September 30, 2011
NLDS Preview: Phillies vs. Cardinals
Why the Phillies Will Win: The Phillies boast the best pitching staff in baseball and can throw three of the NL’s top 10 starters in four of five possible games. Should they fail to sweep, they’ll be forced to hold their nose, avert their eyes, and hand the ball to… Roy Oswalt. It’s good to be a Phillies fan.
Why the Cardinals Will Win: It’s a short series. In case you’ve forgotten exactly what might be possible in a short series, I offer the following refresher course, courtesy of a sweaty Celtic:
The Cardinals are 6-3 against the Phillies this season—making them one of only three teams to finish with a winning record in their season series with the Phils, alongside such luminaries as the Nationals and Mariners—so they’ve already proven that they’re capable of playing David to the senior circuit’s Goliath over a long enough stretch to advance to the NLCS. They also have the highest team TAv in the NL (.272), so they’re as well-equipped to handle the onslaught of aces as anyone (especially if Matt Holliday is able to contribute). The St. Louis faithful can also take some comfort in the fact that this Cardinals club is far superior to the 83-win edition that went all the way in 2006.
Most Glaring Contrast Between These Teams:
Game 1 Match-up: Roy Halladay vs. Kyle Lohse
Game 2 Match-up: Cliff Lee vs. Edwin Jackson
Game 3 Match-up: Cole Hamels vs. Chris Carpenter
Guess the Annoying Cliche the Announcers Will Harp On: “Good pitching beats good hitting.” It doesn’t, of course, any more than good hitting beats good pitching, but that probably won’t prevent this old warhorse from riding again if the Phillies’ four aces succeeding in shutting down Pujols, Berkman, a less-than-healthy Holliday, and the rest of the Cardinals’ league-leading offensive attack.
This Probably Won't Happen But Could: Albert Pujols and Brad Lidge could face off again at a crucial October moment. With Houston one out away from advancing to the World Series in game five of the 2005 NLCS, then-Astro Lidge allowed a crushing three-run homer to Pujols that many blamed for Lidge’s superficially poor 2006 season. (How exactly that home run caused Lidge’s BABIP to skyrocket while leaving his lofty strikeout rate unscathed was never sufficiently explained.) Overall, Pujols has hit .333/.406/.593 in 32 plate appearances against Lidge, which sounds like outright ownership until you remember that he’s hit even better against the rest of the league.
A National Audience Will Learn This About Baseball: That as great as it is to get on base, what you do once you get there also matters. The Cardinals and Phillies were the worst and third-worst baserunning teams in the majors, respectively, costing themselves a combined 21 runs, or roughly two wins, with their feet alone. Both teams were abysmal at advancing on ground balls, and the Cardinals not only stole the second-fewest bases in the majors (57) but did so at the sport’s lowest success rate (59.4 percent). At -9.4 BRR, Ryan Howard was the worst baserunner in baseball.
Series Prediction: Phillies in four, but a St. Louis loss is hardly set in stone. Remember, many pundits predicted that the Phillies would cruise to a title last season, but a funny thing happened on the way to the World Series—the Giants won the pennant, in the process proving that Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt could be beaten.