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2011 NL Playoff Rotations: St. Louis Cardinals

Remember when St. Louis was doomed without Adam Wainwright? Yes, the Braves choked in a big way, but the Cardinals also made a magnificent September run to get into the playoffs. Their starting pitching was a huge part of that run, putting up a 2.85 ERA (2.96 FIP) during the final month of the regular season. Overshadowed by all the other Wednesday hoopla, Chris Carpenter dominated the opposition (I use that term loosely — it was the Astros) with a two-hit, 11-strikeout, one-walk, two-hit complete-game shutout. The need to win every game right up to the end of the season disrupted the preferred order of St. Louis playoff rotation, but it was not that long ago they looked like they were finished — at this point the Cardinals are playing with house money.

I will follow the order of pitchers suggested in this report. As I wrote above, it is hardly ideal, and a far cry from going in order of quality. However, Lohse “beating” Roy Halladay would be not be close to being the strangest thing outcome of a playoff game, either, as ridiculous as it might sound.

Each pitcher has some of his 2011 stats listed, as well as his Oliver 2011 projected “true talent” ERA (as of the September 26 update) to give us some perspective. Take it all as you will: the stuff is here for ease of access; go to the player pages for more.

Kyle Lohse, 2011: 2.5 WAR, 3.39 ERA, 3.67 FIP, 4.04 xFIP
Oliver projected ERA: 4.30

In my post on the Brewers, I said that Zack Greinke-Roy Halladay was my favorite potential pitching match up of the National League playoffs. I’m not sure that is going to happen, but Lohse versus Doc is pretty much the same, right?

Ah, Kyle Lohse. Once an up-and-down disappointment with the Twins, the switch to the National League and a touch of Dave Duncan‘s magic made him… uh… occasionally adequate? Lohse has had his moments, and has actually been pretty good this season. He still has the stock Minnesota mix of low walks without many strikeouts, although in 2010 he we walked too many to be effective when combined with low strikeouts. A 44% 2011 swing rate and an 86% 2011 contact rate is good sign for a hitter’s plate discipline; for a pitcher, it shows a lack of deception. Despite all that, Lohse is really the only Cardinals starter ready to go in Game One, and he is not completely helpless. Beyond the usual empty reassurances along the lines of “anything can happen,” Lohse has a reasonable chance to keep his team in the game and hope the bats do their part.

Edwin Jackson, 2011 (cumulative): 3.8 WAR, 3.79 ERA, 3.55 FIP, 3.73 xFIP
Oliver projected ERA: 4.29

Jackson is on his fourth team in three seasons (including two mid-season trades), which I suppose makes him sort of a literal journeyman. He actually pitched well for the Tigers and White Sox, at least. Jackson seems to have gotten the fly ball and home run problems of some earlier seasons out of his system. His strikeout rate is good if unexceptional. Getting his walk rate back down this season has kept his performance effective as his strikeouts also dropped. Jackson is going to be a free agent in an off season that will be pretty thin in pitching, so if you think the motivation of pitching on a national stage for suitors will make a different in his performance (I don’t), there is that.

Chris Carpenter, 2011: 5.0 WAR, 3.45 ERA, 3.06 FIP, 3.31 xFIP
Oliver projected ERA: 3.55

The Cardinals would obviously like to have Carpenter pitching earlier in the series, but they had to get to the playoffs first. Carpenter is not the dominant force he was two years ago, but he is still a very good pitcher. I do not have much to say that you have not heard about Carpenter — he has a good strikeout rate, great control, and keeps it on the ground. It is hard to see how the Cardinals have a realistic chance in the series without Carpenter winning his start.

Jaime Garcia, 2011: 3.7 WAR, 3.56 ERA, 3.23 FIP, 3.31 xFIP
Oliver projected ERA: 3.85

Garcia is sort of a younger version of the old Carpenter: good strikeout rate, low walk rate, plenty of ground balls. He is not the ace that 2010’s ERA seemed to indicate, but he is young and very good. It would be nice if he could pitch earlier in the series — by the time his slot comes up, the Cardinals might already be emptying their home-field lockers. Some feel that he wore down toward the end of the season, although his September numbers do not show it.

The Cardinals have made a great run of it without Wainwright this season, and while their rotation does not match up on paper with Philadelphia’s, if either Lohse or Jackson (or the St. Louis offense) can come through in one of the first two games, Carpenter and Garcia have a good shot to against Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. The Cardinals Cinderella-ed their way through September, what is one more series?