NLDS Preview: Phillies-Cardinals

The Cardinals steamrolled opponents in September en route to one of the biggest comebacks in baseball history. Trailing the Braves in the wild card standings by ten and a half games on August 24, they won 23 of 32 games, capturing a playoff berth on September 28, 2011: a date which will live in baseball insanity.

The Phillies, meanwhile, coasted through most of the regular season. Their 102-60 record marked a new franchise best, and that win total would have been even shinier if not for an eight-game losing streak directly after clinching in mid-September.

The regular season doesn’t matter anymore. Sure, the Phillies have home field advantage throughout the post-season — especially since the NL won the All Star Game — but playoff series are dramatic because anything can happen. The Phillies are a better team on paper, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the Cardinals advance to the championship series. The last time a team as hot as the Redbirds made the playoffs, the 2007 Rockies won a one-game playoff against the Padres and subsequently swept the Phillies out of the division series. That Rockies team went to the World Series. Everything clicked at the end of the month and they were able to parlay that late success into playoff victories.

The Phillies lost the second game of that division series primarily because reliever Kyle Lohse served up a grand slam to Kaz Matsui. Lohse was recently named the series opening starter for the Cardinals, adding another parallel. Matt Holliday now plays for the Cardinals, adding even another parallel. But unlike that series, where the 2007 Phillies were successful almost solely due to offensive exploits, this version of the team is built much differently, and forms a much more formidable foe. Here are the major takeaways to get you ready for this potentially very entertaining division series.

Offense vs. Pitching
This series pits, quite literally, the best offense in the league against its best pitching. The Cardinals posted a .332 team wOBA that led the senior circuit. They also topped the league in hits (1,513), batting average (.273), on base percentage (.341), slugging percentage (.425, tied with Milwaukee) and wRC+ (111). They finished with the lowest strikeout rate in the league, at 15.7 percent, and ranked in the top five in baserunning, isolated power and home runs. Their defense was suspect — a -30.8 UZR was worse than every team aside from the Mets — but the offense was so forceful that the Cardinals still ended up leading the league in non-pitching WAR with 34.3.

On the other side of the ledger, the Phillies pitching staff produced 27.5 WAR, almost five full wins ahead of the second-place Giants. The staff posted an aggregate 3.02 ERA, 3.24 FIP, 3.41 xFIP, 3.21 SIERA and 1.17 WHIP. Realistically, nobody was that close to challenging them in these areas. Their K/9 ranked fourth at 7.9, but a league-leading 2.4 BB/9 resulted in a 3.2 K/BB ratio. Second on that list was the Brewers at 2.8. And that’s the staff as a collective unit. The main attraction of the Phillies is the starting rotation, which featured three of the top ten or twelve pitchers in the league, and two very capable starters at the back end.

The rotation put up the following league-leading stats: 7.9 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 4.2 K/BB, 1.11 WHIP, 77.6% LOB, 2.86 ERA, 2.98 FIP, 3.17 xFIP, 3.09 SIERA. The second place teams in each respective metric were much further distanced than when examining pitching staffs collectively. The rotation produced 25.8 WAR, over eight wins more than the second-place Giants, and exactly twelve more wins than the third-place Dodgers.

The Phillies hold a theoretical advantage here, as the gap between theirs and the Cardinals rotations is more substantial than the gap in offense. Since Chase Utley returned, the Phillies actually scored the second-most runs in the league, a fact that is often forgotten by those who anchored opinions to a mediocre Phillies offense in April. Given that Utley is a tremendous player and that Hunter Pence was added at the midway point, and that everyone finally seems to be healthy, there’s little reason to think that starting point is arbitrary or coincidental.

The Back of the Phillies Bullpen
Much has been made recently about the back of the Phillies bullpen. Aside from Ryan Madson, the team has shuffled through Antonio Bastardo, Michael Stutes and Brad Lidge for the seventh and eighth inning roles. Given the general lack of confidence in Lidge and the late-season struggles of both youngsters, it stood to reason that the Phillies were stumped as to who throws those frames. Well, the ideal solution is to have the starters throw those innings.

Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels all threw over 200 innings this year. They rarely left prior to the seventh inning, and often pitched much deeper than that. Perhaps it’s a simplistic view at the situation, but if the members of that trio can’t pitch into the seventh or eighth innings, the Phillies have more problems than choosing between Bastardo and Lidge as the bridge to Madson.

Look for the Phillies to actually take a more sabermetric approach in those innings if the starters are removed. Charlie Manuel might not know its an advanced analytic principle, but he has definitely utilized platoon advantages in playoff situations. In 2009, he brought Scott Eyre out to start the ninth inning against the Rockies, even though it was “Lidge’s inning” because lefties were due up. He might not operate in the same manner with a lights-out Madson, who is capable of retiring batters of any handedness, but there won’t be a specific eighth inning reliever. The hope is that the starters pitch the eighth, but if they can’t, the Phils will mix and match based on handedness and Manuel and Rich Dubee’s perception of the batters’ weaknesses.

La Russa’s Rotation
The Cardinals took a major, major hit when Adam Wainwright was lost for the season before it even began, but a mid-season trade and the steadiness of other veterans provided the team with a solid rotation. However, Tony La Russa is taking a very strange approach in dispatching those starters. Chris Carpenter pitched the final game of the season Wednesday night and therefore isn’t available until the third game of the series, which is fine, since he was needed to pitch in the last game of the season. Jaime Garcia is available earlier than that but actually won’t pitch until game four.

Instead of using his best starters as early as possible, La Russa is throwing Kyle Lohse and Edwin Jackson in the first two games, saving Garcia for a Game Four in St. Louis. At first glance the decision is marginally justifiable, as La Russa likely figures that they are at such a disadvantage on the road, that Jaime shouldn’t be wasted in such games, and that average-ish starters like Lohse and Jackson could potentially steal a game. Even if the decision was made under that reasoning, it serves as another example of managing for the future instead of managing to ensure the future will even exist.

By not throwing Garcia in the second game, La Russa is diminishing the odds that the Cardinals will even use their young lefty, because there might not be a Game Four. We shouldn’t expect anything less from La Russa, but this is a questionable decision that could cost them. Of course, given how these things work out, Jackson will toss a 2-hit shutout Sunday, and Garcia will surrender nine runs in a series-clinching game.

Allen Craig and John Mayberry
These two are the X-Factors in the series, especially if Matt Holliday can’t play, and if the Phillies finally decide that Raul Ibanez doesn’t deserve playing time regardless of pitcher handedness. They are similar players as well, as power-hitting outfielders with good eyes that broke out in their late-20s.

Craig hit an impressive .315/.362/.555, with 11 home runs and five stolen bases, in 219 plate appearances. He ran the bases well and played a decent outfield, en route to 2.6 WAR. Most of those PAs came against same-handed righties, as well. In 70 PAs against lefties, he hit .313/.343/.657 with half of his home runs.

Mayberry hit .273/.341/.513, with 15 home runs and eight stolen bases, in 296 plate appearances. Just like Craig, he posted solid fielding and baserunning numbers, en route to 2.5 WAR. Unlike Craig, however, most of Mayberry’s PAs came against lefties. With the platoon advantage, he hit .306/.358/.595 in 176 PAs. Against righties, he hit .250/.330/.455, still superior to Ibanez but clearly not as standoutish as his numbers against opposite-handed hurlers. While Craig will likely start games this series, Mayberry will be called upon to neutralize the Cardinals lefty relievers.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

38 Responses to “NLDS Preview: Phillies-Cardinals”

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  1. Nik says:

    Lets get this thing started!

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  2. Dave says:

    Cards will give the Phils ALL they can handle in this series. If the Cards can steal either Halladay/Lohse or Lee/Edwin, they’ll flat-out win it.

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  3. ICEYhawtSTUNNAZ says:

    Going by WAR on the back of this envelope, Jackson has had a slightly better season than Garcia, and that includes pitching A) pitching most of his innings in the AL (and not against Adam Dunn!) and B) that one start against the Brewers in August where no one else was available so Tony left him in while he was getting rocked for 7 innings to the tune 14 hits, 4 hrs, and 8 ER. Lohse in game one is a little dubious, but I don’t think going with Jackson over Garcia in Game 2 is a stretch.

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      Jackson has historically underpreformed his FIP, while Garcia has outperformed his.

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    • sup says:

      Jaime also allowed 13 ER in one game earlier this season, so you could argue the same for him to a greater extent.

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      • ICEYhawtSTUNNAZ says:

        Regardless, I still think Jackson has been at least as good if not better than Jaime this year, and that coupled with the latter’s home/road splits is reason makes it completely defensible to start the former in game 2.

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  4. Bad Bill says:

    Grousing about TLR making Carpenter unavailable until later misses the fundamental point that if they don’t win Game 162, they may not MAKE the post season. If they’d had a two-game lead in the wild-card race at that point, or maybe even just a one-game lead, he’d probably have made that one a bullpen start, or at least let Lohse or McClellan take it. In reality, he didn’t have that luxury. They HAD to run their best available starter out there, and he’d jockeyed the rotation days if not weeks earlier so that that was what would happen. Needless to say, it worked.

    I don’t always defend La Russa’s decision making (the micromanaging gets awfully old), but there’s no doubt in my mind that he got this one right, particularly since there’s guaranteed to be a game 3, where Carpenter will pitch.

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      Who is grousing about Carpenter being unavailable? The grousing is about pitching Garcia in Game 4 instead of Game 1 or 2.

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      • Bad Bill says:

        Quote: “Instead of using his best starters as early as possible, La Russa is throwing Kyle Lohse and Edwin Jackson in the first two games, saving Carpenter and Garcia for the games in St. Louis. … Even if the decision was made under that reasoning, it serves as another example of managing for the future instead of managing to ensure the future will even exist.” In fact it was exactly the opposite. He DID manage to ensure the future would exist.

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      • Eric Seidman says:

        That’s about Garcia. Not Carpenter. My bad for wording it confusingly.

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      • DavidCEisen says:

        It wasn’t worded confusingly. Bad Bill must only read the first and last sentence of paragraphs.

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      • Bad Bill says:

        No, I read the whole thing. Eric lumped a debatable, but IMO correct, swap in with a complete non-issue. The Jackson/Garcia swap is entirely defensible on the grounds that (1) Jackson is better than most people think he is and (2) Garcia has an enormous home/road split over his career. However, it is open to discussion. Including, or at least appearing to include, a Carpenter delay in with that swap is a screwup, period, and thank you, Eric, for acknowledging that.

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  5. Mike N says:

    I’m guessing Mayberry starts Game 4 vs. Garcia, if it comes to that.

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  6. Roger Goodell says:

    It won’t come to that. Phillies in 3

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  7. CodyG says:

    Garcia’s Home/Road splits are probably La Russa’s reasoning on starting him in game four if anything. Just looking at the large difference in ERA is probably enough for TLR to make the move.
    ;/I still don’t agree with it though

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    • Brian Popp says:

      If you look at Garcia’s home road splits, they are really striking. Despite similar K/9 and K/bb, his home WHIP is 1.111 v. 1.537. and his home ERA is just under half of his road ERA. He had similar splits last year. To me this a perfectly and totally justifiable move by TLR

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      • hk says:

        His BABIP at home is .265 and his BABIP on the road is .369. If TLR’s reasoning behind holding out Garcia until Game 4 is that he’s been better at home, that’s not totally justifiable, since he’s really only luckier at home.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Garcia’s Career BABIP Splits

        Home — .274
        Away — .339

        Around 800 PA in each.

        It’s only 2 seasons worth of data, and only 375 total IP.

        In 2010 the BABIP diff was about 30 points, this year it’s much more drastic.

        I would consider 2011 some bad luck, but there’s no reason to think that he won;t have a home/away BABIP split next year as well. If we’re doing projections on actual results, then in 2012, we’d expect him to have about a 35 or so point difference, favoring a lower home BABIP.

        I don;t know what the “reason” for this is, only that it exist.

        It could be the same lucky mound at Busch that worked so well for Joel Pineiro.

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  8. Hurtlocker says:

    I know this is off topic, but I’m kind of sad that Pujols didn’t hit .300 and drive in 100 runs this year. (.299 B/A and 99 RBI) To get that close to a traditional mark of excellence in the pre-SABR years just sucks, and I’m not even a Cards fan.

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  9. Ken Bland says:

    As a Phillie fan, 2 things I’d like to see are the Phils challenge the Cards less than great defense with some good contact, and aggressive baserunning, and Doc show a little less tendency to show his brilliance at pitching out of trouble. That worked a lot for him this year, but this is a higher risk offense to show that skill against.

    I’m going one game at a time. I don’t go against Doc Halladay. Don’t go against Cliff Lee either, but that’d violate the 1 game at a time thinking.

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  10. Scott G says:

    Yes, Scott Eyre pitching to LHBs is encouraging, but who knows if Manuel still has his wits about him. He used to use defensive replacements for Burrell routinely (often at improper times), but never uses defensive replacements for Ibanez, who is now 39, about 7 years older than Burrell who was 32 at the time.

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  11. joeymitch says:

    If the regular season doesn’t matter anymore, why does what the Rockies did in 2007 matter?

    I would argue that a Rockies team in 2007 has much less to do with the Cardinals playoff team than does a 2011 Phillies regular season team which looks prettay, prettay similar to the 2011 Phillies playoff team.

    If one matters, than so does the other…

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  12. smitty says:

    One thing regarding the Cards offense. Obviously Pujols; Berkman and Holiday were outstanding this season. Molina; Craig; Jay; Freese also had really good years with the bat. Even Nick Punto OPSed .809 in his limited PAs.

    But the Cards also faced the worst pitching in the NL quite often as the Astros; Pirates; Reds and Cubs were all in the bottom part of the league in allowing runs. All four teams had ERAs higher than 4.0.

    Also, isn’t Craig supposed to be pretty bad with the glove? He entered the year as a guy who mashed in the minors but had no position he could play well from what I’ve read.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Craig has been an average fielder in small samples.

      David Freese was also reputed to be an all bat no glove fielder, and he’s looking to be league average as well.

      It’s interesting that these guys (Freese, Craig, Jay) are looking to be pretty good hitters and average fielders, while the big superstar prospect (Rasmus) is looking to be average with the bat and below with the glove. This isn’t working out as it was “supposed” to.

      Allen Craig is one of the most intriguing players to me. I had previously written him off as just another Joe Mather, Nick Stavinoha type … but it appears that he might be something if given a chance. If Pujols leaves, I’m interested in seeing if Craig could have a “Ryan Ludwick” type breakout season if given full time playing PAs.

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  13. Stefan says:

    LaRussa announced the rotation and it differs to the one above.

    #1 Lohse (as before)
    #2 Capenter (on short rest instead of #3)
    #3 Garcia (instead of #3, still at home)
    #4 n/a (this must be Jackson)

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Given that baseball isn’t played in a simulation, I think you do save Garcia for the home game.

      Looking at results over 2 years, he’s much better at home than on the road. At this point it doesn;t matter what the reason or whether we can quantify it or not … only that he pitches much, much better at home.

      You have to put players in the position where they’ll be most likely to succeed. Garcia also isn’t all that great vs. LHBs as compared to vRHBs … so pitching him on the road against a team whose best hitters are LHBs might just be throwing him to the wolves.

      At first glance the decision is marginally justifiable, as La Russa likely figures that they are at such a disadvantage on the road, that Jaime shouldn’t be wasted in such games, and that average-ish starters like Lohse and Jackson could potentially steal a game.

      Eric, you’re better than that.

      [1] Lohse and Jackson aren’t even close to be the same quality pitchers. Jackson is 3-4 fWAR each of the last 3 seasons. Lohsebag is just below average.

      [2] There’s a better reason that Garcia is pitching at home. Same reason Joel Pineiro did.

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