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7/28 Game Thread: Bring on the Cardinals

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Back home for us, and we'll be facing the Cardinals. How are they so good? I simply don't understand this. Rick Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick are hitting everything in sight -- both are outslugging Mark Teixeira, in case you wondered -- Troy Glaus is enjoying his best season since he left Anaheim, Kyle Lohse is having the best season of his career, and some reliever named Kyle McClellan has already pitched 57 innings with a 2.84 ERA. (Their best reliever has been our old friend Russ Springer, 33 IP with a 1.89 ERA at the ripe old age of 39.) Yadier Molina, Yadier Molina for Pete's sake, is batting .301. In other words, huh? A whole lot of guys are having career years at the same time, which is how a team that doesn't have many big names other than Albert Pujols has managed to be one of the biggest surprises in baseball. And make no mistake: they're legit. A bunch of these guys are playing over their heads, and their 58-49 record is a bit higher than their +14 run differential might suggest (their Pythag W-L is 55-52; ours is 55-49), but we can't afford to take them for granted. They are a good team. Tonight we'll face converted reliever Braden Looper, in his second season as a starter. He's slightly improved on his 2007 campaign, when he put up a 4.94 ERA in 175 innings, with a 4.49 ERA through 120 IP this year, but his components aren't much better, a poor 57/30 K/BB, 8 HBP, and already 17 HR allowed. He's actually been a half-run of ERA better on the road than at home (4.71 to 4.23 ERA), largely because he's kept his walks down on the road. He's essentially a two-pitch pitcher -- he has a fastball, slider, and change, but only throws the slider about 4.6% of the time. His average fastball is around 90.5 mph. He throws his change much more frequently than the slider, especially as the count gets deeper. His most comparable pitchers by Pitchf/x are Claudio Vargas and Carlos Silva, which tells you something about his effectiveness. Tim Hudson and Chipper Jones have been placed on the DL, and Brian McCann is likely out for the week following the concussion he sustained last night. Charlie Morton has been called up from the minors to go for us tonight, replacing Jo-Jo Reyes, who came in for Campillo after a two-hour rain delay and pitched ineffectively in last night's loss to the Phillies. Losing Campillo was a blow, but Jo-Jo didn't help matters, as he had his second straight appearance walking 4 men in less than 3 innings. He's not right, and I'm not sure what to do. He's simply not good at throwing a strike when he needs to. In any case, Morton is essentially a three-pitch pitcher, with a fastball, curve, change, and showcase slider that he only uses about 1% of the time. Morton's top two pitchf/x comps are Edgar Gonzalez and Jon Garland, an interesting twosome that highlight the wide divergence in possible paths his career could take. So far, as his 6.00 ERA suggests, he's taken his lumps in his rookie season. Still, he's been better than Jo-Jo Reyes was last year, and only slightly worse than a standard 5th starter. Ideally, he'll continue taking steps forward, improving his command of his excellent stuff, and growing into the pitcher he's capable of becoming. Tonight, the Cards' power hitters will test him. Braden Looper will give the Braves offense plenty of chances to stay in the game. This isn't likely to be a pitchers' duel.

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