Phillies-Cardinals NLDS Preview

by on October 3rd, 2015
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The Philadelphia Phillies and the St. Louis Cardinals have both been around since 1892 and surprisingly, they have never faced each other in the postseason. Until now.

This series is going to be about contrasting styles. It will be pitching and defense for the Phillies versus hitting for the Cardinals.

The Phillies won a MLB-best 102 games on the strength of their pitching. The Phillies had the lowest ERA and WHIP in baseball and gave up the second fewest home runs as well. That’s impressive for a team that plays their home games in what is widely regarded as a hitters park. The Phillies fielders also helped their pitchers out by having the best fielding percentage in MLB. The Phillies have gone from a team that outscored their opponents in previous years, to one that shuts them down with their dominant pitching. They need to be dominant, because their offense is average at best these days.

The Cardinals on the other hand were all about the offense. Nobody scored more runs than St. Louis in the National League this season. They also led the NL in hits, average and OPS (on base + slugging percentage). The Cardinals simply covered up for their average pitching with their bats this season. On the other hand, they were dead last in stolen bases and second to last in fielding percentage.

Let’s take a look at both team’s starters, position by position.

CATCHER

Cardinals: Yadier Molina – .305, 14 HR, 65 RBI, 55 R
Phillies: Carlos Ruiz – .283, 6 HR, 40 RBI, 49 R

You might be surprised to know that Albert Pujols didn’t lead the Cardinals in hitting this season, Molina did. He is not only a good defensive catcher anymore. His bat is an important piece in their lineup and he’s a .315 hitter in 32 postseason games. Ruiz had a down year at the plate, but the Phillies pitching staff simply loves to throw to him. Even if he does nothing at the plate, he’s a valuable contributor to the team’s success.

FIRST BASE

Cards: Albert Pujols – .299, 37 HR, 116 RBI, 105 R
Phils: Ryan Howard – .253, 33 HR, 116 RBI, 81 R

Obviously Pujols is one of the most feared hitters in all of baseball even in a down year such as this one. But since he’s a free agent once his season is over, he may just have some extra incentive in the postseason. Howard also had a down year, but only by his own lofty standards. He still knocked in 100+ runs for the sixth straight season. On a team without many other power threats these days, Howard is the key piece of the lineup for the Phillies.

SECOND BASE

Cards: Skip Schumaker – .283, 2 HR, 38 RBI, 34 R
Phils: Chase Utley – .259, 11 HR, 44 RBI, 54 R

Schumaker started the season as the starting second baseman and ended it as the starter as well. In between, LaRussa ran six other players through the position, so Skip isn’t exactly a key player. Utley lost the first two months of the season to a knee injury and never seemed to regain his power stroke. The team certainly hopes he can regain the stroke he displayed in the 2009 World Series when he set the record for home runs in the Series with seven. That does seem unlikely though.

SHORTSTOP

Cards: Rafael Furcal – .283, 2 HR, 38 RBI, 29 R
Phils: Jimmy Rollins – .259, 11 HR, 47 RBI, 87 R

Furcal’s stats are deceiving since he played much better once he was traded to the Cardinals on July 31. Unfortunately, the 12-year veteran is currently nursing a hamstring strain that could impact his effectiveness in this series. Rollins had something of a bounceback year in 2011, after an injury-ravaged 2010. His numbers are also deceiving since he spent some time as the No. 3 hitter while Utley was out. He’s back in the leadoff spot, where he should be the catalyst of the offense. And the three-time Gold Glove winner is still one of the best around in the field.

THIRD BASE

Cards: David Freese – .297, 10 HR, 55 RBI, 41 R
Phils: Placido Polanco – .277, 5 HR, 28 RBI, 46 R

Freese starts because he is the better offensive option over Daniel Descalso. While his numbers aren’t flashy, he does have a .350 average with runners in scoring position. Polanco had an off year at the plate due to a sports hernia injury. As someone who had that injury, I can tell you it hurts to do anything. In spite of the injury, Polanco has been stellar in the field.

OUTFIELD

Cards: Lance Berkman – .301, 31 HR, 94 RBI, 90 R
Jon Jay .297, 10 HR, 37 RBI, 56 R
Matt Holliday – .296, 22 HR, 75 RBI, 83 R
Allen Craig – .315, 11 HR, 40 RBI, 33 R

Phils: Hunter Pence – .314, 22 HR, 97 RBI, 84 R
(.324, 11 HR, 35 RBI, 35 R in 54 games in Phila.)
Shane Victorino – .279, 17 HR, 61 RBI, 95 R
Raul Ibanez – .245, 20 HR, 84 RBI, 65 R
John Mayberry – .273, 15 HR, 49 RBI, 37 R

Berkman has had a career revival this season, trailing only Pujols on the team in HRs and RBIs. Jay took over in center in July, but has not done much since he was given an everyday job. Holliday had a quad injury in the middle of the season and now has a damaged tendon in his right middle finger. It’s not a sure thing that he will play in this series, which would be a big blow to the Cardinals’ offense. His replacement is Craig, who went 12-for-32 (.375) the last 10 days of the season filling in for Holliday.

Ibanez is a notoriously streaky hitter. While he seemed to get hot at the end of the season, he has fallen into a quasi-platoon with Mayberry in leftfield. Victorino faded in the last month of the season after being the team’s most consistent hitter all season, but he still provides a spark and covers a lot of ground in the outfield. Pence was by far the best trade acquisition in baseball this season. Not only were his numbers in Philly impressive, but his right-handedness helps balance the Phillies lineup and prevents opposing managers from being able to stack left-handed pitchers against this lineup.

STARTING PITCHERS

Cards: Chris Carpenter – 11-9, 3.45 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 237 1/3 IP, 191 K
Edwin Jackson – 5-2, 3.58 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 78 IP, 51 K
Kyle Loshe – 14-8, 3.39 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 188 1/3 IP, 111 K
Jaime Garcia – 13-7, 3.56 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 194 2/3 IP, 156 K

Phils: Roy Halladay – 19-6, 2.35 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 233 2/3 IP, 220 K
Cliff Lee – 17-8, 2.40 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 232 2/3 IP, 238 K
Cole Hamels – 14-9, 2.79 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 216 IP, 194 K
Roy Oswalt – 9-10, 3.69 ERA, 1.37 ERA, 139 IP, 93 K

Carpenter inherited the Ace label when Adam Wainwright was lost to Tommy John surgery before the season even started, but he didn’t really pitch to ace level. Jackson was acquired at midseason and pitched well in his limited time with the team. Loshe had a nice bounceback year and actually provided the best numbers on the staff. Garcia had a very nice year and absolutely owned the Phillies. He only gave up one earned run in 15 innings against the Phillies this season. Being a lefty certainly had something to do with that against this Phillies lineup.

The Phillies went into this season with a potential rotation for the ages and they didn’t disappoint. Halladay is a two-time Cy Young winner, who threw only the second no-hitter in MLB history in his first-ever playoff start last season. He’s as good as they come. Lee is also a former Cy Young winner, who was the pitcher of the month twice this season. He also has a history of dominating performances in the playoffs. While those two will be finalists for the award again this season, Hamels would have been in the mix as well if the team scored more runs for him to increase his win total. And there’s also the little fact that he is a former NLCS MVP And World Series MVP. Finally, there is Oswalt who actually has the best playoff record of them all at 5-1. Those four are a combined 20-8 with a 2.89 ERA in October.

RELIEVERS

I’m not listing the stats of every reliever on both teams, since they playoff rosters haven’t even been set yet..

The Cardinals had a revolving door on the closer role all year and ended up blowing a ridiculous 26 saves on the season. Jason Mott has the job right now, but that could change from game-to-game. Fernando Salas actually led the team with 24 saves in 30 opportunities, so he may get another shot. The only veteran presence in the bullpen comes from Octavio Dotel and Arthur Rhodes. Overall this bullpen has been the team’s Achilles heel all season and they will most likely cost them a game or two in this series as well.

The Phillies actually went through a few closers themselves, but that was due to injuries to Brad Lidge and Jose Contreras. Madson took over in late April and converted an impressive 31 of 33 opportunities. Lidge is back and working in a set-up role because rookies Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo, who were both nearly unhittable for stretches of the season, faltered in September. Bastardo is the only lefty in the pen, so the Phillies need him to find his grove again quickly. Vance Worley goes from the best rookie starter in MLB to an unfamiliar bullpen role. Only time will tell if he can be effective in that role.

COACHING

While most people would assume that Tony LaRussa is a far superior manager than Charlie Manuel, the truth is that Manuel has a 33-25 edge over LaRussa, including his time managing the Indians. But the Cardinals were one of only two NL teams to beat the Phillies head-to-head in the regular season, winning 6 of the 9 games. Surprisingly, the other team was the Washington Nationals.

The Phillies have the homefield advantage and as Cliff Lee once said, you can just feel the intensity in Citizen’s Bank Park. The players feed off the emotion of the Phillies fans who led the majors in attendance this season. However, the Cardinals were 45-36 on the road this season, so they will not simply wilt under the pressure.

While the Phillies rotation is set for the series (in the order listed above), LaRussa hasn’t announced what his rotation will be just yet. He likes to make things appear much harder than they really are. The only certainty is that Carpenter won’t pitch until Game 3, since he pitched on Wednesday night. That obviously favors the Phillies, but then again, that rotation would be favored against any team in baseball. By clinching so early, the Phillies were able to rest their starters down the stretch and line them up for this series. There is no reason all four can’t pitch deep into every game to minimize the bullpen usage. The Cardinals don’t have that luxury and that puts them at a distinct disadvantage.

The Cardinals are just about the hottest team in MLB, after finishing the season on a 18-8 run to overcome a 8 1/2 game deficit on Sept. 1 in the Wild Card standings. There is something to be said for being the hottest team going into the playoffs. Just look at what the San Francisco Giants did last season.

The Phillies will sweep this series unless one of their starters has an off night, which is highly unlikely. Heck, they would have to have two or three of those Aces come out flat in order for the Cardinals to even have a chance in this series. While the Cardinals lineup can score runs on any pitcher, the Phillies rotation can shut down any lineup, as they have shown all year. The Cardinals bullpen is subpar and it will cost them in this series.

Pitching wins out over hitting in this series.

Prediction: Get out the broom – Phillies 3-0


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