NLDS Preview(?) Preview

I haven't read all of the comments, or really even most of them, over the last two days, but I'm sure it's safe to say there's a little panic going on.  Thanks be to the Cards for some perspective.  Remember the last time we faced St. Louis?  We were 21-32 and just avoided a four game sweep to lowly Houston.  We were 3-4 with Jim Tracy and facing the top two teams in the NL Central.

Fast forward.  The second time the two teams square off is 3.5 months later, and it could be a preview of the an NLDS matchup.  The Cardinals would need to finish ahead of Philadelphia, who currently outpaces St. Louis by a half game.  From the cellar to a playoff preview.  That's a nice little jump.

The Cards have been strong since that matchup too.  After getting swept by the Rockies, St. Louis has gone a stout 68-37.  The pitching was always there, but the offensive lineup received much-needed reinforcements.  They needed extra parts, and the last time we faced them, Mark DeRosa and Matt Holliday were rumored to be of interest to the Cards.  Either the FO is impressionable by the press, loose-lipped with their plans or it's a happy coincidence, but they indeed added both also acquiring Julio Lugo after being dumped by Boston.  In an ironic twist, RMN commented that he traded Holliday for Brett Wallace in a sim league well before that trade came to pass.

With the offense strengthened and the best rotation around, the Cards are a force (though less than 10 runs ahead of COL in run differential) and a good measuring stick, but the Rockies are solid at home.  That series loss to San Diego was only the second in their last 12 at Coors Field.

With a magic number of seven, the Rockies cannot clinch anything this weekend.  The Cardinals can clinch the NL Central with a win or Cubs loss.

Go make a positive rapport with Cards fans, especially if they indeed become a first round (or even second round) opponent.  Here:  Viva El Birdos

 

Scoreboard Watch

Atlanta (3.5 GB) @ Washington:  Javier Vazquez (14-9) vs John Lannan (9-12).  Tommy Hanson (10-4) vs. Garrett Mock (3-9).  Derek Lowe (14-9) vs. Livan Hernandez (8-12).

San Francisco (4 GB) vs. Chicago Cubs:  Tim Lincecum (14-6) vs. Carlos Zambrano (8-6).  Barry Zito (10-12) vs. Tom Gorzelanny (6-2).  Matt Cain (13-7) vs. Randy Wells (11-9).

Florida (4 GB) vs New York Mets:  Ricky Nolasco (12-9) vs. Tim Redding (3-6).  Sean West (7-6) vs. John Maine (6-5).  Josh Johnson (15-5) vs. Pat Misch (1-4).

 

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St. Louis Cardinals (89-64, W1, 1st, MN=1)

Friday-Monday : 3-game series at Coors Field

The Bats: B

St. Louis' offense was very weak the last time we saw them.  Suddenly hitters who were ill-prepared to shoulder the load of being the main threats in the lineup can now be role players.

LINEUP Avg HR RBI OBP SLG wOBA OPS+
Skip Schumaker - 2B .304 4 35 .352 .377 .337 102
Colby Rasmus - CF .258 16 51 .311 .423 .318 93
Albert Pujols - 1B .330 47 129 .398 .557 .455 193
Matt Holliday - LF .312 24 104 .391 .520 .391 143
Ryan Ludwick - RF .271 20 89 .342 .408 .339 105
Mark DeRosa - 3B .256 23 78 .324 .447 .334 100
Yadier Molina - C .291 6 51 .309 .401 .338 99
Julio Lugo - SS .260 3 20 .349 .414 .342 98

I included OPS+ in part to include the varied home parks DeRosa, Lugo and Holliday played in prior to their acquisition.  Using a compilation of the stats, we can deduce that Pujols is a god/machine/alien and that Matt Holliday is an absolute All-Star quality stud.  Ludwick is a bit above average while DeRosa, Lugo and Schumaker all come in at about average.  Yadier Molina is quietly having a better offensive season than his brother Bengie, who gets to bat cleanup, and Colby Rasmus is having a rocky rookie season, though he's still a threat.  There are no easy outs anymore.  They have come a long way since having Khalil Greene hitting cleanup.  And ohbytheway, Holliday is hitting .355 with 13 HR, 50 RBI and a .430 wOBA/172 OPS+ in 55 games with St.  Louis.  Someone wanted out of Oakland.

The bench currently houses Rick-throw-me-a-damn-fastball-Ankiel (.235, 11, 37), who has been splitting time with Rasmus in center.  He is listed as the only reserve OF.  David Freese (3-for-19), Troy Glaus (3-for-17), Khalil Greene (.205, 6, 24), Tyler Greene (.219, 2, 17), Brendan Ryan (.289, 3, 35) and Joe Thurston (.232, 1, 35) make up a predominantly right-handed bench as reserve infielders.  The two current backup catchers are Jason LaRue (.239, 1, 3) and Matt Pagnozzi (No AB).

Check under the fold for reports on the arms, defense, pitching matchups, injuries and hot/cold players.

The Arms: A

The starting pitching for St. Louis has been tremendous.  Pitching in a fairly neutral park, the rotation has put up elite numbers:

Name Stat MLB Rank
ERA 3.60 2nd
FIP 3.57 1st
BB/9 2.36 1st
WHIP 1.27 2nd
HR/9 0.69 1st
K/BB 2.66 2nd

Give those numbers to one starting pitcher with a good offense and you may have a Cy Young candidate.  But that's the entire staff.  We'll get the top two in the rotation in Carpenter and Wainwright.  Joel Pineiro has been bumped back a start, so we'll get a bit of a break with Kyle Lohse taking the bump, but that rotation is scary, even with Lohse in it.

The relievers have gotten better too, pushing their pen ERA down to 5th in MLB at 3.66.  However, FIP (4.30) and tRA (4.88) don't like their pen at all, mostly since they lead MLB in pen BABIP at .276.  Closer Ryan Franklin has had an All-Star season by limiting home runs and hits in general, though again, fancy metrics don't really like him (tRA=3.81, FIP=3.19).

W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2009 - Ryan Franklin 4-3 60 0 0 0 37 5 59.0 46 13 13 2 21 43 1.98 1.14

The rest of the bullpen includes RH's Mitchell Boggs (96 ERA+), Blake Hawksworth (185), Josh Kinney (69), Kyle McClennan (150), Jason Motte (86), Todd Wellemeyer (72), and Brad Thompson (84).  Tony LaRussa has just two lefties:  Trevor Miller (211) and Dennys Reyes (127).  

 

The Gloves:  C

St. Louis has a very average 0.1 UZR/150, are right in the middle at 15th with 88 errors, and have the 14th best Fangraphs value.  Easy grade of C, right?  Don't forget though that the Cards have completely different starters on the left side of the diamond from the first half of the season, rendering season-long metrics as such inaccurate.

 Their D up the middle is very bad.   Skip Schumaker is doing enough to validate having him in the lineup after his transition to second, but he's the worst graded defensive 2B in the game this year.  Julio Lugo is a big downgrade from Brendan Ryan.  We know Holliday can handle Coors Field.  He has a very strong Fangraphs value for the last three years...except with St. Louis.   Colby Rasmus is solid in CF and Albert Pujols has a Gold Glove on his mantle.  The rest of the starters are at least average.  So two deadweights, two fairly good and the rest slightly above average.  Eh, C it is.


Probable Pitchers:

Tonight, 7:10 pm MDT

W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2009 - Chris Carpenter 16-4 26 26 3 1 0 0 180.2 148 48 47 7 34 136 2.34 1.01
W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2009 - Aaron Cook 10-6 26 25 1 1 0 0 145.0 167 75 72 18 46 75 4.47 1.47

Any hope for Todd Helton to win NL Comeback Player of the Year ended with Chris Carpenter's Cy Young contending performance this year.  Quite frankly, you know you're right when your ERA, FIP and tRA are all under 3.0. We unfortunately missed him in June, because we would have hurt his career numbers against the Rockies - 3-0 with a 0.62 ERA in 4 starts.  Nowhere to go but up, right?  He is in the top ten in MLB in Fangraphs pitch ratings for his fastball (7th), slider (7th) and curveball (9th).  Three starts ago, he threw a complete game one-hit shutout.  Last Saturday, he tossed 8 scoreless innings.  But in the start between, the Braves ravaged him for seven runs.  I'd say someone needs to call Bobby Cox, but I don't think he'd help us out very much right now.  We all know Cook's story.  He's returning from the disabled list after multiple injuries and bad starts, this after his simulated game was less impressive than a pitcher who has been out all year with a career-threatening injury.  His audition for the playoffs starts now.  Favors:  CARDINALS strongly

 

Saturday, September 26, 6:10 pm MDT

W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2009 - Adam Wainwright 18-8 38 32 1 0 0 0 219.0 201 69 63 16 63 193 2.59 1.21
W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2009 - Ubaldo Jimenez 14-11 31 31 1 0 0 0 205.0 175 82 79 12 78 181 3.47 1.23

What, another Cy Young caliber right-hander?  Not fair.  Wainwright has not been quite as effective as Carpenter, but not by much.  The MLB's co-leader in wins has allowed more than 2 ER just 3 times in his last 21 starts, since facing Colorado to start June.  We was awarded with a win in all three of those starts.  His curveball value is 2nd in MLB and his slider is 5th, but that fastball has been hit around a bit.  Some dude named Jason Berken in Baltimore has a fastball graded out as better than Wainwright's.  He has won 11 of his 14 road starts, though his road ERA is nearly twice that of his ERA at Busch Stadium.  After one atypical Ubaldo start and one trainwreck, Jimenez righted the ship with a strong gritty performance against the D-Backs.  His leg should be completely healed by know, so he can commence firing unhittable sidewinders at Yorvit Torrealba.  He has won 8 of 14 starts at Coors, where he has a better ERA than on the road.  Favors:  ROCKIES slightly

 

Sunday, September 27, 1:10 MDT

W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2009 - Kyle Lohse 6-8 21 20 1 1 0 0 106.2 111 60 57 15 34 68 4.81 1.36
W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2009 - Jorge De La Rosa 15-9 31 30 0 0 0 0 177.0 168 92 87 20 80 181 4.42 1.40
Kyle Lohse will always be connected to Kazuo Matsui in the minds of Rockies' fans.  Tony LaRussa gave the Rockies a gift (unless we face them in the playoffs) by pushing Joel Pineiro back and letting us face Lohse.  The right-hander is having his standard career season, being a step below average. He's 1-2 with a 4.67 ERA in 5 career regular season starts against the Rox, 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA in two Coors starts.  Jorge de la Rosa leaned over and unleashed a merciless stinker in his last start, but let's not forget opponents failed to score more than 3 ER off him in 15 of his last 18 starts.  We ought not worry unless it becomes a trend.  Favors:  ROCKIES strongly


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Albert Pujols is on a tear.  When is he not?  The Machine is hitting .385 with 6 HR and 8 2Bs in September.  Matt Holliday has a hit in 19 of his 20 September starts.  Those two plus Skip Schumaker, Ryan Ludwick and Yadier Molina make up a majority of the starting lineup that is hitting over .300 this month.


IceRyan Franklin has broken his hot streak (saves in 13 straight appearances, 14 straight scoreless appearances) in a big way.  The Cards' closer has blown three straight save ops, has been scored upon in 4 of his 8 September outings and has an ERA approaching 9 this month.  Mark DeRosa has multi-hit games in 2 of his last 3, but he's hitting just .224 for the month.


Bandaid_mediumSt. Louis looks primed to head into the playoffs exactly as they want to.  Troy Glaus has a strained oblique and may or may not return this season, and Brendan Ryan is "questionable" with a stiff pinky finger, but he is active and available to pinch run.  That's it.  There are no other injuries.  I'm pretty sure I myself am more bumped and bruised than their entire roster.

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