having dipped my toe in this yesterday, i will embark this week on a review of the cardinals' potential 1st-round opponents: florida, philadelphia, and san diego. i'll start with the padres, whom the cardinals would face if the season ended today -- and who, as a .500 team, would seem to be the easiest to dispatch.
a few basic markers: the padres have been outscored this year 635-671, a true rarity among postseason teams; they also have been outhomered 125-134 and outslugged .394-.408. they do get on base more often than their opponents, .334-.322, and stand third in the league in walks. their era of 4.14 puts them 8th in the national league, a pretty dismal showing for a staff blessed with a pitcher-friendly park. since may 31, when they had the league's 2d-best record (1/2 game behind the cardinals), the padres have gone 42-55 -- in essence, 100 games of .430 ball. this is a bad team that has no business befouling the postseason.
but in jake peavy, the padres have a pitcher more than capable of winning a postseason series by himself. he leads the league in strikeouts, stands 7th in era at 2.98, and has tossed three complete-game shutouts; he ranks 4th in the league in OBP allowed, behind pedro, rocket, and carp. and oh yeah he led the league in era last season . . . . he's an elite pitcher, at least as good as our best. peavy pitched once against the cardinals this year and shut them down -- 8 innings, 2 hits, 1 run, 10 ks in the infamous "jason marquis needs a win" game. san diego also has a tremendous bullpen this year, yielding a league-low .685 ops (the cards are at .712); they are 2d in bullpen era at 3.41, behind st louis (3.17). san diego's closer, trevor hoffman, always handles the cardinals with ease, and he won't have to face the lone player who discomfits him, scott rolen (2 hr in 9 ab).
take them out of their pitcher-friendly home park and the padres aren't so inept at the plate. san diego leads the league in road obp at .333 (the cardinals are second at .332) and stands 3d in runs scored at 355 (cards are 1st at 370). their main weapon on the road is the base on balls, in which category they lead the league; they are just 8th in road batting avg, 9th in slugging, and 8th in hr. since the all-star break the padres have slumped badly; they're next-to-last in the league in both runs scored and slugging (the cards are 3d and 8th, respectively). since the cards have issued the league's fewest walks, they would seem poised to blunt the padres' most significant weapon, but that did not happen in the 7 games between the two teams this season -- stl pitchers issued 30 walks, well above their season avg.
the padre lineup features one certified card-killer, brian giles, and la russa has no real way to neutralize him -- ray king takes away giles's power but has only retired him 13 times in 22 career confrontations, while randy flores has had little success in limited opportunities (2 for 4). ryan klesko is nearly as hard on the cards -- has hit a career .361 against the cardinals' current starting pitchers and murders jason isringhausen (1.212 ops). another potential troublemaker is joe randa, who owns mark mulder (1.034 ops in 43 career plate appearances) and has done well against carp (.563 slugging in 32 career pa).
the padres are terrible, but peavy alone makes them incredibly dangerous in a 5-game series. a shutdown game from him in the opener would put the cardinals in a near-must-win situation for game 2, way too abrupt an introduction to postseason pressure. even if they beat him in game 1, his availability for a decisive game 5 would make it imperative for the cardinals to close the series out in a hurry. a bad start from morris or marquis, a lost lead by the bullpen, a rash of LOBs . . . .
gloom and doom, i know. so allow me to clarify: st louis has by far the better team and ought to handle the padres. the cards would not face a single disadvantage in the pitching pairings; they'd start the better hurler in three of the five games, with the two carp-peavy matchups essentially being a draw. but peavy is a player of a certain caliber; so too are brian giles and trevor hoffman. because of them, i think the padres -- .430 ball and all -- loom as a more difficult and dangerous opponent than the dodgers were last year.