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Saturday, October 1, 2011

NLDS Breakdown: St. Louis is dangerous

The Phillies are overwhelming favorites in the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals, and for good reason. With Roy Halladay facing Kyle Lohse in Game 1 and Roy Oswalt set to face Edwin Jackson in Game 4, they own two huge pitching advantages in the first four games. However, Game 2 (Carpenter vs. Lee) and Game 3 (Hamels vs. Garcia) are not tilted nearly as much in the Phils' favor. Considering St. Louis's league-leading offense, it is not hard to imagine a series that ends up 2-2 back in Philly on Friday night.

That said, it's just as easy to imagine a Phils' sweep:


GAME 1

Tonight the Phillies face Kyle Lohse, an average pitcher who is currently having an above-average year. It's safe to say this is the best season he's ever had, thanks to his lowest walk rate of his career, best home-run rate, and second-best K/BB ratio.

However, he's also benefiting from a low HR/FB ratio (7.2% for 2011, more than 25% better than his career mark) and a BABIP of .272, down from his career mark of .305.

Roy Halladay, on the other hand, is Halladay.

With Matt Holliday's absence in game 1 combined with the horrendous St. Louis defense (their lineup is so powerful because they have several defenders playing "up" on the defensive spectrum), I think tonight's game will be a relatively easy one for the Phils.

Lohse's career BB rate against RHBs is only 5.6%, compared to 8.2 against lefties. His OPS allowed against LHBs is .806 for his career and .756 against RHBs. For these reasons, I will not object to a lineup that features Raul Ibanez in left field rather than John Mayberry. If Ibanez is still playing defense in the 9th inning with a lead, however, I will be irate if Mayberry isn't used as a defensive replacement, a la Eric Bruntlett (a worse defender than Mayberry) for Pat Burrell.

Phils win game 1 by a 5-1 score.


GAME 2

Chris Carpenter will pitch on Sunday on only three days' rest for the first time in his career. Carpenter's career OPS-allowed vs. LHBs is .757, with a .331 OBP. As a comparison, Roy Oswalt's career OPS-allowed vs. LHBs is .694 (it's even lower against righties). Even Cliff Lee, an entirely less-dominant pitcher for the first half of his career, doesn't own a split as poor as Carpenter's.

Carpenter's OPS-allowed against RHBs is below .660.

His relatively mediocre performance against lefties is an encouraging sign for Phillies fans, especially considering it will be his first ever start on short rest.

Also encouraging for Phillies fans are Lance Berkman's career splits: Batting left-handed, OPS of 1.009; righty, .778. That's insanity.

If Matt Holliday is out for Sunday, which seems likely, Lee's performance should only get better.

Five of the Phillies eight starters will be left-handed, and the Phillies' three right-handed batters (Pence, Polanco, Ruiz) do not perform significantly worse against RHPs compared to LHPs.

Phillies win 3-0.


GAME 3

This one is pretty much a toss-up. Garcia owns OPS-allowed vs. RHB and LHB at .686 and .672, respectively. He is also a much better pitcher at home than on the road.

Hamels has the same advantage over Berkman that Lee has, simply because Berkman is significantly less dangerous from the right side of the plate.

If you're going to make any bet in this series, the under in this game is probably your best choice. Since Howard is neutralized against lefties, Utley is nowhere near the batter he used to against LHPs, and Manuel may actually be stubborn enough to not start John Mayberry in this game, I'm going to give the Cardinals a 3-1 victory in game three.


GAME 4

Oswalt vs. Jackson. I am convinced that Game 4 in the NLCS against San Francisco was the reason why Ruben Amaro, Jr. gave Cliff Lee that huge contract. By signing Lee, he transformed a three-ace rotation into one of the best of all time. Now, instead of Joe Blanton starting game four, you have an ace. Now, the Phillies would actually have the pitching advantage in this game had Blanton actually been the starter. The fact that Oswalt is starting against Jackson, however, makes this the biggest advantage for the Phils out of any of these games.

Edwin Jackson has a career 3.7 BB/9, easily the highest of any of the Cardinals starters. He does not have enough strikeouts to make up for this high total, as his K/BB ratio is well under 2.00. Jackson is a right-hander, but he has even splits against RHBs and LHBs, .770 OPS and .778, respectively. As a result, the Phillies must start Mayberry in this game as well. He is easily more patient than Ibanez, which is going to be the biggest key in this game against Jackson. The fact that Mayberry is better defensively will only make it worse when Ibanez is announced as the left-fielder for game 4.

Phils win anyway, 7-2, and they move onto round two.


If the Cardinals somehow manage to force a game 5, the fifth game of the series is pretty much a toss-up as well. I think Halladay will defeat Carpenter, 3-2, but if the Cards win one of the first two games (which is a distinct possibility), don't expect a series victory.

The lineup for Game 1 is as follows: Rollins, Utley, Pence, Howard, Victorino, Ibanez, Polanco, Ruiz, Halladay. That's about as much as we can expect -- if you told me one month ago that Utley would be batting second against a righty in game 1 of the NLDS, I would have bet significant money against you.

Of course, the reason behind the lineup change is flawed -- Manuel is not doing it specifically to break up the lefties, but because Utley is not "hitting for power". We've been over the reasons why your best hitter (eg, Utley from 2005-2010) should bat second instead of third (the 3-batter often bats with 2 outs and no runners), and also why Utley and Howard should never bat back-to-back (LOOGYs). Even though Manuel's route to the destination was terrible, at least he wasn't stubborn enough to trot out the inefficient lineup.

Manuel has been getting incredible amounts of praise for the lineup change, which is absurd. When Andy Reid removes Casey Matthews from the starting lineup after three games, the whole city says "WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG???". When Manuel splits up the lefties after 158 games, the whole city says "WHAT A GREAT IDEA!".

If Manuel had this lineup operating properly since 2008, perhaps the failures in the playoffs never would have occurred.

1 comment:

hk said...

Kudos to Charlie for pinch-running for Raul with JMJ with the intent of JMJ playing LF in the late innings with a lead.