The Cardinals and the Brewers have a colorful and underrated rivalry. Unlike the Cardinals-Cubs festivals, St. Louis vs. Milwaukee is more about the baseball than the social calendar. Then again, fans of the Cards and the Crew have everything you’d want for a great tailgate party. Safe to say, supporters of the Cardinals, Brewers and Cubs are deeply in favor of beer, bratwurst and ball.

The Cardinals are 370 miles from home, settled into Milwaukee for a four-game weekend set at American Family Field. I’m looking forward to watching the Cardinals and Brewers fire up the season. Unless the Cubs are better than expected and stage an upset, the NL Central will come down to a Milwaukee vs. St. Louis rumble.

Since the start of the 2017 season the Brewers have the NL’s second-best winning percentage (.557) with the Cardinals ranking third at .542. Milwaukee came into 2022 with a franchise-record streak of four consecutive postseason appearances, and the Cardinals have a three-year run of making the playoffs. The Brewers have won more division titles (2) than the Cardinals (1) over the past four seasons.

Last season Milwaukee won seven of the first 12 games played between the teams, but that flipped late in the season. The Cardinals went 6-1 against the Brewers in September including a four-game sweep at American Family Field.

Here are the starting-pitching matchups for the first Cards-Crew series of the season.

➤ Thursday: Adam Wainwright vs. Brandon Woodruff, 4:14 p.m.

➤ Friday: Miles Mikolas vs. Freddy Peralta, 7:10 p.m.

➤ Saturday: LHP Steven Matz vs. Adrian Houser, 6:10 p.m.

➤ Sunday: Dakota Hudson vs. LHP Aaron Ashby, 1:10 p.m.

Where the teams stand after the first week: Since losing the first two games of the season at Wrigley Field, the Brewers rebounded to win three of the next four from the Cubs and Orioles to complete a 3-3 road trip. The Brewers come home after winning the last two games of the series at Baltimore. The Cardinals went 3-1 against the Pirates and Royals and are a half-game ahead of the Cubs (3-2) in the Central. Two rainouts have prevented the Cardinals from getting into the normal flow of the schedule.

Early trends for the Brewers: The Crew is 26th in the majors with an average of 3.0 runs per game, and are lagging in the 30-team rankings in batting average (.212), slugging percentage (.337) and OPS (.640.). Milwaukee, Baltimore and Pittsburgh have hit the fewest homers (3) in MLB so far. And no team has grounded into more double plays (8) than Milwaukee. The preseason concerns over the Milwaukee offense appear to be legitimate …

The Brewers’ starting pitching was off form in the first time through the rotation with Corbin Burnes, Woodruff, Peralta, Houser and Eric Lauer combining for a 7.84 ERA, 15.3 percent walk rate, and a .436 opponent slugging percentage. But in his second start, Wednesday night in Baltimore, Burnes allowed only three hits and struck out eight in seven shutout innings … the bullpen has a 2.31 ERA through six games (5th in MLB) but key setup man Devin Williams has a 7.71 ERA in three appearances and manager Craig Counsell plans to rest him for the first game of the STL series. Supreme closer Josh Hader already has three saves and has allowed one hit and no runs in his three innings.

Early trends for the Cardinals: they’re second in MLB with an average of 6.25 runs per game and rank among the top three in the majors in batting average (.271), onbase percentage (.347), slugging percentage (.527), OPS (.874) and OPS+ (153.) And the Cardinals are batting .321 with a 1.002 OPS when runners are in scoring position. The Cards had 17 extra-base hits (including eight homers) in their first four games. Eight players have driven in a run or more, and nine have scored a run or more.

As you know the problem is starting pitching, with Mikolas, Matz and Hudson lasting only a combined 10.2 innings in their three starts and giving up 12 earned runs for a 10.12 ERA. The bullpen ranks 4th in the majors with a 1.86 ERA.

The Cardinals have done an exceptional job of moving baserunners along, doing it eight times in 15 situational opportunities. Their productive out percentage of 53.3% is tops in the majors … defensively the Cardinals are way down the list of teams for defensive runs saved (minus two) but a four-game sample covering only 324 innings is virtually meaningless.

New faces for the Brewers in 2022: DH/outfielder Andrew McCutchen, right fielder Hunter Renfroe, catcher Victor Caratini, utility man Mike Brousseau, relievers Trevor Gott and Jose Urena.

New faces for the Cardinals in 2022: starting pitcher Steven Matz, DH/outfielder Corey Dickerson, DH Albert Pujols, and relievers Nick Wittgren, Aaron Brooks, Drew VerHagen and rookie Andre Pallante.

Relevant injuries: pitchers Jack Flaherty and Alex Reyes for St. Louis; third baseman Luis Urias for Milwaukee.

Contrasting the Brewers and Cardinals… 

PITCHING: The Brewers ranked second in the majors last season with a starting-pitching ERA of 3.13. If anything, there’s more talent in the Milwaukee rotation in 2022 simply because Adrian Hauser has established himself as a quality No. 4 starter, and No. 5 starter Eric Lauer had a 3.19 ERA in 24 games last year. Many teams would love to have the talented Aaron Ashby in their five-man rotation but he’s basically a sixth starter and long reliever in Milwaukee. So a Brewers’ strength – starting pitching – is the Cardinals’ No. 1 concern. Milwaukee also has the edge in the bullpen, but St. Louis should be solid there.

OFFENSE: With their planned lineup finally in place after being limited by injuries early, the Cardinals ranked sixth in the majors in OPS, slugging and batting average over the final three months and were seventh in onbase percentage. And no MLB team had a better batting average with runners in scoring position (.289) from July 1 through the end of the regular season. So no one should be surprised to see STL starting off 2022 with a bang. It’s all about having your best personnel available for the lineup. The 2021 Brewers finished 23rd in MLB in adjusted OPS – 12 spots behind the Cardinals – and are now trying to jump-start an offense that stalled during the first week.

The Brewers have superior starting pitching and arguably best set of relievers in the division. Unless something changes at both ends of this rivalry, the Cardinals can’t match Milwaukee’s starting pitching or the late-inning intimidation factor Devon Williams and Josh Hader.

The Cardinals have an offense with more talent and potential than the Brewers. The Cards offense is already good and should get even better. Milwaukee’s offensive upside seems limited.

If 2021 is our guide, both teams are equipped with elite-level defense, with a slight edge to St. Louis.

Will pitching win the division? If so, Milwaukee is the likely champ.

Or will it be the team with the best offense? If so, the Cardinals can claim only their second NL Central title in the last seven seasons.

Questions going into this long-weekend series:

Will Adam Wainwright pitch well today at American Family Field? Waino had a really good start – and later a really bad start – in Milwaukee last season. Over the past three seasons he’s started four games in Milwaukee, working to a 4.29 ERA. In 21 innings inside the Brewers’ home park over that time, Waino has walked nine and yielded six extra-base hits including three homers.

In the first three games the Cardinals will go against Woodruff, Peralta and Houser. Last season the three starters combined for a 2.65 ERA at home. The Cardinals will be facing the best pitching they’ve seen this season. Can their hitters rough up the Milwaukee starters?

Over the final three months of 2021, St. Louis had the best-hitting road team in the majors, leading MLB in batting average, onbase percentage, slugging, OPS, and adjusted runs created. The Cards were also second in road homers and road runs during the three months. Can the STL lineup do it again? The performance of this offense over the first four games – all at home – was exciting.

Will Mikolas, Matz and (possibly) Hudson redeem themselves in their second start of the season?

Can St. Louis pitching prevent the Brewers from heating up? If so, the Cardinals will have to make sure to keep Christian Yelich down. Since the start of 2020 he’s batting .235, slugging only .392 and has a home run every 29.4 at-bats.

Can the Cardinals do some damage against Milwaukee’s bullpen? I ask for a reason: Brewers relievers had a surprisingly poor 4.41 ERA at home last season. May have been an outlier; may not mean much. But I’m curious, anyway.

How will Albert Pujols factor into this series? Well, the Brewers will start a lefty (Ashby) on Sunday and we can expect Pujols in the lineup for that one. The Brewers also have three lefties in the bullpen in Hader, Brent Suter and Hoby Milner. I don’t think we’ll see Lauer (the lefty) pitch in this series … but you never know. Pujols will get some action this weekend. Hard to believe, but this will be his first appearance in Milwaukee since the 2016 season. In 84 career games at the ballpark that used to be named Miller Park, Pujols has a .332 average, .448 OBP, .592 slug and a 1.040 OPS. He also homered every 16 at-bats at Miller Park. Sure, Pujols is older now and not the same guy against RH pitching. But he’s had a lot of fun and success in past visits to Miller Park.

How will rookie manager Oli Marmol do against Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell? Fascinating matchup. Counsell is the best manager in the division, if not the entire National League. And Marmol already has shown signs of being a more creative thinker than the previous two St. Louis managers.

Enjoy the series!

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.

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Please email your “Ask Bernie” questions to BernScoops@gmail.com

All stats used here are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.

 

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.