Know Thy Enemy: St. Louis Cardinals

There was a short period of time where it seemed the Milwaukee Brewers might slip ahead in the NL Central race, but it was indeed the Cardinals that took the Central and will face the Braves. I can’t say I’m not happy that this is who we’re getting.

They’ve been about as hot as you could be in the second half. After finishing June with a 41-41 record, the Cards turned it on with a 50-30 second half. But you’ll have a hard time convincing me that they’re one of the best teams in the postseason. It took 91 wins to take the Central crown; that’s significantly less than the 97 wins that the East-winning Braves captured, and especially the 106 wins the Dodgers put up in the West. If they didn’t win the Central, they wouldn’t have the first Wild Card spot as the Nationals took that with 93 wins. In the AL, you had to win at least 100 games to win a division, and the Wild Card game is being played by teams with 96 and 97 wins. You couldn’t ask for much more in your first round match-up if you’re the Braves.

Also, fortunately for the Braves, the Cardinals play their best baseball at home. Their 50-31 record at home significantly outpaces their 41-40 record on the road. The first two games are in Atlanta, so that’s good for the Braves. Bottom line: the Braves are the better team, and as long as the playoffs aren’t completely random, they should also play like the better team.

That isn’t to say that the Cardinals couldn’t cause the Braves fits in some areas. Down the stretch, the Cards rode some great hitting and starting pitching, and that will undoubtedly help them in the playoffs. Their starting pitching is clearly the highlight of the team; 4 of their 5 starting pitchers had sub-3 ERAs in the month of September. That was headlined by the talk of the town, Jack Flaherty. Flaherty was nearly unhittable in the second half. In 106 1/3 innings, he rocked a 0.93 ERA. He was even better in September: 6 starts, 10.84 K/9, 1.64 BB/9, 0.41 H/9, and a .169 BABIP, which led to a 0.82 ERA in 44 innings. Yep, he averaged over 7 innings per start in that span. But unfortunately for the Cardinals, they needed him to pitch game 162 to get here, so expect Flaherty only once this series in game 2.

Nonetheless, they have others. Adam Wainwright pitched like the Adam Wainwright of 10 years ago down the stretch, contributing 36 IP in 6 starts and a 2.97 ERA. Dakota Hudson also pitched well with a 2.86 ERA in 6 starts of his own. They’ve got a solid 4 that are all pitching well at the same time. If they beat us, this is how they’re going to do it

On the offensive side, they’ve got a decent lineup, but you know who to pitch around. Tommy Edman down the stretch was the offense for St. Louis: .360/.423/.649, 179 wRC+ line in the month of September. The second and third sacker gave them 2.1 fWAR all by himself in the final month. Don’t pitch to him, and we’ll be doing a lot better than if we did. Paul Goldschmidt contributed a 142 wRC+ down the stretch as well. Otherwise, when the season was on the line, they didn’t get much else from others: Marcell Ozuna, Dexter Fowler, Paul DeJong, Yadier Molina, and Harrison Bader all delivered less than 100 wRC+ in September.

Their bullpen is terrible. They had 3 guys who provided positive Win Probability Added in September. That’s the time when the best arms are on deck, and they just didn’t have it. By comparison, Atlanta had 10 guys give them positive WPA in September as we they trying to figure things out. I can most definitely see them winning a game where they can get 7 innings from Jack Flaherty and then getting the ball to Carlos Martinez. But from there, they have to be praying that their bullpen plays above their capability and they can get to our starting pitching.

If our offense can get to their starting pitchers, and if our staff can avoid Edman and Goldschmidt, then this should be a won series. If they beat us in a short series, it won’t be because they were the better team. If I seem cocky or overly definitive, it’s because they are as good of an opponent as anyone to end this seemingly eternal postseason series drought. We’re the better team, and I think we play like it. Let’s kill ’em.

56 thoughts on “Know Thy Enemy: St. Louis Cardinals”

  1. I am trying to soak up as much ‘playoff preview’ content as possible, and i truly believe this may be the most honest one i’ve seen.

    I will continue to toss out any reference to the teams being even based on their pyth records. Seriously, here is the opening day rostered pitchers:
    STARTERS: Teheran, Wilson, Wright, Newcomb, Fried
    RELIEVERS:Vizcaino, Venters, Biddle, Sobotka, Carle, Parsons, Tomlin, Jackson

    I can buy that we outperformed in April and May, maybe into June. But since then? This team is bloody good, certainly not unbeatable, but pretty darn good.

  2. Well done, but now that you’ve been converted to WPA to evaluate bullpens, you have to keep from going overboard. A team with a big runs scored advantage over a couple of months will not have as many leverage opportunities to show a gaudy WPA. Andrew Miller has had a poor season, but he can perform on the big stage and I fear John Gant will perform against *us.* When the Braves play well, they beat up on relievers, when they don’t play well, we call it hibernation mode for a reason.

  3. The Cards offense is their weak link, which is good, because ours is our rotation. Also, fortunately, even though the Cards are no longer managed by Tony La Russa, I find that it’s still very easy to despise them.

    If any of you are having trouble getting into the proper mentality, @BestFansStLouis on Twitter has some good reading material. But I’m pretty sure none of us will have any difficulty.

  4. I wanted to give Gant and Miller the benefit of the doubt even without positive WPA, but they’re also terrible by any other metric in September. They were mostly solid by other metrics in August, but they’ve been straight bad in September, and Gant, for whatever reason, only threw 4 2/3 innings in September. I do agree that Miller might flip the switch and be fine in the postseason, and I argued the same logic for Madison Bumgarner earlier this year, but Miller just hasn’t been good this year: 4.45 ERA, 5.19 FIP, 4.45 B/9, 1.81 HR/9, -0.86 WPA.

  5. The Braves’ ace in the hole (literally!) is Fried’s plan to take Flaherty out on the town after the game on Thursday.

  6. Going back to the infield fly thing for just a second, all MLB had to do was make it so that outfield umpires can’t call the infield fly rule. They didn’t even really have to crap on Holbrook to do it, either, because they could have said that from his position in left field, it looked more routine than it was…and that’s the point.

    But they didn’t do that, they doubled down, and the only thing preventing it from happening again is an outfield umpire having the common sense not to call it. Will some umpires have that level of common sense? Sure. Will all? Obviously not.

  7. It seems to me the outfield umps should have a very defined role: fair or foul; caught or not; in the park or over the fence/fan interference. And that’s about it, unless the other umps ask for help.

  8. The point @8 makes about perspective is exactly right. In regular season games, no umpires stand where the outfield umps do, and that should be taken into account when defining what they are allowed to rule on.

  9. @12 I hope just the opposite. I want the Nats to give the Dodgers fits. Their offense is likely the only one that can truly beat up on Dodger pitching.

  10. I wanted the Brewers to sneak in and win the division so Braves would face them, but cannot complain as the Cardinals are the most beatable team in the NL race (outside of MIL, who I believe will meet their doom via Scherzer).

  11. One team excepted, my only consistent wish is for the humbling of people who claim to know something. Consequently. I predict the Braves over Milwaukee in the NL finals, and Tampa Bay over the Twins in the AL,

  12. Scherzer is not invincible. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Nats win as I think they have a better shot of beating LA, but it’ll be hard to root for them tonight.

  13. The Nats are paying Scherzer $42,143,000 this year and he can’t be an ace in a do-or-die playoff game.

  14. Before he got hurt, Scherzer was arguably the Cy Young front-runner. Since he got back, he clearly hasn’t been right. Did he rush back? Is he still hurt? Or did his age finally catch up to him somewhere between July and August?

    The Nats are going to have a long offseason to figure that one out.

  15. @18

    We’ll have Brian Anderson and Ron Darling for our series, which is maybe the best national combo available…it’s definitely the best combo TBS has. Chip has been retired for 2019!!!

  16. @27 the cards will just use their devil magic to pull a better replacement out of nowhere, as they have done consistently over the past decade for most of their lineup.

  17. One of my best buds is a Cards fan. I’m at his bachelor party this weekend, which is the reason I’ll be within driving distance of St. Louis on Sunday. Anyway, he made me a t-shirt for this playoff series:

  18. @29 Just heard of Edman for the first time today due to your post. I fear any unknown guy in that lineup (which is most of them).

  19. Brewers blew 4 games this week. Relied on Hader too much. He’s a racist ass, so a blown save couldn’t have happened to a better guy, IMO.

    I trust the Dodgers will beat the Nat’s easily. Let’s focus on winning a playoff series first before thinking about them.

  20. He’s a racist ass, so a blown save couldn’t have happened to a better guy, IMO.

    What? Are we talking about those “my parents grounded me, n-word” tweets he made in 2011 at age 17 or something else?

  21. Wow, that kicked up a notch. The Nats went from losing to victorious in about 10 minutes.

    Frenchy did well. He’s come a long way in one year.

  22. How Apposite.

    The two worst performances on the field each came from the biggest names on each team.

    Scherzer was bad, Hader was awful – chronic control problems so no slider. Between them and at their different times they contrived to each give up three runs by the time we were well enmeshed in the eighth. It should have gone to the ninth tied.

    But horrendous fate decreed otherwise. The young rookie playing right field allowed a ball to roll past him and what should have been just the tying run won it, the Brewers hapless in the ninth.

    The rookie of course was there in place of the self damaged Yellich. Oh boy, fate you know. The good guys, so nearly, the others yuk, lucky lucky. You could call it immoral. I would but I’m a Romantic. Wow.

  23. The manner in which they won has me really steamed. I hate those Nationals more than any team in baseball.

  24. @44 yeah, old stuff, but that kind of stuff can’t be undone by simple apologies. Racism is easy to hide and deny. Guy lost credibility when that stuff came to light. Not to mention the homophobia and misogyny. Just my opinion .

  25. In a do or die playoff game, I think you basically gotta go with your guy. I think the Nats probably should have started Strasburg over Scherzer, but he’s Scherzer. The whole point of Josh Hader is he shortens the game — as long as he’s on the roster and it’s a must-win game, you have to go to him in that spot.

    The alternative is you overthink it and leave Kimbrel on the bench. You gotta dance with the one that brung you.

    I wasn’t actually watching, but was the hit by pitch an actual hit by pitch? I so badly wanted the Brewers to win that challenge. Davey Martinez literally had a threatening heart condition that forced him to come out of the game shortly after he challenged the HBP that ended Culberson’s season, and I hope he had a good long while to watch that replay that he challenged, over, and over again, and thank his lucky stars for all his blessings.

  26. I think the HBP was demonstrably a foul ball, but the call on the field was HBP and I don’t think there was quite enough to overturn. If the original call had been a foul ball, I think it would have stood.

  27. The physics of it made it clear it was a foul ball, but it was really close. But the ball clearly hit both the bat and his hand, and the trajectory it took meant it must have hit the bat first. The announcing crew did a good job generally in the game, with two exceptions. One was on that play, where EJ kept talking about simultaneity, and on the Soto hit, where EJ missed the outfield muff in real time, presumably because he was watching the baserunners at the time, sensibly. But the camera shot showed the ball run under the glove long before EJ caught on to it. But you can’t look everywhere at once and it was still way better than an archetypal Chip eventus prematurus.

  28. Ernie as a baseball announcer has always been more workmanlike than brilliant – I think he’s better at basketball – but he possesses the increasingly rare gift of not taking away from the action to say something asinine and irrelevant. He also has always been really good at making his partners look good, which is a lot harder than it looks.

  29. @52

    He’s maybe the best talking-head traffic cop there’s ever been. That’s basically what his main job on Inside the NBA boils down to, and he’s absolutely brilliant at it.

    As a baseball announcer, I agree that he’s OK, not great, but I also agree that even at his worst, he isn’t grating and he stays out of the way.

  30. @48 yeah, old stuff, but that kind of stuff can’t be undone by simple apologies.

    So you claim.

    Racism is easy to hide and deny.

    Yeah, and so is being a communist. People deserve to be met where they are and judged within their present context. It should be more socially unacceptable to judge the social media activity of anyone under the age of 21.

    What kind of creep are you, Carl, that you’re concerned about the tweets of a minor?? ;-)

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