Dodgers @ Cardinals September 7, 2021: Pujols bats third in potential final return to St. Louis

The Dodgers (87-51) beat the Cardinals (69-67) with ease yesterday, by a score of 5-1. The offense put up four runs in the first, and with Max Scherzer on the mound, that would be all they needed. He went eight shutout innings (one unearned run), with 13 strikeouts, getting the team back on track and simultaneously putting himself prominently into the Cy Young conversation. With 24 games remaining, the team still trails the San Francisco Giants (88-50) by one game. The Dodgers will have to implement a bullpen game today, with Corey Knebel getting the ball first. Mitch White will follow and go as deep into the game as he can, and hopefully the offense has scored enough by then to make it easy on the rest of the bullpen. J.A. Happ will be on the mound for the Cardinals, looking to break a three game losing streak.

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4:45 PM St. Louis
2B T. Turner 2B Edman (S)
3B J. Turner RF Carlson (S)
1B Pujols LF O’Neill
SS Seager (L) 3B Arenado
LF Taylor C Molina
C Smith 1B Carpenter (L)
RF Souza Jr. SS DeJong
CF Bellinger (L) CF Bader
P Knebel (R) P Happ (L)

The Dodgers struggle slightly against left-handed pitching, with the tenth ranked 106 wRC+ and 13th ranked .759 OPS, compared to one of the best offenses in baseball against right-handed pitching. Mookie Betts has played in four consecutive games, so he’ll have the day off, as will Max Muncy who has been struggling at the plate a bit. They’ll both be in the lineup against the toughest starter on the Cardinals tomorrow, Adam Wainwright. Corey Seager has a 128 wRC+ and .830 OPS now on the year, due to slashing .299/.393/.496, for an .889 OPS and 141 wRC+ since returning from the Injured List on July 30. Over his last eight games he’s hitting .375, with a 1.223 OPS and 220 wRC+. This is aided by a four hit night Friday in San Francisco, but with two homers and a total of four XBH in that stretch, it looks like he may be figuring things out.

Cody Bellinger is still in center field today, even against the left-handed Happ. Of 232 batters with at least 190 balls put in play this season, Bellinger’s gap in expected batting average (.199) from his actual batting average (.165) is the fourth highest, and also has the seventh largest gap in expected wOBA (.274) vs. his actual wOBA (.239). Those numbers still aren’t great, but they are the difference between him simply struggling, compared to looking like one of the worst hitters in the league. Additionally, among 217 batters with at least 300 plate appearances, Bellinger’s .197 BABIP is the second lowest in baseball. BABIP is an overly simplified way of looking at things, as shifting matters, hitting the ball hard matters, putting it in the air or on the ground all matters, but for a guy with a career .284 BABIP, you would think a .197 BABIP would be impossible to keep up. Well actually, it literally should be, because over the last twenty seasons, among all 2996 qualified individual seasons, the lowest BABIP ever posted across an entire season, was Aaron Hill in 2010, at .196. The next lowest would be 2011 Vernon Wells at .214. Anyways, today Dustin wrote about how these struggles should open the door for Matt Beaty as well.

Steven Souza Jr. appeared in thirteen games for the team this season over a three week stretch, beginning in mid June. This was the part of the season where with one more injury, I was going to be hitting cleanup and starting in left field. He wasn’t great in that stretch besides one game in his return to Arizona. Overall, he hit .160, with a .610 OPS and ten strikeouts in 28 plate appearances. Since he was cut, he ended up back with the organization, playing 46 games in Triple-A over the last two months, where he slashed .247/.387/.507, for an .894 OPS and 120 wRC+. With AJ Pollock out for the next couple weeks, Souza Jr. gets another shot. Albert Pujols bats third and starts at first base, and as the end of his career gets nearer, it’s possible he never returns to St. Louis before he retires.

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Here’s how Knebel and Happ matchup.

Naturally, Knebel is just starting the game for the Dodgers and they’ll likely hope that he can go two innings before Mitch White enters the game. Ideally, the top of the order sees less of White, and starting with Knebel allows an extra inning or two out of White. Overall, the goal is somehow White gets close to or past the sixth or seventh innings. Knebel last pitched on Friday, starting the game like he is today, going two innings and throwing 32 pitches, both season highs. He’s now thrown 4.2 scoreless innings in his previous three “starts”. White last started on August 29, going 3.1 innings against the Rockies, although he allowed a three run frozen rope homer to the red-hot C.J. Cron in the first inning. He settled in a bit after that, ending his outing with six strikeouts and those three earned runs.

Happ took the loss in his last time out, surrendering seven runs on eight hits and two walks in one inning against the Reds. Three of the first five batters he faced tagged him for extra-base hits including a two-run homer by Nick Castellanos, and things went downhill from there. The 38 year-old came into the game having allowed only seven earned runs through his first five starts for St. Louis, but this performance was more akin to to his first half with Minnesota, where he had a 6.77 ERA through 19 starts. The lefty has had a long and successful career, including a World Series Championship in 2008 with the Phillies, and was an All-Star as recently as 2018. He even had a 3.47 ERA in 49.1 innings last season with the Yankees. That being said, he’s been very bad and the Dodgers SHOULD be able to hit him.

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Good for Souza Jr., but disappointing for Zach McKinstry. After a strong start to his season, he had an oblique injury and hasn’t been able to make it back to where he was.

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Having Julio Urias to close the series is good for the team, but it’s less than ideal to not have a starter up against the Cardinals’ ace in Wainwright.

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First pitch is at 4:45 PM PDT on SNLA.

About Allan Yamashige

Just a guy living in Southern California, having a good time writing about baseball. Hated baseball practice as a kid, but writing about it rules. Thanks for reading!