St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates (116, 8)
Albert Pujols is gone, but that doesn't mean the Cardinals aren't still the defending champions. They are, and they're playing like it.
St. Louis is 10-4 and kicked off a three-game set at Pittsburgh with a 4-1 victory on Friday night. The team is 6-2 on the road so far in 2012.
Chris Carpenter is on the disabled list, but Jake Westbrook is picking up the slack. The 6-foot-3 righty has made two starts for the year and will toe the rubber again for this one. He is 2-0 and boasts a 0.64 ERA, having allowed only one earned run in 14 innings.
New manager Mike Matheny made sure to have Westbrook hear his voice during spring training.
“I wanted to reinforce to him his style of pitching, which is the exact same philosophy this organization has, which is pound the bottom of the zone, make guys put it in play,” Matheny explained. “I believe we have the kind of defense that can make a lot of plays for him.”
Minnesota Twins at Tampa Bay Rays (-181, 7.5)
The Twins were expected to be one of the worst teams in baseball and they have not disappointed in that regard. Even after edging Tampa Bay 5-4 on Friday night, Minnesota is 5-9 overall and 3-5 on the road.
Adding insult to injury, the Twins have to go up against James Shields on Saturday. In three starts this season, Shields is 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings. The righty has gone at least eight innings in each of his last two outings and he allowed no runs on four hits in a 1-0 win at Boston on Monday.
Minnesota is countering with Carl Pavano, who has been solid at times but mostly unspectacular so far in 2012. Through three starts the veteran right-hander is 1-1 with a 5.23 ERA.
The Rays are 3-1 at home this season and they are 10-2 in their last 12 home games against right-handed starters dating back to last season. The are 8-0 in Shields' last eight starts at Tropicana Field.