As the never ending nightmare train of interleague play rolls on, it's finally pulling in to the Baltimore station.
The Cardinals played in Detroit three years in a row but, believe it or not, this is the first time in a decade and a half of interleague games that they have had the opportunity to play in one of Major League Baseball's best venues: Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Oh, the Orioles have been to St. Louis before. In fact, they sported the duds of their American League forefathers, the St. Louis Browns in one of those games. But that was so long ago (2003) that eventual Cardinals pitcher Sidney Ponson was on the hill for the Orioles -- and he was still a good hurler.
Before that the last time the Cardinals and Orioles (who have played tons of Florida spring training games as co-inhabitants of both Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg and Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter) played each other in games that mattered was the 1944 World Series. The Redbirds prevailed 4-2 to win their second title in three years.
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Nick Punto, fresh off the disabled list, is the dean of Cardinals position players when it comes to experience at Baltimore. He's logged 101 at bats at Camden Yards thanks to his many years with the Twins. He's got a .289 batting average there -- and a .317 mark against the Orioles overall -- including four doubles.
Outfielder Lance Berkman who played in Baltimore in interleague play as an Astro and with the Yankees after a trade to the American League late last season, has nine games under his belt there. He hit .286 with a homer and two runs batted in.
Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday is another of the few current Redbirds who has played at Camden Yards, a series he participated in during the 2009 season while a member of the Athletics. He owns a .167 batting average with no homers in 12 at bats at the cozy park.
The Orioles are 5-5 in their last 10 games but reside deep in the American League east basement with a 35-40 record. Simply put, the Cardinals need to get right against one of baseball's weaklings or they could find themselves deep in a hole of their own. The Birds are three games back of the Brewers thanks to their recent swoon -- and they're only half a game ahead of the hated Reds. Baltimore plays in a tiny park and has a horrific rotation. If the St. Louis offense can't get healthy there, it might not get healthy anywhere.
The Cardinals have a lot more experience on the hill of Camden Yards than they do at the plate. All three St. Louis starters in the series cut their teeth in the American League.
Kyle Lohse (7-4, 2.91) will take on Baltimore's Zach Britton (6-5, 3.19) in the opener. Lohse is 2-0 with a 4.09 ERA at Camden Yards dating back to his time with the Twins. He hasn't pitched bad in his last three starts, allowing 19 hits in 19 innings, but the Cardinals have lost all three of those games and he's been personally tagged with two of the losses. The O's have lost four of Britton's last five starts. But he's a much better pitcher at home than on the road. He's 4-2 with a 2.47 ERA this seaon in Baltimore and he's allowed 46 hits in 58 1/3 innings.
The middle game will be started by Chris Carpenter (2-7, 4.25) who snapped a ridiculous string of bad luck in his most recent start with a masterful eight innings against Phildelphia against Baltimore's Chris Jakubauskas (2-0, 5.18). Carpenter seems to be the only St. Louis pitcher who is going deep into his starts these days. He's pitched seven innings or more in three of his last four outings. Jakubauskas is a converted reliever who hasn't gone deeper than 5 1/3 innings in any of his three starts. He's given up 18 hits in 15 1/3 innings as a starter and has walked eight while whiffing 11.
Jake Westbrook, (6-4, 5.32) will start the finale against Brian Matusz (1-3, 6.85). Westbrook has made eight career starts at Baltimore and is 4-2 with a 4.12. In his most recent start against Toronto Westbrook was bombed for 10 hits and four runs in 4 1/3. Matusz has managed only 10 innings total in his last three starts, getting blasted for 14 earned runs in that span.