A Brief Look At The Cardinals

NLDS: Cardinals vs. Dodgers
Game 1 Wed Dodger Stadium   
6:37pm
Game 2 Thu Dodger Stadium likely 3:07pm
Game 3 Sat Busch Stadium 3:07pm
Game 4* Sun Busch Stadium TBD
Game 5*   
Oct 13   
Dodger Stadium TBD
*if necessary All times Pacific
All games televised on TBS

Here is a brief first impression of the St. Louis Cardinals, who will travel to Dodger Stadium to start the division series on Wednesday.

The Cardinals can't hit left-handed pitching

On the season, the Cardinals had the worst OPS in all of baseball against southpaws, hitting .234/.312/.363.  However, back in July they bolstered their roster by adding right-handed hitters Matt Holliday, Mark DeRosa, and Julio Lugo.  They have helped, but this is still a weakness to exploit.  July 24 was Holliday's first game in Cardinal Red, and from that day forward, the club hit .250/.324/.374 against lefties.

With Randy Wolf and Clayton Kershaw starting in the first two games of the series, and Hong-Chih Kuo and George Sherrill waiting to drop the hammer in the later innings, look for the Dodger lefties make a huge impact in this series.

Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright are really, really good

Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, who will likely each finish in the top three in National League Cy Young voting, have started a total of 62 games.  The Cardinals have won 41 of those games.  Carpenter led the National League in ERA with a 2.24 mark, and Wainwright wasn't far behind at 2.63.  They were sixth and seventh in the NL in x-FIP, at 3.46 and 3.45, respectively. Both were in the top ten in baseball in innings per start, at 6.9 each.

Carpenter has pitched seven innings or longer in 18 of 28 starts, and gave up more than three runs in a game just three times all season.  He's also a control artist, having walked more than two batters only thrice this year.  Wainwright pitched seven innings or more in 21 of 34 starts, and allowed more than three runs only seven times.

Don't forget about Joel Pineiro

Cardinals' pitching coach Dave Duncan should bottle whatever magic potion he used on Joel Pineiro, because Pineiro has turned in the finest season of his career.  Pineiro doesn't strike out anyone -- his 4.3 strikeouts per nine innings is 86th among 87 MLB pitchers who qualified for the ERA title -- but he does just about everything else well.

Pineiro led baseball with an absurdly low 1.12 walks per nine innings, and his rate of 0.43 home runs per nine is second in baseball.  Bad news for Dodger fans is that number one in homers allowed per nine innings is Carpenter, at 0.33.  I would really love to explain Pineiro's success as luck or a fluke, but his x-FIP is an impressive 3.73, good for 10th in the National League, giving the Cardinals three starters with a better x-FIP than the Dodger-best 3.94 of Clayton Kershaw.

Outside of the big two, this lineup can be pitched to

Albert Pujols is the best player in baseball, and will provide a steady dose of anxiety for Dodger fans this entire series.  Matt Holliday has been superb since coming back to the National League.  These two we know about, with their .451 and .421 wOBA, respectively.  However, the rest of the lineup features no real threat.  Nobody else features an OPS+ above 105, and the next highest wOBA on the team are Julio Lugo at .347 (he's at .339 on the season including his Boston numbers), and Yadier Molina and Ryan Ludwick at .337 each, barely above league average.  I realize the same can be said about the Dodger lineup, but color me unimpressed by anyone outside the 3-4 spots in red.  If the situation comes up again where Hong Chih-Kuo or another Dodger pitcher needs to walk both Pujols and Holliday to retire an inferior hitter, sign me up for another strikeout of Ludwick or Rick Ankiel, or someone similar.

Rick Ankiel is Jeff Francoeur with a better backstory

I liked Rick Ankiel the pitcher.  I was sad when he lost the ability to throw strikes.  I loved the fact that he was able to make it back to the majors as a position player.  It was a great, feel good story for a while.  But it's over.  Ankiel is hitting .231/.283/.387 this season.  Rookie Colby Rasmus, meanwhile, is hitting .253/.308/.411.  Plus/minus rates them about even defensively (-1 for Ankiel, -2 for Rasmus in about double the innings), while Ultimate Zone Rating shows a wider gap (Rasmus at +11.2 UZR/150, Ankiel at -10.1).  St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz was a guest on Sunday's postgame DodgerTalk on KABC, and he mentioned the Cardinals might consider starting Ankiel against the Dodgers' two lefty starting pitchers in the first two games (both Ankiel and Rasmus bat from the left side), because the club feels Ankiel hits lefties better.  A closer look at the numbers reveals a reason:

Player PA BA/OBP/SLG BABIP
Ankiel 98 .234/.265/.298 .338
Rasmus     113 .163/.223/.260 .189

It seems to me the difference in their performance against lefties can be explained by luck, as Rasmus' batting average on balls in play is remarkably low.  The bottom line is that Ankiel is a replacement level player (at 0.0 Wins Above Replacement), and any time he takes away from Rasmus this series is great news for the Dodgers.

**********

Rosters don't have to be submitted until 10am on Wednesday, but it appears the Cardinals will carry 12 pitchers, according to Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Viva El Birdos is the Cardinals' blog on SB Nation.  Be sure to check their site for in-depth analysis of the Cardinals.  For instance, here is a thorough review by chuckb of the most valuable Cardinals in 2009.

This series will be close, and as we have seen in previous years, the results of the series can change at the drop of a hat.  A grand slam here, a throwing error there, and the series changes direction in a heartbeat.

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