Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Series Preview: NLDS (Cardinals vs. Braves)

The Cardinals/Braves series at a glance. 

I'm dusting off an old feature not seen here since 2014 -- the old Playoff Preview. What follows is a completely unscientific look at what to expect for this series. I do pretty much zero Cardinals analysis here, so it's kind of a fun treat to act like I know what I'm talking about. I didn't do one of these posts the last time the Cardinals made the playoffs, and they were unceremoniously dumped by their rivals. That won't happen again with the Cards officially putting an end to the Joe Maddon era in Chicago.

St. Louis faces Atlanta for the first time since the "outfield fly rule" debacle that marred the 2012 NL Wild Card Game. I was hoping they were going to abolish the whole Wild Card Game concept altogether after that inauspicious start, but it lives on in 2019, much to my frustration.

Keep in mind that rosters are not finalized at present, so this is all based on shared speculation.

2019 Season Series: Braves won 4-2
The Cardinals picked up only one victory at home and one on the road against Atlanta. Both three-game series were played in May, however, where the Cardinals failed to resemble anything approaching a playoff team after a hot start. It's difficult to draw much of a conclusion from this small sample size, but I mention it because it's something broadcasters like to talk about.

Starting Pitching: Jack Flaherty / Miles Mikolas / Dakota Hudson / Adam Wainwright vs. Dallas Keuchel / Mike Foltynewicz / Mike Soroka / Max Fried
Flaherty and Soroka are the aces of their staffs, but it will be 2018 All-Star Mikolas facing the resurgent Foltynewicz for Game 1. Mikolas has been taken down a peg or two in his second season with the Cardinals, but has shown the ability to stay into games a bit deeper than his younger teammates. He gets the nod over rookie Hudson while Flaherty lays in waiting for Game 2 because he started this past Sunday. The crafty veteran Wainwright has fared much better at home than on the road and will probably be held back for Game 4. Hudson has put together a nice first season in the rotation, but it's Flaherty who will be getting a few Cy Young Award votes after being nearly untouchable in the second half. On the Atlanta side, Soroka has been one of the top rookies in the game this season, while Fried has a gaudy won-loss total (for whatever that's actually worth.) It's late signee Dallas Keuchel who gets the call in Game 1 for Atlanta, however. Having spent most of his career in the AL, the Cardinals are not super familiar with him which doesn't generally work out all that well. Meanwhile, it looks like Folty's inclusion has forced out Julio Teheran who may be left off the roster entirely. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Bullpen: Carlos Martinez vs. Mark Melancon
I only list the closers here, but both teams are hardly defined by the guy that has most recently been designated the guy who gets the save opportunities. Martinez made two All-Star teams as a starting pitcher, but injuries and weird confidence issues found him in the bullpen for the entire 2019 season. When Martinez can get the ball over the plate, he's extremely tough... but there's always a hint of uncertainty with him. He eventually replaced Jordan Hicks, who succumbed to an injury that required Tommy John surgery. Melancon, a ghost of closers past, replaced Luke Jackson in the role late in the season and has been excellent. St. Louis is supplemented by Giovanny Gallegos, the secret steal in the Luke Voit trade, as well as the heavily bearded John Brebbia and lefties Tyler Webb and Andrew Miller. Miller is no longer the super multi-inning wonder that he was in the playoffs a few years ago (is that era already over?), but the Cardinals have been solid in the pen for the most part. In addition to Melancon and Jackson, Atlanta's pen also features former Tiger Shane Greene, not-the-Coldplay-guy Chris Martin, and former starter Sean Newcomb (possibly?) ADVANTAGE: CARDINALS

Catcher: Yadier Molina vs. Brian McCann/Tyler Flowers
Molina lost a significant chunk of his season due to injury, but he's barely taken an inning off since his return to the active roster. He had a down year at the plate, but his contributions elsewhere are nearly immeasurable. Another longtime vet in McCann has split time evenly with Flowers this season. Both are more than adequate with the bat but don't quite work the pitching (and running) game like Yadi does. ADVANTAGE: CARDINALS

First Base: Paul Goldschmidt vs. Freddie Freeman
There's not much to discuss here. Both are preeminent stars of the game, with Freeman's side getting the edge here based on his superior season. ADVANTAGE: BRAVES

Second Base: Kolten Wong vs. Ozzie Albies
Wong has quietly become one of the best defensive second basemen in the game, if not one of the best all-around defensive players period. After a dreadful first half, he is among the batting leaders at all positions since the All-Star break. However, he will be seeing his first action in a couple of weeks due to a hamstring injury. Albies is one of the most talented Atlanta players, but has been overshadowed by fellow youngster Acuña. I'll grade this based on assumption of full health, same as Acuña (and Freeman for that matter) who is also overcoming a recent injury. ADVANTAGE: CARDINALS

Third Base: Tommy Edman vs. Josh Donaldson
Edman, who escaped top prospect status while steadily rising up the ranks, somehow led the entire Cardinals team in slugging percentage despite the presence of multiple former top 5 MVP vote getters. He's been considered the heart and soul of the team in their second half surge, and is a guy that broadcasters seem to love, for whatever that's worth. In many matchups, he'd get the nod, but Donaldson has seemingly returned to MVP form himself. ADVANTAGE: BRAVES

Shortstop: Paul DeJong vs. Dansby Swanson
DeJong just capped off his first 30 HR season, but has taken a step back as a contact hitter. He's continued to improve in the field, however, and the Wong-DeJong tandem was at the center of a worst-to-first team defensive improvement from 2018 to 2019. Swanson, another highly touted former prospect, is having his best season at the plate but fell off in the second half. ADVANTAGE: CARDINALS

Right Field: Dexter Fowler vs. Matt Joyce/Adam Duvall
That Fowler's rebound season only netted him a .749 OPS goes to show how truly far he fell last season. Since his August move to the top of the lineup, however, he's seemed vital to an offense for the first time since he was playing for the Cubs. His OBP was more than 100 points above his AVG, which is always a good thing. Atlanta rolls out some combination of Matt Joyce and Adam Duvall (and possibly others). Joyce gets on base a lot while Duvall hits hard, sometimes. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Center Field: Harrison Bader vs. Ronald Acuña Jr.
Bader is one of the top defensive players in the league (see also: Wong) but is no match for the wrecking crew that is Acuña, already one of the best players in the game at 21. ADVANTAGE: BRAVES

Left Field: Marcell Ozuna vs. Nick Markakis
Ozuna was carrying the Cardinals offense until a midseason injury and has had difficulty finding a groove ever since returning to the lineup. No one has really solved the mystery of the suddenly suspiciously noodle armed Ozuna, a guy who had one of the best young arms in the game back in Miami. He still hits hard and when he manages to connect it can be downright scary. Markakis will always have 2018. There was no repeat All-Star berth this time around, but he was solid. ADVANTAGE: CARDINALS

Bench: Matt Carpenter / Jose Martinez / Matt Wieters / et al. vs. assorted Braves players
I didn't list out Atlanta players here because they have multiple timeshares, while the Cardinals lineup is a little more clear to me. Carpenter, a former All-Star who just last season was guzzling salsa and raking in the accolades, fell off a cliff this season after being in relative decline for some time. Some blame the shift, but age might be the biggest factor. Not everyone ages the same. Carpenter can still occasionally catch fire with the bat, and had some encouraging moments filling in at 3rd while Edman shifted to 2nd in Wong's absence. Martinez was given a surprising multi-year deal this past offseason but for the second straight season has played himself out of the regular lineup. He has terrific career numbers as a pinch-hitter but hasn't hit much of anything in 2019. Wieters was the first legitimate backup Yadier Molina has ever had and has himself hit some timely bombs. For Atlanta, with Austin Riley also apparently being left off the playoff roster and Ender Inciarte done for the season, it's not clear who else is actually taking up the roster spots. Will there be a Billy Hamilton appearance? Adeiny Hechavarria? Charlie Culberson? All decent enough, I suppose. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Manager: Mike Shildt vs. Brian Snitker
Shildt took over midway through last season as an interim fix for the fired Mike Matheny and, after coming up just short in 2018, led the Cards to their first playoff appearance since 2015. Snitker is in his fourth season with Atlanta with his second straight division crown. Neither has a huge MLB managerial resume of yet, but Snitker has the edge in playoff experience. ADVANTAGE: BRAVES

Prediction: CARDINALS IN 5

Game 1 is set for 5:00 PM EDT (local time) tomorrow on TBS, which means I'll still be at work. Go Cardinals!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are highly encouraged, but then again, so is eating your fruits and vegetables.