St. Louis Cardinals (90-72; 2nd place, NL Central; won Wild Card) vs Philadelphia Phillies (102-60; 1st place, NL East)
Keys for the Cardinals: Be aggressive and mash the first good pitch they see; take advantage of any and all openings; keep the scores low, win late.
The Cardinals led the National League in on base percentage and runs scored; they were third in walks, but that’s not going to work against the Phillies starters and it would be silly to try. Getting into the bullpen isn’t going to help them either because if they try to take the tack of waiting for a good pitch to hit, they’re going to fall into disadvantageous counts and be meat for the Phillies pitchers. Lance Berkman is a patient hitter with power; Albert Pujols had an off-year for him, but still had 37 homers. They have to swing the bats and hope the hits fall in.
If the Phillies slip up, the Cardinals can’t leave their chances on the basepaths; they have to cash in.
The Cardinals late rush to the playoffs has forced them to start Kyle Lohse in game 1 against Roy Halladay. Raul Ibanez, Ryan Howard, Placido Polanco and Hunter Pence have all bashed Lohse in their careers.
Because they’re so overmatched, the Cardinals must use an entirely different strategy than the conventional wisdom—they have to swing the bats early and often.
Keys for the Phillies: Get good pitching; avoid the middle-relievers; push their starters deep into games; play good defense; mitigate Pujols and get him up to the plate with no runners on base.
Not only are the Phillies starters durable, but they throw strikes; when you hit their strikes, they have a fantastic defense; and in the playoffs, it’s going to be very difficult to get into the bullpen because the starters are going to be pushed a bit further than they would in the regular season; in addition to that, getting into the Phillies bullpen won’t make things any easier for the Cardinals because they won’t be facing weak middle relievers, they’ll be facing Rookie of the Year candidate Vance Worley and veteran starter Joe Blanton.
The Phillies have the best defense in the National League and their pitchers don’t walk anyone. Amid all the concerns about the Phillies offense, they have the bats to score enough runs.
The Phillies need to avoid close games late. Even though the Cardinals bullpen is shaky, the Phillies isn’t exactly lockdown either. Ryan Madson has been closing and he has a lot of money in free agency riding on the perception that he’s able to get the big outs in big games as the closer; if he has to face Pujols with the game on the line, he could crack.
What will happen.
When facing a superior opponent, the only chance is to hit them as hard as you can as early as you can.
If the Phillies weren’t so strong in their starting rotation, it might be a blessing in disguise for the Cardinals that they’re starting Lohse in game 1 as a sacrificial lamb against Halladay. But in game 2, they’ve got Carpenter against Lee; Carpenter has been up-and-down this season and in the playoffs Lee turns it up a notch and becomes a world-beater.
Jaime Garcia starts game 3 for the Cardinals against Cole Hamels, who is an ace in his own right with post-season hardware from 2008 with the NLCS/World Series MVP awards.
The Cardinals are good, but they’re overmatched; they’ll be criticized if they follow my suggested strategy and it fails, but they don’t have much choice. They’re not going to walk against the Phillies and manager Tony LaRussa knows it. The best thing to do is to look for the first pitch that looks tasty and start hacking.
But it won’t work.
The Phillies have too much pitching and now their lineup is stabilized with the addition of Pence. It doesn’t help the Cardinals cause that Carlos Ruiz picks the post-season to become a star hitter.
The Cardinals will put up a brief fight, but it won’t take long for the Phillies to establish their dominance.
Because of that, the series won’t take long either.
PREDICTION: PHILLIES IN THREE.