Sliders key on Monday Night Baseball

May, 13, 2012
5/13/12
10:36
PM ET

Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireRyan Dempster brings a 1.02 ERA to St. Louis on "Monday Night Baseball," where he's looking to pick up his first win of the season.
The major league leader in ERA takes the hill Monday when Ryan Dempster and the Chicago Cubs visit the St. Louis Cardinals (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET).

Dempster has allowed just four earned runs in five starts -- a 1.02 ERA -- but is 0-1. The Cubs have lost all of Dempster's starts, scoring a total of eight runs in the five games.

According to The Elias Sports Bureau, no pitcher in major league history has had an ERA as low as Dempster through five starts without a win.

He’s using his slider more often this season while decreasing the use of his fastball and splitter. That slider has been one of the best in baseball. Hitters are just 5-for-56 against Dempster’s slider this season, a paltry .094 batting average. (Last year through five starts, he allowed 11 hits against the slide piece.) Only one pitcher in baseball -- Matt Cain -- has a lower batting average against his slider (min. 50 PA ending with a slider).

Dempster’s opponent, Jake Westbrook, is off to a fine start of his own. He’s 4-2 with a 1.76 ERA and has pitched into the seventh inning in all six of his starts. Only Felix Hernandez and Roy Halladay have pitched into the seventh inning more often this season.

Westbrook has improved his slider by keeping it out of the middle of the strike zone. Last season, more than 21 percent of his sliders were in the middle-third of the strike zone and just 52 percent were away. This season, fewer than 13 percent of his sliders are in the middle and more than 62 percent are away from hitters. As the chart to the right shows, hitters are swinging at the pitch less but are missing it nearly twice as often.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH
• Skip Schumaker is hitting .417 (20-for-48) against Dempster, the second-highest batting average by any hitter with 40 plate appearances against him.

• Rafael Furcal is hitting .154 (6-for-39) against Dempster, the lowest batting average by any player with 40 plate appearances against him.

• Alfonso Soriano is hitting .120 (3-for-25) against Westbrook, the third-lowest batting average by any player with 25 plate appearances against him.

• David DeJesus is 7-for-26 against Westbrook, just a .269 batting average, but he’s the only Cub who’s homered off the Cardinals righty. Plus, only two players have faced Westbrook more often without a strikeout.

RIVALRY REVISITED
These two teams first met in 1892, when the Chicago Colts beat the St. Louis Browns 14-10 on Opening Day. The Cubs lead the all-time series 1,169-1,107. Since the start of the 2002 season, the series is tied 86-86.

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