fall where they may

Update [2006-10-3 12:57:36 by lboros]: just posted by bernie: marquis is on the postseason roster; reyes is not. also, no vizcaino. awaiting further . . .

and here's the whole roster. thanks, bernie.

PITCHERS
carp, supps, weaver, marquis, kinney, thompson, hancock, looper, wainwright, johnson, flores

BATS
molina, bennett, pujols, belliard, miles, eckstein, rolen, spiezio, duncan, edmonds, en'cion, wilson, taguchi, rodriguez

OFF
reyes, vizcaino, narveson, sosa, schumaker [end update]

the padres deserve to be favored in this series, but it's hardly a mismatch. san diego won all of 5 games more than the cardinals in 2006; big deal, right? they did finish strong -- 15-6 in the last 3 weeks -- while the cardinals staggered to an 8-14 record down the stretch. but history has shown that "momentum" of that type doesn't mean anything; teams that finished ice-cold have won just as often in october as fast finishers have. the pundit class is overemphasizing the teams' divergent records down the stretch, to the point that nobody at all is picking the cardinals to win. i'm not picking them either, but i do think they have a realistic shot. if they were to win, it'd be the mildest of upsets.

last october, stat gurus voros mccracken and james click -- the former renowned for propounding the concept of defense-independent pitching, the latter a (former) data expert at Baseball Prospectus -- both presented formulas for estimating the odds of a given outcome in any playoff series, based on nothing more than the participants' regular-season winning percentages. i won't bore you with all the math -- mccracken's post is here is you want to read through it, and click's is here, behind the baseball prospectus subscription wall. both formulas suggest that a .516 team like the cardinals has about a 40 percent chance to win a 5-game series against a .543 team like the padres. these formulas are purposely generic -- they don't account for specific team characteristics such as having the cy young winner on your team, playing good defense, having a great (or terrible) road record, and other team- or series-specific factors. i still think they're useful as baseline estimates; we can adjust up or down from there depending on which series-specific factors we deem significant.

a lot of factors we might normally deem significant are distorted by the padres' ballpark. for example, while the cardinals have outperformed the padres in every key offensive category -- runs, homers, avg, slugging, obp -- we can't trust those comparisons entirely because the pads' ballpark is so hostile to hitters. away from home, the padres lead the league in batting and on-base percentage and rank 3d in slugging and 4th in runs scored -- better than the cards in all those categories. san diego has no hitter who's even close to pujols -- no berkman or beltran -- but they have few automatic outs. only three position players on san diego's roster have OPS's lower than .730; the cardinals have 7 such players (ie, half the available bats), including three regulars (eckstein molina and belliard). take a look at the teams' respective OPS's by batting-order slot:

pads cards
.746 1st .701
.795 2d .764
.744 3d 1.091
.802 4th .910
.834 5th .846
.837 6th .652
.681 7th .704
.681 8th .682

the padres' offense runs 1 through 6; the cardinals', 2 through 5. the cards do have an opportunity to goose things a bit by taking liberties on the bases vs the padres. they did just that in last year's nlds, to great effect (particularly in game 2). san diego allowed 150 steals in 176 attempts this year, a ridiculous total and an even more ridiculous success rate. if whitey's teams played these guys, they'd destroy 'em. the cards have some baserunners -- taguchi, wilson, and encarnacion can all steal a base, and maybe skip schumaker ought to be added to the playoff roster for just that reason. i can't see edmonds or eckstein running, given their health status; pujols can swipe if the situation calls for it.

on the other hand, the padres have swift dave roberts, the type of pesky leadoff man who has bedeviled the cards in past series (see timo perez, tony womack, kenny lofton, craig biggio). roberts is a first-rate base-stealer, but even he may not run much against molina. he doesn't have to; he just has to get on base and activate the pads' offense, which -- more so than the cards' -- relies on sequenced rallies. roberts hit .381 vs the cardinals this year, with a 1.006 ops; if he keeps that up, forget it. game over.

san diego led the nl in era handily, at 3.87, while the cards finished 9th at 4.54 -- a whopping advantage for the padres. and it's not merely a ballpark illusion; looking only at road games, the pads led the league in ERA, opponent avg, and opponent obp; they were 2d in opponent slugging and 3d in home runs allowed. it's just a damn good pitching staff, top to bottom. they had the league's best starters (4.09 era) and 2d-best bullpen (3.42), while the cardinals were 12th (4.75) and 7th (4.06), respectively. of course, we know only too well that rotation depth don't mean nothing in a short series; with carpenter pitching twice and neither marquis nor mulder starting at all, the rotations are a lot closer in functional terms than the season-long numbers suggest.

ahh, but then there are the bullpens to consider. sd's trevor hoffman, scott linebrink, and clay meredith constitute perhaps the best late-inning trio in baseball. they've combined this season to hold opposing hitters to a .212 / .256 / .325 line, with an aggregate era of 2.44 in 188 innings. their late-inning counterparts on the cardinals -- wainwright, looper, and josh hancock -- have been pretty good too (.249 / .303 / .381, with a 3.60 era), but as we have seen they don't exactly lock games down. the padres' guys do. sure, they can be beat -- viz. albert's 900-foot homer off meredith just last week. but if the same circumstances arise again in the nlds, ain't no way el hombre's gonna see a pitch to hit. those will be very interesting at-bats to watch: will albert expand his strike zone and (likely) get himself out? or will he stay disciplined, take the walk, and trust his mates to pick up the team. pujols' approach to those at-bats might be influenced by how rolen and en'cion fare with RISP early in the series / early in games. i'll be paying attention to those at-bats, too.

why do i focus so much on the bullpens? nate silver's empirical studies at baseball prospectus have shown that, historically, strong bullpens and postseason success bear a statistically significant correlation. that conclusion passes the common-sense test: playoff baseball features good pitching and evenly matched teams, hence a lot of close, low-scoring games -- and a lot of high-leverage situations for the relievers. san diego's bullpen has excelled in those situations this year. according to baseball prospectus' win expectancy metric (WXRL), the pads' late-inning trio (ie, meredith linebrink hoffman) has been 13 games better than replacement level -- as a group, they're tantamount to an mvp-caliber player. the cardinal relievers, i hardly need remind anyone, have not exactly thrived under late-inning pressure. stl's closing trio (ie wainwright looper hancock) has been just 5 games better than replacement level per WXRL. to put this on a more immediate basis: san diego was 30-22 (.577) in one-run games in 2006; the cards were 22-27 (.449).

now here's a surprising tidbit: despite their superior pitching staff, the padres were just as bad as the cardinals in low-scoring games. when scoring 4 runs or fewer, the teams had nearly identical records -- 27-55 (.329) for the cardinals, 30-62 (.326) for the padres. i would have expected the pads to have an advantage in this regard, particularly in the 3-to-4-run range. but even within that narrow slice of the output spectrum, the teams are evenly matched: the cards went 16-27 (.372), san diego 16-26 (.381). with carpenter going twice for the cards and peavy young and wells getting most of san diego's starts, the 3d and 4th runs may very well decide each one of these games.

that's about all i got for now; don't know that much more needs to be said. we got pujols and carpenter; san diego's got all those other guys. my heart's with the cardinals; my head says the padres. they are better balanced than our team and have a broader array of weapons; above all they have better arms, and that usually tells the tale.

but it ain't a mismatch; not hardly. one last factor -- something that has bothered me about st louis all season -- ends up in the cardinals' favor: homerun differential. the 2006 cardinals ended up at minus 9 -- 184 hit, 193 allowed. terrible ratio. but the padres were even worse: they hit 161 and allowed 176, for a differential of minus 15. and if their three shutdown bullpenners have an achilles heel, it's the longball. we saw it firsthand when pujols took meredith deep; the dodgers found it out a couple weeks back when they hit 4 9th-inning homers in a row off san diego to erase a 4-run deficit; and the diamondbacks even exposed that flaw in the final inning of the regular season, whacking two bombs off trevor hoffman and nearly snatching the division title away. the padre bullpen lost 23 games this year, only 1 fewer than the cardinals' relievers. wouldn't it be funny -- wouldn't it be baseball -- if, when it mattered, the cardinals won because the other guy's bullpen screwed up?

let's hope to see it. i'll take my 40 percent chance and carp in games 1 and 4, and let 'em fall where they may.

back an hour or so before the 1st pitch with a game thread.

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