Spring Training has officially concluded for the Cardinals. Now, the games start to matter. That’s especially true of the Cards’ first four. They will square off with last year’s division champion Milwaukee Brewers to begin the season.
These four games could turn out to be some of the most important ones the Redbirds will play all year. A slow start could be the difference between starting the year four games back in the division or getting a jump start on the Central’s toughest team from a year ago.
The Cardinals’ new ace will get the Opening Day start in Milwaukee. After an 18-4 season, in which he posted an ERA of 2.83 and finished sixth in the Cy Young vote, he is more than deserving. Mikolas struggled a bit this spring, going 0-1 in four starts with a 6.23 ERA over 13 innings, but it’s difficult to judge a starting pitcher based on Spring Training. It’s safe to say he is looking forward to the challenge. When the news broke that he would get the start, he had this to say, “[it’s a] huge, huge honor to join a list of Cardinals Opening Day starters. I am very humbled by the experience.”
Last season Mikolas squared off with the Brew Crew four times. In a total of 24.2 innings, he struck out 22 batters, walked just two and allowed 11 runs for an ERA of 4.01. Despite the number of runs he gave up, he did go 3-0 in those four starts.
Milwaukee will counter Mikolas with Jhoulys Chacin. Last year, Chacin threw 192.2 innings for the Brewers, posting a 15-8 record and a 3.50 ERA. He did struggle against St. Louis though. In five starts against the Cardinals, he went 2-2 with a 5.26 ERA over 25.2 innings. He only gave up two home runs, but the Redbirds still tagged him for 15 runs on 18 hits and 12 walks in those five outings.
The second game of the series will see the guy who is likely the Cardinals future ace, Jack Flaherty. Flaherty had an impressive rookie campaign in 2018, finishing fifth in the Rookie of the Year vote, thanks to a 3.34 ERA, 3.86 FIP and 182 strikeouts over 151 innings pitched. Unlike Mikolas, Flaherty had a nice spring, striking out 22 batters in 17 innings, while posting a 2.12 ERA.
Last season, Flaherty owned the Brewers in four starts. He only picked up one win in his four starts against them, even though he struck out 34 batters in 23.1 innings and allowed just five runs for an ERA of 1.93.
As it turns out, game two will be a battle of the sophomores. Milwaukee is throwing their own second-year starter, Freddy Peralta. Though he didn’t have the 2018 that Jack Flaherty did, the Brewers liked what they saw in his 14 starts. Over 78.1 total innings, Peralta was able to strike out 96 batters and put up a 4.25 ERA.
Peralta did face the Cardinals twice last year, once as a starter and once as a reliever. In total, he threw 9.2 innings against the Redbirds, collecting eight strikeouts while allowing four runs.
After winning the open rotation spot in Spring Training, rookie Dakota Hudson will see his first big test of the season in game three. Last year, in 26 relief appearances, Hudson was impressive. He went 4-1 with a 2.63 ERA and struck out 19 batters over 27.1 innings. This spring he made the most of his four starts as well, going 2-0 with a 1.25 ERA.
Hudson only threw 3.1 innings against Milwaukee last year in relief. He didn’t allow a run though on two hits, two walks and two strikeouts.
Facing off with Hudson for the Brewers will be Brandon Woodruff. Woodruff spent most of last season in the bullpen, though he did make four starts. In all, he went 3-0 with a 3.61 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 42.1 innings pitched. The Cardinals only saw Woodruff twice last year, but they did get one run off of him in his 2.1 innings of work.
Manager Mike Shildt will send out Michael Wacha for the series finale. Wacha was having a strong 2018, going 8-2 with a 3.20 ERA, until an injury in mid-June sidelined him for the rest of the season. He’s looked strong in four starts this spring though. In 14 innings Wacha has nine strikeouts and a 1.93 ERA.
Michael did make one start against Milwaukee before his injury last year. It was a strong outing in which he pitched 6.2 innings and only allowed one run on two hits and four walks. The run came via a solo home run.
The Brewers will go with yet another young starter for game four. Corbin Burnes is heading into his second full big league season after making 30 appearances out of the Milwaukee bullpen in 2018. Over those 30 games, he went 7-0 and posted a 2.61 ERA. Burnes pitched in three games against St. Louis last year, allowing just one run on two hits and a walk in three innings.
Featured Image by Hermando Connects