Andrew Perna. 1st October, 2011 - 1:23 pm
The Philadelphia Phillies were the best team in baseball during the regular season and they essentially sealed their own fate on Wednesday when they kept the Atlanta Braves from a one-game playoff against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Even though the Cardinals needed a win on the final day of the season (and some help from the Phillies) to grab the National League Wild Card, both teams have their starting pitchers set up for the first three games of the series. Philadelphia will trot out Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels against Kyle Lohse, Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia of St. Louis.
The Cardinals took six of nine games against the heralded Phillies in the regular season even though Philadelphia won 12 more games.
The Cardinals have the best hitter in the series, Albert Pujols, and they averaged more runs per game (4.7 to 4.4) than the favored Phillies. St. Louis hit nine more home runs and had a significantly better OPS (.766 to .717).
Can the Cardinals continue to be the better offensive team when they have to go up against Halladay, Lee and Hamels? Consider this: Lee is the more feared starter in October thanks to his track record. All Halladay did was throw a no-hitter in his playoff debut last year and Hamels is a former World Series MVP.
Lance Berkman crushed Philadelphia pitching in nine games, going 14-for-30 with two home runs and seven RBI. He had an outstanding OPS of 1.279 over 37 plate appearances and was not the only member of the Cardinals to fare well against the Phillies in 2011.
Yadier Molina had an on-base percentage of .400 in 30 at-bats and Pujols went 10-for-26.
If Matt Holliday makes the final roster, as expected, and he is able to contribute, the Cardinals become an even stronger offensive team.
The Phillies underperformed offensively this season. The loss of Jayson Werth may have hurt them more than anyone expected (we know it certainly hurt him). Among their regular players, Hunter Pence, who was acquired only for the final two months of the season, has their highest OBP (.394).
The scary aspect for St. Louis is that Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez could catch fire at any given time individually, or as a group.
Utley had an OBP of .375 and Rollins had 17 total bases against St. Louis during the regular season, but Shane Victorino was just 7-for-28 and Ibanez/Domonic Brown combined to go 1-for-32.
This matchup is not very close and that is not necessary a knock on the Cardinals.
The Phillies had the best ERA in the game (3.02), the most complete games (18), shutouts (21) and quality starts (108). They also had the highest K/BB ratio (3.22), the lowest WHIP (1.17) the fourth-highest K/9 rate (7.92).
The Cardinals fell in the middle of the pack in terms of most statistics.
Halladay, Lee and Hamels went a combined 1-3 in five starts against the Cardinals this season. Roy Oswalt was 1-1 in three appearances against St. Louis. While Halladay and Hamels had below-average numbers against the Cardinals, Lee had a 1.76 ERA and allowed just three earned runs in 15 1/3 innings. The Phillies scored five runs in his two starts.
Lohse, Carpenter and Garcia dominated Philadelphia hitters. They were 3-1 in six combined starts. All three had ERAs under 1.80 and they allowed just five runs in 45 1/3 innings.
If anything, the Cardinals know they can beat the Phillies on the strength of their starting pitching.
Just like the Rays, the Cardinals had to play the final month of the season at 100 mph just to make the postseason. The Phillies, meanwhile, have been waiting for October ever since they signed Lee as a free agent last December for his second tenure with the organization.
St. Louis had great success against Philadelphia during the regular season, but things will be vastly different over the next few games. Charlie Manuel knows how to get the best out of his charges and at the right time.
Phillies in Four