March 21, 2012; Jupiter, FL, USA;St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Jake Westbrook (35) in the fifth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals during a spring training game at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
By Harry Stephenson
(The Cardinal Nation Show) -- This evening the Cardinals (32-31) square off against the Chicago White Sox (34-28) in the final match of a three game series that began Tuesday.
The Sox snatched a 6-1 victory in the opening game, taking advantage of St. Louis' pitching after Wainwright-who only allowed three hits in six innings-was pulled from the mound.
The Cards countered last night with a 1-0 win, aided by Lynn's terrific pitching performance, Beltran's solo homer, and two well-executed double plays: one of which closed the game with a runner on third (a clutch victory, but a little too close for comfort).
Before this series, the two NL teams hadn't met since 2006, and with the exception of a few players, there was too little precedence to adequately predict the series' results-while each team has a win, both have shown moments of strength and weakness-fans can expect this game to produce excitement down to the very last out.
It comes to a final rubber match, with St. Louis' RHP Jake Westbrook and Chicago's RHP Gavin Floyd taking the mound. Westbrook, one of the few players with any experience against the Sox (actually, his most experience, as he had faced the Sox 25 times-more than any other team in his MLB career), may not have proved stellar in his starts for the redbirds this season, but with such experience he may be able to hold the Sox off until the 6th or 7th inning.
Westbrook (4-6, 4.25 ERA) has been sliding, claiming only one win in his last six starts-his last three have resulted only in losses, with a 7.31 ERA, 13 runs, 6 walks and 15 strike-outs, indicating that's his problematic pitches have only been getting worse.
Fortunately, Westbrook's history against Chicago has proved (slightly) more fruitful. With a 5.25 ERA against the Sox, he achieved his last win in 2007: his three matches in 2010 resulted only in losses.
In his two best performances of '07, he threw 13 innings, allowing only four runs and striking out 11-only one run and two hits in his winning August appearance when he struck out five. His '10 season allowed the Sox a little more wiggle room, giving up 13 runs (including two homers) for 18 hits, and walking seven while only serving up five strike-outs in the 18.2 innings he pitched.
His worst performance against any of Chicago's hitters was Adam Dunn, who has been scratched as a starter for the series, and made a single appearance as pinch-hitter last night (spurring one of Cards' double-plays); so the heavy-hitting duty falls primarily on first baseman Paul Konerko.
Now, the Cardinals need Westbrook to reverse his shift from August '07-June'10, as it created six less strike-outs while using 80 more pitches in 5.2 innings: certainly, an inefficient display that must be avoided if the Cardinals are going to claim the series (which would mean only their third series win for the last seven).
Ultimately, Westbrook needs to get his act together if he is going to out-duel the even-more-spun-out Gavin Floyd. He has faced several of Chicago's hitters in the past, and that little edge of experience could make all the difference in the game-he may not be throwing the best pitches, but we should expect him to throw the right pitches.
Floyd (4-6, 5.38 ERA) has found little success in his last five games that span nearly a month. In those five starts, Floyd has shamed his club by earning a 10.52 ERA and allowing 10 home runs. From April 24 to May 11, Floyd's 28 ²/3 innings on the mound resulted in a 1.26 ERA and no homers, yet his promising season took a 180° turn, giving way to a serious performance skid that allowed his opponents almost nine more runs per game-a dizzying statistic for those that were expecting Floyd's best season yet.
But all is not lost for Floyd it seems, as his last start was his most promising in a string of error-plagued appearances-he achieved his season high mark of nine strike-outs, although, he did give up four runs (two of which were homers) in his six innings against the Astros. Floyd seems to be the weak leg that Chicago must lean on while their star lefty, John Danks, continues his rehab. Floyd has faced only two Cardinals hitters before: Furcal and Holliday. While Furcal claimed no hits in his three at bats (something he could certainly repeat again tonight, considering he is 0 for his last 19), Holliday-one of St. Louis' go-to bats-exploited Floyd, knocking two in and cranking a home run. Floyd can't let Holliday, or any of the other few un-injured sluggers left on the roster, take advantage of his recent weakness.
Despite each pitcher's problems this season, they will make for a good match, and this is one of those games where anything can really happen. Both are looking to reverse a poor series of starts, and both want to make it into the sixth or seventh inning while avoiding living up to their shared claim of weakest stats/record for each respective team's pitching appearances during this series (although, should either one's performance go sour, that team may have to do some serious digging around the bullpen).
The one thing seems to be assured is that this game won't be as low-scoring as last night's. Look for good hits tonight... lots of them. This game will rely more on the teams' offensive capabilities and quick-handed defenses than control from the mound.