Thanks largely to Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman and David Freese the St. Louis Cardinals currently lead the majors in batting average at .295.
That hitting trio, though, is down to two after Freese suffered a broken hand this past Sunday after being hit by a pitch. He’ll be out at least a month.
That’s certainly terrible news for St. Louis, which hosts Florida on Tuesday at 5:15 p.m. (PT) in Game 2 of its four-game series that concludes Thursday.
Freese had put a halt to the Cardinals’ continued third base problems this season by batting .356 with two homers and 14 RBIs while amassing an .865 OPS mark, second among National League third basemen.
Despite a slow start by superstar first baseman Albert Pujols, an unsettled closer situation and a season-ending injury suffered by stud pitcher Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals lead the NL Central Division.
The Cardinals have achieved this by ranking in the top three in batting average and runs scored and placing seventh in ERA.
While ace Chris Carpenter still is seeking his first win, right-hander Kyle McClellan has stepped up to go 4-0 with a 3.23 ERA. The 26-year-old gets the start Tuesday night against right-hander Anibal Sanchez, who is 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA.
The Marlins are hot on the heels of Philadelphia in the NL East having won 17 of their first 26 games. The Marlins opened this series having won eight of their past 11 going 7-4 on the road this year.
Florida has overcome a wretched start from All-Star Hanley Ramirez by tightening a leaky defense and ranking in the top six in ERA and WHIP.
Ramirez came into the series batting .200 with one home run, 11 RBIs, three steals and a .294 on-base percentage. The 27-year-old shortstop has had at least 20 homers, 65 RBIs and 25 stolen bases in each of the last four seasons.
McClellan has shown signs of vulnerability. He has just a 10-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his last four starts. McClellan did win in his last start, beating Houston, 11-7, last Thursday as a 150 road favorite versus Nelson Figueroa.
McClellan wasn’t sharp, though, giving up five runs and eight hits in 5 2/3 innings as the combined 18 runs flew ‘over’ the nine-run total.
Lifetime against Florida, McClellan is 0-0 with a 2.57 ERA in seven innings. The Cardinals’ bullpen remains a mystery as five different pitchers have picked up saves.
Holliday continues to lead the majors in batting hitting .418 through this past Sunday. Berkman ranks No. 2 at .398. He became the first Cardinal to have three multi-homer games during the first 25 games of the season.
The Cardinals have been tough on righties, especially at Busch Stadium where they were 40-19 against right-handers.
Sanchez wasn’t sharp in his previous outing, a no-decision this past Wednesday against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Sanchez surrendered three earned runs on four hits – including a home run – with one walk and four strikeouts in five innings.
The Marlins lost that game, 5-4, to the Dodgers and Chad Billingsley as 120 home favorites. The combined nine runs went ‘over’ the 7 ½-run total.
Florida has dropped seven of its first nine road contests to teams with a winning record. The Marlins did win three of five from St. Louis last year.
The ‘under’ has cashed the past four times these teams have met in St. Louis going into this season. The ‘under’ was 12-3-1 in Florida’s past 16 road contest through the weekend. The Marlins also were 20-8-1 to the ‘under’ versus NL Central Division opponents.
The ‘under’ had cashed in six of St. Louis’ last seven games at Busch Stadium when the Cardinals had faced a right-hander entering the series.
The weather forecast calls for temperatures in the 50s with partly cloudy skies, a 14 percent chance of rain and seven mph winds blowing in.