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Cardinals vs. Phillies preview

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I don't think I could have imagined a better way to start the second half of the season than with a 4 game sweep of the Dodgers.  In the first two games the Cardinals were able to score with ease against two of the better young pitchers in the game, Kershaw and Billingsley, and while on the third game they were effectively shut down by Hiroki Kuroda, Adam Wainwright was better yet.  After Saturday's victory there was suspicion that Tony La Russa would, er, take it easy in yesterday's game with the series outcome already decided and Jeff Suppan on the mound - and yesterday's starting lineup confirmed that suspicion - however, the Cardinals were able to "comeback from oblivion" to win the game.  Better yet, VEB mancrush Allen Craig was the hero driving in three runs in the last two innings.

So, with the Reds losing the final game of their first post-allstar break series, the Cardinals find themselves in first place despite what can only be classified as a disappointing first half.  Their next challengers are the Phillies - the reigning NL champions two years running.  Despite there recent success however, the Phillies have struggled this year and don't appear to be the powerhouse they were thought to be in the beginning of the season.  And with Roy Halladay being lit up by the Cubs last night of all teams, the Cardinals get to face the back end of the Phillies rotation in this series.

Lineups

Cardinals Phillies
Lopez (3B) Victorino (CF)
Rasmus (CF) Polcanco (3B)
Pujols (1B) Rollins (SS)
Holliday (LF) Howard (1B)
Jay (RF) Werth (RF)
Yadier (CA) Ibanez (LF)
Skip (2B) Ruiz (CA)
Pitcher Valdez (2B)
Greene (SS) Pitcher

As you can see, the Phillies are down their primary second baseman and one of the best players in the game in Chase Utley.  That is partially offset by the Cardinals being down Ryan Ludwick and David Freese.  According to ZIPS wOBA projections on FanGraphs, the Cardinals starting lineup projects for a .345 wOBA while the Phillies projects for a .346.  What the Phillies lack in star power (nobody on the Phillies projects to hit as well as Holiday or Pujols) they make up for it with excellent balance, as only Wilson Valdez projects to be below average.

Defensively, the two teams once again seem to be a wash, both ranking within 1 run of eachother in team UZR.  Although both are rated around average, it definitely seems as if they are better than that.  Each features mutltiple gold glove winners, as well as young and under the radar defensive studs.  The Phillies' outfield may be one of the few that can stack up with ours defensively, as Victorino and Werth more than make up for Ibanez.  So a quick glance at the two teams starting position players yields a wash - meaning the deciding factors will be the starting pitching and the bullpen.  I'll get into the starting pitching matchups in a second, but lets take a look at the pen first.  

According to FanGraphs, the Cardinals pen has been about as good as the Phillies pen, outperforming them in ERA but falling slightly behind in FIP and xFIP.  However, the Cardinals look like a much stabler unit going forward.  Each of Boggs, McClellan, Motte and Franklin seem to be hitting their stride, while the two LOOGY's continue to do a competent job.  The Phillies, on the other hand, have seen their two preseason aces (Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson) do their best, well, Brad Lidge ca. 2009 impression.  Currently JC Romero and Nelson Figeroa are the only pithcers performing well in the pen.  Given the volatility of the bullpen in general, this is only a slight edge for the Cardinals, but we all know how devastating a bullpen can be and given the Cardinals history against Brad Lidge I'm hoping for  a comeback down the line.  

Game 1: Kendrick vs. Hawksworth

 

Kendrick (RHP) possesses a low 90's fastball with just a little bit of sink to it, and two slightly slower offspeed pitches (a cutter/slider and a changeup).  He's youngish at 26 years old and has had a lot of experience in the major leagues, but otherwise has no redeeming qualities that would hint at much potential.  His career K/9 is a measly 4.01 and he doesn't make up for it with excellent control (2.61 BB/9) or extreme ground ball tendencies (45.7 GB%).  His career ERA is 4.61 with peripherals that match it.  So of course, the Cardinals have scored just 6 runs in 27 innings against Kendrick over the past couple of years.  Still, I can't think of any reason why the Cardinals should continue to flounder against that underwhelming sonuvabitch, so I'll put my trust in his ZIPS projection (5.03 ERA) as a proxy for what we should expect from him going forward.  Good news!  

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Blake Hawksworth probably isn't much better.  Since his inception (!) into the rotation he's pitched 21.1 innings with 15 strikeouts, 9 walks and 3 home runs allowed.  Despite retaining a decent amount of the velocity he gained upon moving to the pen, he has not been any more effective than we've come to expect from him.  ZIPS projects a 4.78 ERA out of Hawk, primarily out of the pen, which translates to something over 5 ing the rotation.  The battle of the two teams 5th starters promises to be an excruciating affair.   

With both starters likely departing early and the Cardinals pen looking better, I'd give the Cardinals a slight edge in this first game.  

Game 2: Moyer vs. Carpenter  

 

Moyer at 48 years old continues to offer a depressing reminder of the atrophy that comes with old age to those in the Phillies clubhouse, all while continuing to be a solid starter at the major league level.  Still, over the past 2 years his ERA is in the high 4's with matching peripherals.  He appears to be near the end of his career with his contract expiring after this season.  Then again I probably would have said that 10 years ago.  

At any rate, Carpenter has the clear edge in this matchup.  His fastball velocity is down this year and he doens't have the pinpoint control of his cutter and curve; however, in the first half he posted strikeout, walk and groundball rates better than league average, all in all putting up a 3.78 xFIP.  His first start after the break was a beauty - tossing 8 innings of 1 run ball, and despite a couple of hickups along the way, he remains one of the best starters in the National League.          

Game 3: Blanton vs. Garcia

 

Blanton is about as generic a pitcher as they come.  He throws in the high 80's with his fastball, while also offering a mild assortment of offspeed.  He strikes out more batters than you'd expect, but still below the league average rate, and has shown an ability to throw strikes, but also give up home runs.  His ERA is 6.21 this year, but he's pitched about as well as he always had and projects for a low 4's ERA going forward.  Honestly, I don't want to talk any more about Blanton.  

Jaime goes for the Cardinals after being inexplicable removed early from his last start.  He struck out 4 and walked 1, but the BABIP luck that had helped in all season long finally turned as he allowed 8 hits in 3.2 innings.  I didn't really notice anything wrong with Jaime that would portend the quick hook, so I guess that was just Tony being Tony.  Anyway, you all know the story with Jaime - sexy rookie takes the league by storm with an assortment of moving stuff and lotsa ground balls.  His ERA at 2.27 is still far to low to be sustainable; however, his BABIP is now right at .300 and his strand rate is only slightly elevated.  The biggest thing is that he just has not allowed any hard hit balls this year.  His slugging percentage against .306 and he has allowed a total of 17 extra base hits this year, or less than 1 per start.  I don't know what the think about his season thus far - he's not allowing fewer hits on balls in play, just ones of less quality.  I'm guessing he'll start to get hit hard sometime - and the Phillies might just do some of that.  Still, this game once again looks like a clear advantage for the Cardinals.     

Game 4: Hamels vs. Wainwright

 

Now *this* is the game I'm most looking forward to in the series.  Despite Hamels' 7-7 record, he's pitching very well this year with a 3.63 ERA and 3.80 xFIP.  He seems to have gained about 2 MPH on his fastball this year, and as you'd expect his strikeouts have risen.  Unfortunately, so have his walks and home runs allowed.  But as one of the few lefties in the game with truly excellent stuff, the Cardinals will likely have to scratch and claw for runs.  

Luckily, the Cardinals will send out Adam Wainwright, who I believe has officially taken over the title as the Cardinals ace.  After his last shutout start against the Dodgers, Wainwright ranks 3rd in the majors in innings pitched, 2nd in ERA, and 5th in xFIP.  He truly has ascended into the elite class of pitchers. Again, the edge clearly goes to the Cardinals here.  

 

Based on my subjective evaluations here, the Cardinals appear to be the favorites in each game of the series.  I won't ask for another sweep, but I certainly wouldn't rule it out.  Again, on paper the Cardinals look like an excellent team.  Here's hoping that they are able to live up to that promise in the second half.