This is the price we pay to watch the Cardinals come crashing into the playoffs at the last minute: All through the NLDS we're going to hear about how perfectly constructed the Phillies are for postseason play. We're going to hear that because they really are a great team and, secondarily, because the one way of looking at postseason teams differently from their regular season counterparts that's gone mainstream is to lop off the back of their rotation and look at their two or three main guys. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels—done.
In that sense, it's hard to look at the Phillies as anything but ideally designed for a deep playoff run. Their top three pitchers each averaged about seven innings a start, so the back of the bullpen—already marginalized in a playoff setting—is even less of an issue, and the time they spent without Chase Utley and Placido Polanco (and Hunter Pence) is no longer a concern.
But allowing that the Phillies are a better baseball team than the Cardinals—that they have been all season and likely still are right now—doesn't mean the Cardinals don't have some of those same effects working in their favor. After the jump, the fat that can be cut out of the Cardinals' 90-72 season.
The Cardinals' biggest gains come from dropping their fifth starters, as you might expect—Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse, and Edwin Jackson haven't been nearly as effective as Halladay, Lee, and Hamels, but Jake Westbrook, who finished the season with 183 innings at an ERA+ of 78, and Kyle McClellan were considerably worse than Roy Oswalt and Vance Worley. They also gain from trading Eduardo Sanchez, Marc Rzepczynski, and Octavio Dotel for Ryan Franklin, Miguel Batista, Brian Tallet, and Trever Miller; those relievers combined to allow 10% of the team's earned runs in 6% of its innings, which is not great.
So if the team's pitching is still less than stellar, it's no longer anything short of average; Fernando Salas and Jason Motte are completely capable at the front of a bullpen, Lohse and Jackson are perfectly useful playoff starters, and Ryan Franklin's 8.46 ERA can safely be wiped from the record books.
The team also improves on offense and defense, although the extent to which they do that is dependent on Matt Holliday and Rafael Furcal's health. Out goes Ryan Theriot, except as lefty-competent pinch-hitter and second baseman; in comes, at least, Nick Punto.
One problem with that kind of trade is that the Cardinals have actually had an outstanding bench this season—a benefit they're much less likely to experience in the playoffs, aside from Allen Craig replacing Matt Holliday as needed. Only Tyler Greene had as many as 100 plate appearances with an OPS+ under 84 for the Cardinals this season, and surprisingly excellent performances from guys like Daniel Descalso were critical in the team's injury-plagued regular season. The Phillies, meanwhile, picked up their 102 wins despite facing 500 black-hole PAs from Wilson Valdez (73) and Michael Martinez (48), not to mention some awful work from name-brand backup catcher Brian Schneider (38).
All that bench work made the difference between playoff baseball and watching Tyler Greene/learning to whittle, but it's like having a great fifth starter; it doesn't make a huge difference in a situation where you'll be riding Roy Halladay—or, uh, David Freese—into the ground.