The overwhelming consensus among baseball prognosticators is that the Padres will win this 3-game Wild Card series with the Cardinals. And look, I get it. The Padres are the exciting young team, and their +84 run differential is nothing to sniff at.
But for a number of reasons, the Cardinals should destroy the Padres.
Dynamic projection systems begin their season weighted more heavily on preseason projections, and it’s only into the 2nd half of the season that the current season results take on more weight. We haven’t even reached the 80-game mark, so the preseason projections are still (arguably) more relevant.
So while the Padres outperformed the Cardinals during the 60-game season, it’s worth noting preseason projections saw them about even. PECOTA pegged the Cards as slightly better; ZiPS gave a slight edge to the Padres.
The Padres had a hotter start over the first 60 games, but over a truly full season, these two teams would likely be much closer.
No team in MLB history has played the number of games the Cardinals did in a 43-day span. As a result:
Obviously, this was a little bit of Twitter trolling, but I still think there’s something in this cherry-picked factoid. Sure, the Cardinals had to play many more games to nearly match the Dodgers in wins... but do you think it was easy playing all those extra games?
On top of that, a significant portion of the roster was playing those games while recovering from a devastating respiratory virus, which also can cause complications in the heart and brain.
Now, what was the cumulative effect of all that on the Cardinals team performance? Who the hell knows. But there certainly was an impact. The two days they’ve had off before the playoffs matches the total number of days they’ve had off in the last month and-a-half. So there’s a very good chance the Cardinals come in fresher and stronger than we’ve seen them this season.
Schedules were very unbalanced this year, and nowhere was the competition worse than in the west. The Padres played a grand total of 13 games against teams which finished with a better than .500 record, and went a lukewarm 6-7 against that competition.
So if you’re keeping track of the asterisks on the Padres impressive numbers, they came over just a 60 game span and against relatively weak competition.
On the season, the Padres have hit for a 115 wRC+, good for 5th best in MLB. Over the last 14 days, they have hit for just an 84 wRC+, good for 22nd in the league.
The Padres pitching has also been inferior to the Cardinals over the past two weeks, with an ERA/FIP for the Padres of 4.07/4.28, compared to 3.60/3.87 for the Cardinals. And speaking of pitching...
Clevinger & Lamet & Bob Nightengale
The Padres top two starters, Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet, are both battling injuries. They could be unavailable for the Wild Card series, or even if they are available, they will likely be diminished.
That likely erases the slight statistical edge the Padres had in the starting pitcher department, and the Cardinals bullpen rates superior. The question is whether Clevinger and Lamet will be available or not. Here’s the latest from the chronically wrong Bob Nightengale:
Encouraging news for the #Padres: They not only believe that Dinelson Lamet (biceps tightness) could be ready to pitch Game 1 or Game 2 of the wild-card series vs. the #STLCards, but also are cautiously optimistic that Mike Clevinger (elbow impingement) could pitch Game 3.— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) September 29, 2020
Look, I expected The Nightengale Rule to come true and prove this wrong... but it actually happened while I was writing this post. Chris Paddock has been named the Padres starter for Game 1. Jayce Tingler (the man, not the Adam & Eve top seller) has sandbagged submitting his final roster for the series. It’s due at the same time this article posts, but as I write this it’s possible Clevinger and Lamet are not even on the roster.
So far, I’ve spun you a tale of how the rejuvenated Cardinals will be facing off against a recently slumping team, which was projected to be no better than them, has faced only very weak competition over a mere 60 games, and may well be without their top two pitchers.
If all of this doesn’t convince you that the Cardinals should destroy the Padres, just remember these 3-game series are really a toss-up. Hell, even five and seven game series are mostly a toss-up.
Fangraphs crunches the numbers and they have the Padres at just a 60/40 favorite to advance. Any team in the playoffs could advance past this 3-game Wild Card round, and the Cardinals have a better chance than most.
The Cardinals should destroy the Padres.