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Photo Credit: © Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Series Preview: A Battle Of The Birds Who Are Struggling To Hit

It’s a Battle of the Birds, interleague style. For the first time since 2014, we’ll see the Blue Jays square off with the St. Louis Cardinals, who seem to be going through a crisis of their own.

Tuesday at 8:15 ET

Marco Estrada is entering Wednesday’s game with a 13-inning shutout streak to his name after dominant performances against the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox. After getting off to a somewhat shaky start this season, Estrada has been his excellent self. He mixes pitches, paints corners, changes speeds, confuses the shit out of opposing hitters, and does his thing. Having pitched in the NL his entire career before coming to Toronto in 2015, most of the Cardinals hitters will be familiar with him. But that’s the old Estrada, the one that was a league-average starter who gave up home runs like it was going out of style, not the new and improved ACEstrada who’s turned himself into one of the best pitchers in baseball.

Michel Wacha has rebounded nicely so far this season after a difficult 2016 campaign. Through three starts, Wacha has allowed only five earned runs on 16 hits and five walks while collecting 17 strikeouts. His issues in 2016 largely seem to stem from injury, as his average fastball velocity has risen from just under 94 miler per hour to 95 this season. He throws hard and pounds the zone with strikes, so hopefully the Jays batters are ready to take some swings.

Wednesday at 8:15 ET

According to MLB.com, the Wednesday and Thursday starts are unformed, but everything I’ve seen has indicated that Mat Latos and Casey Lawrence will both be making starts in St. Louis.

Latos’ first start of the season against the Angels on Friday was decent. He mostly used his fastball, sinker, and cutter, with the fastball averaging 92.5 miles per hour and topping out at 95. He didn’t generate many whiffs, and only earned one strikeout over his five innings of work, but did manage to keep the hard contact down, which seemed to be the main worry around Latos in spring training. His final line was five innings, six hits, three walks, four earned runs, and one strikeout. Not great, but about what you’d expect from a sixth starter.

Going for the Cardinals will be Opening Day starter Carlos Martinez, who was signed to a five-year, $51 million deal back in February. Martinez’s season hasn’t really gone as planned. His Opening Day start was excellent, as he shut the Cubs out of seven-and-one-third innings, but since then, he hasn’t been past the fifth inning. Through four starts, Martinez has a 4.76 ERA, and, oddly enough, is striking out more batters than ever in his career, but is also allowing more hits and walks, too. His issues seem to be stemming from his sinker, which is being clubbed at a .476 batting average against.

Thursday at 1:45 ET

Again, it says TBD, but it’ll apparently be Casey Lawrence making his second-career start on Thursday afternoon. Against the Angels on Saturday, Lawrence allowed five runs, four earned, on eight hits and three walks while striking out four. The damage pretty much all came off of an Andrelton Simmons grand slam, one that just kept going and going and going until it surprisingly flew out of the park. I’ve said this before, but the start Lawrence put up is really all you can expect from your sixth or seventh starter, and if he does something similar against a weaker Cardinals lineup, the Jays will certainly have a chance to win.

Adam Wainwright will start for the Cardinals. Usually a very dominant starter, Wainwright has had a bad time so far this season. Last season was the worst of his career, so at 35 years old, it’s probably time to wonder if the three-time All-Star has anything left in the tank. He’s more of a pitcher than a thrower, so declining velocity hasn’t really been an issue for Wainwright, but his once dominant sinker is now being hit for a .450 average with a higher average exit velocity than ever before in his career. As of right now, Wainwright has allowed 30 hits, the most of anybody in the Majors.

Miscellaneous

The Blue Jays have scored the second fewest runs in the Majors so far this season, but the Cardinals aren’t much better. Toronto has scored64 runs through 19 games played, while St. Louis has only managed 69 through 19 of their own. That’s not nice at all.

The only guy in the Cardinals lineup who’s really hitting has been Jedd Gyorko, who’s been crushing at a 1.039 OPS so far this season. Dexter Fowler, the dude we all wanted to be the Blue Jays new leadoff hitter this winter, has struggled mightily in St. Louis, posting a .169 batting average in his first 79 plate appearances.

They’re coming off a sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers, pushing their record to a respectable 9-10, but before that, the Cards were 6-9, and people in St. Louis were getting ready to hit the panic button.

Also, Matt Carpenter won’t be playing in Wednesday’s game, as he was suspended one game for an altercation with an umpire on Sunday. That’s a good thing.