting the win in that outing, Flaherty is 3-2 on the year with a 2.50 ERA.
At one point he was looked at to be the odd man out in the rotation when Alex Reyes made his return. Reyes went down with a season ending injury though, and the decision didn’t have to be made. However, even if Reyes hadn’t gotten hurt, Flaherty was making a very good case to stay in the rotation.
He has had a lot of success this season and will try to take the momentum from his last start into Wednesday’s game. It will be another good test for him to prove that he can get outs against the best hitters in the league.
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