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October 10, 2012

Playoff Prospectus

NLDS Game Three Preview: Cardinals at Nationals

by Daniel Rathman

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For all the rumors of organizational discontent with Game Two starter Jaime Garcia, who lasted only two innings on Monday, the Cardinals routed the Nationals 12-4 despite the southpaw’s apparently ill-advised appearance, pulling even at one game apiece. Which team will get the upper hand this afternoon? Here are the PECOTA odds and projected starting lineups for Game Three:

Cardinals (Chris Carpenter) at Nationals (Edwin Jackson) – 1:00 p.m. ET
PECOTA Odds of Winning: Cardinals 52.5 percent, Nationals 47.5 percent

Projected Starting Lineups:

Cardinals vs. Jackson (R)

Nationals vs. Carpenter (R)

Jon Jay (L)

Jayson Werth (R)

Carlos Beltran (S)

Bryce Harper (L)

Matt Holliday (R)

Ryan Zimmerman (R)

Allen Craig (R)

Adam LaRoche (L)

Yadier Molina (R)

Michael Morse (R)

David Freese (R)

Ian Desmond (R)

Daniel Descalso (L)

Danny Espinosa (S)

Pete Kozma (R)

Kurt Suzuki (R)

Chris Carpenter (R)

Edwin Jackson (R)

For the first time in either of the National League Division Series, PECOTA has chosen a road favorite, giving Mike Matheny’s squad a small edge over Davey Johnson’s club in the Wednesday matinee. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the intrigue wrapped up in this one.

The pitching match-up features two right-handers who both donned Cardinals uniforms in 2011—one a hero in the team’s World Series championship run, the other nearly a goat. Carpenter made five starts in last year’s playoffs, the most memorable of which was an epic duel against Roy Halladay in Game Five of the Division Series when he protected a 1-0 lead from beginning to end. He was also the winning pitcher in Game Seven of the World Series, though that 6-2 affair was, by comparison, a laugher. As for Jackson, well, St. Louis emerged victorious in three of his four October outings, but he coughed up 11 runs in 17 2/3 combined innings, leaving his team’s offense and bullpen to shoulder the load.

As ESPN’s Jayson Stark wrote in his column yesterday, Carpenter is less than three months removed from what, at the time, was billed as “season-ending surgery” on his right shoulder. But here he is, after three regular-season starts, tasked with pushing the Cardinals to the brink of their second consecutive Championship Series appearance. Now 37 years old, Carpenter is no longer the force he was when he took home the Cy Young award in 2005, but as the Phillies learned the hard way last October, he can still shut down a quality lineup on any given day.

Is Carpenter as good as new after recovering from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, or are there material differences in his stuff compared to last year? To find out, take a look at his pitch data from Brooks Baseball

The 2012 sample size is obviously much smaller, which likely renders comparing pitch-use rates dubious, but the most notable takeaway from those two tables is the change in velocity. Specifically, each of Carpenter’s pitches is about two mph slower than it was last year, and those decreases may explain his diminished strikeout rate: 19.2 percent in 2011, 16.7 percent so far in 2012. Carpenter remains a reliable pitcher, as he demonstrated by holding foes to two runs or fewer in each of his three starts since coming off the disabled list. His margin for error is smaller, though, and he is more reliant on his fielders.

Jackson, on the other hand, saw a significant uptick in his strikeout rate during the second half, recording 92 punch outs in 88 1/3 innings of work. Still, the 29-year-old righty is as mercurial as ever—a fact best demonstrated by his two starts against the Cardinals on August 30 and September 28.

In the earlier outing, Jackson limited St. Louis to an unearned run in eight innings, fanning 10 in an 8-1 Nationals win. In the later one, he was torched for nine runs (eight earned) over just 1 1/3 frames, issued four walks, and did not strike out a batter, digging Washington’s grave in an eventual 12-2 setback.

Back to Brooks Baseball for some gory details. Here’s Jackson’s pitch chart from the win on August 30:

The most striking figure: 10 whiffs on 28 sliders thrown.

Now for the pitch chart from September 28:

The most striking contrast: only two total whiffs on 56 pitches thrown, and neither of them came on any of the 16 sliders. Judging by these two polar-opposite outings, it may not be a stretch to say that the Nationals’ Game Three fate rests on one pitch.  

Finally, for the Matchup of the Game, keep an eye on Molina versus Jackson. The Cardinals’ catcher is 8-for-12 with two home runs lifetime against his former battery-mate, including this one on the first pitch of their most recent head-to-head showdown less than two weeks ago.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

Related Content:  Edwin Jackson

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