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Can the lefties stop Cardinal killer Thome?

With all the talk about the matchups during the upcoming Cardinals-Dodgers NLDS, there is an important late-game possibility that should strike even greater fear in the hearts of Cardinals fans than previously.

New Dodgers designated pinch hitter Jim Thome has a long, storied and deserved reputation for being a Cardinal killer. The left-handed slugger with 564 career home runs has an even 100 at-bats against St. Louis pitching in his 19-year career.

Thome has collected 43 hits versus Cardinals hurlers, so you can do the quick math. Of those, 18 were home runs with a whopping 40 RBI to his credit. In addition, he drew 31 walks, making his career line against the Cardinals a super-human .430/.565/1.010.

It goes without saying that Thome’s 1.575 OPS put up against the helpless St. Louis pitchers is by far his best career performance against any of the 30 MLB clubs. Having played in both leagues, Thome has faced them all, with a career OPS of .961.

But the Cardinals have a pair of new left-handed relievers in 2009, the only lefties on the club’s roster. Each has done a good job for St. Louis during the regular season.

Veterans Trever Miller and Dennys Reyes have each spent considerable time in the American League, so they have seen Thome before. They should be able to slow him down, right?

Unfortunately, it works the other way too. If you have a weak stomach, stop reading now.

Following is a summary of how Thome has fared against the two.

Versus Miller: More feast than famine for Thome. Good news for the Cards: three strikeouts in six plate appearances. Bad news: a single, double and a walk for four RBI in the other three appearances.

Versus Reyes: Even worse. In 13 plate appearances, Thome reached base six times. Three walks, a single and two home runs, five RBI. Two strikeouts, though.

Combined: 5-for-15 with five strikeouts plus four walks. A double and two home runs, nine RBI. .333 average, .600 on-base percentage, .800 slugging percentage for a nice, neat, devastating 1.400 OPS.

(For those who will surely ask, lefty Royce Ring, bumped from the 40-man roster earlier this season, exiled to Triple-A Memphis all summer long and not called up in September, had his own roller coaster ride with Thome. In four career plate appearances, Ring walked him twice and fanned him the other two.)

Remember the above results are not included in Thome’s career 1.575 OPS against the Cardinals above. Thome has yet to bat against St. Louis this season and therefore against either of the lefties since they first donned the Birds on the Bat.

So in a perverse sort of way, the optimists could observe that the Reyes and Miller-generated 1.400 OPS is actually more effective than the other Cardinals pitchers have been against Thome over time.

For the rest of us out here in the real world, look out if the game is on the line and Thome comes to the plate against any of the Cardinals. Though the 39-year-old cannot play in the field, he will likely be a factor during at least one crucial moment in the NLDS.

Don’t be even a tiny bit more confident if the pitcher tasked with trying to get him out is one of the Cardinals lefties.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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