i broke down the sd-stl matchup two weeks ago in one of the know yer foe posts, and i'm not inclined to repeat myself here. i stand by my conclusion in that post -- the padres are far more dangerous than their record would suggest. they're a better offensive team than we think, they have a better bullpen than the cardinals -- and that was true even before we lost al reyes -- and they have a pitcher in jake peavy who could win both his starts and put the cardinals into deep trouble. data, peavy vs carp:
peavy strikes out more guys and allows fewer hits; he's slightly more prone to walks and gopher balls. once you factor in the ballparks, carpenter's got the better line, but i don't need to tell you which pitcher is throwing more effectively at the moment. i'd give san diego no worse than a 50-50 shot in game 1, and if they win it all bets are off; it's anybody's series.
if carpenter can just keep the ball in the park, i like stl's chances to win the first game. and if they do, i think they will probably close the pads out in 3. the cards will start the better pitcher in each of the next two games, and they've been magnificent front-runners the last couple of years. there's also the obvious: the cards are a better team. st louis holds the advantage in every meaningful basis of comparison: they score more runs than san diego and allow fewer; they get on base more often and hit with more power. st louis has the best scoring differential in the national league (+171), while san diego ran up the aforementioned scoring deficit (681 runs for, 725 against -- a whopping minus 44). give stl a one-game advantage, and it's hard to see a .500 team coming back on them.
the cards' power numbers may be down this year, but the lineup is stronger at the top of the order than it has been in years, with eckstein (.364 obp) followed by either edmonds, walker, or rodriguez (all in the .380 range). bruce bochy has talked of playing "small-ball" to beat st louis, but in fact that strategy suits the cardinals much better -- the padres as a team threw out only 21 percent of basepath thieves in 2005; their 94 sb allowed ranked 5th-highest in the national league. you can run on peavy, by the way -- base-stealers are 19 for 24 against him this year, and 35 of 41 over the last two seasons.
by contrast, the cards have cut off the running game all year. what they don't prevent is the longball -- they served up 153 hr, ranking in the middle of the nl pack (7th-fewest in the league), and over their last 160 or so innings the stl pitchers yielded 25 homers, or 1.4 per nine innings. that's a nice way to get yourself knocked out in an early round. . . . matt morris has been particularly vulnerable -- 7 jacks in his last 32 innings, and 16 in 88 innings since the all-star break -- which makes la russa's insistence on startng morris in game 3 all the more dubious. there's a case to be made for it: morris has the lowest walk rate in the rotation (1.7 per 9 innings) and the second-lowest obp allowed (.315), which arguably makes him best equipped to neutralize the padres' two greatest offensive strengths (walks and on-base ability). spacious petco park, meanwhile, will (in theory anyway) neutralize morris' greatest weakness, ie gopher balls. but by the same reasoning, jeff suppan has a pretty good case for that game 3 start too -- since the all-star break he's allowed fewer baserunners than any cardinal starter except carpenter: .308 on-base allowed. morris' .352 since the break is the worst on the staff. and soops' 2d-half era is only half that of morris (2.78 vs 5.32). . . . . my morris worship is well known, but i worship the team more. matt is too big a risk to be in the rotation.
we should also note that the padres are well-staffed to exploit the cardinals' lack of a reliable left-handed reliever -- mark sweeney, dave roberts, ryan klesko, and brian giles all swing from the left side, and it's unclear whether la russa will be able to find the right guy in the pen to neutralize them. i've been touting jason marquis as a late-inning reliever, and with reyes out i favor that even more strongly. la russa has been vague about his plans for marquis in this series, which suggests either a) caginess, or more likely b) indecisiveness. if it's the latter. . . . . . last season (including the playoffs) tony avoided his tendency to outthink himself, but that flaw seems to have resurfaced in 2005, particularly in his management of the pitching staff. which makes the inopportune loss of al reyes that much scarier --- it gets tony off his set routine and provides an opportunity for him to exhibit his "creative" problem-solving skills. not good. if he errs at the wrong moment, it could cost the cardinals dearly. what would i do? i'd put marquis directly into al reyes' slot and leave eldred and thompson in their current roles. if tony wants to keep marquis in the rotation, then i'd put eldred in the reyes slot. if suppan is in the pen, i don't want to see him after the 7th (after the 6th on the road).
st louis has enough holes that they can be beat, and the padres have enough weapons to beat them; because of peavy and their great bullpen, i'd give san diego a 1 in 3 chance. but if you harbor world-championship aspirations, as the cardinals unabashedly do, you have to find a way to beat an 82-win team -- and i think it's more likely the cards will do it than that they won't. as far as i'm concerned, they will win if they do two things: 1) keep the ball in the park; and 2) turn double plays. if they lose the series, it will be because they fail in one of these respects. or because la russa mismanages the bullpen . . . .
it may not be pretty, nor without anxious moments. but then, despite the 100 wins, it hasn't been easy at any point this year for the cardinals.
and the hard part is only beginning.
Update [2005-10-4 12:38:47 by lboros]: rosters are set --- gall gets the last spot on the bench, thompson takes reyes' spot in the pen, and the rest you know.
Update [2005-10-4 12:38:47 by lboros]: the lineups are up at this link --- surprisingly not at yahoo, mlb.com, or elsewhere at this moment.