ST. LOUIS – The standings suggest the Cardinals (50-34) are enjoying a great season while the Marlins (32-52) are enduring the anticipated falloff of an off-season fire sale.
But you should ignore the standings when the teams meet at Busch Stadium on Friday night and Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
The Marlins are playing like contenders while the Cardinals are suffering through their worst stretch of the season. Miami has won five of its past six series, a run that started with beating St. Louis two of three in mid-June. The Cardinals have won only one of their past five series and are coming off a heart-crushing 6-5 loss in Anaheim Thursday night that was lowlighted by Edward Mujica’s first blown save opportunity of the season.
Since May 31, the Marlins own the best record in the majors, 19-11. The Cardinals have gone 15-16 over the same stretch.
Getting healthy has been one key to Miami’s turnaround. Sluggers Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison returned from injuries in early June to give a lift to what could have been mistaken for a minor-league lineup. Stanton has hit five homers in 22 games since he came back from a hamstring injury; Morrison is hitting .328/.418/.569 in 17 games since the start of his season was delayed while he recovered from right knee surgery.
Young pitching has been an even bigger factor in the Marlins’ improvement, and the Cardinals will get a heavy dose of those strong arms this weekend. The Marlins will start a trio of 23-and-under right-handers that come armed with 95 mph fastballs and rising confidence based on their recent performances.
Jacob Turner, a Westminster Academy product, is coming off the first complete game of his young career, a 7-1 victory over the Padres. Turner, 22, endured a dismal spring training and started the season in the minors. But in six starts since his callup, he has fashioned a 1.76 ERA while working five quality starts. Turner has started against the Cardinals once, giving up one run in five innings last June before he had been traded by the Tigers.
Saturday starter Nathan Eovaldi, 23, missed the first 2 1/2 months because of shoulder woes but has made three strong starts since coming off the disabled list. Eovaldi was acquired last July in the deal that sent Hanley Ramirez and now-Cardinals reliever Randy Choate to the Dodgers.
The best of the bunch, Jose Fernandez, is scheduled to start Sunday. Fernandez, 20, was expected to start the season in the minors but surprisingly was added to the roster late in spring training. He has rewarded the Marlins for believing he was ready. Fernandez is 5-4 with a 2.72 ERA while holding opposing hitters to a .193 average, third lowest among N.L. starters. He struck out 10 and held the Cardinals to two runs over seven innings in a 5-4 victory in Miami last month.
After playing on the West Coast Thursday night, the Cardinals called off batting practice and were given a late reporting time for Friday’s game.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.