ARLINGTON, Texas — The Texas Rangers could win the next ten World Series and there will never be a time where people covering the game of baseball won’t bring up the year 2011 whenever the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers play against each other.
Perhaps it would only take one World Series win for that traumatic series to no longer be “too soon” for Rangers fans, even though it has already been 12 years.
The current good news for AL West-leading Texas, however, is the 2023 St. Louis Cardinals are not the World Series champs of 2011. And it’s really not even close. Last place St. Louis comes into Texas 6.5 games out of first place in the NL Central and continuing to trend downward as the National League’s worst team through a third of the season.
And even better news, there’s no David Freese in sight.
Where St. Louis is coming from
St. Louis had a great opportunity to gain a lot of ground against division rival Pittsburgh over the weekend. But nothing – not the starting pitching, not the bullpen, not the defense – has clicked all together at the same time for the Cardinals. They were swept in their three-game set against the Pirates, all by margins of two runs or fewer.
Friday’s loss to the Bucs seems reminiscent of some bullpen implosions by the Rangers. Up 5-0 going into the sixth, starter Jack Flaherty gave up one run, and then the two arms out of the bullpen – Andre Pallante and closer Giovanny Gallegos – gave up six runs in the 7th to help the Cardinals fall in devastating fashion.
On Saturday, it was starter Jordan Montgomery who was pitching great for five innings, giving up just one run, before he ran out of gas and allowed three in the 6th. The St. Louis offense was nearly nowhere to be found in that game, as they lost 4-3.
On Sunday, veteran Rich Hill, whom Texas disposed of with relatively ease last month, stymied the Cardinals’ bats, holding them to one run. Former Ranger Miles Mikolas was good for St.
Louis, just not good enough, as he allowed two runs in the first inning which was all Pittsburgh needed to sweep the Cardinals following a 2-1 victory in the finale.
St. Louis limps into Arlington, only 2-8 in their last ten games. Prior to their set against the Pirates, they completed a stretch of 19-games in 19 days, during which they took series from the Boston Red Sox, Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers to give hope that they were turning their season around.
But then they split a series with the Cincinnati Reds, lost a series to the Cleveland Guardians and split a series with the Kansas City Royals.
Collectively, the Cardinals’ offense isn’t bad. They’re about middle of the pack in baseball, with a team slash line of .252/.327/.426. They’re top five in the league in homers, and top ten in runs scored. Key offensive pieces Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, and Nolan Gorman have been hitting decently, things just haven’t come together fully for the team.
A big reason for why is the pitching hasn’t been great, with Miles Mikolas’ 3.75 ERA leading the way for the starters. Seasoned veteran Adam Wainwright, whom Texas will see in the opener Monday, has started just five games while giving up 21 runs in that time.
Jordan Montgomery hasn’t won a game in ten starts and put up a 4.23 ERA across his 12 starts. The only other member of the rotation to make all of his starts – Jack Flaherty – has a 4.55 ERA. Steven Matz was recently demoted to the bullpen.
Again, this isn’t the scary, legendary Cardinals team that will be facing Texas this week. It’s a team that is trying to find its way to avoid a lost season.
Things to watch for
● Game 59: 7:05 PM CT - RHP Adam Wainwright (2-1, 6.15 ERA) vs. LHP Martin Perez (6-1, 4.43 ERA)
● Game 60: 7:05 PM CT - LHP Matthew Liberatore (1-1, 4.91 ERA) vs. RHP Dane Dunning (4-1, 2.06 ERA)
● Game 61: 7:05 PM CT - RHP Jack Flaherty (3-4, 4.55 ERA) vs. RHP Jon Gray (6-1, 2.51 ERA)
Martin Perez opposes Wainwright on Monday. While Wainwright has had a rough go of it in his final season, Perez hasn’t been having a great time lately either. Perez had two solid outings, one against the Pirates and one against the Rockies, but on the whole, the 2022 All-Star hurler would rather forget May.
Over five games last month, despite Texas winning four of them, Perez had a 6.91 ERA and opponents slashed .319/.378/.549 against him.
Whether it’s mechanics or just the streakiness that had been characteristic of Perez’ first go-round with the Rangers, the lefty now finds himself as the weak link in the Texas rotation, with the maddening aspect being that he has all the stuff to be the top of the rotation arm that he displayed last year.
Tuesday will see Matthew Liberatore, who has stepped into Steven Matz’ spot in the St. Louis rotation, taking on Dane Dunning. Liberatore’s last outing was against the Guardians, an effort in which he went five innings and gave up four runs. Dunning, meanwhile, could use something of a bounce back start.
In his last outing, against the Tigers, his first start since coming off the paternity list, Dunning gave up three runs in five innings and took his first loss of the season. Dunning has been great for Texas since taking Jacob deGrom’s spot in the rotation. His performance has been the reason Texas hasn’t needed to rush deGrom back from his forearm tightness.
The finale will see Flaherty take on Jon Gray. Gray, coming off of a phenomenal performance against the Mariners, has been Texas’ second-best pitcher all year. If he can continue to brandish his slider as a put-away pitch, he can keep this streak going.
Flaherty pitched in the game on Friday against the Pirates, going 5 ⅓ innings and surrendering just the one run before the bullpen coughed up the game.
The Rangers offense against this pitching staff should be prolific again, but two of the three Texas starters are coming off of relatively poor performances. The Cardinals’ offense is starving for consistent production and that could be a problem when expected to match the Rangers’ offensive output.
Do you think the Rangers will do their part to keep St. Louis at the bottom of the standings? Share your predictions with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.